Gender inequality, still rife in science, appears in multiple guises: fewer female full professors, gender inequalities in earnings and funding, and the so-called productivity puzzle—scientific output as quantified by bibliometric measures. This last instance of gender disparity, while generally recognized, has escaped close scrutiny. Scientific output has been examined for gender disparities, but to date studies have been anecdotal, highly localized, or confined to individual disciplines. Now, however, gender biases in science authorship have been well quantified by a global and cross-disciplinary bibliometric analysis.

After sifting through 5.5 million research papers and over 27.3 million authorships, information scientists found that female authors were underrepresented at a 30–70% authorship rate with males, and that for every female first author on a scientific paper there were nearly two (1.93) male first authors.

These results appear in an article entitled “Global gender disparities in science,” which was published in the December 12 edition of Nature. The authors are Vincent Larivière, Chaoqun Ni, Yves Gingras, Blaise Cronin, and Cassidy R. Sugimoto. Larivière represents the University of Montreal; Gingras, the University of Quebec at Montreal; and Ni, Cronin, and Sugimoto, Indiana University Bloomington.

Curiously, given the work’s subject matter, a press release issued by the University of Montreal asserted that Larivière, Ni, and Sugimoto were co-equal contributors, while a press release issued by Indiana University Bloomington identified Sugimoto as the study’s leader.

Generally, the work found that female authorship is more prevalent in countries with lower scientific output, that women’s publication portfolios were more domestic than their male colleagues, and that articles with women in dominant author positions—either first or last author—received fewer citations than men in the same positions.

“Women profited less from the extra citations that international collaborations accrue,” Sugimoto said. “And since citations play a central part in evaluating researchers, this situation can only worsen gender disparities.”

It is indisputable that age played a major role in explaining gender differences in scientific output, collaboration, and impact, the team noted. “Seniority, authorship position, collaboration and citation are highly interlinked variables, and the senior ranks of science bear the imprint of previous generations’ barriers to the progression of women,” Sugimoto said.

The study, said Larivière, demonstrated that gender disparity “persists despite a concerted effort to correct it—we cannot address an issue properly until we understand it. And the exclusion of half of the planet’s brains is a very serious problem indeed.”

The study also noted that since collaboration is one of the main drivers of research output and scientific impact, programs geared specifically toward fostering international collaboration for female researchers might be one way to advance parity.

“But we also recognize that if there was one simple solution the problem would already be solved,” Sugimoto added. “Behind the global imbalance are local and historical forces contributing to the systemic inequalities that hinder women’s participation in the scientific workforce. Any realistic policy must take into account those social, cultural, economic, and political contexts—those micromechanisms—that contribute to reproducing the past order.”

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