How do women fare when it comes to publishing their scientific research? In principle, science should be indifferent to gender, but in practice, are women working on a level playing field?
Recent estimates put the number of academic papers and journal articles published in a single year at more than 1.5 million worldwide. But if you want to know how many of these are written by women, the answer is, “It’s complicated.”
What sounds like a straightforward question opens the door for many others. As an elementary question, What is an article written by a woman anyway? Or by a man? How do women fare when it comes to publishing their scientific research? In principle, science should be indifferent to gender, but in practice, are women working on a level playing field?
Prof. Cassidy Sugimoto of the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University Bloomington examines the formal and informal ways in which knowledge producers consume and disseminate scholarship. She has edited and co-edited four books and has published numerous journal articles on this topic and is currently serving as president of the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics (ISSI); she was recently a Visiting Professor at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
Earlier this year, Prof. Sugimoto and Vincent Lariviere of the Universite de Montreal responded to a report Gender in the Global Research Landscape asserting that women and men in the global research community were approaching parity. As they see it, however, achievement gaps persist, and perhaps most critically, one related to impact factor.
“[Impact Factor] is the currency of the realm. This is what establishes, for many researchers, the quality of their work, the quality of individual papers – but also the quality of them as scholars,” Prof. Sugimoto tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “Many people have derided this measurement and suggest that it shouldn’t be used to evaluate an individual scholar. And I would be in that camp. But it’s still an interesting indicator of a selection bias. It demonstrates when people are able to… publish in a journal of a particular level of reputation.”
According to Sugimoto, the reported data show that women and men tend to publish in journals with similar impact factors. Indeed, in many disciplines, women were publishing in journals of higher impact factors than their male colleagues. However, within these journals, women’s papers were cited less.
“This gap was particularly pronounced in journals of the highest impact factors. That is, women were making it through the selection process at journals like Science, and Nature, and PNAS, but they weren’t seeing the citation advantage of their male colleagues. This suggests we need to look more deeply at issues of bias when examining gender disparities in science.”