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Women in Science Are Credited Less for Their Contributions Than Men

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A new study has revealed that women in science are significantly less likely than men to receive credit as an author in publications to which they contribute.

Researchers examined a large set of administrative data from universities that were linked to patents and articles published in scientific journals, taken from the UMETRICS dataset. This provided in-depth information on research projects from 53 colleges and universities from the years 2013 to 2016.

These data were assembled and analyzed to reveal who was involved with these research projects, if they were paid for their contributions and if they were credited in the final publication. Information on over 125,000 people across almost 10,000 research teams was used in the analysis, examining the contributions of people in roles ranging in seniority including faculty members, graduate students, research staff and undergraduates.

The gender credit gap

The findings of the study, published in Nature, showed that women were 13% less likely to be credited as a named author in published research compared to their male colleagues.

Furthermore, women were less likely to receive credit regardless of their seniority. Researchers have known for some time that there are fewer women in senior positions on research teams, but this alone did not explain the discrepancy in accreditation. In fact, the effect became even more evident in early-career roles, with only 15% of female graduate students named as authors on publications compared to 21% of male students.

Enrico Berkes, co-author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at The Ohio State University, explains, “Women are not getting credit at the same rates as men on journal articles. The gap is persistent, and it is strong.”

“We found that women were 59% less likely than men to be named on patents related to projects that they both worked on,” adds Prof. Bruce Weinberg, co-author and professor of economics at Ohio State.

These findings come in the wake of the results of a recent survey of over 2,400 scientists that lend further support to these claims. In the survey, women reported that they were omitted from the list of authors in publications more often than men. One woman reported, “Being a woman [means] that quite often you contribute in one way or another to science but unless you shout or make a strong point, our contributions are often underestimated.”

Unfortunately, discrimination and stereotyping were also factors that contributed to the lack of accreditation, with several respondents from racial and ethnic minorities indicating experiencing similar biases.

Weinberg goes on to explain how this Nature paper is different from other similar studies: “What is unique is that we have the data to know exactly who worked on individual research projects and what their role was. This rich data helps us know whether people should or should not be credited for any particular scientific publication or patent.”

Women receive less credit regardless of field or impact factor

Additionally, this effect is not limited to any particular field of science. Women were less likely to receive authorship credits across disciplines such as health, where women are the majority, and engineering, where they are in the minority.

Women were also less likely to be credited in so-called “high-impact” journals, deemed to be high-quality and widely cited publications. “There should never be a gap in credit between men and women,” Weinberg adds. “But you really don’t want a gap in the research that has the biggest impact on a scientific field. That’s a huge source of concern.”

The researchers note that the fact that women in science don’t receive the appropriate credit for their work has been known for a long time. One of the most famous cases was Rosalind Franklin, who was wrongfully excluded from the original Crick and Watson paper on the structure of DNA despite making crucial contributions to the discovery.

Berkes summarizes the findings, saying, “All the evidence is strong and points in the same direction.”

Reference: Ross MB, Glennon BM, Murciano-Goroff R, Berkes EG, Weinberg BA, Lane JI. Women are credited less in science than are men. Nature. 2022:1-2. doi: 10.1038/s41586-022-04966-w

This article is a rework of a press release issued by Ohio State University. Material has been edited for length and content.