Sara Hancock

Sara is a Behavioural Neuroscientist currently working in the NFP sector. Previously she was a science educator and has studied the role of zinc transporters in Alzheimer's disease at the University of Melbourne. She has a mostly manageable addiction to salted caramel and a love for terrible jokes.

It’s 2017 and huge strides are being made for equality… or are they?

Research out of the University of Cyprus last week suggested that homosexuality in women evolved to attract men. To remove bias, researchers ensured they only interviewed heterosexual people who are, based on their sexual preferences, the clear experts on homosexuality. Yes, this paper was actually published in an actual journal.

I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor.

Scientific Bias

Unfortunately, bias in science is not a rare occurrence. Despite being a field based on exploration and discovery, science remains steadfast in its paternalistic view of scientific contributions by female scientists.

New research from Zurich ETH has studied the effect of gender on the number of citations of astronomy papers. They have demonstrated that papers with a female first author receive an average of 10% less citations than would be expected if the paper had been written by a man.

The researchers began with a sample of more than 200,000 papers published between 1950 and 2015. They cleansed the data by removing the following; papers for which the gender of the first author could not be determined, papers that did not have any references or citations, authors who had only published in Science and/or Nature, papers with no specified author, collaboration papers without a first name for the first author, and papers for which the first author only used initials. This left them with a dataset of 149, 741 publications.

The authors also sought to account for instrinsic differences in publications written by men and women. To do this, they used a random forest algorithm and demonstrated a systematic difference in citations for papers written by women when accounting for seniority of the first author, number of references, total number of authors, year and journal of publication, field of study and geographical region of the first author’s institution.

The dataset has been made publicly available and the authors encourage others to contribute to and enhance the data.

What does this mean?

So we’ve put a numerical value on gender bias for astronomical paper. What does this actually mean?

Well, disappointingly, both male and female scientists rate work completed by men more highly than identical work done by women. Clearly, scientists themselves need to examine their own gender bias and maybe work on reducing its effect on their own writing.

For some scientists, like myself, the inherent sexism and the constant battling against the patriarchy drives women out of the field. Despite the fact that more women are completing science degrees and receiving doctorates; women remain under-represented in funding approvals, faculty positions and prestigious publications.

For me, the highlight of this paper was the narrowing of the gap in citation differences over time from 1950 to 2015. Hopefully, with more time and additional analysis of the mechanisms behind gender bias in scientific research; we can remove gender bias from the field of science.

There is much to be done.

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