Research by women shared less than work by male colleagues, study finds


Social network: A study has found that the online world can have the same traditional barriers and gatekeepers that can hinder women being successful (courtesy: iStock_iLexx)

Female academics are less successful at disseminating their research online according to an analysis of the activity of over half a million scientists. The imbalance, the authors of the study suggest, is probably due to women doing less self-promotion as well as biased perceptions of the quality of their work.

Led by network and data scientist Emőke-Ágnes Horvát from Northwestern University in the US, the study examined the gender of scientists who had at least one research article shared online in 2012 according to Altmetric, which tracks mentions of journal papers across social media, news sites, blogs and other sites. Overall, the authors found that less than a third (28.6%) of the 537,486 scientists whose articles were mentioned online in 2012 were women.

The imbalance in the recognition of the work done by female scientists versus male scientists is still an issue

Emőke-Ágnes Horvát

In physics, women accounted for just 16% of authors whose work was disseminated online. Mathematics, astronomy, engineering and computer science did not fare much better, with female representation ranging from 17 to 19%. Psychology almost reached parity, with women accounting for 47% of scientists whose work was mentioned online.

To take into account gender differences across  scientific disciplines, the authors then compared online dissemination with the proportions of men and women who had papers indexed in Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science in 2012. But even once publication activity was factored in, the online representation of women was still lower than expected in all research areas.

Women were most under-represented online in chemistry, biological sciences and geosciences – being at least 7% lower than expected based on publication activity. In physics, the difference between the percentage of female authors tracked on Altmetric and listed in Web of Science was 5.2%. Online representation was best in computer science with only a 1.6% difference between article mentions and publication trends.

Biased perceptions

The researchers also analysed authors’ academic networks and the scientific impact of their work in the five years prior to 2012. They found that for men, scientific impact, “social capital” of co-authorship networks, and collaborations with both men and women was strongly associated with online success.

But no such correlations for success could be found among women. Even in fields with the highest female representation, there were no universally identifiable factors associated with successful online dissemination for women.

Horvát speculates that the imbalance in online success is likely a result of less self-promotion by women and biased perceptions making their research shared less by others. “Men seem to benefit more from traditional measures of success,” Horvát told Physics World, adding that there is a “reinforcement of these dynamics” that makes them succesful when it comes to promoting their research online.

“If we compare the populations who are successful online then we see that the online successful male populations have a higher overlap with the folks that are successful in traditional offline spaces,” she adds.

So while it might be thought that the lack of traditional barriers and gatekeepers online would allow women could be more successful, the research found otherwise. “The imbalance in the recognition of the work done by female scientists versus male scientists is still an issue,” says Horvát, adding that the team is now examining the reasons behind such differences.

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