I’ve always been a sucker for big datasets, and FiveThirtyEight has a pretty big one on offer.
One measure of how female scientists are faring is how many papers they write. Papers are the coin of academic science, like court victories to lawyers or hits to baseball players. A widely read paper could earn a scientist tenure or a grant. Papers map money, power and professional connections, and that means we can use them to map where female scientists are succeeding and where inequality prevails.
To this end, I downloaded and statistically analyzed 938,301 scientific papers from the arXiv , a website where physicists, mathematicians and other scientists often post their papers. I inferred the authors’ gender from their first names, using a international names classified by native speakers.
Very nice, even if the results are most certainly not.
The average male scientist authors 45 percent more papers than the average female scientist; he authors more than twice as many solo papers, on which he is the only author. (Solo papers can look particularly impressive because the scientist gets all the credit for the work.) Sixty times as many multi-author papers with identifiable gender for all authors will have all male authors as all female authors; twice as many will have all male authors as any female author.
There’s even some evidence for the “invisible tax” model of patriarchy. The contributions of women and other minorities are weighted differently, as if they pay a tariff on account of who they are. Someone who can survive or thrive with this burden must be pretty damn good; at the same time, the “goods” or contributions are unaltered by the tariff and have equal material impact.
In sum: women tend to be under-represented, but those that do make it tend to be better on average than their male peers.
After I discarded all papers with only a single author (for which it makes little sense to talk about first authorship) and all papers with authors listed in alphabetical order (to account for the fact that, in fields like mathematics where author order is alphabetical, being first author is no longer prestigious) I was left with 74,829 papers. Had male and female authors been equally likely to come first, there would be 9,683 papers with female-first authors; instead, there are 10,941 — 13 percent more than expected.
That’s but a small sample (smirk) of what the full article has to offer. Read it, and start thinking about how you can change the situation. We shouldn’t be tossing out good science and neglecting great scientists.
One female scientist I spoke with suggested that women may appear on fewer papers because their contributions are often ignored. “Some men get added to papers even if their contribution was cosmetic, yet women who contributed ideas (and perhaps even writing or data) are left out,” said the woman, who blogs pseudonymously as Female Science Professor .