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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 .

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