Female researchers ‘much less likely to get authorship credit’

Lab-by-lab approach determining who gets credit and who doesn’t must be replaced by more comprehensive policies, researchers say

June 23, 2022
Papers and researcher
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Female scholars are less likely than their male counterparts to be credited for their contributions to scientific work, a study of thousands of academic papers across scientific fields has found.

For decades, women’s share of academic publications and patents has trailed that of men. But now researchers have shown that it’s not just a matter of women being less productive.  

“Women in research teams are significantly less likely to be credited with authorship than are men,” write researchers led by New York University economist Julia Lane, whose paper in Nature, published on 22 June, is the first to quantify unattributed researchers in academic publications.

Authors led by Professor Lane evaluated nearly 129,000 US-based researchers responsible for more than 39,000 journal articles and 7,600 patents over four years, comparing them with administrative data showing a breakdown of researchers involved in grants. Although women accounted for 48 per cent of this workforce, they made up under 39 per cent of the authors and were also less likely to be listed on patents.

THE Campus resource: 10 ways universities can tackle gender inequality

Across field and career level, the authors found that women received less than their share of attributions. Among graduate students, only 15 per cent of women ever got credit for publications, compared with 21 per cent of men. Female faculty were at a similar disadvantage: 41 per cent of female faculty were ever named on papers, compared with nearly 49 per cent of men – a gap that became even more pronounced when high-impact papers only were considered.

“The finding itself didn’t come as a shock but the scale of it was really surprising,” said Britta Glennon, a co-author and assistant professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania.

The problem has much to do with the large variability on policies on who gets credit, she said.

“The current system of attribution is not working,” said Dr Glennon. “Every [principal investigator] is using different rules to decide who gets credit and who doesn’t. The problem with that is, it reinforces things like who are you buddies with or what your personal biases might be.”

To solve the problem, institutions that practise science must themselves apply a scientific approach to their organisational structure, said Professor Lane.

“Science has moved in the past 20 to 30 years from a single person doing work by themselves to teams…and we’re not trained in how to be managers as academics. There are a lot of lessons to be learned here,” she said.


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