En studie i British Medical Journal har granskat mäns respektive kvinnors ordval i de egna vetenskapliga publikationerna. Och det är skillnad. När den ansvarige författaren är man är ord som ”unik”, ”lovande” och ”excellent” vanligare. Och, det kan ha betydelse, menar till exempel vetenskapsjournalisten Emily Chung på mediaföretaget Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Att beskriva forskningen som strålande, att beskriva den som betydelsefull, gör att den oftare blir citerad av andra forskare. Detta i sin tur ger ett större vetenskapligt inflytande och framgång, konstaterar Emily Chung.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation öppnade på sin hemsida ett kommentarsfält efter att de skrivit om publikationen i British Medical Journal och det kommenterades, drygt 400 gånger, innan funktionen stängdes ned. Män var påfallande aktiva.
Harry skrev: Kvinnornas forskning kallas inte för excellent lika ofta som mäns …kanske den inte heller är det.
Ed undrade: Varför tror författaren att det finns ett problem här? Pekar undersökningen på könsfördomar eller på det faktum att männens forskningsresultat är mer värda superlativen.
Och Mark (mycket aktiv med att kommentera) menar: Jag är för att kvinnorna tar över hela samhället. Bara två regler. Jag och mina pojkar åker och fiskar och ni kan inte längre skylla oss för någonting.
Påfallande var att merparten av männen var mer eller mindre negativa och merparten av kvinnorna positiva till genomgången i British Medical Journal. En genomgående kommentar är att skillnaden mellan mäns och kvinnors ordval inte är särskilt stor, därför saknar studien i British Medical Journal betydelse. Frågan då blir varför British Medical Journal, en världens mest ansedda medicinska tidskrifter, väljer att publicera den.
Drygt sex miljoner artiklar
Nu till studien i British Medical Journal, vars förste författare, Marc Lerchenmueller (en man) och hans kollegor från universitetet i Manheim, Tyskland, tillsammans med kollegor i USA, analyserade 6,2 miljoner vetenskapliga artiklar.
Analysen visade att artiklar där både ansvarig författare och försteförfattare var män användes ordet ”nydanande” 60 procent oftare än om författarna var kvinnor. Ordet ”unik” 44 procent oftare. ”Utan motstycke” 72 procent oftare. Samma sak med merparten av 25 positivt laddade ord som ingick i undersökningen.
Forskarna bakom analysen påpekar också att genusskillnaderna var störst i de högst rankade tidskrifterna. Men, det är inte så enkelt som att de manliga författarna lyckas ”lura” tidskrifterna. Innan publicering har de vetenskapliga artiklarna granskats av såväl utomstående forskare i ämnesområdet som tidskriftens egen redaktion.
Om detta är ett problem, vad kan göras för att rätta till det?
En enkel lösning skulle vara att kvinnorna börjar formulera sig som männen, det vill säga använda mer positiva uttryck, skriver forskarna i en kommentar men varnar för en sådan utveckling. Istället bör vi korrigera ett fördomsfullt system mot de kvinnliga forskarna.
I en ledarkommenter skriver Anupam B. Jena (också han man), Harvard Medical School att för samhällets skull vill vi att den bästa forskningen också ska bedömas som bäst. Värderingen ska varken baseras på kön eller på forskarnas egna åsikter om hur banbrytande deras arbete är.
Länk till undersökningen i tidskriften British Medical Journal:
Gender differences in how scientists present the importance of their research: observational study
Text: Tord Ajanki www.diabetesportalen.se
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Objectives Women remain underrepresented on faculties of medicine and the life sciences more broadly. Whether gender differences in self presentation of clinical research exist and may contribute to this gender gap has been challenging to explore empirically. The objective of this study was to analyze whether men and women differ in how positively they frame their research findings and to analyze whether the positive framing of research is associated with higher downstream citations.
Design Retrospective observational study.
Data sources Titles and abstracts from 101 720 clinical research articles and approximately 6.2 million general life science articles indexed in PubMed and published between 2002 and 2017.
Main outcome measures Analysis of article titles and abstracts to determine whether men and women differ in how positively they present their research through use of terms such as “novel” or “excellent.” For a set of 25 positive terms, we estimated the relative probability of positive framing as a function of the gender composition of the first and last authors, adjusting for scientific journal, year of publication, journal impact, and scientific field.
Results Articles in which both the first and last author were women used at least one of the 25 positive terms in 10.9% of titles or abstracts versus 12.2% for articles involving a male first or last author, corresponding to a 12.3% relative difference (95% CI 5.7% to 18.9%). Gender differences in positive presentation were greatest in high impact clinical journals (impact factor >10), in which women were 21.4% less likely to present research positively. Across all clinical journals, positive presentation was associated with 9.4% (6.6% to 12.2%) higher subsequent citations, and in high impact clinical journals 13.0% (9.5% to 16.5%) higher citations. Results were similar when broadened to general life science articles published in journals indexed by PubMed, suggesting that gender differences in positive word use generalize to broader samples.
Conclusions Clinical articles involving a male first or last author were more likely to present research findings positively in titles and abstracts compared with articles in which both the first and last author were women, particularly in the highest impact journals. Positive presentation of research findings was associated with higher downstream citations.
From the article Introduction and Discussion
Women remain underrepresented in academic medicine and the life sciences more broadly.1 Even the most recent surveys indicate that the proportion of women declines at every career step, including promotion to full professorship.2 Women also earn lower salaries,34 receive fewer research grants,5 and receive fewer citations than their male colleagues.6
One mechanism that may contribute to these gender gaps is differences in the extent to which women promote their research accomplishments relative to men.7 Yet, systematic evidence of differences in how men and women present their research findings in the academic life sciences is lacking. Identifying gender differences in how research is self-presented is potentially important given that visible research productivity is central to career progress in the academic life sciences and medicine, affecting hiring, promotion, pay, and funding decisions.89
We studied gender differences in the self presentation of scientific research—as identified by authors’ use of terms such as “novel,” “unique,” “unprecedented,” etc to describe their research in scientific titles and abstracts—among 101 720 clinical research articles published between 2002 and 2017 and indexed in PubMed. We examined how gender differences in positive presentation evolved over 15 years and varied with journal impact. We also examined the external validity of our findings in a dataset of roughly 6.2 million general life science articles published over the same time span in PubMed-indexed journals.
Analyzing titles and abstracts from 101 720 clinical research articles and from approximately 6.2 million articles indexed in PubMed during 2002 to 2017, we found that articles in which the first and last author were both women were significantly less likely to use positive terms to describe research findings compared with articles in which the first and/or last author was a man. Gender differences in the positive presentation of research findings were largest in high impact journals. Positive presentation of research findings was also associated with higher downstream citations, suggesting that observed gender differences in the positive framing of research may have a number of important implications.
Although the gender gap in academic medicine and the life sciences has been closing at the earliest stages in the career pipeline, it has remained at later stages, with female scientists being less likely to transition to junior and then senior faculty.8 Prior research has mostly pointed to discrimination, biased resource allocation, or outright exclusion as causes for slower career progress.81415 Less empirical research has focused on whether gender differences may exist in how scientists promote themselves and their research. This lens seems important as it may inform possible interventions to reduce the gender gap in science. Although our findings suggest that men and women differ in how they “spin” research results, our approach cannot determine the optimal degree of positive framing for the dissemination of research (that is, “spin” may have disadvantages for the advancement of science).
A broad social science literature that examines gender disparities in professional labor markets has argued that men engage in more self promotion than women,1617 potentially to their advantage.181920 Gender stereotypes depicting women as more communal and less forceful and achievement oriented than men have been shown to influence women’s careers,212223 for example, through muting women’s voices in teams that include both men and women. In particular, some evidence suggests that women tend to underestimate their abilities relative to men,242526 especially in public settings, which may contribute to women negotiating less often and less forcefully272829 and being less likely to seek promotion than men.3031
Self-promotion may take different forms: positively framing research findings, using social media to call attention to one’s research, or presentation at scientific meetings. Compared with salary negotiations or hiring and promotion decisions, opportunities for self promotion occur more often and depend largely on the discretion of the individual. These features may render self promotion a powerful tool for gradually challenging gender stereotypes.20Moreover, although science is increasingly produced by teams,32 perceptions of individual performance continue to be important determinants of career progress. Self promotion may therefore be critical to drawing attention to one’s abilities and to pursuing careers more forcefully.3334
Our study provides large scale evidence that men in academic medicine and the life sciences more broadly may present their own research more favorably than women, and that these differences may help to call attention to their research through higher downstream citations. These findings suggest that differences in the degree of self promotion may contribute to the well documented gender gaps in academic medicine and in science more broadly.6810 Moreover, the observed gender differences seem most pronounced in the highest impact journals, which may disadvantage women when it matters the most.
Strengths and limitations of study
Although this study is the first, to our knowledge, that analyzes gender differences in self promotion at a large scale, our approach has several limitations. First, our data do not allow us to assess whether men and women are held to different standards during the journal evaluation process. Recent research examining article submissions to a leading economics journal suggests that journal editors and reviewers opine on women’s versus men’s writing more frequently, in turn, tangibly altering the end product and prolonging peer review for women.35 Whether this phenomenon may extend to the large body of clinical and life science research analyzed here remains unclear but could, in part, contribute to women being systematically less likely to use positive words to describe their research. Second, and relatedly, our analysis focused on published articles’ titles and abstracts, both of which result from editorial curation. Larger gender differences may exist in how scientific findings are reported at the article submission stage, before selection and editorial modifications occur, in which case our estimates would understate gender differences in positive framing.
Of course, articles with greater scientific novelty and importance may appropriately use terms that positively frame research findings. If men more commonly author such articles, it could account for our observed findings. However, our analysis adjusted for the specific journal, for the area of research based on a granular assessment of articles’ MeSH terms, and for journal impact factor, which should mitigate these concerns.
Our analysis uses a set of 25 words that were identified by prior research as distinctly positive and frequently used in life science articles. Expanding this set of positive words might have resulted in a larger percentage of articles being classified as positively framed. But our study focused on the relative gender difference in positive framing and, other than the frequency of using these words, we found no differences between men and women in the way that they used them. If the results from this sample of positive words extended to other positive words, then these gender differences might be large not only in relative terms but in absolute terms as well. Moreover, gender differences may also exist in other forms of self promotion, potentially contributing to gender differences in a variety of career outcomes.
In an analysis of titles and abstracts from over 100 000 clinical research articles and over six million articles in the life sciences, we found that articles in which the first and last author were both women were less likely to use positive terms to describe research findings compared with articles in which the first and/or last author was a man. As this gender difference was most pronounced in the highest impact journals and was associated with higher downstream citations, the potential propensity of women to present equivalent work less positively than men may influence career progress and deserves further attention.
What is already known on this subject
- Women remain underrepresented on faculties of medicine and the life sciences. Women also earn lower salaries, receive fewer research grants, and receive fewer citations than their male colleagues
- One mechanism that may contribute to these gender gaps is differences in the extent to which women promote their research accomplishments relative to men. Yet, systematic evidence of differences in how men and women present their research findings in the academic life sciences is lacking. Identifying gender differences in how research is self presented is potentially important given that visible research productivity is central to career progress in the academic life sciences and medicine, affecting hiring, promotion, pay, and funding decisions
What this study adds
- This study investigates gender differences in the positive framing of research findings (that is, use of words such as “novel,” “excellent,” etc), analyzing 101 720 research articles published between 2002 and 2017 in clinical journals indexed in PubMed, as well as over 6.2 million general life science articles
- Articles in which the first and last authors were both women were, on average, 12.3% less likely to use positive terms to describe research findings compared with articles in which the first and/or last author was male. The gender difference in positive presentation was greatest in high impact clinical journals, with women being 21.4% less likely to present research positively. Positive presentation was, on average, associated with 9.4% higher subsequent citations and 13.0% higher citations in high impact clinical journals. These results remained consistent even after accounting for the specific journal, journal impact factor, scientific area of study, and year of publication
- Clinical articles involving at least one male first or last author were more likely to present research findings positively in titles and abstracts compared with articles in which both the first and last authors were women, particularly in the highest impact journals. Positive presentation of research findings was associated with higher downstream citations