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Female scientists less likely to be given authorship credits, analysis finds | UK news

Female scientists are less likely to receive authorship credit or to be named on patents related to the work they do compared with their male counterparts – including in fields such as healthcare, where women dominate – data suggests.

This gender gap may help to explain well-documented disparities in the apparent contributions of male and female scientists – such as that of Rosalind Franklin, whose pivotal contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA initially went unrecognised because she was not cited on the core Nature article by James Watson and Francis Crick.

“We have known for a long time that women publish and patent at a lower rate than men. But, because previous data never showed who participated in research, no one knew why,” said Prof Julia Lane at New York University in the US, who led the new research.

Lane and her colleagues analysed administrative data on research projects conducted at 52 US colleges and universities between 2013 and 2016. They matched information about 128,859 scientists to 39,426 journal articles and 7,675 patents, looking at which people who worked on individual projects received credit and which did not.

The study, also published in Nature, suggests Rosalind Franklin was far from unique in not receiving due credit for her work. It found that, on average, across all job titles and fields, men were around twice as likely to be named on a scientific article or patent by their research team as women.

This gap was seen in female-dominated fields such as health, as well as in male-dominated fields, such as engineering, and was particularly evident during the earliest stages of women’s careers. For example, only 15 out of 100 female postgraduates were ever named as an author on a publication, compared with 21 out of 100 of their male peers.

“There is a clear gap between the rate at which women and men are named as co-authors on publications,” said Lane. “The gap is strong, persistent, and independent of the research field. I fear that it will deter young women from pursuing science as a career.”

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The team also surveyed more than 2,400 published scientists, asking whether they had ever been excluded from a paper to which they had contributed, and why they thought this happened. Of women, 43% reported having been excluded from a publication, compared with 38% of men. The most common explanation was that others had underestimated their contribution, however, women were twice as likely to cite discrimination or bias as an explanation, while men were more likely to say their contributions did not warrant authorship.

Dr Tina Joshi, a lecturer in molecular microbiology at the University of Plymouth, said: “This is a welcome study that highlights the gender disparity many women continue to face in academia. We can continue to address this inequality as an academic community by encouraging dialogue regarding equality, diversity and inclusion, and working together to give all researchers credit for their contributions.”

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