Nearly 70 years ago Francis Crick and James Dewey Watson published the molecular structure of DNA. They did it thanks to the images obtained by a woman: Rosalind Franklin. Without the work of this British chemist and crystallographer, they would never have won the Nobel Prize. In the article in the journal Nature that collected that discovery, Watson and Crick only cited Franklin in the acknowledgments, as if her contribution had been anecdotal. Now, that same magazine publishes a macro-investigation whose well-known result is no less eloquent: still today, like 70 years ago, women receive less credit and recognition in scientific articles than men.
The "broken pipe" of female scientists in Spain: why do 75% of women never reach the highest positions?
Julia Lane, an economist and statistician at New York University, has put nearly 10,000 teams made up of nearly 130,000 scientists under her microscope. And she has observed that the gender gap in research attribution is found in nearly every scientific field and at every career stage.
It is the large-scale finding of the so-called 'Matilda Effect' that the American activist Matilda Joslyn Gage already denounced in the 19th century: the great scientists of history see how their achievements are attributed to the men who worked alongside them.
Attribution, credit, and authorship are always important, but they are especially important in the world of science. Not only for the recognition of effort and talent, but also for something more prosaic but essential: obtaining funding, scholarships and promotions in the ranks.
“Measure what does not exist”
The truth is that women scientists publish and patent less than men. "Calculating the extent to which women's contributions have gone unrecognized is challenging, because it's hard to measure what doesn't exist," the researchers say in a press release.
Julia Lane and her colleagues have taken on this challenge by amassing a vast set of data on research teams, publications, and patents. To verify their results, they have also carried out a macro-survey among scientists.
Women say their scientific contributions are less likely to be recognized than men's, because they believe their work is ignored or unappreciated
Specifically, over four years the data of 128,859 professionals in 9,778 teams in the US have been evaluated (including information on their field of research and their professional stage), and the names that sign 39,426 scientific papers (journal articles) have been compared. and 7,675 patents.
In addition, it has been examined how many people in a team become authors and it has been revealed that women only represent 34.85% of the authors of a team, despite the fact that they constitute almost half of the workforce, in concrete 48.25%.
Also, it has been found that women are less likely than men to be named in patents. Surveys also reveal that women researchers feel their work is ignored or unappreciated.
Relegated to thanks
"This study advances in line with other publications in which it is shown that researchers are more easily relegated to the acknowledgments section, even though their contribution has been important to the research and they are worthy of appearing as authors," he says. in statements to SMC Spain Lorena Fernández Álvarez, member of the expert group of the European Commission 'Gendered Innovations'.
Fernández emphasizes the dimensions and focus of the research: “The sample size is large. This makes it possible to examine whether the differences observed reflect this gender disparity in organizational positions or whether it is the attribution of authorship. In addition, the mixture of the quantitative with the qualitative is interesting, through surveys not focused on gender”.
Twice as many male signatures
In 2013 another macro-study also published in Nature –this on a global scale–, has already revealed that women account for less than 30% of shared authorship compared to 70% represented by men. The ratio is almost two to one: for every paper signed as first author by a woman, there are almost two papers (specifically 1.93) signed first by a man.
This research also detected another trend in citations between articles. In general, articles whose main authors are women are less cited in other articles (which are mostly signed by men). That is to say: investigations led by women are less taken into account.
These data are added to those already known about the so-called 'broken pipe'. A metaphor used to try to explain why, although in the first years of research careers there are as many or more women than men, then the scientists fall by the wayside and do not reach positions of responsibility.
In the case of Spain, as shown in the graph above, in grade D (which includes the figure of Predoctoral Research Staff) the proportion of women (59%) is greater than that of men (41%). Grade C is accessed after the defense of the thesis, once you are already a doctor: women continue to be the majority (56% compared to 44% of men). In a subsequent stage of stabilization of the scientific career –grade B– the ownership of places in Public Research Organizations (OPI), Universities, University Schools, etc. is accessed. Here the percentages are equal: 51% of women, 49% of men.
The last stage of the research career, where the staff reaches grade A, corresponds to the category of Research Professorship in OPIs and University Professorship. From the age of 55, men occupy 65% of the positions in public and private organizations and teaching positions; while women remain in the remaining 35%.
Above 65 years of age, men occupy 74% of the positions and women are relegated to 26%. These are data from the latest Study on the situation of young researchers, published in 2021 by the Ministry of Science and Innovation [se puede descargar aquí en PDF, 0,97MB].