A scientist’s gender can have a big impact on how other researchers perceive his or her work, according to a new study.
Young scholars rated publications supposedly written by male scientists as higher quality than identical work identified with female authors.
First, the methodology:
“The participants were reading abstracts of 150 words or so and rating their quality. The author names were not displayed prominently and the grad students probably barely glanced at them – but still they had this effect,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.
The study involved 243 graduate students in communication – 70 percent of them women – from universities around the country.
The participants were asked to read and evaluate 15 abstracts (short summaries) of actual studies that were presented at an academic conference in communication. In some cases, two male authors were listed and in some cases two female authors. The authors’ names were rotated so that the same abstract was listed with male authors for some participants and female authors for others.
Participants rated the abstracts on 10 dimensions related to quality, such as whether they thought the abstract was “important” and “innovative.” Abstracts were rated on a 10-point scale from “not at all” to “very.”
And the findings (emphasis added):
The research found that graduate students in communication – both men and women – showed significant bias against study abstracts they read whose authors had female names like “Brenda Collins” or “Melissa Jordan.”
These students gave higher ratings to the exact same abstracts when the authors were identified with male names like “Andrew Stone” or “Matthew Webb.”
In addition, the results suggested that some research topics were seen as more appropriate for women scholars – such as parenting and body image – while others, like politics, were viewed as more appropriate for men.
These findings suggest that women may still have a more difficult time than men succeeding in academic science, said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, lead author of the study and associate professor of communication at The Ohio State University.
“There’s still a stereotype in our society that science is a more appropriate career for men than it is for women,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.
“Even among young graduate students, the faculty of tomorrow, such stereotypes are still alive.”
An experiment with 243 young communication scholars tested hypotheses derived from role congruity theory regarding impacts of author gender and gender typing of research topics on perceived quality of scientific publications and collaboration interest. Participants rated conference abstracts ostensibly authored by females or males, with author associations rotated. The abstracts fell into research areas perceived as gender-typed or gender-neutral to ascertain impacts from gender typing of topics. Publications from male authors were associated with greater scientific quality, in particular if the topic was male-typed. Collaboration interest was highest for male authors working on male-typed topics. Respondent sex did not influence these patterns.
Full reference: Knobloch-Westerwick, S., Glynn, C. and Huge, M. (2013). The Matilda Effect in Science Communication: An Experiment on Gender Bias in Publication Quality Perceptions and Collaboration Interest. Science Communication, 35(5), pp.603-625.
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