Women Scientists Are Far Less Likely to Author Invited Commentaries in Medical Journals

A new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that women scientists were 21 percent less likely to author invited commentaries in medical journals during a five-year period than men with similar scientific expertise, seniority, and publication metrics. The study also found that the disparity was larger for women who were further progressed in their careers, reaching as high as 40 percent for the most senior authors.

The researchers analyzed data on all invited commentaries published in English-language medical journals from 2013 through 2017, made available by Elsevier from its Scopus database. The data set included more than 43,000 comentaries from nearly 2,500 medical journals.

“I was genuinely surprised by the size of the gender gap we found,” said first author Emma Thomas, a doctoral student in the department of biostatistics at the School of Public Health. “As a young female scientist, I hoped that we might achieve gender parity in authorship of invited articles naturally as more women progressed to the top of the scientific pipeline. Our results suggest that may not be the case.”

Senior author Francesca Dominici, the Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population, and Data Science and co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative, added that “these findings challenge the common assumption that gender disparities in authorship of prestigious scientific articles exist because there are fewer women with sufficient experience and expertise to write these articles. Our results also show that women’s voices are not heard as often as men’s. This lack of diversity in perspectives can hamper the progress of health research, since diversity of thought is a key driver of innovation.”

The authors conclude that “invited commentaries confer career advantages on the author by providing exposure and fostering professional connections with editors. These benefits may accumulate if invited article authors are more likely to be solicited for future pieces. Extending article invitations to researchers primarily based on seniority, perceived prestige, and professional connections may contribute to male scientists’ entrenched advantage and compound gender inequity.”

The full study, “Gender Disparities in Invited Commentary Authorship in 2459 Medical Journals,” was published online on the JAMA Network Open. It may be downloaded here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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