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High-impact medical research is less likely to be cited if authored by women


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • In an analysis of >5,500 papers from top medical journals, articles with female primary and senior authors attracted half as many citations as did similar articles authored by men.
  • Fewer citations may unfavourably impact female researchers’ career progression.

A study published in JAMA  Network Open has highlighted large gender disparities in academic medicine research, finding that papers authored by females receive significantly fewer citations than those authored by males.

Drs Paula Chatterjee and Rachel Werner evaluated citation data for 5,554 articles published in 5 prestigious medical journals between 2015–2018, using Genderize to assign gender to authors’ names. They found that original research articles with female primary or senior authorship attracted a third or a quarter fewer median citations than those with men as primary or senior authors, respectively. The trend was more pronounced when women wrote together as primary and senior authors – these articles had approximately half as many median citations as those with male primary and senior authors.

Dr Chatterjee suggests that gender bias in citations is likely unintentional and due to the higher visibility of men in the medical field and on social media. 

These patterns can have considerable impact on a researcher’s career progression. Because citations are often used as a measure of an article’s importance and an indicator of a researcher’s productivity, women may be at a disadvantage if their work is less widely disseminated. Gender disparities in academic medicine are well acknowledged; females have reported that they are less likely to be promoted, even when accomplishing the same research output as men of a similar career stage. Peer recognition, of which citations are one measure, is a key component of professional advancement for researchers.

Dr Chatterjee suggests that gender bias in citations is likely unintentional and due to the higher visibility of men in the medical field and on social media. The authors offered three suggestions for how to address this:

  • Women should be encouraged to publish their research as open access; articles published without paywalls tend to receive more citations.
  • Editors should measure and track the diversity of authors publishing in their journals and ensure equal promotion.
  • Academic institutions should invest in mentoring female researchers and promote the increased representation of women.

While female representation in academic medicine has been increasing since 2009, the study highlights the ongoing barriers to career progression and recognition faced by women in the field.

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Do you think journals have a responsibility to encourage gender parity in academic medicine publishing?

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