Are women in the field of neuroscience still under-represented? Does there exist obstacles to their getting published in top journals? According to a Nature Neuroscience editorial on the subject, the situation is looking up (for them, but not for women).
Only one in five papers published in Nature Neuroscience has a female corresponding author. This number might simply reflect the low representation of women among neuroscientists, but it could also contribute to perpetuating the problem, as high-profile publication influences hiring and promotion decisions.
In response, the journal examined whether their author’s gender correlates with their chances of publication. They report that papers from female authors are sent for peer review and subsequently published in proportion to their representation among submissions. To me, this dodges the most important question: Why aren’t women submitting to top journals, and therefore matching their male counterparts representation in high impact journals? (More below the fold)
While Nature Neuroscience’s study certainly displayed equality at the level of their review and publication process, they essentially wash their hands of everything that comes before. They reported that 20.5% of published authors were women and 79.5% were male. As a burgeoning neuroscientist who happens to be female, I can’t tell you how depressing that statistic is and I take it as my personal mission in my career to blast those numbers back into the realm of reality.
Seriously though, I have had discussions with my mentor as well as other students about the question of hiding my first name by using a gender-neutral version such as “S.A.Batts” instead of “Shelley A. Batts.” When I mentioned it, I was half-joking and half-serious. To my astonishment almost everyone was in favor of publishing under S.A.Batts.
I was furious. I’m not doing it.
But the fact that the suggestion was met in this fashion reveals that the underlying gender bias that has existed in science for centuries is still there, although in a more subtle version.
Among 940 reviewers for the journal, 152 (16.2%) were female and 788 (83.8%) were male.
Women leave the laboratory at higher rates than men throughout the world and across their careers, and the percentage of women in the top ranks is very low. In 2000, about half of European graduate students in life sciences were female, in contrast to only 10% of full professors. Similarly, in 2001, 53.9% of US graduate biology students, 37.7% of postdoctoral fellows, 34.5% of assistant professors and 15.8% of full professors were female
…in 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that female faculty had lower salaries, less space and fewer resources than men with equivalent accomplishments. Psychology studies also show that when evaluating resumes, people tend to rate the accomplishments of moderately good male candidates as better than those of equivalent female candidates.
Nature Neuroscience had a great opportunity here, which was wasted. they are a very influential journal; scientists of all walks listen and read. Instead of just highlighting the gender discrepancies, and pointing out they THEY are of course doing things right, they could have come out against this bias and encouraged an end to it. While this may seem a moot point to some, taking sides against discrimination is a first great step to changing the minds and assumptions of the readers of a journal that, according to their own measures, has an 80% male readership.
Journals are the end-all-be-all of an academic career, hence the popular “Publish or Die” mantra that is grilled into students early on. A measure of a scientist is of his or her publications. Therefore the lack of first-rate publications will handicap an otherwise promising career. The real loser here is science. The discouragement that women are bound to feel throughout their careers may be just part of the experience, but it would be nice if the Science Oracles such as Nature said it shouldn’t be that way.