25.05.2020 change 25.05.2020

Do Women Scientists Publish Less During Pandemic?

Credit: Fotolia Credit: Fotolia

Media reports about a dramatic decline in the number of articles published by women in scientific journals are not reliable, says a leading academic, adding that “we will only know the scale of the problem in six months.

Articles about a decrease began to appear after a tweet in Mid-April by Elizabeth Hannon, editor of The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, said “Negligible number of submissions to the journal from women in the last month. Never seen anything like it.”

But these have now been dismissed by Dr. Ewa Rozkosz from the Adam Mickiewicz University.

An expert in bibliometric analysis, including the study of publication patterns among scholars, she says: “Numerous comments under this tweet supported the existence of this phenomenon, but there were also those that suggested the opposite.”

“Among them was one with the headline +Preliminary research indicates that women publish less+ - based on Twitter discussions! Meanwhile, it is far too early for such judgments. To talk about even preliminary research, one should use a bibliographic database, not base findings on a few selected tweets.”

One of the explanations given for the idea that there are fewer publications from women during the pandemic is that they are expected to submit fewer articles for publication, because, for example, they devote themselves to caring for children more than men. 

Dr. Rozkosz responded to this by saying: “I believe that it will be possible to observe changes in the number of scientific publications depending on whether their authors do or do not have young children.

“Work on a paper takes many months. That is why we will be able to observe the effects of the pandemic in six months at the earliest. Full analysis will be possible when information about published papers is included in the bibliographic databases and analysed. So it could be a matter of two years.”

Earlier analyses by the Scholarly Communication Research Group (to which Dr Rozkosz belongs), based on the Polish Scientific Bibliography, show that in the pre-pandemic period, the same number of women and men published in the fields of humanities and social sciences. 

But that, says Dr. Rozkosz, is because: “The percentage of women steadily decreases as we move towards science.

“The conclusion is that there is basically no field of science in which women would publish more than men. One reason for this is that there are simply more men among the scholars representing mathematics and natural sciences. But that is not the only reason.”

She added that according to some, men build stronger positions in social relations in the university environment, because they can devote more time to it than women. They do not drop out of the science system when children appear. They are not as burdened by home responsibilities as women, and this allows them to focus more on their work. “As a result, they are more likely to build research teams, and dense and intensive scientific relationships allow them to publish more,” she says. 

The researcher also notes that women usually have a lower sense of competence than men.

She said: “Studies show that women rate their research lower. They are less willing to describe it as ground-breaking, innovative or excellent,” and this also translates into fewer publications.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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