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Quantitative evaluation of gender bias in astronomical publications from citation counts

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 19 June 2017


Numerous studies across different research fields have shown that both male and female referees consistently give higher scores to work done by men than to identical work done by women1,2,3. In addition, women are under-represented in prestigious publications and authorship positions4,5 and women receive ~10% fewer citations6,7. In astronomy, similar biases have been measured in conference participation8,9 and success rates for telescope proposals10,11. Even though the number of doctorate degrees awarded to women is constantly increasing, women still tend to be under-represented in faculty positions12. Spurred by these findings, we measure the role of gender in the number of citations that papers receive in astronomy. To account for the fact that the properties of papers written by men and women differ intrinsically, we use a random forest algorithm to control for the non-gender-specific properties of these papers. Here we show that papers authored by women receive 10.4 ± 0.9% fewer citations than would be expected if the papers with the same non-gender-specific properties were written by men.

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Figure 1: Ratio of mean number of citations for papers written by men to the mean number of citations for papers written by women.
Figure 2: Measured over predicted number of citations for papers authored by women.

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We thank J. Woo for giving detailed comments on the manuscript. We acknowledge the stimulating comments given to us by M. Urry, R. Schubert, R. Marino, B. Trakhtenbrot, I. Moise and E. Pournaras. We thank A. Bluck for proofreading the manuscript. We acknowledge support from the Swiss National Science Foundation. This research made use of the National Aeronautics and Space Administation’s Astrophysics Data System, the preprint server and the Python plotting library Matplotlib21.

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N.C. initiated the project and carried out the data analysis. S.T. created the name-matching algorithm and prepared the sample. S.B. created the algorithm that matched the authors with their geographical location. N.C. and S.T. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Neven Caplar.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Figures 1–3 and Supplementary Table 1. (PDF 234 kb)

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Caplar, N., Tacchella, S. & Birrer, S. Quantitative evaluation of gender bias in astronomical publications from citation counts. Nat Astron 1, 0141 (2017).

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