The extent and drivers of gender imbalance in neuroscience reference lists


Similarly to many scientific disciplines, neuroscience has increasingly attempted to confront pervasive gender imbalances. Although publishing and conference participation are often highlighted, recent research has called attention to the prevalence of gender imbalance in citations. Because of the downstream effects of citations on visibility and career advancement, understanding the role of gender in citation practices is vital for addressing scientific inequity. Here, we investigate whether gendered patterns are present in neuroscience citations. Using data from five top neuroscience journals, we find that reference lists tend to include more papers with men as first and last author than would be expected if gender were unrelated to referencing. Importantly, we show that this imbalance is driven largely by the citation practices of men and is increasing over time as the field diversifies. We assess and discuss possible mechanisms and consider how researchers might approach these issues in their own work.

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Fig. 1: Trends in author gender within top neuroscience journals between 1995 and 2018.
Fig. 2: Construction and visualization of overall over- and undercitation measures.
Fig. 3: Relationship between author gender and gendered citation practices.
Fig. 4: Temporal trends in citation rates across gender of the cited and citing author.
Fig. 5: Visualization of co-authorship network composition measures.
Fig. 6: Article-level overcitation of MM papers before and after accounting for local network composition.

Data availability

Data and materials for this study have been deposited in an Open Science Framework repository and can be accessed at

Code availability

Code for reproducing presented estimates and figures can be accessed at, and code that demonstrates the full sampling, processing and analysis pipeline can be accessed at


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We thank D. Lydon-Staley and D. Zhou for constructive comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. R.T.S. would like to acknowledge support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (R01 NS085211 and R01 NS060910). D.S.B. acknowledges support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and an NSF CAREER award (PHY-1554488). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of any of the funding agencies.

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Conceptualization: J.D.D., K.A.L., R.T.S. and D.S.B.; methodology: J.D.D., K.A.L., E.G.T., R.T.S. and D.S.B.; data curation: J.D.D.; formal analysis: J.D.D.; writing: J.D.D., P.Z. and D.S.B. (original draft) and J.D.D., K.A.L., E.G.T., P.Z., R.T.S. and D.S.B. (review and editing); funding acquisition: R.T.S. and D.S.B.; supervision: R.T.S. and D.S.B.

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Correspondence to Danielle S. Bassett.

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Peer review information Nature Neuroscience thanks Clarissa Bauer-Staeb, Katherine Button, Catherine Hobbs, Russell Poldrack and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Dworkin, J.D., Linn, K.A., Teich, E.G. et al. The extent and drivers of gender imbalance in neuroscience reference lists. Nat Neurosci 23, 918–926 (2020).

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