Unfortunately. What that means is that an endeavor that ought to be impartial and based on reasoned evaluation of the evidence is tainted by bias and unavoidable cultural preconceptions. We’ve got religion turning some people into credulous twits, but just as poisonous, we have sexism skewing our analyses.
The first thing we did was look at more than 3,000 articles published between 1980 and 2006 in 12 leading peer-reviewed international relations journals. We then controlled for every possible factor that could contribute to one’s citation count including the quality of the publication, its venue, methodology, the subject matter, and the researcher’s home institution (to name a few). We suspected that an article written by a tenured professor from an elite university, published in a top journal and written on a popular topic would get more citations than an article written by an untenured professor at a liberal arts college on an esoteric topic in a second-tier journal. What we didn’t know was whether gender would matter once you held all of these factors constant. Did knowing the gender of the author make other scholars cite an article more or less?
The results were striking. Even when we controlled for an enormous range of factors, gender remained one of the best predictors of how often an article would be cited. If you were female, your article would get about 0.7 cites for every 1 cite that a male author would receive.
This paper has garnered a lot of press here, here, and here, not because it’s telling us something we hadn’t already suspected but because the data are incontrovertible. Crunch the numbers in different ways and the results are always the same: articles written by women in IR are cited less than men, all else equal.
The authors of that study have some productive suggestions. One is anonymous review: publishers should mask out the authorship and affiliations when sending papers out for review. You’re judging the work on its own quality, right, so who wrote it shouldn’t matter. I do something similar when I’m grading papers — I refuse to look at the students’ names until I’ve evaluated the whole thing.
This would also diminish that other unfortunate bias, judging papers by what institution they came out of, rather than their content.
Another suggestion is simply to have first and middle names always reduced to initials. That’s not a perfect solution, but it helps. (It doesn’t help if you’re already known by your initials, but that’s a different problem.)
I have another suggestion: maybe graduate students should all get some kind of education in equality as part of their training, so they don’t go on to be bigoted asshats when they go on to full science careers. I’ve heard it all: prejudice against women, against blacks, against Asians, against historically black colleges, against liberal arts institutions. Maybe scientists should learn not to pay only lip service to that scientific virtue of objectivity.