135 — Disequilibrium in Gender Ratios among Authors who Contributed Equally

Broderick & Casadevall (10.1101/241554)

Read on 02 January 2018
#gender-bias  #sex-factors  #academia  #publication  #peer-review 

Whether or not your academic field puts importance on the ordering of author names when publishing, the fact remains that we often refer to a paper as So-and-So, et al — favoring that first name even when other authors are listed as “contributed equally.”

(These naming conventions are something I’ve become very familiar with, because I try whenever possible to list the byline of a paper here on this blog consistently with how the publication or paper refers to itself; in absence of that, I try to write Name et al for ≥3 authors, and name each author individually (Name, or Name & Name) for fewer.)

A common practice — too common, if you ask me — is to list multiple “first” authors as “contributed equally.” The issue with this, of course, is that only one name can be actually written first. Woe to the person whose name comes second alphabetically, or is younger.

This paper explains that male-male equal-authorship was more common than mixed gender equal-authorship, which in turn was more common than female-female equal authorship. (This isn’t surprising, considering how grant awards unfairly favor men, but I digress.) In an ideal world, male-female joint authorships would either demonstrate random ordering (the female is listed before the male contributor 50% of the time) or alphabetical ordering (the person with the last name earlier in the alphabet is listed first, regardless of gender). But this paper found that of the thousands of dual-authorship papers reviewed from PubMed, men were disproportionately listed before their “equal” female counterparts: This was not correlated with alphabetical ordering, and did not appear random. Naturally it’s difficult to decide if this is a result of academic seniority; but it’s well-known that men are perceived to be more senior even with an equal amount of experience (a review on that paper is forthcoming!).

A final note: Some sci-tweeps tossed around the idea of annotating these dual-authorship relationships when submitting a manuscript, and leaving it to the publication to randomize the author list on every pageview. I think this paper and others demonstrates why this is still an inadequate solution, in light of gender bias and other preferential practices in academia.