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We(men) in science - Understanding the matilda effect in science communication

The Matilda Effect in Science Communication: An experiment on Gender Bias in Publication Quality Perceptions and Collaboration Interest

Authors- Silvia Knobloch -Westerwick, Carroll J. Glynn and Michael Huge

Journal- Sage Journals- Vol 35, issue 5; May 20 , 2015

TL;DR - The Matilda effect is the systematic underrecognition of women’s contribution across research fields. This article serves as the first experimental study to verify the matilda effect operating in science communication. It finds that men who work on research topics linked to their gender notions are perceived to have high scientific quality and a higher chance of collaboration than their female counterparts in the same field.

Why I chose this paper - I experienced first-hand what it's like to be overlooked while working in a field that is viewed as "being for men". I notice how, in a career that was once my passion, my work will go ignored or unrecognized. Naturally, I want to know why understanding how the matilda effect functions in the academic field of communication provides insights into gender disparity in academia.

Where are the women?

As the dinner was being served and family anecdotes were being discussed, my father asked us to envision the most talented minds in science— the scientific community's crème de la crème. We all rapid-fired a list of names that came to us, but not one of them was a woman. The somber reality of this event did not escape our notice; it showed the systemic gender bias that still exists in our common consciousness, even in fields we hold in high regard. This encounter left an incredible impression on me, reminding me of the need to question our beliefs and broadening our view of who can excel at science.

Representation of women in STEM has been suppressed for a long time. Investigating the Matilda effect in scientific communication can aid in identifying and addressing the systemic undervaluation and marginalisation of women's contributions to science communication. The researchers in this study wanted to bridge the gap of research in understanding why fewer women are represented in science by studying the matilda effect in science communication. Ideally science aims to be objective and should not let personal bias and opinions hinder its objectivity.

Their hypothesis was male authors' scholarly contributions to science communication have higher chances of collaboration within fields that are classified as "men typed" than females working in the same area of science communication.

To test this hypothesis, researchers chose fifteen abstracts from an international communication association (ICA) annual conference from 2010 and divided them into three categories: "men-typed," "women- typed", and "gender-neutral." Titles featuring terms such as "child," "parent," and "women" were classified as "female-typed themes" in a prior study referenced by the researchers, whereas titles containing words such as "CMC," "computer," and "politic" were classified as "male-typed topics." These classifications were based on actual data and were intended to represent gender stereotypes in study fields. Abstracts were selected at random and were assigned “male” or “female” author names, alternating between the gendered research fields with the help of professionals in science communication. Some abstracts were given male author names in order to reflect "men-typed" research, while others were given female names in order to reflect "women-typed" study. The same procedure was followed for "women-typed" abstracts, with both male and female author names used.

Graduate students rated the abstracts, with their assigned authors, based on the quality of the research and how interested they would be in collaborating with the authors. According to their data, their audience perceived the “male-typed” research of male authors as having higher scientific quality than same research conducted by females. This result correlates well with rising trends of gender bias seen for decades in science communication.

Additionally, male authors who conducted “female-typed” research received little to no interest for collaboration, solidifying the viewpoint that internal bias does not always affect men positively. Perhaps unsurprisingly, interest in collaboration was observed the highest for male authors working on "male-typed" topics paving a way to understand why females lack grant allocation and fewer citations.

This is a figure explain the research collaboration for male and female authors on y-axis, and x- axis represents topics divided by first author researchers.
Women conducting research in “male-typed” research are less likely to be considered for collaborations.

Fig 1. Women who work in traditionally male-dominated fields of research frequently have fewer opportunities for collaborative partnerships available to them.

This study is amongst first to provide empirical evidence of gender bias in science communication. Science communicators play an important role in preserving science's integrity by maintaining objectivity, which in turn serves to preserve scientific community morale. Bias in scientific communication can have a negative impact on scientific community morale, and future research should provide insights on how to effectively address this issue.

Implications of the research

To address gender prejudice in scientific communication, we must first acknowledge its existence and comprehend its implications for the scientific community.

Gender bias exists in scientific communication: The study found a substantial difference in quality perception and collaboration interest depending on the authors' assigned gender, confirming the presence of gender bias in scientific communication. It’s not just men! As observed in this study, bias does not arise necessarily from misogyny but because of internalized societal stereotypes.

The Matilda Effect is real : These findings lend greater validity to the Matilda Effect, in which female scientists are neglected, underestimated, or even ridiculed for their work while their male rivals gain more respect. This contributes to the gender gap widening in the academic circles in limiting the participation of females suppressing women’s ideologies and diversity of research in science. Exclusion of voices and perspectives of women also leads to perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, which can further put down other marginalized groups as well.

Gender-neutral language is essential: While the article focuses on women's under-representation in science, it's crucial to recognise that diversity in science extends beyond gender. A key concern in the profession is a lack of representation from underrepresented communities, such as people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and those with disabilities. To foster greater diversity in science, a comprehensive approach that acknowledges the intersectionality of identity and provides equal chances for all individuals to participate in science is required. Gender-neutral terminology in scientific communication can help to lessen the impact of gender bias while also promoting more inclusivity and diversity.

We can battle the Matilda Effect and gender bias in scientific communication by raising awareness of their influence, allowing us to work towards a more inclusive scientific community. Promoting diversity and equality in science communication enables a wider public to trust science scicomm practitioners and bridge the gap between science and public. Science holds the power of changing lives, and practicing science communication diligently holds even greater power as it empowers masses to make much more informed and evidence based decisions that can improve the way that we live.

Edited by - Hector Torres Vera and Niveen Abi Ghannam

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1 comentário

13 de jul. de 2023

Well mentioned and descrribed

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