Monday, October 06, 2014

A brief note on Geopoetical gender imbalance

Like many physical science journals, Geology has a severe male/female author imbalance.  In part, this may reflect the imbalance in researches publishing in the field.  When I started the Geopoetry series, one of my goals was to reduce the underrepresentation of women in science in my selection of papers to poetify. Initially, this was easy; I was picking the very most interesting papers from about 3 years worth of Geology issues to feed my muse, and filtering for interestingness substantially lessened the gender bias.  However, as I transition into pulling poems from the most recent issue or two, addressing this imbalance becomes harder.  For example, to find an equal number of male and female authored papers when pulling four from a volume which has three female and 20 male first authors requires the women to be many times more interesting than the men.  So I have two requests:

For you, the readers, I ask this.  If I start reverting to the mean Geolgoy M/F ratio, please call me on it.

And for the editors of Geology, I ask this: Why is the gender bias in our society flagship journal so bad (~13% in Sept 2014)? Does it reflect the bias in submissions? Or is it an unintended consequence of the review process? The anecdote that filtering for (subjective) interestingness evens out the gender ratio suggests that female authors might be required to clear a higher bar.  Is this an editorial problem or a reviewer problem?  If it lies in the reviewers, can high frequency reviewers have their reviews statistically analysed so that a misogynistic correction factor can be built into their reports?

I hope this is a tractable problem which can be fixed, and I’ll try to continue to address it here at a rate of fourteen lines per week. But hopefully more can be done.


Anne Jefferson said...

This is a neat idea, Chuck, and a really interesting question. It's actually prompting me to ask a whole series of questions to the ether?

How does the gender balance of authorship vary by author position? (i.e., if you looked for papers with any women authors or with women authors in senior positions, would that change the ratio?)

How does Geology compare to other journals? I could imagine surveying a year or more of data from a cross-section of journals (say those published by GSA, AGU, and EGU) and seeing whether gender balance changed with impact factor or with the particular subfield of geoscience captured by the journal?

If Geology (or other high IF) journals are more imbalanced than other geoscience journals, is that because women authored papers aren't getting through the review process (and we know that women authors face a tougher standard in review than men authors) or that women aren't submitting to the high IF journals? We can't answer this with publicly available data, but I can certainly ask the GSA publications folk whether they could look at these data.

Chuck Magee said...

I can check Geology vs. American Mineralogist. If the commercials care, they can hire someone to do the same.

Chris Phoenix said...

One possibility is that for a woman to become a geologist at all, she has to be so skilled and creative in her field that her papers are more likely than a male geologist's to be interesting. says that geologists are 76% male. How does that compare to the author ratio you see published? You mentioned one journal where 13% of papers had a female first author - is that typical?

Or perhaps women are somehow discouraged, or less encouraged, to submit run-of-the-mill papers. Or perhaps, following up on Anne's question, the first author tends to be a manager or department head, and the gender ratio there is more skewed than in the field as a whole. (Or perhaps women in "head" positions are more likely to share credit and less likely to grab first authorship?)

I'd be interested in the submission rates of papers by gender, to know whether more papers by women are being rejected, or fewer papers by women are being submitted. (Or both!)

Chuck Magee said...

It turns out the author ratio was 77/23, so it might just reflect the population in the field. Bigger wigs than I will see if they can peer under the hood.