Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gender representation in Geology

A week and a half ago, I pointed out the gender imbalance apparent in the September issue of Geology.  My particular gripe was that it would be hard to achieve gender balance in my ongoing geopoetry series if issues (like the September one) had three or fewer papers by women authors.  With encouragements from commenters and the geotwitter rock stars, I had a slightly deeper look into what is going on with gender in geology, by recording the given name-assumed gender and author order for a year’s worth of Geology articles.  

In total, this included 239 papers with a total of 1164 authors.  The number of authors per paper ranged from 1 to 19. Of these authors, 64% were male, 19% were female, and 16% were initials. Initial authors excluded from the analysis; Most (57%) of them were on papers with six or more authors, so I assume that initialization was generally a space-saving exercise.

Looking only at uninitiated papers, the M/F ratio is 76.9% to 23.1%.  This is not too different to the professional gender balance quoted here (76% M) and is slightly better than the decade-old numbers on assistant professor hires (23% F), but is substantially worse than the (similar era) graduating PhD student ratio (38% F). So the implication is that the Geology gender ratio mostly reflects post-grad school anti-female filtering.

As for author order, the observed vs expected ratios (given the gender ratio) are shown in the figure below.  Due to the small size of the data set and the large number of individual categories, none of these deviations are statistically significant; the probability of sole author papers being seven M to zero F is about 14%- not high, but not enough to convict either.  The M/F of first authors, second authors, etc. was generally within a few percentage points of the mean ratio, and always within counting stats.

And a quick Monte Carlo* suggests that the probability of getting three or fewer female first authors in any particular issue is about 28% (see below), based on 10,000 random author list generations for 20-paper issues.

This is only a simulation, of course. It will take the Geological Society of America just shy of 800 years to put out their 10,000th issue.  Let’s hope that gender equity in academia has been achieved by then.

* Yes, I know there is an analytical solution, but simulations are more fun and quicker.


Kv Voigt said...

So, what's your solution? Are you advocating gender quotas in the sciences? Would you deny/discourage little boys from being rockhounds, say, or force little girls to play with rock hammers and field magnifiers? What has happened to the emphasis on the study, the love if you will, of the sciences? Make it available, and people who find it fascinating will gravitate to it. My four-year-old niece is a fine example. Thanks to her daddy and I, she already knows what Leaverite is, and she loves rockhounding with Uncle Kev. Your priorities seem a little skewed; while not a Christian, I am reminded of a scripture that I am familiar with: "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." I read your blog, and others like it, for the knowledge and field experience you share, so that I, your basic Blue-Collar mechanic who never got past a few dozen college hours, can expand my mind for my beloved pastime of amateur geologist. If pointing out the differences in the number of women and men publishing in this or that genre is what you have been reduced to, you wasted your education on your geology studies. When it comes to most things, and the sciences in particular, I make no distinctions between men and women. Intelligence has no gender, and I'm reasonably certain that there isn't a fossil or volcano out there that cares about the issue anyway.

David Baker said...

Thanks, Chuck, for being a part of this conversation.

A field of study not having access to the best minds in the world truly limits its ability to practice good science and understand the world around us.

In my field, we've got a similar problem. And there's loads of data that it's not because men are the ones that find it fascinating and gravitate to it.

Unconscious bias plays a big role. And an unlevel playing field plays a big role.

For example, we've got good data that shows if a candidate is able to have an informal conversation prior to interviewing, the candidate is much more likely to do well in the interviews and get hired. We also have data that shows that far more male candidates are able to have these conversations. Possible solution -- make sure female candidates have equal access to such informational conversations.

No, Chuck, your intellect is not being wasted by considering the effect of sexism on your field of study.

Chuck Magee said...

Dear KV,
If women are underrepresented in geology because they don't like rock hammers, that's one thing. If they are underrepresented because their deans hand them over to federal agents for deporation when they report sexual assault, that's different. Without acknowledging the problem and investigating it, it is hard to tell the relative importance of these and other factors.

Kv Voigt said...

Thanks for the response, Chuck.
Regarding the situation you mentioned, such a response should indeed be soundly condemned, and corrected! But again, regarding the original problem - what do you suggest as a solution?

Chuck Magee said...

You're welcome.
And you are right that terrible treatment of women should be condemned and corrected. But that isn't happening. The recent Clancy et al. (2014) paper shows than more than a quarter of women field scientists are assaulted, and almost three quarters experience verbal harassment. These numbers are appalling. Given the shit women have to put up with in order to practice science, the least I can do is make sure I don't overlook their papers.