MRE Symonds, NJ Gemmell, TL Braisher, KL Gorringe, MA Elgar (2006) Gender differences in publication output: towards an unbiased metric of research performance. PLoS ONE 2: e127.

What’s it about?

We showed that among a cohort of evolutionary biologists and ecologists, men tended to publish more than women during the first 15 years of their careers (or rather were quicker off the blocks), but that, for the number of papers they produce, women tended to get cited more. Seems like there’s a quantity vs. quality effect going on. However, we argue that current metrics of research performance tend to focus more on the quantity rather quality aspect and suggest ways around this.

What’s the story behind it?

The final, and perhaps most interesting paper of the series that was produced using data I initially collected for the study of effect of Nature/Science publications on subsequent output. The productivity puzzle is a well known differences in publication rates between men and women. It’s a puzzle because obvious explanations (e.g. women’s tendency to have greater responsibility for child caring) don’t actually explain the difference. The paper led to a number of media, and popular articles talking about the dangers of assessing scientific productivity through means that are inherent biased against women. Ultimately though, I would argue that a productive (pun not intended) line of research would be a sociological study of exactly what is the cause of the lower publication output of women early in their career (which creates a ‘catch-up’ scenario for their subsequent career).

Interesting factoid 1: One of the first papers published in the publication behemoth that is PLoS ONE. We originally submitted it to PLoS Biology (if I remember rightly) but got diverted into the sister journal.

Interesting factoid 2: the only paper I have published with my partner as a co-author. I’m lucky that we are both scientists, but work in two very different fields of biology.


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