July 29, 2021

Research Article: Gender Differences in How Scientists Present the Importance of Their Research: Observational Study

The research article (full text, open access) linked below was published today by BMJ.

Title

Gender Differences in How Scientists Present the Importance of Their Research: Observational Study

Authors

Marc J Lerchenmueller
University of Mannheim
Yale University

Olav Sorenson
Yale University

Anupam B Jena
Harvard Medical School
Massachusetts General Hospital
National Bureau of Economic Research

Source

BMJ 2019;367:l6573
DOI: 10.1136/bmj.l6573

Abstract

Objectives
Women remain underrepresented on faculties of medicine and the life sciences more broadly. Whether gender differences in self presentation of clinical research exist and may contribute to this gender gap has been challenging to explore empirically. The objective of this study was to analyze whether men and women differ in how positively they frame their research findings and to analyze whether the positive framing of research is associated with higher downstream citations.

Design

Retrospective observational study.

Data sources
Titles and abstracts from 101 720 clinical research articles and approximately 6.2 million general life science articles indexed in PubMed and published between 2002 and 2017.

Main outcome measures
Analysis of article titles and abstracts to determine whether men and women differ in how positively they present their research through use of terms such as “novel” or “excellent.” For a set of 25 positive terms, we estimated the relative probability of positive framing as a function of the gender composition of the first and last authors, adjusting for scientific journal, year of publication, journal impact, and scientific field.

Results
Articles in which both the first and last author were women used at least one of the 25 positive terms in 10.9% of titles or abstracts versus 12.2% for articles involving a male first or last author, corresponding to a 12.3% relative difference (95% CI 5.7% to 18.9%). Gender differences in positive presentation were greatest in high impact clinical journals (impact factor >10), in which women were 21.4% less likely to present research positively. Across all clinical journals, positive presentation was associated with 9.4% (6.6% to 12.2%) higher subsequent citations, and in high impact clinical journals 13.0% (9.5% to 16.5%) higher citations. Results were similar when broadened to general life science articles published in journals indexed by PubMed, suggesting that gender differences in positive word use generalize to broader samples.

Conclusions
Clinical articles involving a male first or last author were more likely to present research findings positively in titles and abstracts compared with articles in which both the first and last author were women, particularly in the highest impact journals. Positive presentation of research findings was associated with higher downstream citations.

Direct to Full Text Article

Harvard Gazette Report About Research Article

The Power of Positive Phrasing 

Findings framed as ‘promising,’ ‘novel,’ ‘unique’ — used more often by male researchers — are likelier to be cited.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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