Gender Bias Found in How Graduate Students Review Scientific Studies

May 3, 2013 at 1:46 am 9 comments

We’ve heard stories like this before, about the implicit bias in how STEM professionals are judged.  This one is striking because the participants are graduate students, not established researchers who reflect years of experience in the community.  These are the new researchers, and they’re already biased.

The research found that graduate students in communication — both men and women — showed significant bias against study abstracts they read whose authors had female names like “Brenda Collins” or “Melissa Jordan.”

These students gave higher ratings to the exact same abstracts when the authors were identified with male names like “Andrew Stone” or “Matthew Webb.”

In addition, the results suggested that some research topics were seen as more appropriate for women scholars — such as parenting and body image — while others, like politics, were viewed as more appropriate for men.

These findings suggest that women may still have a more difficult time than men succeeding in academic science, said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, lead author of the study and associate professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

“There’s still a stereotype in our society that science is a more appropriate career for men than it is for women,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.

via Gender Bias Found in How Scholars Review Scientific Studies.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bri Morrison  |  May 3, 2013 at 9:21 am

    So if grad students are already biased…when does this happen? High school? Middle school? Where should we address an intervention? Is this an outgrowth of “girls aren’t good at science”?

    Guess I’m glad my children have gender-neutral names…and maybe I should drop the last ‘a’ (Briana to Brian) when publishing…

    • 2. Monica McGill  |  May 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      Bri, several years ago in a parent-teacher meeting, I had this brief encounter:

      4th grade teacher to me: “Your daughter is bossy.”

      Me to teacher: “Did you ever wonder why girls are “bossy” at this age and boys are seen as “leaders”?”

      4th grade teacher, after a pause, with dumbfounded look on her face: “Oh, oh. I never thought of that before.”

      These perceptions, unfortunately, start way before middle school….

  • 3. chaikens  |  May 4, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I’m not too surprised. Graduate students have not learned and practiced disciplined thinking as much as their seniors. They also know less about the subject so they might be influenced more by irrelevant externalities. That said, we need to teach them at every opportunity about the prevalence and injustice of, and need to avoid bias, in making judgments and forming opinions.

  • 4. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  May 4, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I’m curious whether the gender bias is different with different groups of grad students. I suspect that most of the students in my field wouldn’t even look at the names of the authors—but it doesn’t surprise me that communications students would be more interested in the authors than the contents.

    • 5. chaikens  |  May 5, 2013 at 9:13 am

      We shouldn’t assume that science, etc. students are uncurious about author’s names, affiliations, genders, etc. It would help if we hid the authors’ identities, and mentioned the reasons, when assigning exercises to review literature. I heard about the concept of blind refereeing (and thought it was cool) when I was a student, although it wasn’t practiced in my field. And scientific practice, continuing to learn from its history, is full of subtle procedures to avoid bias.

    • 6. Monica McGill  |  May 6, 2013 at 11:55 am

      I believe it’s fair to hypothesize that the opposite is true. Given the culture and the level of representation of women in computing, there would be a greater bias against articles written by women and in favor of those written by men than what was reported here. The field of communications does not have the gender imbalance that the field of computing has.

      The study shows that even though we think people don’t pay attention to author gender, they do. We need to be careful to discount the results because of the selection of participants.

      It would be interesting to see this study repeated with computing students as the criteria for participants–and also computing faculty.

      • 7. Bri Morrison  |  May 6, 2013 at 12:27 pm

        Monica, I agree that I also would like to see the study repeated with computing students. I also wonder if nationality and culture have an influence. We know that females are not treated equally in all cultures and some of those cultures are widely represented in many disciplines (such as computing). Data with gender and ethnicity would be interesting.

        • 8. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  May 6, 2013 at 12:31 pm

          I would be interested in such studies also. I did find it a bit disturbing that the report on the study generalized from “grad students in communication” to all of “academic science”.

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