Follow-up: Diversity in Science

Nature Neuroscience commits to greater diversity, or does it?

Publications — Amasa Therapeutics

Hi friends,

I wanted to provide a less-formal follow-up to my recent post about Black in Neuro Week. Just this month, Nature Neuroscience put out an editorial committing to ‘widening the scope’ of diversity in its publishing practices. As a part of this article, they cited an interesting study on gender bias in citations. Quoting the article:

Yet a study from Dworkin and colleagues highlights one aspect that has been overlooked: gender diversity in citation practices. The study shows that from 2009–2018, papers with a female researcher as first or last author were cited less often than papers with male first and last authors in five neuroscience journals, including Nature Neuroscience. Author groups with male researchers as both first and last authors over-cited papers with first and last male authors (MM) and under-cited papers with woman scientists as first and/or last author (WM, MW, WW). In contrast, groups with women as first and last authors under-cited MM and WM papers, over-cited MW papers and over-cited WW papers at nearly half the rate than MM author groups under-cite these papers. Although the number of women neuroscientists increased over this period, the under-citation of women-authored papers worsened, particularly by male-led author groups. These observations suggest that men are less likely to cite research led by women.

I find this observation extremely surprising. How often do you take note of the first name of the lead author on a paper let alone their gender? Me neither.

I think there is something else going on here. I think it’s reasonable to assume to a decent degree that paper citations is a function of one’s network and connections. I can see how male citations would tend to network with male colleagues and vice versa for women.

The editorial goes on to suggest that Nature Neuroscience will be addressing gender disparities by paying closer attention to the genders of the citations at the end of papers. However, if the gender diversity problem is actually about social networks, then solving gender disparities in citations will take a lot more than changing publishing policy with regard to the gender of the authors of the papers cited.

Alright, so maybe this is a nitpick, so let’s get to the my biggest issue with this editorial: the title is “widening the scope of diversity” but the article glosses over other forms of diversity such as the LGBTQ+ community without really widening its scope at all.

I get it, gender diversity is an easy metric to track and talk about in a narrative—and it is of course very important. But let’s also start talking about other forms of diversity. What about religion, disability, or socioeconomic status? We’ve got to start looking past the race and gender of individuals when assessing a community’s diversity. As Suki Sandhu, CEO and founder of INvolve, says in an article on Raconteur :

You may have a ‘diverse’ group of people sitting around a table – a gay man, a black woman and a trans person – but if they’ve all been Oxbridge educated, their thought processes may well be the same. The white man from a working-class background, who was the first in his family to attend university, may actually be the ‘diversity’ at the table

I’m not saying that widening one’s scope on diversity isn’t difficult—it’s a huge challenge. But we should at least be moving in that direction and this editorial from Nature Neuroscience tells me that they aren’t yet.

Thanks for reading.