Male researchers are far more likely than female colleagues to claim that their findings are especially important, a new study says.
The language used to describe discoveries can affect how much attention researchers get and also affect their career advancement. These findings may help explain why women in medicine and science tend to get paid less and have fewer career opportunities, the authors said.
“The factors that underlie gender disparities in academia are many and complex, but it is important to be aware that language may also play a role — as both a driver of inequality and as a symptom of gender differences in socialization,” senior author Dr. Anupam Jena said in a Harvard University news release. He’s an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.
Jena and his team analyzed more than 6 million peer-reviewed clinical and life science studies published between 2002 and 2017.
That analysis revealed that papers with male lead authors were up to 21% more likely to use language that casts the findings as highly significant than papers with female lead authors.
Specifically, the titles and abstracts of papers with male lead authors were more likely to use words such as “excellent,” “novel” and “unique.”
Papers using this type of positive framing were cited up to 13% more often by other researchers than papers without it, according to the study published Dec. 16 in the BMJ.
“One theory you hear to explain this is that maybe men promote themselves more, at least in part because it is deemed more socially acceptable for them to engage in such behavior,” said lead author Marc Lerchenmueller. He’s an assistant professor for technological innovation and management science at the University of Mannheim in Germany.
The study is believed to be the first large-scale effort to examine such gender-related language differences.
While the gap is narrowing between male and female researchers in medicine and science, women remain underrepresented on faculties of medicine and the life sciences. They also have lower salaries, get fewer research grants, and receive fewer citations than their male colleagues, the study authors noted.
While there are many reasons for this, differences in how much women promote their research accomplishments compared to men may play a role, the study concluded.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science seeks to boost the number of females in science.
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