Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Increase Visibility of Female Scientists

In this series of posts, I'd like to focus on how women in science can increase their online visibility.  This strategy was a topic of discussion at the SpotOn London 2012, held November 11.  In the last post, I listed some of the resources SpotOn was gathering to assist women in improving their online science profiles, which are here, in case you missed it.

One of the simplest ways to create a professional online presence is to develop profiles on websites such as ResearchGate, Google Scholar Citations, and Epernicus.  Although someone can have a website or webpage that summarizes their professional accomplishments, these networked sites provide some options and advantages that a personal website cannot.  They are similar to social networking sites in that others can "follow" a specific scientist whose work is of interest. If you want to keep up with what the lead scientists in your field are publishing, you can "subscribe" to their profiles on Google Scholar or ResearchGate and they can subscribe to you. Subscribers are notified of new articles.  If you have a profile, you will be notified of new citations to your published papers.  ResearchGate offers the option to post full-text articles and supplementary information alongside each citation, which a follower can read online or download.

I have profiles on the first two and can describe how they work.  In this post, I'll focus on Google Scholar Citations.

Google Scholar Citations (GSC) is a fairly recent offering (2011), which is described as "a simple way for authors to compute their citation metrics and track them over time".  GSC is more than a tool for tracking one's citations, however.  Authors can create public or private profiles with options to show a photo, primary affiliation, email address, key words, and links to their professional websites.  Below that is a summary of citations, which shows the total number of citations your publications have received (all time and previous 5 years), your h-index, and your i10 index (the h-index is the largest number h such that h publications have at least h citations; the i10 index is the number of publications with at least 10 citations).  There is a summary graph showing numbers of citations per year over your publishing career.  Below that is a list of all your publications, each one showing the title and citation details, year published, and number of times cited.  The title is hyperlinked to a more detailed page showing the pattern of citations for that publication over its lifespan.  The number of citations is hyperlinked to a search page listing all sources that cite that publication.

As I've described previously, GSC does a good job of identifying publications belonging to a specific individual.  However, it's essential to carefully examine all publications ascribed to you to ensure they are correct.  Any incorrect entries are easily deleted, however, and missing publications can be added to your profile. On the downside, citation metrics are notoriously prone to error and various statistical biases.  The search option by discipline results in a listing of author profiles ranked by total number of citations, which encourages comparisons based on a single number (total citations).  See the screenshot below for the first ten profiles in the field of ecology:

Notice they are all male.  In fact, there seemed to be fewer women with online profiles in GSC than men, even in fields where women are well represented.  I conducted an in-depth analysis to see if my impression was correct. I searched for all individuals with public profiles in GSC who listed ecology as their field of expertise (search term = label:ecology).  I scanned through all 1700 entries starting with those individuals with the highest number of citations and counted all male and female entries (note that there is a third category (indeterminate) for individuals whose gender could not be conclusively ascertained from their photo or name).  The following breakdown shows the absolute number (top panel) and proportion (bottom panel) of male vs. female profiles by citation category (ranked from lowest to highest).

Out of 1,700 profiles for ecologists with public profiles in GSC, only 332 women are listed (19.5%).  In the top 100 authors (i.e., people with the most citations), there is only one female; there are no females in the group with >10,000 citations.  However, the proportion of females increases with decreasing numbers of citations.  In the group with fewer than 100 citations, including students and postdocs, the proportion of females is 41%.

It's not possible to determine why there are so few females with profiles on GSC.  Ecology is a discipline that has many female participants.  The Ecological Society of America, for example, has a 40% female membership (greater than 50% for age groups 21-30 years old). The profiles for physics, mathematics, astronomy, zoology, botany, and other sciences were similarly skewed toward the male gender (especially at the highly cited end of the spectrum).  In some cases, the 50 to 100 top-cited scientists were all male.

The impression one gets is that there are few females impacting science. This is certainly not true.  It's possible that women are less inclined to post public profiles on sites such as GSC.  Perhaps males are more inclined to compare themselves to their competitors using citation metrics, especially if they've totted up a high citation ranking.  Perhaps papers authored by women are less frequently cited (not supported by analysis of ecology papers, however).  Perhaps men tend to submit papers to higher impact journals that are more likely to be cited.  Whatever the reason, the paucity of female profiles on such sites adds to the overall impression that women are not major players in science.

In the next post, I'll look at ResearchGate, which is quite different in its emphasis compared to GSC.

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