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Inclusive, and Better, Science

The diversity of a scientific research team may affect the quality of the scientific work produced by that group, NPR's Shankar Vedantam says on Morning Edition.

First, Vedantam notes, American science has become more ethnically diverse. He says that in 1985, more than half of scientific papers had authors with exclusively English and European names, and that percentage dropped below half by 2008 as more names of Chinese, Indian, and Korean origin had begin to appear on author lists.

Vedantam says it appears that papers authored by a diverse group of researchers are more highly cited than papers from more homogenous groups, referring to work done by Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard University, and Wei Huang examining more than a million papers.

"We found that if you wrote a paper largely with people of your own group, it's likely the paper gets less citations than if you write it with a broader group of people," Freeman says.

Vedantam notes that ethnic diversity is likely serving as a marker.

"Ethnic diversity is an indication of ideas diversity," Freeman says. "People who are more alike are more likely to think more alike and one of the things that gives a kick to science is that you get people with somewhat different views."

Freeman also found, Vedantam adds, that papers with geographical diversity of authors, even within the US, tend to be more highly cited.