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Where on the List

Not only does it matter how many papers a researcher, particularly one in academia, produces, where on the list of authors that person fall is also important.

At Five Thirty-Eight, Emma Pierson dives into arXiv data — more than 900,000 papers — to see how female scientists are faring on that metric. In the 23 years' worth of papers she analyzed, the representation of female authors did increase over time.

Pierson found that while female authors have fewer papers than their male counterparts, they are more likely to have first authorships. At the same time, though, they are less likely to fall in the coveted senior author slot. "Women were overrepresented in first author positions (relative to middle author) by 8.9 percent and underrepresented in last author positions (relative to middle author) by 10.5 percent," she notes.

In fields in which there are more women working, they are more likely to be first authors, Pierson adds. She points out, though, that not every field is covered by arXiv and that not every scientist in the fields that are contribute to the repository.

Even with those caveats she says her findings mesh with a study of the JSTOR archives. Women in that dataset, too, had fewer papers and were less likely to be senior authors.

"Once we've identified the gender gaps, the next step is to explain them," Pierson writes. "How much of women's underrepresentation is due to bias and how much to other factors? While it's clear that gender bias in science exists, it's hard to prove merely by examining publication data."