Rooting out systemic bias in neuroscience publishing

An interdisciplinary research team has found statistical evidence of women being undercited in academic literature. They are now studying similar effects along racial lines.

Scientific papers are the backbone of a research community and the citation of those papers sparks conversation in a given field. This cycle of publication and citation leads to new knowledge, but what happens when implicit discrimination in a field leads to papers by minority scholars being cited less often than their counterparts? A new team of researchers has come together to ask this question and dig into the numbers of gender and racial bias in neuroscience. 

From left to right, Danielle Bassett, Jordan Dworkin, and Perry Zurn.
Danielle Bassett, Jordan Dworkin and Perry Zurn are leading efforts to analyze systemic bias in neuroscience citations, and have suggestions for combatting it. (Image: Penn Engineering)

The team members include physicist and neuroscientist Danielle Bassett, J. Peter Skirkanich Professor of Bioengineering, with secondary appointments in the Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, statistician Jordan Dworkin, then a graduate student in Penn Medicine’s Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Bioinformatics, and ethicist Perry Zurn, an assistant professor of philosophy at American University.

Their study on gender bias in Nature Neuroscience reports on the extent and drivers of gender imbalance in neuroscience reference lists. The team has also published a perspective paper in Neuron that makes practical recommendations for improving awareness of this issue and correcting for biases.

They are now working on a second study, led by Maxwell Bertolero, a postdoctoral researcher in Bassett’s lab, that considers the extent and drivers of racial imbalances in neuroscience reference lists.

Together, Bassett, Dworkin and Zurn are using their combined research strengths to uncover the undercitation of women or otherwise minority-led papers in neuroscience and to assess its significance. 

This story is by Izzy Lopez. Read more at Penn Engineering.