More gender equality in authorship

Authorship ordering in academia has raised issues in the past when looking at empirical work on authorships and therefore we need to think how we can improve gender equality in publishing.

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Contribution by Ho Fai Chan and Benno Torgler

Queensland University of Technology

Almost a year ago, a correspondence piece in The Lancet shared the publishing experience of two young female scientists (Rose-Clarke and Fellmeth 2019), pointing out that reference lists do not recognize co-first authorships. The piece also referred to evidence from mixed-gender co-first authors in high-impact clinical journals indicating that women are significantly more likely to be placed second. It is worth noting that such gender inequality goes beyond clinical journals, raising serious concerns that female scientists are not receiving proper scientific credit. A recent study of 18 high-quality scientific journals – including Nature, Science, and PNAS – across the period from 1995 to 2017 indicates that males are more likely to appear first among authors who made equal contributions (Broderick and Casadevall 2019). We cross-checked that result against a recently available dataset on almost 100,000 highly cited scholars (Ioannidis et al. 2019). When we added gender information, we find that while there is no significant gender difference in first authors on multi-authored works, men tend to more frequently serve as the last author in a publication (Chan and Torgler 2020). Such differences vary greatly between fields, but gender inequality is highest among health sciences, earth sciences, and economics. In addition, Broderick and Casadevall (2019) observe that the preference for males in first position has substantially decreased over time since 1995. The authors also point out that the information on equal contributions is often included just as a footnote and in some cases absent from the online full text versions. In general, we clearly need to address how to increase gender equality in allocation of authorship in science. It would also be useful to encourage more empirical studies that show how disparities change over time, and across fields. 



Broderick N A, Casadevall, A Gender inequalities among authors who contributed equally, eLIFE,  Feature Article, Jan 30, 2019.

Chan, H. F., & Torgler, B. (2020). Gender differences in performance of top scientists by field and country, mimeo, Queensland University of Technology.

Ioannidis, J. P., Baas, J., Klavans, R., & Boyack, K. W. (2019). A standardized citation metrics author database annotated for scientific field. PLoS Biology, 17(8), e3000384.

Rose-Clarke, K., & Fellmeth, G. (2019). Co-first authorship and gender equity in academic publishing, The Lancet. 393, 2036. 

Benno Torgler

Professor, School of Economics and Finance and Centre for Behahavioural Economics, Society and Technology (BEST), Queensland University of Technology