New paper on the link between interdisciplinarity, self-citation, and gender

June 2022

A new paper by Science-Metrix scientists could help funders assess whether gender differences in interdisciplinary research are accurate and reliable.

Given the rise of funding for interdisciplinary research (IDR), obtaining an accurate understanding of gender differences in IDR is highly relevant for funders, so they can appropriately take gender into consideration in designing and delivering their IDR programmes. Currently, there are mixed findings on gender differences in interdisciplinarity.

Several studies measuring the disciplinary mix of individual research publications, as mirrored in their references to prior literature, have uncovered a tendency for women to be more involved than men in IDR. However, in such studies, gender-based differences in IDR may be biased because women have been shown to self-cite less often than men, possibly reducing the emphasis on the core discipline of the author(s) in a publication’s reference list. In turn, previous analyses could have erroneously concluded that women are not deterred from undertaking IDR nor disadvantaged in IDR funding programmes.  

Henrique Pinheiro, Matt Durning and David Campbell recently published, in Quantitative Science Studies, the results of a study assessing the propensity of women, relative to men, to undertake IDR while accounting, among other factors (e.g., career stage, size of production, field of study), for a potential measurement bias mediated by self-citations.

Their findings support that a paper’s interdisciplinarity increases with the presence of women authors, accounting or not for self-citations in measuring IDR. Furthermore, it was found that for papers with six or more authors, the effect of an additional woman diminishes as the presence of men decreases. Finally, the regression coefficients obtained for the total number of authors on a publication suggest that there may be a tipping point beyond which team size is negatively associated with interdisciplinarity.

These results add to the body of literature suggesting that research performing and funding organizations should not be too concerned by women being potentially discouraged from taking part in interdisciplinary work. Nevertheless, further research would be warranted to better understand the potential impact of observed gender differences in interdisciplinarity on, for example, career progression. Prior work has indeed suggested that IDR may be published in lower impact journals, may be disadvantaged in regular grant competitions, and may not be properly accounted for in tenure decisions. It is also unknown whether such negative biases, if they were to be confirmed, equally impact women and men. Deciphering these unknowns would have the potential to further guide research performing and funding organizations in adequately supporting both women and men in their IDR journey to achieving, for example, greater societal impacts. It would also help the latter make an informed decision when choosing to embark on an IDR endeavor.

Read the paper.

Image credit: iStock Photo
abstract men and women arranged in a grid pattern