Women have made great strides in academia in recent decades, but they still aren’t on equal footing with men. Men outnumber women among full-time university faculty. Female professors’ salaries lag behind men’s. Perhaps this disparity is partly the result of how many plaudits men get for their scholarly research—and how many they give themselves. Recent research shows that in the sciences, at least, men are more likely than women to deem their own work new and profound.
For a new study, published yesterday in the journal BMJ, researchers from Harvard, Yale, and the University of Mannheim, in Germany, analyzed the gender of the authors of more than 6 million scientific studies published from 2002 to 2017. Then, they determined whether the authors had used promotional-sounding words, such as remarkable and unprecedented, in the titles and abstracts of the journal articles to describe their research. The most commonly used positive word throughout all the studies was novel, and men used it 59 percent more often than women did. Men also considered their findings “unique” and “promising,” among other flattering words, more often than women did.
The researchers didn’t actually meet the millions of authors they were scrutinizing, so they had to do some guesswork. To determine the authors’ probable gender, they compared them to a large, tested database of names along with the gender the names are most often associated with. In cases where there were several authors, the researchers looked at the studies’ first and last authors, who are often the ones who make the largest contributions to the work, according to these researchers.