The sex of researchers affects the language of research papers

Jan 09, 2020

“LEAN IN,” advises Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, in a book of that name. Her advice to women—be more assertive to grab influence at work, rather than waiting for it to be offered—was met with scorn by some feminists. They say that women are not shying away from the higher rungs of the career ladder. Rather, they are being pushed off by unfair forces in the job market, or running into structural barriers as they climb.

A paper just out in the BMJ, a medical-research journal, however, offers some support for the idea that men promote themselves more, and that this helps their careers. Marc Lerchenmueller and Olav Sorenson, affiliated with Yale Business School, and Anupam Jena, of Harvard Medical School, examined the language in the titles and abstracts of over 100,000 clinical-research articles. They separated those in which both the first and the last named authors were women from ones in which one or both were men. (The first name is often a more junior researcher who led the work, while the last name is usually a senior scholar who helped guide it.) Sure enough, articles with either a first or a last male author were more likely to describe their work in positive terms.

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