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Drug delivery journals publish more men than women as first or last authors

The percentage of female last authors has not changed since 2017

by Krystal Vasquez
July 13, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 23


Percentage of women listed as first authors in 11 drug delivery journals in 2021


Percentage of women listed as last authors in 11 drug delivery journals in 2021.

Papers in drug delivery–related journals are one and a half times as likely to have a man listed as first author and three times as likely to have a man listed as last author as a woman is, according to a recent study (Mol. Pharmaceutics 2023, DOI: 10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.3c00328). The researchers also found that higher-impact journals disproportionately publish men over women.

Since hiring and promotion decisions typically consider an academic’s publication record, this observed gender gap may help explain why women are underrepresented among faculty in drug delivery disciplines, such as chemistry, chemical engineering, and pharmaceutical science.

“Publications are the lifeblood of academic research,” Eden Tanner, a chemist at the University of Mississippi who wasn’t involved in the research, says in an emailed comment. “Given this, if we’re seeing structural differences by demographics in publication rates, it’s something we should be paying attention to.”

To measure male and female authorship in the drug delivery space, the study authors collected data for papers published in 11 journals in 2021. They surmised whether the authors were men or women by comparing their first names with an online list. The study did not consider other genders.

For the journals included in the analysis, women made up 39.5% of first authors and 25.7% of last authors. In drug delivery journals, first authors are typically graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and last authors are usually the faculty that supervise and fund the research.

The study’s senior author, Kristy Ainslie, a chemical engineer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that seeing such a low number of women in the last-author position is particularly concerning because the percentage of female professors in drug delivery–related disciplines is much higher—ranging from 35 to 50% internationally.

The gender gap is shrinking, albeit slowly. Although the researchers found that the percentage of women listed as last authors has barely changed since 2017, there’s an upward trend for first authors. The researchers estimate that women will make up 50% of first authors in drug delivery–related journals by 2030.

Still, journals need to do more to include women, and understanding “where in the process this deviation is occurring in drug delivery journals specifically would help us understand what we have to do to address the problem,” Tanner says. According to Ainslie, other work suggests that some of these disparities are likely being caused by bias during peer review. Therefore, she says, changes to this process could help reduce disparities.



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