Berry College

Lack of diversity among researchers limits the expansion of scientific knowledge, according to a Berry College professor’s analysis of more than 5 million research articles.

It found the scientific enterprise is plagued by disparities in both race and gender.

Berry Assistant Professor of Data Analytics Thema Monroe-White and colleagues investigated how the intersection of race and gender affect research topic choice and, consequently, the expansion of scientific knowledge. The authors analyzed the gender, race, topic and impact of research articles published between 2008 and 2019.

“The compound effect of different citation rates of topics and unequal distribution in topics by race and gender leads to negative effects for marginalized groups and for science itself, as some topics become systematically less studied,” the researchers wrote in their paper, which was published Jan. 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Among the study’s findings, if the demographics of researchers matched the 2010 U.S. Census, there would have been:

♦ 29% more articles in public health,

♦ 26% more on gender-based violence,

♦ 25% more in gynecology and in gerontology,

♦ 20% more on immigrants and minorities, and

♦ 18% more in mental health.

The authors report that marginalized groups, such as Black and Latina women, were overrepresented in topics with low citation counts and less cited than other groups across all health topics.

According to the researchers, increasing minority participation and funding will enable equitable science advancement.

“Our research suggests that for minoritized scholars, what we study is framed by socially constructed identities of race and gender,” Monroe-White said. “This finding pushes against idealized notions of meritocracy in science. Institutions should take action by amplifying research by minoritized scholars, particularly on topics for which they have greater representation yet whose impact remains marginalized.”

Monroe-White said this collaborative research project is the beginning of a larger body of work that she and her fellow authors are cultivating. She was joined by researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Luxembourg, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal and Stellenbosch University.

Monroe-White has also been part of two National Science Foundation grants totaling about $3.5 million to study diversity in entrepreneurship and STEM fields. She holds a PhD in science, technology and innovation policy from the Georgia Institute of Technology as well as master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Howard University.

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