In 2010, Dave Munger wrote on Seedmagazine.com “Several independent assessments have reached identical conclusions: In the science blogosphere, men significantly outnumber women.” The analysis of five prominent science blogging networks — at The Guardian, Wired, PLoS, Discover and ResearchBlogging.org — indicated that male bloggers outnumbered females almost 2:1 in nearly every case. Three and a half years on, how much has changed?
I found myself asking this question while preparing for a talk on science communication to a group of PhD students (I wanted to be prepared in case the Q&A headed that way). But beyond Dave’s piece — prompted by a post by Jenny Rohn which is no longer accessible — I struggled to find any updated figures. And so I found myself doing a quick and dirty analysis the day before the talk.
The results indicate a marked shift from the (im)balance present in 2010, although in some networks this wasn’t as prominent as I might of expected.
My initial methodology for what was admittedly a rather rapid analysis was to categorize blogs in seven prominent science blogging networks as being written by men, women, a mix (for group blogs), or by authors where gender wasn’t easily determined — for instance in the case of some pseudonymous blogs. I included networks that I was familiar with — the Scientific American blog network, The Guardian’s Science Blog Network, Occam’s Typwriter, the PLoS blog network, ScienceBlogs, Discover Magazine blogs and Wired Science Blogs. Aggregator/general news blogs (for instance @ScientificAmerican) were generally not included in the analysis. Otherwise, all active blogs listed on the networks were included, even though some have been somewhat dormant for the past year or so.
The results show a marked shift in gender balance from 2010 — for this particular cluster of networks at least. Overall, 49% of blogs with just one author or a group of single gender authors are written by men, and 36% by women. Of the four platforms common to this analysis and Dave Munger’s, PLoS shows the greatest change, with the current balance standing at 38% men and 31% women. It’s hard to tell whether there has been a significant shift on the Guardian Science Blog Network given the number of mixed and indeterminate blogs. Both Wired and Discover show a narrower gap between male and female writers, but it is still a prominent gap.
Of the three new networks in this analysis, Occam’s Typewriter has a near-equal split between male and female writers, with 8 men and 7 women. In contrast, 65% of ScienceBlogs are clearly identified with male writers, compared to only 16% written by female writers.
The standout network however is Scientific American Blogs. Of the 59 blogs evaluated, 54% (32) are written by women, and 37% (22) by men — a flipping of the balance seen in 2010. If Scientific American is taken out of the mix, the overall picture across the remaining networks isn’t far different than 2010, with 55% of gender-identified blogs being written by men, and 26% being written by women — roughly a 2:1 split still.
Of course, this analysis is somewhat limited. It doesn’t include ResearchBlogging.org (an important addition, but one for another day), and it looks specifically at prominent networks, which means that it doesn’t account for the large number of independent blogs and smaller networks that are out there. The emphasis is also on blogs rather than authors, and this may give a skewed perspective — especially where multiple author blogs include a number of women. For instance, a quick look at Scientific American blog authors indicates there are currently 26 men and 43 women — 38% men to 62% women. This is reasonably close to the blog gender balance, but does indicate that assessment by author rather than blog may be worth digging into further.
The bottom line is that, while the balance has improved substantially since 2010, this is largely due to Scientific American blogs. For some other networks, there still seems to be a ways to go.
Updated analysis (March 31 2014) — see Gender Balance in Science Blog Networks — Update