Intended for healthcare professionals

Editorials Christmas 2019: Sweet Little Lies

Gender differences in research reporting

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 16 December 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6692

Linked Research

Gender differences in how scientists present the importance of their research

  1. Reshma Jagsi, Newman family professor, director of Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, deputy chair1,
  2. Julie K Silver, associate professor, associate chair2
  1. 1Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
  2. 2Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA
  1. Corresponding: Julie K. Silver julie_silver{at}

Men are more positive, should they exercise restraint?

Disparities for women in medicine are well documented, and large gaps exist at high levels of leadership.12 This begs the question: what mechanisms drive women’s persistent under-representation in the most senior, visible, and celebrated ranks of the profession, and how might these be targeted?

A new study by Lerchenmueller and colleagues suggests a potential mechanism driving lesser recognition of women’s accomplishments and reports striking gender differences in the positive framing of research findings.3 When women served as both first and last authors, articles were less likely to include positive terms such as “novel,” “unique,” or “unprecedented.” Positive presentation of research findings was associated with higher rates of subsequent citations.

Perhaps an obvious response to these findings is to encourage women to act more like men and be more positive; however, caution is warranted as this “fix the women” approach lacks an understanding of the current evidence base on gender equity. We should instead use an approach aligned with experts in equity, diversity, and inclusion who favor fixing the systems that support various types of bias including implicit (unconscious), structural, and organizational.

Lerchenmueller and colleagues suggest possible reasons for their findings, including that manuscripts are altered …

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