Devaluing novelty: not all that glitters is gold

My regular readers will have recognised the novel nature of a blog that seeks, in a unique way, to present promising engineering ideas in a favourable and robust manner.  Actually, I hope my regular readers will recognise this opening sentence as completely uncharacteristic.  It was a blatant effort on my part to include the five words, underlined, with positive meanings that are most used in the titles and abstracts of articles published in clinical research and the life sciences.  A recent survey of more than 100,000 articles showed the prevalence of these words, with them being used significantly more in articles in which the first or last authors were male compared to those in which the first and last authors were female.  In other words, female authors are significantly less likely to describe their research findings in these positive terms and this influences the subsequent citations of their work and probably their prospects for research funding and advancement.  Sunday was International Women’s Day and, hence this is an appropriate week for everyone responsible for decisions about research to be conscious of this trend.  They should also be aware that the use of these positive words has increased in clinical and life sciences research by around 150% in the fifteen years to 2017.  In other words, the modesty of researchers has declined and they are more likely to describe their results as ‘novel’; however, I think it is unlikely that the results are any more novel than typical results published 20 years.  Of course, like most researchers, I always think my last breakthrough is the most exciting yet but many of us have been letting that enthusiasm lead us to exaggerate its novelty and value.

Source: Lerchenmueller MJ, Sorensen O & Jena AB, Gender differences in how scientists present the importance of their research: observational study, BMJ, 367:16573, 2019.

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