While scholars of color are known to be underrepresented in STEM fields, a new study paints an even more disturbing picture: Among science authors between 2010 and 2020, black, Hispanic and There has been little change in the representation of Native American researchers in publications.
According to the Institute for Scientific Information, which looked at authors of research papers in four U.S. fields (biochemistry, mathematics, medical research and computer science), this diversity was compared with census data. The Institute for Scientific Information is a division of Clarivate, an analytics company that maintains an authoritative research citation database called the Web of Science; the study’s authors use this database to conduct their research.
According to the study, most papers published in these fields were written by white academics. Over the 10-year period, the representation of Asian and Pacific Islander authors has grown more than expected, especially in computer science. But black, Hispanic, and Native American authorship remains stagnant—in some cases actually decreasing.
“As scientific publications are the end product of scientific endeavors, the fact that we have not seen more ethnic diversity in authorship over the past decade should be concerning,” said Gary Haller, director of the Institute for Scientific Information and co-author. Wei said research.
Halevi said the research stems from a heightened focus by universities, research institutes, government agencies and private funders to promote diversity and inclusion in academia.
While previous studies have examined gender diversity in scientific publications, there is far less information on racial diversity and authorship — especially in STEM, where the largest diversity gaps are found, Halevi said. For the study, the institute used an algorithm to analyze authors’ last names and determine the likelihood that they were from a certain racial or ethnic background.
While only 5% of the U.S. population self-identifies as Asian, Asian researchers make up one-third of computer science authors. According to the study, this is the only field where non-white authors are more represented than white authors.
However, for Black, Hispanic and Native American scholars, publication rates in all four STEM fields remained in the single digits between 2010 and 2020.
Black academics make up about 5.5 percent of authors in medical research, a percentage that has remained steady—but less than half of the U.S. population’s black representation, or 13 percent.
In mathematics, the gap between white researchers (47%) and other groups is wider than in any other field, with Asian authors between 15% and 19% over time, and black authors stagnating, 4.6%, Hispanic authors 3.8%, and Native American authorship just 1%.
In biochemistry, the percentage of Hispanic authors actually declined slightly between 2019 and 2020, from 5.2% to 4.8%. Hispanic researchers are also significantly underrepresented in publications compared to the U.S. population.
Shirley Malcom, director of the SEA Change Initiative at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was not surprised by the study’s findings. “It reflects the pattern of doctorates in these fields. It also reflects the diversity of institutions [minorities] work,” she said.
Scholars at R1 institutions tend to publish the most papers, but those universities have the least diversity of departments, Malcolm said. There are more scholars of color in minority-serving institutions, but those professors often don’t have the time or funds to conduct research. Institutions serving minorities are often under-resourced and more focused on teaching.
These scholars must be supported with funding and infrastructure to increase their representation in scientific publications, Malcolm said.
“Before there’s a real, major structural change,” she said, “I think that’s what it looks like.”