Study ar­gues for more diver­sity in re­search

Aca­demic ci­ta­tions can af­fect a sci­en­tist’s abil­ity to be hired, pro­moted or be­come tenured


Aca­demics and schol­ars must be mind­ful about us­ing re­search done by only straight, white men, ac­cord­ing to two sci­en­tists who ar­gued that it op­presses di­verse voices and bol­sters the sta­tus of al­ready priv­i­leged and es­tab­lished white male schol­ars.

Geog­ra­phers Car­rie Mott and Daniel Cock­ayne ar­gued in a re­cent paper that do­ing so also per­pet­u­ates what they call “white het­ero­mas­culin­ism,” which they de­fined as a “sys­tem of op­pres­sion” that ben­e­fits only those who are “white, male, able-bod­ied, eco­nom­i­cally priv­i­leged, het­ero­sex­ual, and cis­gen­dered.” (Cis­gen­dered de­scribes peo­ple whose gen­der iden­tity matches their birth sex.)

Mott, a pro­fes­sor at Rut­gers Univer­sity in New Jer­sey, and Cock­ayne, who teaches at the Univer­sity of Water­loo in On­tario, ar­gued that schol­ars or re­searchers dis­pro­por­tion­ately cite the work of white men, thereby un­fairly adding cre­dence to the body of knowl­edge they of­fer while ig­nor­ing the voices of other groups, such as women and Black male aca­demics. Al­though ci­ta­tion seems like a mun­dane prac­tice, the fem­i­nist pro­fes­sors ar­gue that cit­ing some­one’s work has im­pli­ca­tions on his or her abil­ity to be hired, get pro­moted and ob­tain tenured sta­tus, among oth­ers.

“This im­por­tant re­search has drawn direct at­ten­tion to the con­tin­ued un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion and marginal­iza­tion of women, peo­ple of color . . . To cite nar­rowly, to only cite white men . . . or to only cite es­tab­lished schol­ars, does a dis­ser­vice not only to re­searchers and writ­ers who are oth­ered by white het­ero­mas­culin­ism,” they wrote in the paper pub­lished in the jour­nal Gen­der, Place and Cul­ture.

Mott and Cock­ayne did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to ques­tions from the Wash­ing­ton Post, but Mott told Cam­pus Re­form last week that they de­cided to write about ci­ta­tion prac­tices af­ter ob­serv­ing that re­search done by white men is re­lied upon more heav­ily than re­search done by ex­perts from other back­grounds.

When ci­ta­tions are pre­dom­i­nantly those of the work of white, straight males, “this means that the views and knowl­edge that are rep­re­sented do not re­flect the ex­pe­ri­ence of peo­ple from other back­grounds,” she told Cam­pus Re­form.

In the paper, “Ci­ta­tion mat­ters: mo­bi­liz­ing the pol­i­tics of ci­ta­tion to­ward a prac­tice of ‘con­sci­en­tious en­gage­ment,’ ” they ex­plained that their work was mo­ti­vated by “shared feel­ings of dis­com­fort, frus­tra­tion, and anger” over ac­tions of fel­low schol­ars and pub­li­ca­tion prac­tices.

The au­thors of­fer what they de­scribe as prac­ti­cal strate­gies for fel­low geog­ra­phers who work in a largely male-dom­i­nated dis­ci­pline. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Geog­ra­phers, men and women ac­count for 62 per cent and 38 per cent of its mem­bers, re­spec­tively.

Schol­ars should read through their work and count all the ci­ta­tions be­fore sub­mit­ting their work for pub­li­ca­tion, and see how many peo­ple of di­verse back­grounds are cited.

“To­day, the field is more di­verse, but this diver­sity is largely rep­re­sented by ear­lier ca­reer schol­ars. Cit­ing only tenured, es­tab­lished schol­ars means that these voices are ig­nored,” they wrote.

Ed­i­tors and re­view­ers also can act as watchdogs of sort by scru­ti­niz­ing a scholar’s body of ci­ta­tion, they ar­gued.

ACam­pus Re­form writer said she asked the re­searchers whether the dis­par­ity in ci­ta­tions is sim­ply be­cause there are more men than women in the field of ge­og­ra­phy. In re­sponse, Cock­ayne said their point is that re­search done by “marginal­ized voices” is of­ten ig­nored.


Univer­sity of Water­loo pro­fes­sor Daniel Cock­ayne co-au­thored a study on aca­demic bias in favour of white men.

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