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Illuminating women's hidden contribution to the foundation of theoretical population genetics

By Samantha Kristin Dung, Andrea López, Ezequiel Lopez Barragan, Rochelle-Jan Reyes, Ricky Thu, Edgar Castellanos, Francisca Catalan, Emilia Huerta Sanchez, Rori V. Rohlfs

Posted 05 Jul 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/360933

Plentiful evidence shows an historic and continuing gender gap in participation and success in scientific research. However, less attention has been directed at clarifying obscured contributions of women to scientific research. The lack of visible women role models in science (particularly in computational fields) contributes to a reduced sense of belonging and retention among women at early stages in their scientific careers [Steele 1997]. We seek to counteract this cycle by illuminating the contribution of women programmers to the foundation of our own fields — population and evolutionary genetics. We consider past 'acknowledged programmers' (APs), who developed, ran, and sometimes analyzed the results of early computer programs. Due to authorship norms at the time, these programmers were credited in the acknowledgments sections of manuscripts, rather than being recognized as authors. For example, one acknowledgement reads "I wish to thank Mrs. Jennifer Smith for ably programming and executing all the computations" (Supplemental Table 1). In this study, we documented acknowledgment sections and identified APs in Theoretical Population Biology (TPB) articles published between 1970 and 1990. While only 7% of authors were women, 43% of APs were women. This significant difference (p = 4.0×10-10) demonstrates a substantial proportion of women's contribution to foundational computational population genetics has been unrecognized. We additionally observed a decrease over time in the proportion of women APs, as well as number of APs generally These observations correspond to the masculinization of computer programming, and the probable shifting of programming responsibilities to individuals credited as authors (likely graduate students). Finally, we note recurrent APs who contributed to several manuscripts. We conclude that, while previously overlooked, historically, women have made substantial contributions to computational biology.

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