Neuroscientists find a way to banish the ‘manel’ at scientific meetings


By Michael Woodhead

8 Aug 2019

Neuroscientists are leading the way in ensuring that scientific conferences have gender balance and avoid ‘manel’ panels of all-male speaker line ups.

Dr Ann-Maree Vallence and Dr Hakuei Fujiyama from Perth’s Murdoch University and Dr Mark Hinder from the University of Tasmania have developed a data-driven approach to conference speaker selection based on scientific impact metrics that addresses gender imbalance in presenters.

The team audited the top ten neuroscience journals such as Annals of Neurology, recording highly cited papers, and the first and last authors listed on the papers. The gender, field-weighted citation impact and total publication count of these authors were recorded. The researchers used the data to build a database of high quality scientists from which speakers could be selected for conferences.

“This approach, which shows that recent high quality peer-reviewed science does not differ between men and women in the potential speaker database, should be used in conjunction with diversity and equity policy to achieve gender parity in conference programs,” they write in PLOS One.

“Importantly, this approach will improve the scientific quality at conferences by enabling the presentation of science from broader perspectives; broadening representation at scientific conferences will lead to a broadening of science, ultimately increasing the impact of science in society.”

Dr Vallence says that presenting at conferences is a critical part of scientific career development and so the low ratio of female representation is cause for concern.

A recent report by BiasWatchNeuro showed that only 27% of invited speakers at around 400 neuroscience conferences between 2014 and 2018 were women, and more than 80% of conferences had male-majority speaker line-ups.

“The traditional approach to speaker selection is based on who the organising committee knows, or whose work they are familiar due to overlap with their own research disciplines. We saw a critical need for a data-driven approach to provide credibility to speaker selection,” she said.

“In the immediate future, we suggest that the database presented here could be used to select invited speakers for neuroscience conferences (e.g., Society for Neuroscience, Australasian Neuroscience Society …), the research team said.

“In the short-term future, we suggest that additional databases are created for use at conferences of sub-disciplines of neuroscience (e.g., International Conference of Cognitive Neuroscience) as well as other STEM disciplines. We suggest that such databases could be created by professional societies: many societies within neuroscience already have diversity and inclusion sub-committees.

“Given that the current approach can be largely automated and will complement and strengthen societies’ existing diversity policies, it is reasonable to assume that the motivation for uptake will be high. Following such recommendations will also increase diversity in STEM more generally, which ultimately improve scientific advancement,” they concluded.

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