Matilda effect

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Matilda effect

The Matilda effect is a bias against acknowledging the achievements of women scientists whose work is attributed to their male colleagues. This phenomenon was first described by suffragist and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826–98) in her essay, "Woman as Inventor" (first published as a tract in 1870 and in the North American Review in 1883). The term "Matilda effect" was coined in 1993 by science historian Margaret W. Rossiter.[1][2]

Rossiter provides several examples of this effect. Trotula (Trota of Salerno), a 12th-century Italian woman physician, wrote books which, after her death, were attributed to male authors. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century cases illustrating the Matilda effect include those of Nettie Stevens,[3] Lise Meitner, Marietta Blau, Rosalind Franklin, and Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

The Matilda effect was compared to the Matthew effect, whereby an eminent scientist often gets more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is shared or similar.[4][5]


In 2012, two female researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen showed that in the Netherlands the sex of professorship candidates influences the evaluation made of them.[6] Similar cases are described by two Italian female researchers in a study[7] corroborated further by a Spanish study.[8] On the other hand, several studies found no difference between citations and impact of publications of male authors and those of female authors.[9][10][11]

Swiss researchers have indicated that mass media ask male scientists more often to contribute on shows than they do their female fellow scientists.[12]

According to one U.S. study, "although overt gender discrimination generally continues to decline in American society," "women continue to be disadvantaged with respect to the receipt of scientific awards and prizes, particularly for research."[13]


Examples of women subjected to the Matilda effect:

  • Theano of Crotone (6th century BCE) – early philosopher who did work in mathematics, but most of her work was overshadowed by or attributed to her husband, father, or teacher (depending on the source),[14] Pythagoras.[15]
  • Trotula (Trota of Salerno, 12th century) – Italian physician, author of works which, after her death, were attributed to male authors. Hostility toward women as teachers and healers led to denial of her very existence. At first her work was credited to her husband and son, but as information got passed on, monks confused her name for that of a man. She is not mentioned in the "Dictionary of Scientific Biography."[16]
  • Jeanne Baret (1740–1807) – French botanist, first woman to have completed a circumnavigation of the globe. Partner and collaborator of the botanist Philibert Commerson, she joined the expedition of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville disguised as a man. They collected the first specimens of Bougainvillea. Most botanical discoveries have been attributed to Commerson alone, after whom about a hundred of species have been named. She was immortalized for the first much later with the description of Solanum baretiae [es][17] in 2012.
  • Nettie Stevens (1861–1912) – discoverer of the XY sex-determination system. Her crucial studies of mealworms revealed for the first time that an organism's sex is determined by its chromosomes rather than by environmental or other factors. Stevens greatly influenced the scientific community's transition to this new line of inquiry: Chromosomal sex determination.[18] However, Thomas Hunt Morgan, a distinguished geneticist at the time, is generally credited with this discovery.[19] Despite her extensive work in the field of genetics, Stevens' contributions to Morgan's work are often disregarded.[20]
  • Mary Whiton Calkins (1863–1930) – Harvard University discovered that stimuli that were paired with other vivid stimuli would be recalled more easily. She also discovered that duration of exposure led to better recall. These findings, along with her paired-associations method, would later be used by G.E. Müller and E.B. Titchener, without any credit being given to Calkins.
  • Gerty Cori (1896–1957) – Nobel-laureate biochemist, worked for years as her husband's assistant, despite having equal qualification as him for a professorial position.
  • Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958) – now recognized as an important contributor to the 1953 discovery of DNA structure. At the time of the discovery by Francis Crick and James Watson, for which the two men received a 1962 Nobel Prize, her work was not properly credited (though Watson described the crucial importance of her contribution, in his 1968 book The Double Helix).
  • Marthe Gautier (born 1925) – now recognized for her important role in the discovery of the chromosomal abnormality that causes Down syndrome, a discovery previously attributed exclusively to Jérôme Lejeune.
  • Marian Diamond (1926–2017) – working at the University of California, Berkeley, experimentally discovered the phenomenon of brain plasticity, which ran contrary to previous neurological dogma. When her seminal 1964 paper[21] was about to be published, she discovered that the names of her two secondary co-authors, David Krech and Mark Rosenzweig, had been placed before her name (which, additionally, had been placed in parentheses). She protested that she had done the essential work described in the paper, and her name was then put in first place (without parentheses). The incident is described in a 2016 documentary film, My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond.[22]
  • Harriet Zuckerman (born 1937) – Zuckerman supplied core data for her husband R.K. Merton's famous concept of the Matthew effect, which denotes the phenomenon where scientists of higher renown will typically gain substantially more credit and status from their work than their lesser known peers. In the initial 1968 publication on the concept her role was diminished to a series of endnotes rather than a co-authorship, which Merton later acknowledged as a mistake in subsequent versions of the article.[23][24]
  • Programmers of ENIAC (dedicated 1946) – several women made substantial contributions to the project, including Adele Goldstine, Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman, but histories of ENIAC have typically not addressed these contributions, and have at times focused on hardware accomplishments rather than software accomplishments.[25]

Examples of men scientists favored over women scientists for Nobel Prizes:

“No more Matildas”[edit]

The Spanish Association of Women Researchers and Technologists (AMIT) has created a movement called “No more Matildas” that honours Matilda Joslyn Gage.[32] The campaign’s goal is to promote the number of women in science from an early age, eliminating stereotypes.


Ben Barres (1954–2017) was a neurobiologist at Stanford University Medical School who transitioned from female to male. He spoke of his scientific achievements having been perceived differently, depending on what sex others thought he was at the time.[33] Prior to his transition to male, Barres' scientific achievements were ascribed to men or devalued, but after transitioning to male, his achievements were credited to him and lauded.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rossiter, Margaret W. (1993). "The Matthew/Matilda effect in science". Social Studies of Science. London, UK. 23 (2): 325–341. doi:10.1177/030631293023002004. ISSN 0306-3127. S2CID 145225097.
  2. ^ Flegal, Katherine M. (21 August 2022). "A female career in research". Annual Review of Nutrition. 42 (1): annurev–nutr–062220-103411. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-062220-103411. ISSN 0199-9885. PMID 35363538. S2CID 247866328. Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  3. ^ Resnick, Brian (7 July 2016). "Nettie Stevens discovered XY sex chromosomes. She didn't get credit because she had two X's". Vox. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  4. ^ Rossiter, Margaret W. (1993). "The Matthew Matilda Effect in Science". Social Studies of Science. Vol. 23, no. 2. pp. 325–341. ISSN 0306-3127. JSTOR 285482.
  5. ^ Dominus, Susan (October 2019). "Women scientists were written out of history. It's Margaret Rossiter's lifelong mission to fix that". Smithsonian Magazine. Vol. 50, no. 6. p. 48.
  6. ^ van den Brink, Marieke; Benschop, Yvonne (2011). "Gender practices in the construction of academic excellence: Sheep with five legs". Organization. 19 (4): 507–524. doi:10.1177/1350508411414293. S2CID 140512614.
  7. ^ Andrea Cerroni; Zenia Simonella (2012). "Ethos and symbolic violence among women of science: An empirical study". Social Science Information. 51 (2): 165–182. doi:10.1177/0539018412437102. hdl:10281/30675. S2CID 7176626.
  8. ^ Jiménez-Rodrigo, María Luisa; Martínez-Morante, Emilia; García-Calvente, María del Mar; Álvarez-Dardet, Carlos (2008). "Through gender parity in scientific publications". Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 62 (6): 474–475. doi:10.1136/jech.2008.074294. hdl:10045/8447. PMID 18477742. S2CID 12399729.
  9. ^ Hegarty, Peter; Walton, Zoe (2012). "The Consequences of Predicting Scientific Impact in Psychology Using Journal Impact Factors" (PDF). Perspectives on Psychological Science. 7 (1): 72–78. doi:10.1177/1745691611429356. PMID 26168426. S2CID 25605006.
  10. ^ Baldi, Stephane (1998). "Normative versus social constructivist Processes in the allocation of citations: A Network-Analytic Model". American Sociological Review. 63 (6): 829–846. doi:10.2307/2657504. JSTOR 2657504.
  11. ^ Haslam, Nick; Ban, Lauren; Kaufmann, Leah; Loughnan, Stephen; Peters, Kim; Whelan, Jennifer; Wilson, Sam (2008). "What makes an article influential? Predicting impact in social and personality psychology". Scientometrics. 76 (1): 169–185. doi:10.1007/s11192-007-1892-8. S2CID 5648498.
  12. ^ von Roten, Fabienne Crettaz (2011). "Gender differences in scientists' public outreach and engagement activities". Science Communication. 33 (1): 52–75. doi:10.1177/1075547010378658. S2CID 220675370.
  13. ^ Lincoln, Anne E.; Pincus, Stephanie; Koster, Janet Bandows; Leboy, Phoebe S. (2012). "The Matilda effect in science: Awards and prizes in the US, 1990s and 2000s". Social Studies of Science. 42 (2): 307–320. doi:10.1177/0306312711435830. PMID 22849001. S2CID 24673577.
  14. ^ "Crotone, Theano of". History of Scientific Women.
  15. ^ "Biographies of Women Mathematicians". Decatur, GA: Agnes Scott College.
  16. ^ Rossiter, Margaret W. (1993). "The Matthew / Matilda effect in science". Social Studies of Science. 23 (2): 325–341. doi:10.1177/030631293023002004. JSTOR 285482. S2CID 145225097.
  17. ^ Tepe, E.; Ridley, G.; Bohs, L. (2012). "A new species of Solanum named for Jeanne Baret, an overlooked contributor to the history of botany". PhytoKeys (8): 37–47. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.8.2101. PMC 3254248. PMID 22287929.
  18. ^ Hagen, Joel (1996). Doing Biology. Glenview, IL: Harper Collins. pp. 37–46.
  19. ^ a b c "6 Women scientists who were snubbed due to sexism". Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. 19 May 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  20. ^ "Nettie Maria Stevens (1861–1912)". The Embryo Project Encyclopedia. Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  21. ^ Diamond, Marian C.; Krech, David; Rosenzweig, Mark R. (1964). "The effects of an enriched environment on the histology of the rat cerebral cortex". The Journal of Comparative Neurology. 123: 111–119. doi:10.1002/cne.901230110. PMID 14199261. S2CID 30997263.
  22. ^ "Luna Productions".
  23. ^ Merton, R.K. (1968). "The Matthew effect in science: The reward and communication systems of science are considered" (PDF). Science. Garfield Library. University of Pennsylvania. 159 (3810): 56–63. doi:10.1126/science.159.3810.56. PMID 5634379. S2CID 3526819. Retrieved 24 November 2022.
  24. ^ Merton, R.K. "The Matthew effect in science, II : Cumulative advantage and the symbolism of intellectual property" (PDF). Garfield Library. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  25. ^ Light, Jennifer S. (1999). "When computers were women" (PDF). Technology and Culture. 40 (3): 455–483. doi:10.1353/tech.1999.0128. S2CID 108407884.
  26. ^ Marshak, R.E.; Wiesner, E.; Settle, F., Jr. (14 April 2013) [29 July 1960, July 2001]. "Discovery of nuclear fission". Science Week. On elementary particles in physics (reprint ed.). Archived from the original on 14 April 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  27. ^ Sime, Ruth Lewin (2012). "Marietta Blau in the history of cosmic rays". Physics Today. Vol. 65, no. 10. p. 8. Bibcode:2012PhT....65j...8S. doi:10.1063/PT.3.1728.
  28. ^ Wu, C. S.; Ambler, E.; Hayward, R.W.; Hoppes, D.D.; Hudson, R.P. (1957). "Experimental Test of Parity Conservation in Beta Decay". Physical Review. 105 (4): 1413–1415. Bibcode:1957PhRv..105.1413W. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.105.1413.
  29. ^ "Chien-Shiung Wu" (Press release). Wolf Prize Laureate in Physics 1978. Wolf Fund. 9 December 2018. for her persistent and successful exploration of the weak interaction which helped establish the precise form and the non conservation of parity for this new natural force.
  30. ^ "CensorshipIndex". Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  31. ^ "Esther Lederberg, pioneer in genetics, dies at 83" (obituary). Stanford University. 29 November 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  32. ^ ""No more Matildas", the new AMIT awareness campaign". 25 March 2021. Retrieved 27 June 2022.
  33. ^ Vedantam, Shankar (12 July 2006). "Male scientist writes of life as female scientist: Biologist who underwent sex change describes biases against women". The Washington Post. Washington, DC.