Matilda effect

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The Matilda effect is the common bias against acknowledging the contribution of woman scientists in research, whose work is often attributed to their male colleagues. This effect was first described by 19th century suffragist and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage in her essay "Woman as Inventor", and coined in 1993 by science historian Margaret W. Rossiter.[1]

Matilda Effect

The Matilda effect is related to the Matthew effect, since eminent scientists will often get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is shared or similar.

Rossiter provides several examples of this effect: Trotula, an Italian physician (11th–12th centuries), wrote books which were attributed to male authors after her death, and hostility toward women as teachers and healers led to denial of her very existence. Twentieth-century cases illustrating the Matilda effect include those of Nettie Stevens,[2] Maria Skłodowska Curie (she was included in the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics only on the insistence of a committee member—Swedish mathematician Magnus Goesta Mittag-Leffler—and of her husband Pierre Curie), Lise Meitner, Marietta Blau, Rosalind Franklin, and Jocelyn Bell Burnell.


From an analysis of more than a thousand research publications from the years 1991-2005, it was shown that male scientists more often cite the publications of male authors than of female authors.[3] 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.[4] Similar cases are described in an Italian study [5] corroborated further by American and Spanish studies.[6][7]

Swiss researchers have indicated that mass media ask male scientists more often to contribute on shows than they do their female fellow scientists.[8]

US male scientists still receive more recognition and awards compared with women scientists, despite similar achievements. This difference is diminishing. It was more pronounced in the 1990s than in the 2000s.[9]


Famous examples of women in history of science include:

  • Trotula - Italian medic of the living 11th - 12th century, author of works that after her death started to be published and ascribed to male authors. To further support male authorship, her very existence was questioned.
  • Rosalind Franklin - now recognized as one of the main contributors to the discovery of DNA structure. At the time of the discovery by Francis Crick and James Dewey Watson her work was not properly given credit.
  • Gerty Cori - worked for years as her husband's assistant despite having equal qualification as him for professor position.
  • Harriet Zuckerman - as a result of the Matilda effect, Zuckerman is also credited by husband Robert K. Merton as the co-author of the Matthew effect.[10]
  • Mary Whiton Calkins - 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 Georg Elias Müller and Edward B. Titchener without any credit given to Calkins.
  • Marthe Gautier - recently revealed example of Matilda effect. Gautier is now recognized for her important role in the discovery of the chromosomal abnormality that causes Down syndrome while it has been attributed exclusively to Jérôme Lejeune.
  • Nettie Stevens - her crucial studies of mealworms revealed that an organism’s sex is determined by its chromosomes instead of environmental or other factors for the first time. Stevens greatly influenced the scientific community’s transition to this new line of inquiry: chromosomal sex determination.[11] However, Thomas Hunt Morgan, a distinguished geneticist at the time, is generally credited with this discovery.[12] Despite her extensive work in the field of genetics, Stevens’ contributions to Morgan’s work are often disregarded.[13]
  • Programmers of ENIAC - 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. More information can be found in Jennifer S. Light's essay, "When Computers Were Women",[14] and in a 2014 documentary on the ENIAC programmers project.

Examples of male scientists favoured over women scientists by Nobel Prize:

Ben Barres, who is a neurobiologist at Stanford and has transitioned from female to male, has talked about his experiences of his scientific achievements being perceived differently depending on gender.[20]


  1. ^ Rossiter Margaret W. (1993), "The Matthew/Matilda Effect in Science", Social Studies of Science, London: Sage Publ., 23: 325–341, doi:10.1177/030631293023002004, ISSN 0306-3127 
  2. ^ Resnick, Brian (2016-07-07). "Nettie Stevens discovered XY sex chromosomes. She didn't get credit because she had two X's.". Vox. Retrieved 2016-07-07. 
  3. ^ Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick; Carroll J. Glynn (2013), "The Matilda Effect—Role Congruity Effects on Scholarly Communication A Citation Analysis of Communication Research and Journal of Communication Articles", Communication Research, Sage Publ., 40 (1): 3–26, doi:10.1177/0093650211418339 
  4. ^ Marieke van den Brink; Yvonne Benschop, "Gender practices in the construction of academic excellence: Sheep with five legs", Organization, 19 (4): 507–524, doi:10.1177/1350508411414293 
  5. ^ Andrea Cerroni; Zenia Simonella, "Ethos and symbolic violence among women of science: An empirical study", Social Science Information, 51 (2): 165–182, doi:10.1177/0539018412437102 
  6. ^ Peter Hegarty; Zoe Walton, "The Consequences of Predicting Scientific Impact in Psychology Using Journal Impact Factors", Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7 (1): 72–78, doi:10.1177/1745691611429356 
  7. ^ María Luisa Jiménez-Rodrigo1; Emilia Martínez-Morante; María del Mar García-Calvente; Carlos Álvarez-Dardet (2008), "Through gender parity in scientific publications", Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, doi:10.1136/jech.2008.074294 
  8. ^ Fabienne Crettaz von Roten (2011), "Gender Differences in Scientists' Public Outreach and Engagement Activities", Science Communication, 33 (1): 52–75, doi:10.1177/1075547010378658 
  9. ^ Anne E. Lincoln; Stephanie Pincus; Janet Bandows Koster; Phoebe S. Leboy (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 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Hagen, Joel (1996). Doing Biology. Glenview, IL: Harper Collins. pp. 37–46. 
  12. ^ a b c "6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism". Retrieved 2015-10-04. 
  13. ^ "Nettie Maria Stevens (1861-1912) | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2015-10-04. 
  14. ^ Light, Jennifer S. (1999). "When Computers Were Women" (PDF). Technology and Culture. 40 (3): 455–483. 
  15. ^ "ScienceWeek". 2013-04-14. Archived from the original on April 14, 2013. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "CensorshipIndex". Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  19. ^ "Esther Lederberg, pioneer in genetics, dies at 83". Stanford University. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  20. ^ Shankar Vedantam, (13 July 2006). Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist: Biologist Who Underwent Sex Change Describes Biases Against Women. Washington Post