Matilda effect

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Matilda effect

The Matilda effect is a bias against acknowledging the achievements of those women scientists whose work is attributed to their male colleagues. This effect 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]

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,[2] 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.[3][4]


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.[5] Similar cases are described by two Italian female researchers in a study[6] corroborated further by a Spanish study.[7] On the other hand, several studies found no difference between citations and impact of publications of male authors and those of female authors.[8][9][10]

Swiss researchers have indicated that mass media ask male scientists more often to contribute on shows than they do their female fellow scientists.[11]

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."[12]


Examples of women subjected to the Matilda effect:

  • Theano of Crotone, (6th century BC) - 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)[13] Pythagoras[14]
  • Trotula (Trota of Salerno, 12th century) – Italian physician, author of works which, after her death, were attributed to men 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"[15]
  • 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][16] 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.[17] However, Thomas Hunt Morgan, a distinguished geneticist at the time, is generally credited with this discovery.[18] Despite her extensive work in the field of genetics, Stevens' contributions to Morgan's work are often disregarded.[19]
  • 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 Georg Elias Müller and Edward 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 (1920–58) – 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[20] 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.[21]
  • Harriet Zuckerman (born 1937) – as a result of the Matilda effect, Zuckerman was also credited by husband Robert K. Merton as co-author of the concept of the Matthew effect.[22][non sequitur]
  • 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.[23]

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


Ben Barres (1954–2017), a neurobiologist at Stanford University Medical School who transitioned from female to male, spoke of his scientific achievements having been perceived differently, depending on what sex others thought he was at the time.[29] 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, 23 (2): 325–341, doi:10.1177/030631293023002004, ISSN 0306-3127, S2CID 145225097
  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. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Marieke van den Brink; Yvonne Benschop (2011), "Gender practices in the construction of academic excellence: Sheep with five legs", Organization, 19 (4): 507–524, doi:10.1177/1350508411414293, S2CID 140512614
  6. ^ 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
  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, 62 (6): 474–475, doi:10.1136/jech.2008.074294, hdl:10045/8447, PMID 18477742, S2CID 12399729
  8. ^ Peter Hegarty; Zoe Walton (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
  9. ^ Stephane Baldi (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
  10. ^ Nick Haslam; Lauren Ban; Leah Kaufmann; Stephen Loughnan; Kim Peters; Jennifer Whelan; Sam Wilson (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
  11. ^ Fabienne Crettaz von Roten (2011), "Gender Differences in Scientists' Public Outreach and Engagement Activities", Science Communication, 33 (1): 52–75, doi:10.1177/1075547010378658
  12. ^ 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, PMID 22849001, S2CID 24673577
  13. ^ History of Scientific Women
  14. ^ Biographies of Women Mathematicians
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Hagen, Joel (1996). Doing Biology. Glenview, IL: Harper Collins. pp. 37–46.
  18. ^ a b c "6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism". Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  19. ^ "Nettie Maria Stevens (1861–1912) | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "Luna Productions".
  22. ^ "The Matthew Effect in Science, II : Cumulative Advantage and the Symbolism of Intellectual Property by Robert K. Merton" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-05-04.
  23. ^ Light, Jennifer S. (1999). "When Computers Were Women" (PDF). Technology and Culture. 40 (3): 455–483. doi:10.1353/tech.1999.0128. S2CID 108407884.
  24. ^ "ScienceWeek". 2013-04-14. Archived from the original on April 14, 2013. Retrieved 2015-10-10.
  25. ^ Sime, Ruth Lewin (2012). "Marietta Blau in the history of cosmic rays". Physics Today. 65 (10): 8. Bibcode:2012PhT....65j...8S. doi:10.1063/PT.3.1728.
  26. ^ "Wolf prize goes to particle theorists". Physics World. 20 January 2004.
  27. ^ "CensorshipIndex". Retrieved 2015-10-10.
  28. ^ "Esther Lederberg, pioneer in genetics, dies at 83". Stanford University. 29 November 2006. Retrieved 2015-10-10.
  29. ^ Shankar Vedantam, (13 July 2006). Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist: Biologist Who Underwent Sex Change Describes Biases Against Women. Washington Post