Bibliometrics as a tool for measuring gender-specific research performance: An example from South African invasion ecology

28 February 2013

Citations to published work are gaining increasing prominence in evaluations of the research performance of scientists. Considering the importance accorded to gender issues in South African science, it is surprising that (to our knowledge) no research has as yet ascertained the extent of sex differences in citations to the published work of scientists in this country. Our literature study shows that studies that have been conducted elsewhere tend to neglect in their analyses important gender-related and other factors, such as the sex composition of multi-authored papers and the extent of foreign co-authorship. Against this background, we illustrate the difficulties inherent in measuring the quality aspect of sexspecific research performance by means of an analysis of a dataset of articles (n = 229) that were published between 1990 and 2002 in the field of invasion ecology and in journals included in the Thomson Reuters Web of Science. Each article has at least one South African author address. The results indicate that foreign co-authorship is a better correlate of high citations than the sex of South African authors, and this is true irrespective of whether the annual citation rate or window period is used, whether or not self-citations are excluded, and whether or not the number of authors is controlled for by calculating fractional counts. The paper highlights these and other considerations that are relevant for future gender-focused bibliometric research, both in South Africa and beyond.