Radiology research focused on a single gender more impactful than gender-neutral research

In major radiology journals, research focused on men's or women's health often has a greater impact than gender-neutral research, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Numerous studies have noted that women are underrepresented in radiology, and researchers continue to explore potential reasons why there is a lack of parity in the specialty.

“One area in which gender inequality might have a direct influence on the field of radiology is on the type and impact of published research by male and female authors,” wrote lead author Lars J. Grimm, MD, MHS, of the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues. “Female authorship of radiology publications has significantly increased over the last several decades, although there is a persistent gap that mirrors the gender distribution of the field.”

The researchers sought to compare the impact of gender-related research and gender-neutral research. They also aimed to assess the relationship between the gender of the author and the actual topic of the article. 

Grimm and colleagues reviewed all original research over a four-year period in radiology publications such as Radiology, American Journal of Roentgenology and Academic Radiology. The authors logged the gender of all authors, and the total number of citations and citations per year were calculated for each article. 

The authors found 1,934 original research articles for 11,657 authors. Women represented 30 percent of first authors, 25 percent of last authors and 28 percent of all authors. Approximately 83 percent of articles were gender-neutral, 14 percent were focused on women’s health and 3 percent were focused on men’s health.

In addition: 

  • For women’s health articles, 62 percent had a female first authors, and 59 percent had a female last author.
  • For men's health articles, 85 percent had male first authors, and 87 percent had male last authors,
  • For gender-neutral articles, 25 percent had female first authors, and 19 percent had female last authors.
  • The average article citation rate was higher for women’s health and men’s health articles than gender-neutral articles. Additionally, the article citation rate was higher for men’s and women’s health research than gender-neutral research.

“Understanding why gender-related research garners higher citations than gender-neutral research is challenging,” Grimm et al. wrote. “For women’s health, the higher citation metrics are likely due to the persistently controversial nature of breast cancer screening as well as hot topics such as digital breast tomosynthesis and abbreviated screening MRI. For men’s health, the rapidly growing interest in prostate MRI is likely the driving factor. Many journals have dedicated women’s health or breast imaging subsections, but men’s health research is typically included within abdominal imaging.”

A possible explanation, the researchers noted, is that many subspecialties have well-read subspecialty journals, but there are no corresponding journals for women’s or men’s health. This could potentially increase the competition for publication in general radiology journals, resulting in “better-quality” articles.

“Regardless of the actual etiology, journals may wish to consider increasing the proportion of women’s and men’s health-related articles because these topics are very well cited and would thus increase the impact factor of the respective journals,” the researchers wrote.