HomeEast Asian AmericanBlack and Asian researchers face bias in news reports

Black and Asian researchers face bias in news reports

A recent study reveals that scientists are less likely to be identified in news stories about their research if they have East Asian or African names compared to their colleagues.

These studies were conducted by Hao Peng, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University, alongside Misha Teplitsky and David Jurgens, associate professors at the University of Michigan.

 The study examined more than 200,000 science news stories published between 2011 – 2019.

The researchers analyzed stories from 288 U.S. media outlets.

Peng’s team also used an algorithm that considers the most likely country of origin of different researcher’s first and last names.

“The disparity was most pronounced for authors with East Asian and African names”, Peng said in an article published in The Conversation. Peng further explained that “authors with East Asian and African names; they were on average mentioned or quoted about 15% less in U.S. science media relative to those with Anglo names.”.

This bias is consistent across all kinds of outlets, even when things like geographical location, story length, research topics, and other factors, are all taken into account.

As for why these erasures keep happening, Peng and co-authors have a few ideas why. Some of these include biases and unconscious stereotypes, such as perceived English fluency and proficiency, and time zone differences for researchers working overseas.

“It takes more time and more resources to transcribe an interview from a nonnative speaker,”, said journalist Wudan Yan in an interview with Science.org, “And yes, that is inherent racism and I’m sorry to say it, but I also think it’s absolutely at play here.”.

When looking at U.S. institutions, East Asian and African names experience over a 4 – 5% point drop in mention rates compared to Anglo-named colleagues. East Asian and African-named scientists often have their names substituted for their institutional affiliations, such as “researchers from the University of Southern California” for example.

The study didn’t include the ethnicities and English fluency of the researchers, and the authors pointed out their method of determining name origins may have led to classification errors. Regardless, many people, including fellow researchers still say this study has incredibly important.

Natalie Davidson, a postdoc at the University of Colorado, said that “it’s common to hold preconceptions about a person based on their name alone—and that’s what the study was trying to get at.”. Davidson previously co-authored a similar paper last year that also analyzed the underrepresentation of East Asian names in news coverage.

These studies also coincide with issues regarding, bias, representation, and racism faced by scientists of color in academia.

“Thus, addressing disparities in scientists’ media representation is only one way to foster inclusivity and equality in science. But it’s a step toward sharing innovative scientific knowledge with the public in a more equitable way,” Peng said to The Conversation.

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