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Concept: Bias


Despite efforts to recruit and retain more women, a stark gender disparity persists within academic science. Abundant research has demonstrated gender bias in many demographic groups, but has yet to experimentally investigate whether science faculty exhibit a bias against female students that could contribute to the gender disparity in academic science. In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student-who was randomly assigned either a male or female name-for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent. We also assessed faculty participants' preexisting subtle bias against women using a standard instrument and found that preexisting subtle bias against women played a moderating role, such that subtle bias against women was associated with less support for the female student, but was unrelated to reactions to the male student. These results suggest that interventions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science.

Concepts: Bias, Experiment, Gender role, Female, Scientific method, Woman, University, Gender


Scientists are trained to evaluate and interpret evidence without bias or subjectivity. Thus, growing evidence revealing a gender bias against women-or favoring men-within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) settings is provocative and raises questions about the extent to which gender bias may contribute to women’s underrepresentation within STEM fields. To the extent that research illustrating gender bias in STEM is viewed as convincing, the culture of science can begin to address the bias. However, are men and women equally receptive to this type of experimental evidence? This question was tested with three randomized, double-blind experiments-two involving samples from the general public (n = 205 and 303, respectively) and one involving a sample of university STEM and non-STEM faculty (n = 205). In all experiments, participants read an actual journal abstract reporting gender bias in a STEM context (or an altered abstract reporting no gender bias in experiment 3) and evaluated the overall quality of the research. Results across experiments showed that men evaluate the gender-bias research less favorably than women, and, of concern, this gender difference was especially prominent among STEM faculty (experiment 2). These results suggest a relative reluctance among men, especially faculty men within STEM, to accept evidence of gender biases in STEM. This finding is problematic because broadening the participation of underrepresented people in STEM, including women, necessarily requires a widespread willingness (particularly by those in the majority) to acknowledge that bias exists before transformation is possible.

Concepts: Gender identity, Scientific method, Critical thinking, Gender role, Bias, Experiment, Science, Gender


Track-while-scan bird radars are widely used in ornithological studies, but often the precise detection capabilities of these systems are unknown. Quantification of radar performance is essential to avoid observational biases, which requires practical methods for validating a radar’s detection capability in specific field settings. In this study a method to quantify the detection capability of a bird radar is presented, as well a demonstration of this method in a case study. By time-referencing line-transect surveys, visually identified birds were automatically linked to individual tracks using their transect crossing time. Detection probabilities were determined as the fraction of the total set of visual observations that could be linked to radar tracks. To avoid ambiguities in assigning radar tracks to visual observations, the observer’s accuracy in determining a bird’s transect crossing time was taken into account. The accuracy was determined by examining the effect of a time lag applied to the visual observations on the number of matches found with radar tracks. Effects of flight altitude, distance, surface substrate and species size on the detection probability by the radar were quantified in a marine intertidal study area. Detection probability varied strongly with all these factors, as well as species-specific flight behaviour. The effective detection range for single birds flying at low altitude for an X-band marine radar based system was estimated at ∼1.5 km. Within this range the fraction of individual flying birds that were detected by the radar was 0.50±0.06 with a detection bias towards higher flight altitudes, larger birds and high tide situations. Besides radar validation, which we consider essential when quantification of bird numbers is important, our method of linking radar tracks to ground-truthed field observations can facilitate species-specific studies using surveillance radars. The methodology may prove equally useful for optimising tracking algorithms.

Concepts: Radar tracker, Marine radar, Air traffic control, Bias, Altitude, Flight level, Radar, Scientific method


Peoples' subjective attitude towards costs such as, e.g., risk, delay or effort are key determinants of inter-individual differences in goal-directed behaviour. Thus, the ability to learn about others' prudent, impatient or lazy attitudes is likely to be critical for social interactions. Conversely, how adaptive such attitudes are in a given environment is highly uncertain. Thus, the brain may be tuned to garner information about how such costs ought to be arbitrated. In particular, observing others' attitude may change one’s uncertain belief about how to best behave in related difficult decision contexts. In turn, learning from others' attitudes is determined by one’s ability to learn about others' attitudes. We first derive, from basic optimality principles, the computational properties of such a learning mechanism. In particular, we predict two apparent cognitive biases that would arise when individuals are learning about others' attitudes: (i) people should overestimate the degree to which they resemble others (false-consensus bias), and (ii) they should align their own attitudes with others' (social influence bias). We show how these two biases non-trivially interact with each other. We then validate these predictions experimentally by profiling people’s attitudes both before and after guessing a series of cost-benefit arbitrages performed by calibrated artificial agents (which are impersonating human individuals).

Concepts: Cognitive bias, Decision theory, Bias, Cognition, Sociology, Scientific method, Psychology, Critical thinking


Perceptual decisions are classically thought to depend mainly on the stimulus characteristics, probability and associated reward. However, in many cases, the motor response is considered to be a neutral output channel that only reflects the upstream decision. Contrary to this view, we show that perceptual decisions can be recursively influenced by the physical resistance applied to the response. When participants reported the direction of the visual motion by left or right manual reaching movement with different resistances, their reports were biased towards the direction associated with less effortful option. Repeated exposure to such resistance on hand during perceptual judgements also biased subsequent judgements using voice, indicating that effector-dependent motor costs not only biases the report at the stage of motor response, but also changed how the sensory inputs are transformed into decisions. This demonstrates that the cost to act can influence our decisions beyond the context of the specific action.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mind, Francis Ford, Probability, Bias, Critical thinking, Report


Global investment in biomedical research has grown significantly over the last decades, reaching approximately a quarter of a trillion US dollars in 2010. However, not all of this investment is distributed evenly by gender. It follows, arguably, that scarce research resources may not be optimally invested (by either not supporting the best science or by failing to investigate topics that benefit women and men equitably). Women across the world tend to be significantly underrepresented in research both as researchers and research participants, receive less research funding, and appear less frequently than men as authors on research publications. There is also some evidence that women are relatively disadvantaged as the beneficiaries of research, in terms of its health, societal and economic impacts. Historical gender biases may have created a path dependency that means that the research system and the impacts of research are biased towards male researchers and male beneficiaries, making it inherently difficult (though not impossible) to eliminate gender bias. In this commentary, we - a group of scholars and practitioners from Africa, America, Asia and Europe - argue that gender-sensitive research impact assessment could become a force for good in moving science policy and practice towards gender equity. Research impact assessment is the multidisciplinary field of scientific inquiry that examines the research process to maximise scientific, societal and economic returns on investment in research. It encompasses many theoretical and methodological approaches that can be used to investigate gender bias and recommend actions for change to maximise research impact. We offer a set of recommendations to research funders, research institutions and research evaluators who conduct impact assessment on how to include and strengthen analysis of gender equity in research impact assessment and issue a global call for action.

Concepts: Rate of return, Bias, Gender, Science, Investment, Research, Scientific method


Reproducibility in animal research is alarmingly low, and a lack of scientific rigor has been proposed as a major cause. Systematic reviews found low reporting rates of measures against risks of bias (e.g., randomization, blinding), and a correlation between low reporting rates and overstated treatment effects. Reporting rates of measures against bias are thus used as a proxy measure for scientific rigor, and reporting guidelines (e.g., ARRIVE) have become a major weapon in the fight against risks of bias in animal research. Surprisingly, animal scientists have never been asked about their use of measures against risks of bias and how they report these in publications. Whether poor reporting reflects poor use of such measures, and whether reporting guidelines may effectively reduce risks of bias has therefore remained elusive. To address these questions, we asked in vivo researchers about their use and reporting of measures against risks of bias and examined how self-reports relate to reporting rates obtained through systematic reviews. An online survey was sent out to all registered in vivo researchers in Switzerland (N = 1891) and was complemented by personal interviews with five representative in vivo researchers to facilitate interpretation of the survey results. Return rate was 28% (N = 530), of which 302 participants (16%) returned fully completed questionnaires that were used for further analysis. According to the researchers' self-report, they use measures against risks of bias to a much greater extent than suggested by reporting rates obtained through systematic reviews. However, the researchers' self-reports are likely biased to some extent. Thus, although they claimed to be reporting measures against risks of bias at much lower rates than they claimed to be using these measures, the self-reported reporting rates were considerably higher than reporting rates found by systematic reviews. Furthermore, participants performed rather poorly when asked to choose effective over ineffective measures against six different biases. Our results further indicate that knowledge of the ARRIVE guidelines had a positive effect on scientific rigor. However, the ARRIVE guidelines were known by less than half of the participants (43.7%); and among those whose latest paper was published in a journal that had endorsed the ARRIVE guidelines, more than half (51%) had never heard of these guidelines. Our results suggest that whereas reporting rates may underestimate the true use of measures against risks of bias, self-reports may overestimate it. To a large extent, this discrepancy can be explained by the researchers' ignorance and lack of knowledge of risks of bias and measures to prevent them. Our analysis thus adds significant new evidence to the assessment of research integrity in animal research. Our findings further question the confidence that the authorities have in scientific rigor, which is taken for granted in the harm-benefit analyses on which approval of animal experiments is based. Furthermore, they suggest that better education on scientific integrity and good research practice is needed. However, they also question reliance on reporting rates as indicators of scientific rigor and highlight a need for more reliable predictors.

Concepts: Animal testing, Science, Research, Critical thinking, Bias, In vivo, Scientific method


Localization of objects and events in the environment is critical for survival, as many perceptual and motor tasks rely on estimation of spatial location. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that spatial localizations should generally be accurate. Curiously, some previous studies have reported biases in visual and auditory localizations, but these studies have used small sample sizes and the results have been mixed. Therefore, it is not clear (1) if the reported biases in localization responses are real (or due to outliers, sampling bias, or other factors), and (2) whether these putative biases reflect a bias in sensory representations of space or a priori expectations (which may be due to the experimental setup, instructions, or distribution of stimuli). Here, to address these questions, a dataset of unprecedented size (obtained from 384 observers) was analyzed to examine presence, direction, and magnitude of sensory biases, and quantitative computational modeling was used to probe the underlying mechanism(s) driving these effects. Data revealed that, on average, observers were biased towards the center when localizing visual stimuli, and biased towards the periphery when localizing auditory stimuli. Moreover, quantitative analysis using a Bayesian Causal Inference framework suggests that while pre-existing spatial biases for central locations exert some influence, biases in the sensory representations of both visual and auditory space are necessary to fully explain the behavioral data. How are these opposing visual and auditory biases reconciled in conditions in which both auditory and visual stimuli are produced by a single event? Potentially, the bias in one modality could dominate, or the biases could interact/cancel out. The data revealed that when integration occurred in these conditions, the visual bias dominated, but the magnitude of this bias was reduced compared to unisensory conditions. Therefore, multisensory integration not only improves the precision of perceptual estimates, but also the accuracy.

Concepts: Inductive bias, Selection bias, Scientific method, Sample size, Bias, Critical thinking


Federal funding for basic scientific research is the cornerstone of societal progress, economy, health and well-being. There is a direct relationship between financial investment in science and a nation’s scientific discoveries, making it a priority for governments to distribute public funding appropriately in support of the best science. However, research grant proposal success rate and funding level can be skewed toward certain groups of applicants, and such skew may be driven by systemic bias arising during grant proposal evaluation and scoring. Policies to best redress this problem are not well established. Here, we show that funding success and grant amounts for applications to Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant program (2011-2014) are consistently lower for applicants from small institutions. This pattern persists across applicant experience levels, is consistent among three criteria used to score grant proposals, and therefore is interpreted as representing systemic bias targeting applicants from small institutions. When current funding success rates are projected forward, forecasts reveal that future science funding at small schools in Canada will decline precipitously in the next decade, if skews are left uncorrected. We show that a recently-adopted pilot program to bolster success by lowering standards for select applicants from small institutions will not erase funding skew, nor will several other post-evaluation corrective measures. Rather, to support objective and robust review of grant applications, it is necessary for research councils to address evaluation skew directly, by adopting procedures such as blind review of research proposals and bibliometric assessment of performance. Such measures will be important in restoring confidence in the objectivity and fairness of science funding decisions. Likewise, small institutions can improve their research success by more strongly supporting productive researchers and developing competitive graduate programming opportunities.

Concepts: Natural science, Mathematics, Society, Systemic bias, Bias, Research, Science, Scientific method


In 2011, the median age of survival of patients with cystic fibrosis reported in the United States was 36.8 years, compared with 48.5 years in Canada. Direct comparison of survival estimates between national registries is challenging because of inherent differences in methodologies used, data processing techniques, and ascertainment bias.

Concepts: Canada, U.S. state, United Kingdom, Poverty in the United States, Bias, Cystic fibrosis, Cohort study, United States