Updated Neuroscience Base Rate

For the past year, we have used aggregated demographic data based on SfN annual meeting registration to calculate a base rate for conferences falling under the general topic of “neuroscience,” and in our journal watch posts. This aggregated demographic data has been provided by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), however all calculations and analysis are ours.

We have recently received updated and historical numbers from the Society for Neuroscience. The new base rates have been added to the neuroscience base rate page, along with a table of base rates per year.

During the calculation of the new base rates from the 2018 SfN annual meeting, we found an error in calculating the faculty base rate from the 2017 annual meeting. All affected posts have been updated. In addition, if the BWN rating (category) of a conference changed as a result of this error, a note was added. We are also making the aggregated numbers available on the neuroscience base rate page to prevent future mistakes.

Here is a look at the SfN base rates per year:

SfN Base Rates By Year (2)

Summarizing 3.33 years of BWN: we’ve moved the needle!

BiasWatchNeuro went live in September 2015. Now, at the end of 2018, we analyzed the trends over 3 years and 4 months, and the results are encouraging.

First, the overall female:male ratio across conferences reported on the site has been increasing significantly (p<0.05 for linear regression calculated over the last two years*, p<0.001 for linear regression calculated over the whole period). It would take another 492 posts, or approximately 3.5 more years, to reach parity if the increase continues at the current rate, but this is not too long to wait!

The data are shown below. Each dot is a post, in solid red is a 5-post moving average, in solid black is the linear regression line calculated based on posts from 2017-2018*.


The base rate of women in each of the relevant fields in this period has, unfortunately, not yet changed on average (see below; linear regression was not significant in this case). However, we are likely underestimating the base rates of different fields, as we take a conservative approach to this estimate (e.g., counting only NIH grant recipients, see here). Also, the effects of seeing more women speakers in conferences on recruiting and maintaining more women neuroscientists as faculty will no doubt take some time.


Still, the fact that the base rates we compare to have not changed significantly over time underscores the significance of the changes we have seen in how many conferences exceed the base rate in their field. In 2015-2016, the majority of conferences were below the base rate. In 2018 we are happy to report that a majority of conferences are above the base rate. Given that base rates are likely underestimated, and that over-representation is important in order to compensate for biases and ultimately increase the base rate in every subfield to 50% (the base rate of females in the population), this is extremely encouraging!

Below are summaries of number of posts in each of our BWN Rating categories over the years:


We can make a difference. And we need to continue doing more. Heartfelt thanks to our over 100 named supporters, and to the Simons Foundation for funding BWN.

Happy 2019 everyone!

ps. Stay tuned for the BWN pledge, keep a watchful eye on representation of women in journals (alas, it is not looking good so far), and please contact us if you have ideas on how to extend our reach to fighting racial biases in neuroscience.

* We used only the last two years of posts for calculating trends, as these are years in which we posted conferences regularly (and hopefully provided wide coverage of conferences and meetings in the field) thanks to generous funding from the Simons Foundation.

No prize-worthy (early career) women? Part two

In the past we’ve compiled a list of awards and the gender breakdown of awardees. Today, we’re starting a list focused on early career investigator awards.

Elsevier/VSS Young Investigator Award – Awarded since 2007, to 9 men : 1 woman (10%); base rate estimated to be 30% using our most recent search of the term vision science in NIH RePORTER

Society For Neuroeconomics Early Career Award – Awarded since 2009, to 8 men : 3 women (27%); base rate estimated to be 37% using our current neuroeconomics number

Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award – Awarded since 1983, to 41 men : 9 women (18%), and awarded to 12 men : 4 women (25%) since 2007; base rate estimated to be 24% using our current general neuroscience number (current selection committee: 5 women, 3 men)

Did we miss an award? Please send additional early career prizes (good or bad) to biaswatchneuro@gmail.com and we will add them.

No prize-worthy women?

Not only conferences, but many prize committees suffer from the same unintentional biases, awarding women with fewer than 10% (and sometimes 0%) of awards. Here are a few examples:

Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience – Awarded since 2008, to 8 men, no women (current selection committee: 7 men, 1 woman)

The Brain Prize – Awarded since 2011, to 19 men and 2 women (current selection committee: 6 men, 3 women)

Koetser Award – Awarded by the Betty & David Koetser Foundation for Brain Research since 2006, to 11 men and 1 woman, jointly awarded with her husband (selection committee not publicly available)

This lack of women recipients is not due to lack of women engaged in prize-worthy cutting-edge neuroscience research, as apparent from prizes that are awarded to women proportionally to their base-rate in science:

Edward M. Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience – Awarded since 2004, to 10 men and 4 women (current selection committee: 4 men, 2 women)

Base rate of women researchers in neuroscience: 24% as estimated by the percentage of women faculty in top neuroscience programs in USA

Base rate of women researchers in computational neuroscience: 17-18% as estimated from the percentage of women attendees at COSYNE