Within the first semester of her Master’s in Information and Library Science, Cassidy Sugimoto was confronted with questions she had not considered before. Who gets to make information? Who decides what is credible? Who gets access to this information? These questions opened up an entirely new area of study. She began to look at scientific information—the ways it is made, who gets to participate in it, and how it is evaluated. Cassidy went on to earn a PhD in Information and Library Science and is now an Associate Professor in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University, Bloomington.
At Indiana, Cassidy researches the science of science. Specifically, she works in the areas of scientometrics and science policy, looking at who participates in science, the ways they participate, and how they are rewarded for their contributions. “I think science has been hindered because we have limited the participation of many people,” explains Cassidy. “Women and minorities have been systematically overlooked. Nationalistic ideologies have limited international collaboration. Contributions from certain countries are often disregarded. It is imperative that we provide opportunities for full participation of scholars across the world.”
One of her most important studies was an analysis of gender disparities in science that was published in Nature in 2013. Cassidy and her colleagues developed an algorithm to assign gender to a name (taking into account regional differences.) They the applied the algorithm across the entire Web of Science database, revealing gender distribution in production and citation by discipline and country. Their results provided validation of something many people assumed to be true. They found that men dominate scientific production in nearly every country and that women are disadvantaged when it comes production and citations. Because of the high visibility of the journal, their research had a wide reach. “Shortly after publication, I began to hear that provosts and other administrators were using the work as justification to encourage deans and department chairs to examine disparities in their own departments. It also led to several opportunities to discuss gender disparities with scholars across a broad range of disciplines,” says Cassidy.
Her most recent study investigates degrees of mobility and the relationship between mobility and other scientific indicators. It was inspired by the wave of isolationist ideologies and policies gaining popularity around the world. Although there was lots of anecdotal evidence for maintaining open borders, strong empirical evidence was lacking. Cassidy and her colleagues looked at how researchers’ country of affiliation changed (or didn’t) between 2008 and 2014. They tracked where researchers moved, as well as their citation scores before and after their moves. Their study showed that scientists have a greater impact when they are more mobile and that mobile scholars have about 40% higher citation rates on average than non-mobile scholars. Limiting international mobility would impact scientific productivity on a global scale. “I think that all countries must think not about the competitiveness of their own scientific workforce, but acknowledge that science is a global activity,” Cassidy says. “Isolationist ideologies do not lead to the best advances in science. I hope that we can find ways to encourage and support the circulation of scholars and resources so that we can achieve the greatest scientific results.”
Cassidy plans to expand on this study and look at the gender dimension of mobility, mobility across institutions and sectors, and the environments contributing to mobility. “I believe that science operates best when we provide opportunities and resources for scientists, regardless of sociodemographic characteristics (e.g. gender, geography, age)” she says. “I hope that, in shedding light on systematic disparities, science can become more equitable. I think that in increasing the voices in science, we will promote a more innovative and rigorous scientific environment.”