Monday, February 26, 2018

How inclusive are your networks?

CC0 Public domain by geralt on Pixabay
We all live in filter bubbles, no matter how hard we try to widen our horizons. Information in languages we don't understand are automatically filtered out and we tend to rely on a limited number of trusted sources and contacts even in academic work. There are many studies on citation bias showing that authors of articles in scientific journals tend to cite sources in their own country or in culturally similar countries. Added to this is the tyranny of rankings and impact factors that give greatest weight to articles published in the major American and European journals. How often do you cite work by academics active in China, Russia, India, Africa or South America? How is the gender balance? A similar bias is evident in our networks. Have a look at who you follow on various social media: how diverse are they? If you can see that they are nearly all white Europeans and Americans then maybe it's time to widen your scope.

I was alerted to this problem by a fascinating article by Maha Bali in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inclusive Citation: How Diverse Are Your References?. Inclusive citation involves searching outside your usual sources and actively connecting with colleagues from different parts of the world and with different cultural backgrounds to yourself. The article gives some practical advice about expanding your horizons by reviewing your present networks and sources and then connecting with people outside that sphere. Even if you have one contact from outside your standard sources, find out who they network with and cite and work from there. You will undoubtedly expand your horizons by doing so.

Have a look at the reading lists you recommend for students. Are we reinforcing a cultural bias and demonstrating to students which types of academic sources are the "right" ones to cite.

If you teach, check your syllabus. How diverse is your reading list? How is the White of your reading list compared to the diversity of your student body? Will a student taking your class find someone like them in the reading list, and imagine themselves as scholars of this field one day?

We need to widen our perspectives and acknowledge that there is excellent research and academic work in all parts of the world. Much of it is written in languages other than English and this of course limits its impact. Maybe translation software will soon be able to help us access these sources but until then it is difficult to be truly inclusive. We can at least review our own biases and try to offer more diverse perspectives.

If your citations aren’t diverse and inclusive enough, chances are, you’re missing some valuable perspectives. Chances are, you’ll learn something new and it will resonate with you. And eventually, it will become habit, and you won’t have to count references any more because you will naturally already have a diverse list of authors whom you respect and read regularly.

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