Avoiding bias when inferring race using name-based approaches

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Racial disparity in academia is a widely acknowledged problem. The quantitative understanding of racial-based systemic inequalities is an important step towards a more equitable research system. However, few large-scale analyses have been performed on this topic, mostly because of the lack of robust race-disambiguation algorithms. Identifying author information does not generally include the author’s race.Therefore, an algorithm needs to be employed, using known information about authors, i.e., their names, to infer their perceived race. Nevertheless, as any other algorithm, the process of racial inference can generate biases if it is not carefully considered. When the research is focused on the understanding of racial-based inequalities, such biases undermine the objectives of the investigation and may perpetuate inequities. The goal of this article is to assess the biases introduced by the different approaches used name-based racial inference. We use information from US census and mortgage applications to infer the race of US author names in the Web of Science. We estimate the effects of using given and family names, thresholds or continuous distributions, and imputation. Our results demonstrate that the validity of name-based inference varies by race and ethnicity and that threshold approaches underestimate Black authors and overestimate White authors. We conclude with recommendations to avoid potential biases. This article fills an important research gap that will allow more systematic and unbiased studies on racial disparity in science

This content has been updated on 17 November 2021 at 10 h 50 min.