Citation is one thing. Discussion is another. You can drop a reference without really engaging someone's work (e.g., Snerdfoot 2011). But as Helen de Cruz has emphasized, discussing a possible Bechdel test for philosophy papers, citation analysis is insufficient as a measure of serious engagement with someone's work. I propose two rough measures of "discussion".
"Discussion" itself I operationalize as follows: A person is discussed if that person's name appears in the abstract of an article. Looking at the Philosopher's Index database, I have examined discussion arcs over time for various well-known philosophers in a series of blog posts (e.g., here, here, here, here).
"Extended discussion" I operationalize as follows: A person receives extended discussion if that person is referred to at least twice in the abstract of the article, by either name or pronoun. The nominative pronoun might be especially telling, since its presence suggests that the person is being referred to repeatedly in independent clauses. For example:
Later, Nussbaum gradually reconsidered the notion of patriotism in texts that remained largely unknown and rarely discussed. This article begins with a brief account of her shift from cosmopolitanism to what she terms 'a globally sensitive patriotism,' and the task assigned to education within this framework....
This suggests a possible rough and simple measure of the relative rates at which women receive extended discussion in philosophy articles compared to men: Compare the ratio of "he" to "she" in philosophy abstracts, then remove cases in which those words are used with generic intent (e.g., "If the agent wouldn't have done otherwise whether or not she could have....") or otherwise not referring to an individual philosopher whose work is being discussed (e.g., reference to historical leaders, or third-person references to the author herself for abstracts written in the third person).
I searched Philosopher's Index for all appearances of "he" or "she" in abstracts from 1970 to the present in a sample of ten ethics journals and ten general philosophy journals. [See Note 1 for journal details.] This yielded a total of 2321 abstracts. I then skimmed each abstract to remove all cases in which the pronoun was not used to refer to a specific philosopher whose work was being discussed. [Yes, I looked at over 2000 abstracts! Obviously, my determinations had to be quick, but in almost every case it could be made confidently within just a few seconds.] To examine temporal trends, I grouped results by decade. I also separated citations of pre-20th-century historical figures from 20th and 21st century figures.
Percentage of recipients of extended discussion (as measured by nominative pronoun use in abstracts) who are women:
1970s Ethics: 8/92 (9% women) [so 91% of those receiving extended discussion are men] General journals: 4/134 (3%)
1980s Ethics: 3/77 (4%) General: 0/137 (0%)
1990s Ethics: 20/147 (14%) General: 9/189 (5%)
2000s Ethics: 16/184 (9%) General: 16/229 (7%)
2010s Ethics: 19/120 (16%) General: 27/244 (11%)Merging the ethics and the general journals, so far in the 2010s, approximately 13% of philosophers receiving extended discussion in these journals are women.
In contrast with my earlier data on authorship in the most elite journals, this does appear to be a statistically significant increase since the 1970s (5% vs. 13%, z = 3.2, p = .001).
If we remove discussion the pre-20th century figures (Kant, Plato, etc.), then numbers look like this:
1970s Ethics: 8/64 (13% women) General journals: 4/97 (4%)
1980s Ethics: 3/54 (6%) General: 0/106 (0%)
1990s Ethics: 19/94 (20%) General: 9/144 (6%)
2000s Ethics: 15/140 (11%) General: 16/184 (9%)
2010s Ethics: 18/95 (19%) General: 26/210 (12%)Still only 14%!
(Since ethics is a minority of the discipline, it makes sense that the center of gravity would be closer to the general journals.)
These numbers are consonant with two other measures I've done that suggest that at the very highest levels of prestige our discipline is still predominately male.
For the discipline as a whole, percentages of faculty in the 21st century are typically in the low 20%'s (U.S. data here).
The outlier analysis here is my analysis of American Philosophical Association meetings, where women were 35% (144/413) of the invited symposium speakers on the main program, and 32% of main program participants overall.
Note 1: Ethics and non-ethics were analyzed separately because previous analyses have found differences by area, and because journals divide fairly naturally into those specializing in ethics/political, "general" journals that publish proportionately little ethics, and other types of specialty journals (like philosophy of science).
Ethics journals were the top ranked journals in surveys by Brian Weatherson and Brian Leiter (excluding the non-ethics journals appearing in the latter) and include Ethics, Philosophy & Public Affairs, Journal of Political Philosophy, Utilitas, Social Philosophy and Policy, Journal of Ethics, Ethical Theory & Moral Practice, Journal of Social Philosophy, Journal of Value Inquiry, and Journal of Moral Philosophy.
The comparison list was a stratified sample of "general" philosophy journals drawn from Leiter's surveys here and here and included Nous, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Synthese, Mind, Philosophical Studies, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, European Journal of Philosophy, Dialectica, Philosophical Topics, and Theoria. The sample was stratified so that the selected journals would not differ too much in overall prestige from the ethics journals. ----------------------------------------------------------
For a related post, also including discussion of the use of "he" and "she" and generic pronouns, see Use of "She" and "He" in Philosopher's Index Abstracts (Sep. 16, 2014). See also Kieran Healy's nice analysis of gender citation patterns in four leading philosophy journals.