Female Scientists Told to Get a Man to Help Them With Their Paper


This just in from the land of great sexism: two female scientists had a manuscript rejected by a peer-reviewed journal because they didn’t ask a man for help. An unnamed peer reviewer for the journal PLoS One suggested that Drs. Fiona Ingleby and Megan Head find male co-authors—any men at all—for a paper they’d written, in order to make sure they weren’t leaping to “ideologically biased assumptions.”

Dr. Fiona Ingleby is a research fellow studying evolution, behaviour and environment at the University of Sussex; her co-author, Dr. Megan Head, is an evolutionary biologist postdoctoral researcher at the Australian National University. Their manuscript was about how gender differences influence the experiences that PhD students have when they’re transitioning into post-doctoral jobs. They surveyed 244 people with PhDs in biology and concluded that men had better job prospects, suggesting that gender bias might be to blame.

In a glorious demonstration of both their thesis and the general concept of irony, Ingleby tweeted that, although their manuscript was rejected, the peer reviewer did provide a detailed list of suggestions for how they could make it better. Like, maybe consider the fact that men work more? And they’re healthier? And maybe they get papers published in better journals because their papers are just better? You ever think of that?

A man would’ve helped you think of that.

PLoS One is part of a group of publications put out by the highly respected Public Library of Science; Times Higher Education notes that the peer reviewer’s notes were also filled with bizarre typos:

In an email to the authors on 27 March, the journal rejected the paper on the grounds that “the qulaity [sic] of the manuscript is por [sic] issues on methodologies and presentation of resulst [sic]”.

Times Higher Education read the entire review and noted a few other interesting suggestions besides the ones Ingleby posted on Twitter:

In offering an alternative interpretation of the data, the reviewer says: “It could perhaps be the case that 99% of female scientists make a decision in mid-life that spending more time with their children is more important to them than doing everything imaginable to try to get one of the rare positions at the utter pinnacle of their field.”
The reviewer goes on: “Or perhaps it is the case that only some small portion of men (and only men) have the kind of egomaniac personality disorder that drives them on to try to become the chief of the world at the expense of all else in life.”
The reviewer also suggests that male doctoral candidates may have co-authored more papers than females because they can work on average 15 minutes longer per week. “Such a small difference of average effort could easily be due to marginal gender differences of physiology and health,” the reviewer says.
“So perhaps it is not so surprising that on average male doctoral students co-author one more paper than female doctoral students, just as, on average, male doctoral students can probably run a mile race a bit faster than female doctoral students,” adds the reviewer.

Ingleby told Science Insider they’d appealed the rejection weeks ago on the grounds that it seemed “unprofessional and inappropriate” but also lacked any constructive criticism that they could use to improve the paper. Science Insider’s Rachel Bernstein notes that the peer reviewer—whose gender we don’t know, but I can guess—called the paper “methodologically weak” and said it had “fundamental flaws and weaknesses that cannot be adequately addressed by mere revision of the manuscript, however extensive.”

After their thorough Twitter flaying, The Public Library of Science apologized and said they’re re-considering the manuscript. With a different reviewer, one hopes.

Image via screengrab/20th Century Fox.

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