This editorial decision is making my blood boil

I’ve seen editorial malpractice before. I keep a file of personal experiences, just to remind myself that the process isn’t totally clean, and that we must always be on alert to make sure peer-review is the best it can be.

But every once in a while, you see something that takes your breath away. This came to me through Twitter, and I couldn’t let it go.

Fiona Ingleby, an evolutionary geneticist, and Megan Head, an evolutionary biologist, conducted a survey to investigate gender differences in PhD-postdoc transition. Then they wrote a manuscript based on their results. They submitted it to a journal for review and possible publication. The editors solicited reviews, discussed them, and then sent back a rejection.

Remember that this was a manuscript about how gender might play into how people are treated differently when they move through their academic careers. Then bathe in the irony of the reviews:

It would probably also be beneficial to find one or two male biologists to work with (or at least obtain internal peer review from, but better yet as active co-authors), in order to serve as a possible check against interpretations that may sometimes be drifting too far away from empirical evidence into ideologically biased assumptions.

In other words, it appears this reviewer is saying that the manuscript could benefit from some male authors. The mind reels. I guess it’s assumed that women can’t be objective scientists on this issue without some men to help? I mean, it’s entirely possible that the discussion could be biased (I didn’t review the paper); but it’s incredibly sexist to think that this can only be fixed by men.

It gets worse. Here is another gem:

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

The assertion that women might be treated differently because of their gender must be incorrect because it’s possible that they are different (less productive) because of their gender. Did I get that right? This crazy logic is hard for me to get my head around. More:

An unappealing as this may be to consider, another possible explanation would be that on average the first-authored papers of men are published in better journals than those of women, either because of bias at the journal or because the papers are indeed of a better quality, on average… And it might well be that on average men publish in better journals… perhaps simply because men, perhaps, on average work more hours per week than women, due to marginally better health or stamina.

Or, it could be, perhaps, because there are too many faculty and scientists, perhaps, who still hold ridiculous and biased views towards women. Perhaps.

I don’t know what journal this was (although some posts hint towards culprits), and I don’t care. I get that sometimes reviewers are bad, but why didn’t the editor screen and reject them? The whole situation needs addressing. Fast.


P.S. I haven’t spoken to the authors, although I did reach out to them. It appears other blogs have. If anything comes from a later conversation I have with them, I will update.

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