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Sexism in science: Peer editor tells female researchers their study needs a male author

Today in things that are dumb and horrible, we've got another sordid tale from the front lines of science. After submitting a scientific manuscript for peer review -- the process by which scientists uninvolved in a study will decide whether it's fit to publish -- two female researchers got a nasty shock: The sole review attached to their rejected study suggested that bringing some men into their team might fix all its problems.

Because, um, men are more objective scientists.

...and write more papers, which definitely isn't a result of the underrepresentation of women at higher-level positions of prestige in science.

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

And hey, Internet, I know what you're gonna say (because I know you): Their study must have had other flaws. This editor (who is unidentified and who could even be female, for all we know) was totally inappropriate in the review, sure, but surely the editor must have given some indication of an actual problem with the manuscript and then offered real suggestions for how to fix it.


According to Rachel Bernstein at ScienceInsider, who was given a full copy of the review to read by one of the authors, the only other comments were that the study was “methodologically weak” and “has fundamental flaws and weaknesses that cannot be adequately addressed by mere revision of the manuscript, however extensive."

[Shoddy scientific journal accepts paper titled ‘Get me off Your F**king Mailing List’]

So essentially, if we're taking this reviewer's assessment at face value, the reviewer thought the study was so hopeless that it wasn't even worth offering constructive criticism -- which, for the record, is something an author expects when his or her manuscript is rejected -- and that only some dudes could redeem it.

Ingleby (who's a postdoctoral researcher in evolutionary genetics at the University of Sussex) and her co-author didn't want to shame the publication by name, but Ingleby tweeted that they were frustrated by the lack of response from those in charge. They appealed their paper's rejection, and that's still in progress, but they reasonably expected some kind of reaction from the higher-ups about the steaming pile of hot garbage that was the review they received, to no avail.

[Men (on the Internet) don’t believe sexism is a problem in science, even when they see evidence]

After the popular watchdog site RetractionWatch revealed that the journal was part of the PLoS family, an open-access journal network, the group's PR representative made this statement in the comments:

PLOS regrets the tone, spirit and content of this particular review. We take peer review seriously and are diligently and expeditiously looking into this matter. The appeal is in process. PLOS allows Academic Editors autonomy in how they handle manuscripts, but we always follow up if concerns are raised at any stage of the process. Our appeals policy also means that any complaints of the review process can be fully addressed and the author given opportunity to have their paper re-reviewed.

Due to the Twitter furor that ensued, PLOS apologized there, too:

But, obviously, the issue here isn't limited to this one glaringly inappropriate manuscript review. This incident serves as a harsh reminder to female scientists that there are "peers" who think their work is less-than for no reason other than their sex.

I hope we can all agree that's messed up.

Want more science? Give these a click:

Men (on the Internet) don’t believe sexism is a problem in science, even when they see evidence

Gender gap: Women welcome in ‘hard working’ fields, but ‘genius’ fields are male-dominated, study finds

Sexism often comes with a smile, study finds

Two scientific journals accepted a study by Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel