A major science publisher has apologized to the two authors of a journal submission—both women—who were told by a peer reviewer that their paper would have been better if they’d had some “male biologists” helping them.
“It would probably … 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),” because men would have kept the article from “drifting too far away from empirical evidence into ideologically biased assumptions,” the anonymous reviewer wrote.
The paper, by evolutionary geneticist Fiona Ingleby and evolutionary biologist Megan Head, “investigates gender differences in the Ph.D.-to-postdoc transition,” Science reported. It was rejected by a journal that the authors declined to “name and shame,” but PLoS has since come forward as the publisher.
The reviewer called Ingleby and Head’s research “methodologically weak” and said it “has fundamental flaws and weaknesses that cannot be adequately addressed by mere revision of the manuscript, however extensive,” but didn’t actually provide specific criticisms. He or she (but probably he, let’s be honest) was happy to make some wild speculation that male Ph.D.’s might just be more productive at writing—or getting their names attached to—papers than female ones, though:
“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 a bit faster than female doctoral students.”
He also chalked up any differences to men “on average, work[ing] more hours per week than women, due to marginally better health and stamina.”
Remember, this is the same reviewer who chided the authors for making “ideologically based assumptions” that a man would never have leapt to.
…and this is a bit hypocritical given the reviewer’s own ideological biases throughout the review, for example: (3/4) pic.twitter.com/aJ8aTIRdYL
— Fiona Ingleby (@FionaIngleby) April 29, 2015
Needless to say, the authors appealed their rejection. But when weeks passed without a response, Ingleby posted some of the reviewer’s most inflammatory comments on Twitter. Now PLoS is pushing their appeal forward, and it looks like their paper will get a second review.
Here’s the publisher’s official statement:
“PLOS regrets the tone, spirit and content of this particular review,” it stated. “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.”
Ingleby told Retraction Watch that her case is a good argument for double-blind peer reviews. The reviewer explicitly mentioned looking up the two authors’ websites, and she feels the patronizing review was “clearly influenced by this personal assessment rather than being based on the quality of the manuscript.”