Responses to the sexist review by PLOS One

There has recently been a lot of attention on the journal PLOS One and their handling of a heavily gender-biased review received by an evolutionary biologist on a manuscript about gender differences in the Ph.D. to Postdoc academic transition.  PLOS One has taken a few actions, including asking the academic editor who handled the manuscript to step down from the editorial board and removing the offending reviewer from their database.  Dr. Michael Eisen, one of the founders of PLOS, has provided interesting commentary on the subject.

What’s just as troubling is that the reviewer clearly used his personal assessment of not only the authors’ gender but also their “junior” academic status in his criticism.  A blog that focuses on manuscript retractions has another summary of the issue.  Dr. Fiona Ingleby, one of the authors of the manuscript, tells the authors,

Megan and Fiona are pretty unambiguous names when it comes to guessing gender.  But in fact, the reviewer acknowledged that they had looked up our websites prior to reading the MS (they said so in their review). They used the personal assessment they made from this throughout their review – not just gender, but also patronising comments throughout that suggested the reviewer considered us rather junior.  – Fiona Ingleby

This has raised some major issues about the peer-review process, including whether a reviewer’s identity should ever be revealed in a single-blind or double-blind review.  Dr. Eisen addresses this in his blog posted above.  Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos wrote about removing publishing bias in science, here in the form of sexism. In response to Dr. Eisen’s post, she explicitly addresses the accountability that institutions and publishers need to have in place.

It will be interesting to see how PLOS One and other publishers address this now-viral issue, especially by the changes to the peer-review process.  Some have noted that the PLOS One editor failed in his/her duty by returning this gender-biased review to the authors instead of disregarding it, and it wasn’t necessarily a problem with the procedures.  But more and more journals are moving to different review styles, including Nature’s experiment with double-blind peer review.  If the PLOS One review had been double-blind, the reviewer may have been able to guess the gender of the authors but would not have been able to verify that, and especially not verify their current academic positions.

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Gendered language in reference letters

…”nice” never got me a research grant or professional position. –Marcia McNutt

I previously posted an interactive visualization tool the shows language differences when reviewing male vs. female professors on ratemyprofessors.com, which shows a startling difference in word frequencies.  These reviews may have been hastily written by students, and they may not have thought much about the word choices they used when describing their professors.

What about letters of reference?  These are often critical pieces of information for acquiring a job, securing grant funding, and long-term career success.  A colleague just forwarded me an editorial that appeared in Science, written by Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief for Science Journals.  McNutt was recently tasked with reviewing small research grant proposals written by graduate students.  She found that over 10% of the proposals included reference letters with inappropriate content for the decision to fund the grant.  While the offending letter writers were both men and women, all of the affected applicants were women.  Letter writers should highlight the applicant’s qualifications, so one would think that these would be carefully vetted for gendered language.  Sadly, they are not.

Love Cards Against Humanity? You will now love them even more.

You can buy Cards Against Humanity on amazon.

The Cards Against Humanity game just did something remarkable: they will soon offer full-ride college scholarships for women in STEM fields.  The Science Ambassador Scholarship will be open for the Fall 2016 school year.  It will primarily be funded by the game’s new “Science Pack” expansion to the original game, according to their press release.

There’s Marie Curie…who else?

Two weeks ago I posted a list of famous women scientists and doctors from an old book I had.  This article emphasizes that while most people can name a women scientist, they often only name one: Marie Curie.

We Need to Stop Ignoring Women Scientists | WIRED.

After reading this article, I am looking forward to Rachel Swaby’s iBook 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World.

Famous Women in Science

Years ago, my grandmother gave me a book called The 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century.  With my new job comes the task of assigning names for the nine computers in a computer lab.  I’m taking some inspiration from the famous scientists and doctors in the book.  Sadly, despite owning the book for well over ten years, I didn’t recognize all of them.

Who else should make this list, from the 20th century or otherwise?  I can think of these: