Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

It’s a man’s world — for one peer reviewer, at least

with 65 comments

We’ve written quite a lot about the perks and pitfalls of the peer review system, but one thing we never really touched on was the risk that a reviewer might be … well, not to put too fine a point on it: a dope.

But Fiona Ingleby can speak to that. Ingleby, a postdoc in evolutionary genetics at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, co-wrote an article on gender differences in the transition from PhD-dom to postdoc land and submitted it to a journal for consideration. What she heard back was lamentably ironic — and grossly sexist.

According to Ingleby’s Twitter feed, one of the reviewers suggested to the two authors that they:

…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 based assumptions.

So these men, ideally co-authors, would help inoculate their X-chromosome heavy group against potential bias. Ahem!

Digging the hole even deeper, the reviewer noted that male doctoral students produce more papers than females, and male scientists publish in better journals and work longer hours. But don’t be offended — it’s due to men’s “marginally better health and stamina.”

Ingleby and her colleague have appealed to the unnamed journal, which belongs to the PLoS family, she tells us. In the meantime, she Tweets:

About that. We wondered if the sexist reviewer might have been able to hide behind a claim of gender-neutral naming. But no. Ingleby told us her co-author on the manuscript was Megan Head:

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. Megan and I are both postdocs, but have about 20 years research experience and 40 published papers between us, so not exactly junior. Besides, it irks me that the review is so clearly influenced by this personal assessment rather than being based on the quality of the manuscript.

The manuscript itself wasn’t, in my view, overly controversial, and Megan and I had it read and commented on by a number of colleagues (male and female) who agreed that the discussion was balanced and fair, so this reviewer’s reaction was quite shocking and unexpected. In a nutshell, we found that men finished their PhDs with more other-author papers than women, but no difference in number of first-author publications. Then we found that the number of publications affected how long it took PhD grads to successfully find a postdoc job – but this effect differed between men and women. It was interesting, but as it used survey data, it was difficult to gain anything conclusive behind the results – so our discussion was pretty open.

By bringing the review comments to Twitter, Ingleby definitely opened up the discussion further.

Update, 5 p.m. Eastern, 4/29/15: David Knutson, of PLOS, left this comment on our post:

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.

Update, 4:45 p.m. Eastern, 4/30/15: PLOS sent us this additional statement:

There has been a lot of talk about peer review in general, with some questions raised about single-blind review on Retraction Watch and other venues.  We have been asked why PLOS ONE uses a single-blind system and whether we’ll consider other peer review systems in the future.

PLOS ONE currently use single-blind review, and feels that cases such as this highlight the flaws in such a system. We believe the answer lies not in making the process even more closed, such as by using double-blind review, but by opening it up and making it more transparent. We are currently exploring a system on PLOS ONE, with an opt-out feature, whereby reviewers’ identities are made available to authors, and reviews posted alongside papers.

Update, 4:15 p.m. Eastern, 5/1/15: As Science reports, PLOS ONE has asked the Academic Editor who handled the manuscript to step down, and will no longer use the reviewer in question. According to a post by PLOS ONE Editorial Director Damian Pattinson:

PLOS ONE has strict policies for how we expect peer review to be performed and we strive to ensure that the process is fair and civil. We have taken a number of steps to remedy the situation.  We have formally removed the review from the record, and have sent the manuscript out to a new editor for re-review. We have also asked the Academic Editor who handled the manuscript to step down from the Editorial Board and we have removed the referee from our reviewer database.

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Written by amarcus41

April 29th, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Posted in peer review,plos

  • Time to complain? April 29, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    Excellent timing to open that folder that’s been gathering dust on poor, unprofessional, rude, abusive and other types of unprofessional “peer reviewer” comments we have to tolerate on occasion, over the years. So, what are the rules of engagement? No names, no editor names, no journal names, no publisher names, or does anything go? I sense that this could become a massive PR fiasco for many of the publishers if scientists begin to release comments made by peers that fall into any of these categories. From this story alone, I would say that PLoS had better get its PR team for a backlash. All it takes is one Twitter feed.

  • Ken Pimple April 29, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Can’t editors ask reviewers to stick to the review and leave out the editorializing?

  • Jim Woodgett April 29, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    They could, but in this case the editorializing speaks directly to the reviewers bias. Sometimes it is best to give people enough rope. It is remarkable the comments were somehow deemed appropriate to be transmitted to the authors, rather than the journal canning the review entirely and seeking another person.

    • Mark Peletier April 29, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      One wonders what the editors thought of such reviewing …

    • Kelly Hills April 29, 2015 at 11:11 pm

      It speaks to more than reviewer bias, it also speaks to the editorial bias–after all, the editors received the review, thought it was valid enough to reject the paper with, and sent that rejection and the review to the authors. This isn’t just a problem with the reviewer, it’s a much larger problem with PLoS itself

  • sj April 29, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    I agree with Jim Woodgett. Stupid peer reviews are common and come in many forms. It’s the editors’ job to interpret all reviews and decide what they want to do with them. Throw the review out and never use the reviewer again is entirely possible. This fiasco reflects as poorly on the editor as the reviewer.

    • Time to complain? April 29, 2015 at 7:42 pm

      I agree with you and with Jim, but I don’t think that an editor or EIC has to necessarily throw out the whole comment. The editor/EC’s responsibility is to screen and moderate the comments by the peer and to cut out, or censor, what might be inappropriate. No need to cut a reviewer or a full comment by a peer, only the inappropriate wording, I believe. At the same time, the reviewer should be told that his/her comments are inappropriate (or, in this case, below the belt), and thus not welcome. If there is no warning and correction system in place, then how can the system improve? That is precisely why this page at RW could serve an important didactic purpose, to publicly advertise such cases. If here is public knowledge about such cases in journals that scientists in each of our domains publishes, then others will feel more comfortable coming forward and sharing of their experiences. Opening up, exposing and then discussing is the only way to hold publishers accountable. It is one process that at least will be beyond their control (as I indicate above, which could be the biggest PR headache for them). This has long been a topic I have wanted to discuss. And it seems like the time is ripe, so thank you, Dr. Ingleby, for making this public, and bringing this to our attention.

      • JDM April 29, 2015 at 9:11 pm

        In general, perhaps. But what we have in this case is the proverbial thirteenth chime—the error so nonsensical it renders all surrounding information useless.

  • Leonid Schneider April 29, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    This is not an argument for double blind peer review at all, but for a fully transparent peer review, where the referee is named. One cannot change people, but one can prevent them from behaving inappropriately. What happened here, was some very unpleasant sexist bullying, and the journal’s editors should publicly distance themselves from this gentleman and refrain from inviting him as referee ever again.

    • LMW April 29, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      “What happened here, was some very unpleasant sexist bullying, and the journal’s editors should publicly distance themselves from this _gentleman_ and refrain from inviting _him_ as referee ever again.”

      Just a note: we don’t know for certain that the reviewer is male. The article and quotes from the manuscript’s author use gender neutral language. Women are fully capable of inflicting misogynistic biases on other women.

      • Pat April 29, 2015 at 9:09 pm

        Aside from tautologies or self-defined states (e.g., whether we are in pain), we don’t know *anything* for certain … what we do instead is infer as best we can from the available evidence.

      • Leonid Schneider April 30, 2015 at 2:48 pm

        Indeed, we don’t know. But the journal knows the name and sex of the referee with 100% certainty, which should end the guesswork.

    • coffex May 1, 2015 at 11:17 am

      > the journal’s editors should publicly distance themselves from this gentleman

      speculative assumption: reviewer might not be male

  • Paul Rain April 29, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Um. The comments here seems to assume that the reviewer in question was male. I would not be surprised to find that this was not the case.

    It seems that the reviewer felt that the commentary on the career paths of female postgraduate researchers by two female postgraduate researchers who admit to not having stellar career paths could use a little balance. There is no evidence that double blinding would have affected this opinion- in fact, this is probably another victory for single-blinded peer review. Would informally consulted colleagues, male and female, have made the same comments on the paper that they did if they had discussed it through a confession box while wearing a Darth Vader mask? Possibly not.

    • Naim Matasci April 29, 2015 at 5:19 pm

      I’d venture to suggest that it might possibly be because no female scientist would suggest that male-authored papers are on average of better quality or that men work more hours because of better health and stamina.

    • CarolynS April 30, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      If you think a woman would make review comments like this, I have a bridge I would like to sell you.

      • Andrea_L May 13, 2015 at 9:13 pm

        If you think women can’t be biased against other women, I’ll sell your own bridge to you again at twice what you paid for it the first time.

    • Harriet April 28, 2016 at 6:35 am

      Um. You mean two female *postdoctoral* researchers, not postgraduate, don’t you?

      Um. Where, in any of the reporting of this issue, is there anything at all to suggest that the authors ‘admit to not having stellar career paths’?? If anything, a quick glance at their publications suggest they are early-career researchers with extremely good records.

      Finally, it is irrelevant whether this reviewer was male or female. The comments are unacceptable in either case and have no place in professional peer review, regardless of the gender of the person who wrote them.

  • David Knutson April 29, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    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.

    • herr doktor bimler April 29, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      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.

      So they are autonomous except when they aren’t?

      • Lee Rudolph April 29, 2015 at 9:27 pm

        Not “except”. “Until”.

  • Mary Kuhner April 29, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Editors can and do discard reviews. I once had an editor write to me that “I am not transmitting reviewer X’s review because it appears to be hostile to the idea of statistical analysis.” (My subfield had a lengthy split between statistical and deductive approaches; I suspect, though I can’t know, that the review basically said “This whole area of science is invalid so you should reject the paper” and that the editor wasn’t in agreement.)

    The review described here ought to have been discarded as inappropriate and unhelpful.

  • Snail April 29, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    I don’t find Retraction Watch’s reporting quite fair here.

    Part of the problem is that we don’t know what claims were made in the manuscript, but my supposition is that the sex difference in the number of papers published is an empirical fact mentioned in the manuscript. The referee then seems to suggest that the authors should consider alternative explanations for this difference, and proposes some theoretical possibilities as examples. He repeatedly uses words such as “possible”, “perhaps” and “might” to emphasise that these are only theoretical possibilities amongst others, not claims that he necessarily believes are true. So I think it unfair of Retraction Watch to write that “the reviewer noted that … male scientists publish in better journals and work longer hours”, when the referee describes this only as an “unappealing” possibility. Similarly it is unfair of RW to imply that the referee claimed that “it” was due to men’s marginally better health and stamina; I understand the referee to claim only that any such difference could provide one explanation for being able to work longer hours. Incidentally, the referee also gave as another example “bias at the journal”, which everyone can probably agree is an alternative explanation that the authors should have considered.

    Generally it would seem not too difficult for Retraction Watch to have sought the full manuscript and the full referee’s report, rather than apparently relying only on short extracts on Twitter that could have been taken out of context.

    But I agree that, even if the referee was correct in claiming that the authors are biased, it was rather crass to suggest adding a male collaborator as a good solution. Better to advise the authors where he sees the bias and ask them to confront it themselves.

    • Linds April 29, 2015 at 7:33 pm

      If by “crass” you mean “horrifically sexist no matter the context”.

    • mola April 29, 2015 at 9:35 pm

      It is unclear from the coverage of this news if male scientists work longer hours due to better health and stamina is part of the paper or is the reviewer’s opinion. I am inclined to think it is the later. In any case, the only suggestion from the referee was to include men as co-authors, as if that would automatically increase the quality of the work without specifying any alternative methodology, is in itself insulting.

      • herr doktor bimler April 30, 2015 at 8:21 am

        Theories coming from women are necessarily prone to ideological bias; theories coming from men are neutral and objective. Well-known fact.

        • Dave Langers May 1, 2015 at 8:53 am

          Perhaps not, but theories from women on differences between men and women might be biased, just like they might be biased for men. “Might”, and likely in opposite directions. In an ideal world where only scientific discourse takes place, that wouldn’t be an issue, but people in academia are only human. That in itself could potentially justify having a mixed-gender research and author team. Perhaps.
          So, given that the paper was about gender differences itself, I can imagine that a reviewer might make a reasonable argument that -when taken out of context- could look ridiculously sexist. Not sure whether this was the case here. I guess one needs to read the complete paper and entire review to form a proper opinion.
          I mean, if the reviewer’s suggestion was that papers on gender issues may prove more balanced if male as well as female writers were involved, then that sounds a lot less controversial. Okay, the reviewer didn’t formulate it like that, admittedly, it appears, but we’re relying on selected quotes here.

    • KB April 30, 2015 at 9:43 am

      The paper’s authors have specialties in evolutionary genetics, particularly in cnidarians. Publication rates of males and females, publication bias, and productivity on the job have no place in this review – as they are completely irrelevant to the research. Reviewers review the empirical basis, methods, and conclusions of a paper – the cultural background of the authors is not important. Rather than a blind process (which can’t really be double-blinded), the editor needs to have the gumption to toss an inappropriate review.

    • Victoria Hay May 1, 2015 at 9:01 am

      Your suggestion has some merit; it’s also possible, as another reader remarked, that the reviewer is a woman.

      However, it seems to me there’s at least one factual error in the reviewer’s comments: men do not have marginally better health and stamina, in general, than women. Women tend to live longer and enjoy better health over the span of their lifetimes, and an average healthy woman has as much or more stamina (i.e., physical staying power) than the average healthy man. This is certainly so in academe, where we all tend to be sedentary, given the requirement to spend most waking hours in front of the computer, in archives or labs, and in the classroom. The oddness of that statement casts all the reviewer’s remarks in doubt.

      It would be good if we could see the paper’s arguments and evidence before the discussion continues much longer. Otherwise, all is speculation.

    • Harriet April 28, 2016 at 6:38 am

      But in the author’s statements, she describes their discussion as being fairly open, which suggests that they did indeed consider various explanations. Without reading it, I can’t say anything with certainty, but it seems reasonable to assume that they discussed various explanations for their results (as is fairly standard in scientific publications), only that the explanations they discussed were probably far more reasonable than this reviewer’s highly biased and flawed ‘explanations’.

  • herr doktor bimler April 29, 2015 at 7:46 pm


    the sex difference in the number of papers published is an empirical fact mentioned in the manuscript. The referee then seems to suggest that the authors should consider alternative explanations for this difference, and proposes some theoretical possibilities as examples

    In the process, the reviewer introduces yet another explanation for the longer CVs of male academics… that reviewers insist that female academics share their manuscripts with men, i.e. that they find a male colleague and enbiggen his CV with a free co-authorship.

    • Stemmy April 30, 2015 at 2:40 am

      “In the process, the reviewer introduces yet another explanation for the longer CVs of male academics… that reviewers insist that female academics share their manuscripts with men, i.e. that they find a male colleague and enbiggen his CV with a free co-authorship.”

      Exactly, this made me grin too.

  • Bobo April 30, 2015 at 4:18 am

    The reviewer was silly to suggest that men be added as co-authors. There is no question about that.

    However, with respect to the rest of the manuscript: asking the authors to consider (and exclude) alternative hypotheses is what science is all about.

    Sometimes alternative hypotheses will not be politically correct, but unpalatability of a hypothesis is not a reason not to test (and exclude) it. In fact, if you think (and hope) that the alternative hypothesis is false, shouldn’t you want to test that hypothesis?

    • chris murphy April 30, 2015 at 12:44 pm

      “… but unpalatability of a hypothesis is not a reason not to test (and exclude) it.”

      Even when the alternative hypothesis is ridiculous on it’s face? Such as the reviewers suggestion that; “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.” , or “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.”

      • Bobo May 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

        Yes. Absolutely. 99% is obviously an exaggeration, but that’s a hypothesis that could and should be tested. And it would be as part of an honest analysis. There’s no reason not to test it just because you think it might be false or because it would be politically incorrect if true.

    • Katie May 1, 2015 at 6:30 pm

      Of course reviews that suggest alternative hypotheses are great. However, the only alternate hypothesis in this case seems to be that the paper would be better if there were men on the author list. That is not a scientifically useful suggestion.

  • diana kornbrot April 30, 2015 at 5:03 am

    and if the appeal is upheld, will these reviewers be black balled from further
    reviews ofr PLOS journals?
    does not seem likely they will give fair review to Ms that does not inlcude at least 1 male author.
    problem compounded by fact that finding reviewers is often tough

  • bj April 30, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    “But don’t be offended — it’s due to men’s “marginally better health and stamina.”

    I don’t have data on papers/prestige of journals on hand, but I’m pretty uncertain of any significant way in which men have better health (or stamina). And, I suspect that the ability to lift more physical weight wouldn’t particularly be a significant contributor to gender outcomes in the PhD -> Post doc transition. Relying on dubious stereotypes for alternative explanations is the very definition of sexist bias.

    The folks comment here is written in measured terms, but, there should be consequences for both editor and reviewer in this review, if any of these things were actually said.

    • Rhi April 30, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      I have to agree–increased muscle mass due to higher testosterone levels does not seem logically likely to correlate with higher productivity at writing papers.

  • Time to complain? April 30, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    I think that “inappropriate” peer or editorial statements should be published publicly, post-publication, to hold editors and journals/publishers accountable. A clear example is the rapid response by David Knutson of PLoS. My question to David: what will happen to that peer and to the editor who oversaw the peer review and who ultimately approved the peer comments for submission to the authors?

    Some possible root causes may be:
    a) The use of peers, without remuneration, to support the academic quality of a journal. If peers/editors are paid, then perhaps they might be more professional, focused, and polite.
    b) Were the peers suggested by the authors, or selected by the editor/journal?
    c) What training do peers/editors have in terms of appropriate language and moderation during peer review and in peer reports?

    I believe that this page at RW may serve as an excellent repository for providing examples of such “inappropriate” peer/editor comments, since the web-site lacks a formal format and appropriate tone. I suggest that the way to present the comments here at RW would be to identify:
    a) The journal and publisher and also manuscript number;
    b) The exact editor’s name if the editor made the comment, or the EIC’s name, if the reviewer made the comment (since in principle, the EIC would have had to vet and approve the comment for submission to the author);
    c) The date the comment was made;
    d) The final decision of the manuscript (independent of all other comments made, and the validity of the acceptance/rejection);
    e) The use of inverted commas to show that this is in fact a direct quote.
    f) Anyone who posts a comment must be prepared to present the evidence to RW and/or the public to prove that it exists (e.g., copy of the e-mail, screen-shot of the online submission system that carries the comment, etc.).

    By using this page at RW as a platform to list “inappropriate” comments would actually go one great step forward to holding STM publishers and editors/journals accountable for one part of the publishing process that they have not yet been held accountable for (at least not publicly).

    In the same way that editors and publishers are holding the scientific author base accountable for so many aspects of the manuscript submission and revision process, so too must editors, EICs and publishers/journals be held equally accountable for unfair rejections, “unprofessional or unsuitable” comments (by editors, EICs, or peers), or any step of the publishing process that may be perceived as unfair, and that requires correcting, publicly. As in this case.

    • Marco May 3, 2015 at 9:15 am

      Such a page would in my opinion be inappropriate for RW, as its goal is not to expose bad reviewers, but to discuss the background behind retractions.

      • IT May 3, 2015 at 10:02 am

        If that were true, then why does this story about Ingleby exist? It is precisely because a retraction is based on errors, bias, and other problems of the peer review system that stories such as this one are extremely important and why pointing out errors by peers and editors publicly is an absolutely necessity, since it induces greater accountability. And retractions fall under the wider umbrella of published paper errors.

        • Marco May 3, 2015 at 11:52 am

          In my opinion this story is a good example of something that should not appear on RW, or at the very least not be something that regularly appears on RW.

          • IT May 3, 2015 at 4:33 pm

            Please compare the number of comments, the number of comments generated per day and then look at some other stories before and after this one. The numbers will tell the tale.

  • Lucia April 30, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    If the reviewer thinks this is unfair, her or she could publish his review so we could read everything in context.

  • Lucita April 30, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    So, men’s “marginally better health and stamina” allows them to write and publish more, but causes their deaths four years earlier (on average) than women?

    • Richard April 30, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      The gender gap in life expectancy is partially attributed to men being much more likely to work in physically intense, hazardous occupations and die to accidental injury or homocide.

      So yes to the latter, slightly.

      • Lucita April 30, 2015 at 4:52 pm

        “Partially attributed”? But not wholly attributed? If not wholly attributed, then women have more stamina and better health because they live longer (by definition). And the stamina inherent to living longer should mean women more time to write more papers than men who die earlier. The reviewer’s supposition is absurd on its face, and yours is little better.

        • Richard May 1, 2015 at 5:02 pm

          Incredulous scare quotes or not, do you think any statistic as large and complex as life expectancy is “wholly attributed” to one thing? Both disease susceptibility and hazardous labor and about 100 other things contribute significantly to life expectancy.

          More directly to what he’s saying, do you think there is no area where one gender excels over another on average, like running a mile or not dying of heart disease, without sexism at play?

          I’m not defending the reviewer, whose comments sound pretty biased and unproductive even without seeing the paper, but you are attacking the one halfway uncontroversial thing he said: that simply observing a gendered difference (with nothing else) is not enough to label it sexist favoritism (something they denied they’ve done). Depending on how they did their study, that may be a valid point- it’s everything he says around that that’s pretty vile.

  • Matt Petersen April 30, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    I would really like to see the manuscript. The lead author’s research interests also include the culture of science. Was that the subject of the paper? Was the reviewer actually discussing examples and reasoning explicitly used in the manuscript? Very little contexts here, other than that presented by the author – perhaps justifiably – chafing from a harsh rejection.

  • Adam Etkin April 30, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    PLoS is cutting off their nose here. How about making the editor and reviewer accountable for allowing this to occur during the peer review process?

  • Rosemary T May 1, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Back in the 1960s and 70s, women in science published using only their initials. Otherwise their work would be dismissed as inconsequential before it was even read. I had hoped that as scientists, we had moved past that.

    I was Managing Editor of a small internal medicine journal for 8 years. I would have never passed this review along to the authors and I would have never used this reviewer again.

  • Leonid Schneider May 1, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Excellent response from PLOS /PLOS One to insist from the academic editor to step down, besides to banning that referee. Moreover, PLOS has previously indicated to consider open peer reveiw, which they again have spoken about mentioned on this occasion. Hopefully, at least PLOS One will soon switch to a fully transparent peer review.

  • CarolynS May 2, 2015 at 7:42 am

    At the federal agency where I work, we are required to get clearance through internal agency procedures for any ‘open peer review’ published under our own name. An onerous process in itself and the agency can require changes to the review so it’s not exactly the reviewer’s own opinions. This pretty much means that we turn down most if not all review requests from journals that use open reviews. Just saying’.

  • Krishna Kumari Challa May 2, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    Both my supervisor/group leader and me are women and published several papers together but never faced this discrimination. I even faced an open viva for my Ph.D. where anybody from your field can ask any questions – it was a grueling four-hour marathon – but there too people strictly adhered to the subject of my research.
    Some people are very biased and I feel these men should be shown the door. They are not fit to be in the field of science.

  • imohacsi May 3, 2015 at 6:07 am

    I find it distasteful to put public pressure on the review process. This could all have been solved without the media if the editor reads the peer replies and asks for another review.

    • Marco May 3, 2015 at 9:12 am

      Well, maybe, but in this case the Editor either did not read the review or did not see anything particularly wrong with this review, and thus it was sent onward to the authors.

    • PSS January 13, 2016 at 10:34 pm

      That rather suggests that you don’t think there are important issues raised by this egregious incident, and that the authors affected should just put up and shut up (and thus contribute yet more evidence to their own dataset that women have shorter publications lists than men)?

      Should it really remain a private matter that a content-free review that offered no specific criticisms other than the lack of a male author (whilst failing to recognise that this suggestion itself provides another hypothesis), and essentially suggested that the data could be explained by that well known fact that brawn = brains? And that this review got past an editor and was the sole review sent to the authors to justify rejection?

      If this kind of bias is not exposed, how can it be addressed? The referee put his professional reputation on the line with this review, as we all do every time we provide one. There is little room for doubt that it expresses his honestly held beliefs but that does not mean that his honestly held beliefs are not likely to do damage to his employer and individuals in his workplace. If women are constantly forced to expend time and effort merely to receive the respect granted to men as of right (like, for example, challenging this review) then we should expect to find fewer of them and in less senior positions and with fewer papers. And we should also expect that the ‘excess’ men in the missing women’s jobs are less competent and their papers of a lower quality than had their funding been allocated in a gender (and race, disability etc) neutral fashion.

      We cannot continue to draw talent only from a minority of the population without reducing the quality of work done and allocating resources inefficiently. At the moment it seems difficult for some men to even acknowledge that there is an issue to address, which gives us a very difficult problem to solve. If the field is dominated by men who consider evidence that they are unfairly advantaged to be flawed regardless, how will the evidence ever get published?

      This is an interesting related discussion, exposing the ludicrously poor logic employed by some of those (presumably less competent) scientists who try to system justify rather than examine the nature of reality:

  • NOfrodono May 4, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    PLOS needs to look at EVERY paper that reviewer ever TOUCHED.

  • Drb2000 June 2, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    This reminds me of a concert reviewer of a female violinist, in the early 1900s. Paraphrasing, she was great “but for the want of manly vigor.”

  • Milos August 22, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    They co-wrote an article on gender differences in the transition from PhD-dom to postdoc land. The very subject of their paper can raise heated argument. It is possible that their discussion and conclusion sections were biased or influenced by feminist theory. Perhaps the reviewer felt that and suggested consulting someone who could see things from different perspective (i.e. a male colleague). Scientists are human too and are prone to bias, even when they try to be perfectly objective.

    • Andrea August 22, 2016 at 7:31 pm

      Why would a male colleague not be prone to the same biases?

    • jose August 29, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      I’m sorry, but this whole post is about how the reviewer was incorrect due to his own bias. Yes, the reviewer indeed felt what you said. He was wrong. Try reading it?

    • Harriet August 30, 2016 at 5:57 am

      Not that it really matters, since male and female scientists will be equally prone to bias, but Dr Ingleby noted in her tweets that male colleagues had read and commented on the manuscript before submission. So what was your point?

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