Sexism charge hits proteomics journal — and you’ll see why

j proteomicsWe guess that if you are the fox in charge of the chicken coop, you might be tempted to try to get away with the kind of thing we describe in this post. But here’s an example of why such a  cozy relationship can lead to, well, nutty developments.

Coconuts, that is.

The Journal of Proteomics will be taking down two blatantly sexist images illustrating papers by Italian researcher, Pier Giorgio Righetti – who also happens to be the one of several executive editors of the journal in question. Lab and Field and Tree of Life have the story, which, for obvious reasons, has the Twittersphere twitillated.

Righetti’s article, “Harry Belafonte and the secret proteome of coconut milk,” used the following picture as a “graphical abstract:”

Evidently Elsevier, which publishes the Journal of Proteomics, has agreed to take down the offensive image. They’ve also agreed to take down another of Righetti’s irrelevant racy figures, this one from 2012’s “Assessment of the floral origin of honey via proteomic tools“:

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14 thoughts on “Sexism charge hits proteomics journal — and you’ll see why”

  1. That is just… crazy. Also, can you use a celebrity’s name in a title like that, without permission? (I don’t think it’s a leap to assume that no permission was asked, considering the ridiculous issue at hand).

    1. Righetti is not THE executive editor, he ia AN executive editor ( there are many. Righetti is the executive editor of “Proteomics of Body Fluids and Proteomic Technologies”, which, given the “stimulatory” nature of the image for members of the opposite gender, would made his title perfectly suited. Kidding aside, Elsevier should also take a slap on the wrist for promoting this non-scientific marketing-based pseudo-quality parameters like, namely “highlights”, “graphical abstracts” and “AudioSlides”. All of these waste-the-time-and-patience of scientists gimmicks do is enhance the superficial attractiveness of the article, but have ZERO scientific value. In that sense, why put the full blame on Righoletti? After all, the standard, spammy-style automatically regurgitated message we get from Elsevier, every time we have to re-submit a manuscript is (verbatim, but edited for brevity):
      “When submitting your revised paper, we ask that you include the following items:
      Highlights (mandatory)
      Highlights consist of a short collection of bullet points that convey the core findings of the article and should be submitted in a separate file in the online submission system. Please use ‘Highlights’ in the file name and include 3 to 5 bullet points (maximum 85 characters, including spaces, per bullet point). See the following website for more information

      Graphical Abstract (optional)
      Graphical Abstracts should summarize the contents of the article in a concise, pictorial form designed to capture the attention of a wide readership online. Refer to the following website for more information:

      Please note that this journal offers a new, free service called AudioSlides: brief, webcast-style presentations that are shown next to published articles on ScienceDirect (see also If your paper is accepted for publication, you will automatically receive an invitation to create an AudioSlides presentation.”

      Time to go back to basics, and cut out this flowery paraphernalia that dots the i’s of every scientific paper.

      Incidentsally, at least at the time of posting this comment, no links to the article at from any web-site were working.

    1. Of course. I’d do the same thing if I had the nerve. But now there is a backlash. I’ve been waiting for publishers to accept animated gifs for graphical abstracts. I want to bring back those flashing banner ads from 2002.

  2. On my side, I think Prof. Righetti is a lovely man and a great scientist and from what I gether from his Graphical Abstracts, a very amusing scientist. Why not let him is peace? If you don’t like the graphical abtracts, then concentrate on the paper. Leave us alone and in peace, you humourless lot!

    1. Francisco: “Why not let him is peace?” Because whether Righetti intends to or not, these sorts of graphical abstracts make women feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in science. Surely we can agree that we want to try to make people feel comfortable as professional scientists.

      There’s also other issues.

      First, there’s the matter of the ownership and copyright of these images. None of them appear to be original. Righetti appears to have grabbed them off the web and quickly modified them. This alone could be cause to Righetti, and the journal, to be in the wrong legally.

      Second, these don’t fit the journal’s own requirements for graphical abstracts.

      These are described in my post here:

      1. I’m not totally unsympathetic to your comment, but consider. Many articles on prehistory use leading images of the Venuses of Willensdorf, Dolni Vestonice, etc., Such images may or may not have been pornographic in intent, but at least have unmistakably sexual connotations. They are widely believed to be deliberately demeaning to women’s minds (because the face is deliberately obscured, minimized, or absent). Often enough, the images are at best tangential to the subject matter and are included because they are very memorable and iconic — a feature not unrelated to their explicitly sexual nature. Whether the particular images violate copyright or not, they are highly similar.

        Consider also the featured images of an Odalisque to introduce Romantic art or irrelevant photos of topless nubile Tobriander women to lead a discussion of cultural anthropology. This sort of thing less frequent now than it used to be. That’s an excellent thing. But we don’t burn those books, retract the images, or even remove them from electronic reprints. Any kind of censorship, especially post-publication, and most especially censorship based on cultural norms, really ought to be kept to an absolute minimum. Likely, the coconut image should never have been published in the first place; but removing them now raises the stakes.

      2. I have a little bit of difficulty to see a connection between these graphical abstracts and the undeniable forces that make women feel unwelcome in science. The latter usually comes from male scientists being misogynist assholes and getting away with it. Especially since only a small minority of his graphical abstracts features women in a possibly offensive way, I’d give this guy the benefit of the doubt for not being a misogynist asshole.

        To me it seems that this guy tends to come up with somewhat childish graphical abstracts; but since the whole idea of a graphical abstract also seems a bit childish to me, I find this actually not totally unreasonable.

    2. It’s great that Prof. Righetti has a sense of humor. No one would knock him for that. But using this image in association with a scientific paper is an infantile show of that sense of humor. I’m sure he is a lovely man. But the lack of professionalism here says “frat boy” more than it does “great scientist.” Would it have been OK if Prof. Righetti had included this image in the thesis he submitted to his committee in graduate school? Probably not…

  3. As a lay reader (not a scientist), my response to these images is to assume the article and the journal itself are not scientifically valid as the presentation is so juvenile and unprofessional.

    At the ignobels, show your sense of humor. When attempting to present scientific information that is supposed to be taken seriously, be serious.

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