Weekend reads: “Academic science isn’t sexist;” buying your way into university rankings

booksThe week at Retraction Watch began with news of a lawsuit against PubPeer commenters. Here’s what was happening elsewhere:

22 thoughts on “Weekend reads: “Academic science isn’t sexist;” buying your way into university rankings”

  1. Another academic scandal hits Japan. Prof. Kensei Sugayama, a JSPS Research Fellow at Ryukoku University, with a Master of Arts (Kobe City University of Foreign Studies), Diploma in Linguistics (University of London), has lost his position at Ryukoku University for plagiarizing at least in 23 papers [1]. The word fraud (不正行為) was used in the original story, which is significant. It is difficult to identify whether any of those papers [2] have been retracted or subjected to an expression of concern, but one can only imagine that this must surely be the first of many steps to follow. Anonymous complaints were received by the university in January 2014, followed by an investigation until October. During his tenure at Kyoto Prefectural University, at least 16 of his 20 papers “stole” text from other sources and used them in a copy-paste manner. 80% of those cases were theft from foreign sources. He has also formally lost his position as Emeritus Professor at Kyoto Prefectural University and at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies. He does leave us with one curious legacy: “furniture-nouns” [3]. My personal question to Prof. Sugayama is: will you pay back part of that massive salary you received over many years? Ryukoku University reserved no kind words for Prof. Sugayama: “his purpose was to deceive others”.

    [1] http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20141031-00000124-jij-soci
    [2] http://researchmap.jp/p0083468/?lang=english
    [3] http://www.nytud.hu/program/absz/sugayama131003.pdf

  2. Not an academic myself, but based on recent stories I heard from many academic women in STEM fields I wish someone in the right field would do some PPPR on that “academic science is not sexist” study (or at least on the op-eds and articles sure to trumpet the end of sexism in the ivory tower).

    1. This review paper claims to go precisely beyond the anecdotal evidence you seem to be referring to, which is poor evidence in any field as no one will deny. Also, note that the authors are distinguishing between “mathsy” and “life-sciency” STEM fields, for which they report very different trends! For the “mathsy” bit they do not state that the field is gender-balanced: they report that the gender-deficit starts before girls get into these subjects (but once they are in, performance is similar between males and females). For the “life-sciency” bit, there is actually an overrepresentation of girls flowing in (but there they do leak away more strongly during their career).
      (That is my interpretation of it. It is not my field either, and I am male, but I found this review refreshingly factual, thorough and balanced. It is clear from reading it that the four authors (1M+3F) started off from different fields and with different viewpoints, so I do not suspect them of having much of a fixed “agenda” they wish to promote.)
      Not that this is related to retractions, but I thank the blog for pointing this gem out!

      1. Here’s a blog post with some PPPR on the paper.


        “Their data show lower salaries for women in academic STEM compared to men, almost across the board (Table 4 and Figure 17; note the drop in salaries for female assistant professors from 1995 to 2010 and that they’re at 85% of what male assistant professors were paid); lower job satisfaction for women (Table 19); fewer publications than men across fields (with one exception) in early career, whether we have children or not (Figure 16); fewer publications than men in most fields even when we’re full professors (Figure 14); more hours worked than men (Figure 15, not significant); scarcely breaking 30% representation in the “math-heavy” STEM fields (Figure A1; damn you, kindergarten! and Figure 1–note the lumping of life sciences with psychology and social sciences–I have a problem with that, and this paper is one example of why); and a dropping off of women from the pipeline between BS and PhD (Figure 2). Where I come from, we call that institutional bias.”

        1. This “PPPR” is building an argument by pointing out aspects of all the figures that are *in the paper*, and underlining and emphasising statements that the authors *actually make*. So one cannot possibly maintain that the authors do not present a view that highlights both sides of the medal (unlike the cherry-picking blogger who only focusses on the negative trends, if you ask me).
          Somehow, this paper is misleadingly represented to state “nothing to see here anymore, walk on”, but that is not at all how I read the paper! In my view, the paper is well acknowledging the problems. Like I wrote above, it does not claim that there is equality. It is just making the nuance that in “mathsy” GEEMP, as opposed to “life-sciency” LPS, the problem primarily occurs early on, and that is not sufficiently recognised. I think the trends in the many numbers that are cited overall substantiate that pretty well.

          The funny thing is that I, as a man, could also write a story about how I still don’t have tenure whereas my supervisors are always complimentous about my work, etc.etc. And I know many male colleagues with the same complaints. Also, I work in a department with 3/4 women, at all levels (PhD to prof). I don’t have programmes to apply to that favour women to compensate for the existing biases. But my story is not such a politically appealing one, and I do realise that my n=1 argument is a weak anecdotal one…

          1. I think there’s enough variation within universities – and even individual departments- that any sweeping generalizations have to be taken with a few grains of salt. (I glanced at the paper but I honestly do have other reading to be doing, and it’s 60-odd pages. I’m hoping that it is at least …. thorough?)

            I think the main issue facing academic science and scientific research right now has more to do with job stability, though. That’s why usually why people leave, I think, although the “culture” can get bad. And this, of course, applies to both men and women.

          2. As I am in a heavily male-populated field (where I personally never experienced serious harassment- and thought I sometimes benefited from being a woman, if only because folks remembered me), I would personally be interested in examples of discrimination such as the ones you mention (e.g., perhaps a heavily female field or department does treat men differently ? I have no experience with that.) The anecdotes I was referring to were not so much of the “haven’t yet received tenure” variety, but pretty clear-cut, ridiculous harassment which is or should be actionable such as this other NYT story:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/us/handling-of-sexual-harassment-case-poses-larger-questions-at-yale.html . Am absolutely not saying this does not happen to men, I am saying those would be interesting anecdotes initially and potentially data points later if a serious study could be done …

          3. I wasn’t gonna go into detail, but since you express “a personal interest” in an example I’ll give the most explicit one I know of, and then I promise to stop whining:
            At my (previous) university there is a program that is *exclusively* targeted at women. At the moment, no less than 30 tenure positions are open. Although they don’t list being female as a formal requirement (legal reasons, I presume), they only invite women to apply, and in the entire history of the programme have never awarded a position to even a single male recipient.
            I apologise that I cannot be more positive about this programme, because I do support equal opportunities irrespective of gender, I really do, but fighting implicit gender bias with explicit gender discrimination is a step too far for me and I fear it may even damage my otherwise positive opinion of women in science.

            I was gonna apply for this nevertheless; I guess I just invited a whole batch of additional competitors… 🙂

          4. thanks – that’s just my personal interest because I do believe there can be “reverse discrimination” (i know people hate that term). that is an interesting example and I can see your point – ok, will stop the thread here because none of this has anything to do with retractions :).

      2. not saying anecdotal evidence is the right evidence – just noticing that the title “Academic Science is not Sexist” sets a v. high bar for the evidence in the study, especially in light of many, many reports that there is still sexism in academic science from people supposedly affected by said sexism. Given the breadth implied by the term “sexism”, it’s a strong claim to make and since I don’t work in their field, I can’t comment on their methodology but am interested in others’ opinions.

        1. I agree that the popular media, newspapers and magazines, are putting catchy titles above these stories that do not credit the much more nuanced view in the paper itself. Point well made.

          So although I am happy with the review itself, I agree with you on the between-parentheses bit of your earlier comment “(or at least on the op-eds and articles sure to trumpet the end of sexism in the ivory tower)”.

          1. Yes, it’s the NY Times, was hoping for better editorial choices – title of paper is much more nuanced (any other potential issues aside).

    1. The senior author’s apology is unusually self-serving, with no credit to PubPeer for bringing the bogus figures to his (belated) attention. Also, they only affected the control condition and the data are fine:

      The senior author recently identified errors affecting several figure panels where the loading controls for Western blots are duplicated presentations of the same gels. The first author has acknowledged responsibility for the preparation of the figures for publication. While the senior author confirms the reproducibility of the experimental data and the validity of the conclusions, the figures in the manuscript by Dalla Costa et al. compromise the current manuscript warranting retraction.

    2. Very important, indeed. The funding statement states “This work was supported by grants from Fundac¸a˜o de Amparo a` Pesquisa do Estado de Sa˜o Paulo (FAPESP—Proc.: 2006/54878-3), Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Cientı´fico e Tecnolo´ gico (CNPq—Proc.: 305604/2006-6 and 474650/2006-5) and Laborato´ rio Crista´lia.” Without a doubt FAPESP and CNPq sould be contacted, their funds should be returned, partially or in full, and the group should be banned from receiving future funding for the next 3-5 years. If the ultimate message is “you can make such extreme “errors” with figures in research upon which figures form an essential base, then you are not really doing the research right. And for that, you must / should face a penalty.” A financial penalty will hurt groups like this the most, so why don’t we see, or read about any groups facing budget or grant cuts? Is the problem also at the higher level of education? This retracted paper represents squandered money, possibly over a few years. Have we reached the point where squandering others’ money is acceptable and that a retraction is the ultimate punishment?

  3. I work for a government agency and if we want to review a manuscript for an open-peer-review journal, we have to have our review cleared by the agency before we can send it in to the journal. Our review is itself treated as a document published by an agency author.

    1. Dear Carolyn,
      Normally one has to agree as a reviewer (implicitly, by accepting) that one will treat the manuscript under consideration strictly confidentially and will not share any information in it with anyone. I am not sure about PeerJ, but I trust and hope it is the same there. So I guess you always request permission from the editor to let your review be signed off by your agency? Or otherwise decline to review?

  4. Regarding the issue of sexual harassment and coercive behaviour in science, let me just point out that a professor enjoys a unique god-like status with virtually nobody being his boss. At the same time, this professor controls the entire academic and professional future of his employees.

  5. Here is a good Guardian take on the lack of discrimination against women in science, as alleged by Williams and Ceci:
    Guardian cites Jonathan Eisen: “They lump together what one could call “career progression” topics (such as pay, promotion, publishing, citation, etc) with workplace topics (hostility and physical aggression against women). And yet, they only present or discuss data on the career progression issues. ”
    So, it seems women do indeed have a fair chance in a successful academic career, provided they are prepared to accept some occasional sexual harassment (or simply have an affair with the boss). Amazing, how far our society went, gender equality-wise!

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