“Where there are girls, there are cats” returns, with a new title

A cat philosopher, via Pixabay

The cats are back. 

As promised, Biological Conservation has replaced a controversial paper on feral cats in China whose cringeworthy title — “Where there are girls, there are cats” — prompted an outcry on social media that resulted in a temporary retraction

The new article boasts a different, non-gendered title: “Understanding how free-ranging cats interact with humans: A case study in China with management implications.” But it makes more or less the same point: Where there are women, there are more cats: 

The growing population of outdoor free-ranging cats poses increasing threats to biodiversity. While those threats are now well recognized, how human-cat interactions contribute to shape population dynamics have been overlooked. In this study, we explore major variables associated with the distribution of free-ranging cat density in 30 universities in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China. We specifically focus on possible even greater care devoted by women to the free-ranging cats. We found that, as expected, the density of feeding stations is positively associated to the density of free-ranging cats. More interestingly, the density of male students versus female students seemed to be non-randomly associated with the distribution of cats among universities. An online questionnaire confirmed that women were more concerned about the living conditions of free-ranging cats than men in China. Finally, a socialization test focusing on 27 free-ranging cats conducted by female and male observers suggests that cats may have the ability to adopt a friendlier behavior with female students. Our result suggests that human-cat relationships can be understood using multiple angles, including population dynamics, behavioral ecology and conservation psychology. Such a better understanding of human-cat interactions is necessary to develop relevant population management in urban context.

The journal also published an editor’s note — in which they manage to keep the search engine optimization value of “Where there are girls, there are cats,” while disclaiming the title — explaining its actions. The editor, Vincent Devictor, didn’t respond to our request for comment when we reported on the withdrawal, and he is joined on the editorial by Danielle Descoteaux, of Elsevier, which publishes the journal.

Step one: blame language barriers for a poor decision that, as any editor should admit, falls squarely on their shoulders:  

We publish intriguing and novel research from non-native English speakers routinely, but while English has become the lingua franca of scientific publishing, non-native English authors face heavier burdens to participating in global science (Ramírez-Castañeda, 2020). The original title of this paper was intended by the authors to be engaging, but misinterpretation of it either being offensive or tone-deaf led us to believe that letting it publish without a further examination of the language throughout the paper was a disservice to the authors. It appeared that cultural and linguistic differences could in this case unfairly harm the authors’ reputations. 

Translation: We weren’t really paying attention when we published this the first time around.

Step two: Remind readers that we’re only human. As the editorial continues:  

Secondly, we at Biological Conservation share a willingness to help authors improve their work as far as possible. Compliance with the review process and editorial guidance do not guarantee irreproachable scientific content. The review of a paper does not end with its publication and correspondences are regularly published when a paper merits further discussion. In this case, we decided to proceed with additional editorial insights and re-evaluation of the paper to provide authors with constructive comments and suggestions. We do wish to note to our readers that the original paper had been reviewed, revised and then resubmitted as a new paper, which is why it displayed uncommonly fast editorial and production times on ScienceDirect. We thank the reviewers and authors of the paper for their patience, efforts and understanding. 

Finally, we have adopted an editorial model that is attentive to the multiple biases that can affect our review and publication process. We have tested whether gender, age or nationality influence review decisions (Primack and Marrs, 2008; Primack et al., 2009; CamposArceiz et al., 2015). We have been trialling a double-blind reviewing process since 2018. More recently, we tested whether we, as editors, are reliable gatekeepers of the review process. We determined that although we mostly agreed with each other on first decisions, it happens that we perceive papers differently either regarding their novelty, quality or conservation implications (Primack et al., 2018). While we acknowledge this heterogeneity, we strive to be clear, consistent and objective in the way we treat articles. 

We are now pleased to see the paper published in Biological Conservation.

If we may: We’d suggest that the three items — the notice of temporary removal, the new paper, and the editorial — link to each other. They don’t now. 


Hat tip: David Shiffman

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10 thoughts on ““Where there are girls, there are cats” returns, with a new title”

  1. Perhaps people should stop harassing these female authors. If the methods and results are sound, and the journal finds it suitable, why are scientific integrity blogs and social media personalities targeting these authors?

    1. “why are scientific integrity blogs and social media personalities targeting these authors?”

      Because we are currently in a revolutionary spiral, people trying to find any hint, any word that does not conform to the revolutionary morals.
      Revolutions are ultra competitive endeavors maybe the most competitive that human beings can be part of, and there is need for participants to maintain and improve their social standing in revolutionary movement. Without that, they risk being named counter revolutionaries . Showing their purity with deeds like this is one way to signal their continuous fidelity.

  2. In other words, there was nothing wrong with the original title, and this was a battle that had everything to do with speech-policing and nothing to do with good scholarship.

  3. it’s a catchy title, but the study involves adult women, not children, so the use of the term “girls” was inaccurate

    1. It was colloquial. The original title was playing with playful irreverence–a feature of many contemporary titles.

      1. with the right context the term “woman” can also be colloquial, for example: “shut up, woman”. I’m sure with some thought they could have had a colloquial title that was more accurate, e.g. “The cats are here because of you, woman”.

        On the other hand I’m not sure if this would have avoided the perception of being “tone-deaf”

  4. “Step one: blame language barriers for a poor decision that, as any editor should admit, falls squarely on their shoulders: ”

    I can see right from same crowd the journal being accused of insensitivity to the authors culture by changing the title that the authors provided if the editor did it before… the mob works like fire just needs a spark in another direction.

    Was the social media outcry in China?
    If it was in western world does that makes the social media outcry racist, xenophobic?
    Every text from other cultures should be normalized to the current Neo Marxist values?
    I know the answer. It is discretionary. All Totalitarianism is.

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