In woefully ironic turn of events, the reviewer of a rejected, solely female-authored manuscript examining gender bias in academia recommended that the scientists add in a couple of men to their team to make their research more scientifically robust.
“It would probably also be beneficial to 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 biased assumptions,” the anonymous reviewer wrote.
The manuscript was submitted by a duo of female researchers; evolutionary geneticist and post-doctoral student at the University of Sussex Fiona Ingleby, and evolutionary biologist Megan Head from the Australian National University in Canberra. The paper detailed findings on the scientists’ examination of gender differences in the transition from Ph.D. to postdoc in the field of life sciences, which involved interpreting the results of a survey of 244 individuals holding a Ph.D. in biology.
As reported by the Times Higher Education, the researchers, who have published some 40 manuscripts between them, concluded that there is a gender bias in academia. But it seems that their reviewer, who they did not wish to “name and shame,” did not agree with their interpretation. After obtaining a copy of the feedback, Science Insider revealed that alongside stating the study was “methodologically weak” with “fundamental flaws and weaknesses,” the reviewer added in a series of inappropriate and patronizing comments that left the researchers gobsmacked.
Rather than gender bias, the reviewer suggests an alternative interpretation: “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.”
The reviewer, whose gender is unknown, goes on to add that the differences could be attributable to differences in physiology and stamina between men and women which could explain why men, on average, work 15 minutes longer each week.
“Perhaps it is not so surprising that on average male doctoral students co-author one more paper than female doctoral students, just as, on average, male doctoral students can probably run a mile a bit faster than female doctoral students,” the reviewer wrote.
Not surprisingly, the authors did not take kindly to the reviewer’s flagrantly sexist opinion and appealed the rejection. But after receiving nothing but a generic e-mail apologizing for the delay in the process, the pair decided to vocalize their thoughts on Twitter. Of course, a warranted sh*t storm quickly ensued, evoking a public apology from the journal, which the website Retraction Watch revealed as one of the members of the Public Library of Science (PLOS) group of publications.
“PLOS regrets the tone, spirit and content of this particular review,” a spokesperson for the journal said in a statement. “We take peer review seriously and are diligently and expeditiously looking into this matter. The appeal is in process.”