Academia is its own little bubble, and research papers are the grist the mill turns out. Want a career in academia? You'd best publish a peer-reviewed paper or two. For two female researchers, their peer review turned into an exercise in sexism.
After submitting a scientific manuscript for peer review -- the process by which scientists uninvolved in a study will decide whether it's fit to publish -- two female researchers got a nasty shock: The sole review attached to their rejected study suggested that bringing some men into their team might fix all its problems.
They looked everywhere for feedback on the specifics of their research, but alas, no.
And hey, Internet, I know what you're gonna say (because I know you): Their study must have had other flaws. This editor (who is unidentified and who could even be female, for all we know) was totally inappropriate in the review, sure, but surely the editor must have given some indication of an actual problem with the manuscript and then offered real suggestions for how to fix it.
According to Rachel Bernstein at ScienceInsider, who was given a full copy of the review to read by one of the authors, the only other comments were that the study was “methodologically weak” and “has fundamental flaws and weaknesses that cannot be adequately addressed by mere revision of the manuscript, however extensive."
I'm sure it won't surprise you to learn that the research subject was gender differences in academia.
Evolutionary geneticist Fiona Ingleby was shocked when she read the review accompanying the rejection for her latest manuscript, which investigates gender differences in the Ph.D.-to-postdoc transition, so she took the issue to Twitter.
Earlier today, Ingleby, a postdoc at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, posted two excerpts of the anonymous review. “It would probably … 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)” to prevent the manuscript from “drifting too far away from empirical evidence into ideologically biased assumptions,” the reviewer wrote in one portion.
“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,” added the reviewer (whose gender is not known).
Step aside, little lady, and let the men take care of things.