Friday, May 1, 2015

A further note on Ewan's message

Here is an interesting reaction to the sexist review in Plos that Ewan noted. It makes the important point that things are actually worse than they first appear. Bad enough that the reviewer felt comfortable making such comments, but even more interesting is that the editors did not catch this. Why not? Most likely because they didn't actually read the comments, just acting as intermediaries between submission and review.  I've always believed that editors, for whatever reason, don't/can't keep up with all the work the current review process requires. This is why they (do/might) exercise relatively little judgment and leave everything up to the reviewers. This, unfortunately, leaves everything up to anonymous reviewers, some of whom, as we see, have odd motivations.

The comment makes the point well:

Quite simply the editor should have refused to accept this review, and should not have passed it on, commissioning another reviewer if necessary to make up the numbers.
Instead the editor did pass on the review. Does that make them a sexist too? I suspect not. Far more likely, he or she just passed it on without reading it. Which is wrong. Unfortunately, this seems to be all too common.

Editors are not supposed to be a mere relay service, shuttling messages between the authors and the reviewers, but in my personal experience, many are. Nor should they just tally up the positive vs. the negative reviews and go with the majority opinion.
Editorship is a scientific activity, not just a bureaucratic one. Editors should not ‘outsource’ the scientific issues to the peer reviewers, but rather, engage with them themselves.


  1. Disclaimer: nothing in the below is sarcasm

    I could not agree more with Norbert and Ewan [and presumably many others] that sexism in academia is needs to be dealt with. While the comment of the reviewer is offensive, he is merely a messenger drawing attention to a very serious problem: that female authors are not taken as seriously as male authors and that women are not treated as equals.

    One would expect that those who are against sexism in academia would lead by example. Yet, if the way I have been treated on this blog is any indication for how women who defend a point of view you [pl] disagree with are treated your actions do not support your above words. To just list a couple of the more memorable examples: There was a constant mobbing of groups of male posters attacking not my views but my intellect. There was a very paternalistic attitude towards my requests for clarification, which I doubt would have been used had I been a man. There were countless distortions of what I have said and very underhanded attacks on me here [and on social media by people who are regulars here]. There has been a petition to silence my voice completely [spearheaded by David P. I believe]. And, there have been the countless enablers who, even though they never themselves insulted me, have done nothing to stop this extended intellectual harassment [there was nothing micro in the aggressions toward me]. Finally, even Norbert's suggestion to remedy the fact that virtually no woman posts here by specifically inviting women to do so shows implicit paternalism: does he really think woman are not capable of posting without such special invitation?

    Getting back to the co-author issue: why would you be furious about the reviewer but remain silent when a female lead author is simply ignored and only her male co-author mentioned like here on the Leiterblog? []:
    Peter Ludlow said.: …“Vyv replies to Adger here:
    I somehow figure in Vyv's reply to Adger but I don't understand his point. In my personal opinion the reply, like the book, is a hurricane of confusion”

    I was certainly not the only one taken aback by that blatant sexism and since David P. posted on the same blog a day later but did not comment, I must assume that he does not object to such sexism. If you are as serious about combatting sexism as your post makes it appear requesting an apology from Ludlow would be a good place to start. And, if you are serious about ending sexism in academia you may want to take a hard look at your conduct here [and elsewhere]. As a woman, I leave you with this piece of advice: The frequent substitution of hostile posturing for rational discussion is exactly the kind of thing which sends a very strong message that this blog is no safe place for a woman to express an opinion that diverges from the accepted view.

    Final point: I will NOT reply to any comments here. If someone wishes to apologize, it is easy enough to find my e-mail. And yes, i have kept a copy because I do think sexism in academia is a serious problem.

    1. Just to put an entirely obvious and boring point on the record (to avoid CB's favourite "no response therefore I was right" line of attack): in order for these complaints to be taken seriously they would need to be supported by evidence that a non-female who acted the way Christina did was not treated the same way here.

    2. Also, I'm a woman. And although my name is a pseudonym because I generally don't like my name attached to things on the internet, it's still a pretty clearly female handle. In my slight experience commenting on this site and interacting with Norbert and others, I detected not even the slightest gender-based unfairness. I also generally have a maybe uncharitable hair-trigger for this sort of thing, but really didn't sense any gender-based hostility aimed at CB.

      Of course, Tim's hypothetical would clearly be more dispositive. I just wanted to throw this out there.

    3. As point of factual clarification, I believe the suggestion that Norbert could invite women to post on the blog was mine, not Norbert's, unless there is some comment/post that I am unaware of in which Norbert also suggests this.

      Reflecting on it more, I believe you're probably right, Christina, that it's not necessarily a good idea and would either be paternalistic or tokenizing, neither of which are good.

      When I said that "I find Norbert's response to you leaving much to be desired insofar as he just says that he is open to suggestions from others about how to remedy this. He could be doing more to actively remedy the situation, such as soliciting posts from women in linguistics" what I was trying to suggest was objectionable in Norbert's response was that he seemed to invite solutions from others and, as far as I can tell, didn't seem to be actively trying to solve the problem himself.

      This was not to say that the burden is exclusively Norbert's nor that there is anything wrong with asking for suggestions from others about how to remedy the situation. Figuring out how to end sexism is a tough problem and will definitely need a lot of collective effort and collective problem solving. However, it seems to me that Norbert could be a bit more proactive, particularly since this is his blog, which is what I meant to suggest by saying what I said.

      And it very well could be the case that he is actively thinking about how to try to combat the issue, and it just isn't something that we see. But I found his invitation for solutions from others and relative lack of silence on the issue since then objectionable, which is what I meant to convey.

      At any rate, I just wanted to clarify that the suggestion was mine, not his.

      Cheers, Christina. I wish you the best.

    4. Just for the record, I agree that FoL could use a larger diversity of voices. In fact, I would love it if the bulk of entries were not written by yours truly. However, it has proven more difficult than I imagined to get other contributors (though thx to those that have done so).

      I also approached various female GGers to encourage their possible participation. I also think that this would be good for FoL. I confess that my efforts failed (but, to repeat, I have been not that successful in snagging male contributors either). I am still open to suggestions about how to improve things, but the simple straight forward issues (e.g. asking and begging) have not been very productive.

    5. I think it is mostly the usual deterrents to blogging --- most people don't want to be this exposed on the internet, where a careless remark may come back to haunt you years later, and it takes a lot of time (at least until you figure out that blog posts don't have to be polished essays).

      I myself haven't been very active the last few months due to major time constraints, but also because many of the things I find interesting require lengthy explanations of technical ideas, which isn't particularly fun to write (in particular when I'm already spending hours doing exactly that for my lecture notes). That said, blogging has been incredibly useful for me when it comes to working through issues that I don't quite know what to think about. It also helps with bringing in new blood --- for example, I was recently contacted by a student who liked my posts and now wants to learn more about computational linguistics, which totally made my day.

    6. I second what Thomas says here: the times that I have posted or commented on the blog, I have found it hugely helpful in sharpening my own thinking on various issues. A sort of exercise in "thinking out loud" (I could really use a variant of this expression that's for typing rather than speaking), if you will.

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