Peer reviewer sacked for making sexist comments on a manuscript
In a development that has taken the publishing community by storm, a peer reviewer has been sacked for making sexist remarks on a manuscript. PLOS ONE the journal that was handling the manuscript announced its decision to remove a peer reviewer and editor from its database after the peer reviewer in question made some objectionable remarks about a manuscript authored by two female researchers. The authors were studying gender differences in the progression of PhD graduates to postdoc positions in the life sciences. The journal editor was fired for overlooking the peer reviewer’s comments while screening the manuscript.
The manuscript was co-authored by Fiona Ingleby, a research fellow at the University of Sussex, and her collaborator Megan Head, a postdoctoral researcher at the Australian National University. The two collaborators were interested in studying whether there is gender bias in academia by looking at the academic progression of researchers and submitted their findings to PLOS ONE. The paper was rejected following a single review in which the (anonymous) peer reviewer shared several concerns with the paper in addition to pointing out problems with the methodology employed. The reviewer suggested that the two female authors “find one or two male biologists to work with (or at least obtain internal peer review from, but better yet as active co-authors).” The review also included some personal views on women in academia including an opinion that male doctoral candidates may be more successful because they are able to work longer than female doctoral candidates: “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 comments shocked the authors and Ingleby shared the comments on Twitter (on 29 April), where they elicited similar shocked reactions from academic community. The authors have clarified that they do not intend to spoil the reputation of the journal or the editor, but merely to bring to light an issue that may exist across multiple journals.
While announcing the decision to fire the reviewer, PLOS ONE did not disclose the identity or gender of the reviewer in question. Damian Pattinson, Editorial Director of PLOS ONE blogged, “I want to sincerely apologize for the distress the report caused the authors, and to make clear that we completely oppose the sentiments it expressed. We are reviewing our processes to ensure that future authors are given a fair and unprejudiced review.” Following this incident, PLOS ONE may alter its systems to make peer review more transparent.
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