There’s a lot more to being a scientist than just doing research in a white coat.
Beyond actually performing experiments, scientists need to communicate their findings with other scientists. They write detailed papers explaining their methods and results, and submit them for publication in scientific journals. An editor will either approve the manuscript to continue in the peer-review process where other scientists in the same field ask questions, make suggestions, and provide feedback about the paper, or the paper will be rejected for further consideration.
The rejection rate differs depending on the journal, but high-profile publications like Nature have to reject the vast majority of submissions they receive because of the high volume. Getting a paper published is a big deal, and where the paper is received can have a big effect on a scientist's career.
But because of these high stakes, rejection is not always taken well. There is the opportunity to appeal a rejection, but like everything else, there's a right way and a wrong way to do things.
This, friends, is a wrong way:
This is the horrific response that a biology editor (who happens to be female) apparently received after rejecting a paper regarding prostate cancer.
In order to learn more about the events surrounding the email, A+ reached out to Dr. Chris Gunter. While Gunter herself was not the recipient of the email, she was also working as a biology editor for Nature at the time. When this event occurred, 11 of the 16 biology editors were female.
"This paper on prostate cancer had been rejected, and my colleague received an 'appeal letter,' which editors also get quite often," Gunter explained in an email to A+.
“But this appeal letter was not like any we had ever seen.”
Gunter explained that the editorial staff were "shocked and angered" when they read the letter. She said that the recipient called the scientist in hopes of getting an explanation.
As Gunter recalled, "he did not feel she could understand the importance of the work because it was on prostate cancer and she was a female. Obviously, this was ridiculous."
Eventually, she said, the scientist did apologize to the editor.
Gunter said that because her first name, Chris, is androgynous, she will never know if she has been subjected to the same sexism that some of her colleagues have received.
Her predecessor to that position, another woman, once rejected a paper and was subsequently told: "I'm not going to get tenure and it's your fault, you bitch."
The request for the prostate cancer paper to be turned over to a male editor was first seen outside Nature's editorial group when Gunter included the email in a 2005 lecture meant to teach young scientists how to submit their own manuscripts to Nature. She has shown the slide numerous times since then, even as recently as this week.
"The crowd typically gasps, laughs, or shakes their heads in astonishment," Gunter said.
Obviously, it's featured as a "what not to do."
"Someone will often ask if it worked; eventually I added '*N.B. This approach was not successful.' on the bottom of the slide. If anything, I think the outrage has grown over the years."
While it is discouraging to know that intelligent individuals in science are mistreated by their peers because of their gender, perhaps shining a light on these injustices and collectively speaking out against them will help eliminate this antiquated mindset.
Because this? This is not okay.