Today on Twitter, a screen cap made the rounds that showed part of the peer review that accompanied a rejection of a paper by a scientific journal. This is the cap:
Now, that in and of itself is prima facie sexism, and an example of an ideological bias in action. Even if the rest of the review had been full of cogent, specific, and objective criticisms of the rejected paper, the belief that men would inherently serve as a “possible check” against bias where women wouldn’t is a biased belief that can be explained only by sexist ideology.
Really, it’s so obvious a case that I didn’t see any point in commenting on it when it first made the rounds. Then a science news website picked it up and wrote about it, giving a more complete picture of what’s going on.
And, hoo boy.
It’s even worse than it looks on the face.
It seems the subject of the paper was a gender gap among Ph.Ds who make it to the post-doctoral level. The person who returned that review seemed to refute the idea that such a gap was remarkable, writing:
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.
Let’s put this together, shall we?
We have a person who believes that it is due to natural physical differences between men and women that male academics wind up with their names on more papers than female academics, and on the basis of this belief, this person is advising two female academics to let a couple of fellas put their names on their paper.
You want to talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy?
There it is, right there in action.
No, it’s not even that. It’s actually much more of a straight line than typical circular logic. It’s not a person inadvertently making the thing they predicted come true. It’s a person saying, “This is inevitable, it just sort of happens, no one makes it happen! Now make it happen.”
Someone who’s not a big fan of critical thinking about systemic problems might look at this and say that I’m accusing this unnamed scientist of telling the researchers to add male co-workers in order to prop up the status quo, which I’m not.
I’m not accusing anyone of a conscious agenda.
But if we work under the assumption there was no agenda, we’re still left with the fact that the reviewer—in the course of a single document—attributed a phenomenon to natural causes and then attempted to artificially engender that phenomenon.
How does this happen?
If it’s not due to a conscious agenda, then it seems pretty obvious that we must conclude it is possible for people to internalize a systemic bias without realizing it, doesn’t it?