PLOS ONE does the right thing


That paper with a grossly sexist review? We now know the journal: it was PLOS ONE. And they are on it.

PLOS ONE has strict policies for how we expect peer review to be performed and we strive to ensure that the process is fair and civil. We have taken a number of steps to remedy the situation. We have formally removed the review from the record, and have sent the manuscript out to a new editor for re-review. We have also asked the Academic Editor who handled the manuscript to step down from the Editorial Board and we have removed the referee from our reviewer database.

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. As part of this, we are working on new features to make the review process more open and transparent, since evidence suggests that review is more constructive and civil when the reviewers’ identities are known to the authors (Walsh et al., 2000). This work has been ongoing for some months at PLOS ONE, and we will be announcing more details on these offerings soon.

That’s a good response. PLOS ONE gets to stay on my good journal list.

One bit of bad news, though: He-Man just lost a job.


  1. themadtapper says

    It bothers the living bejeesus out of me that step 4 is a noun and not a verb. It should say “Analyze” instead of “Analysis”.

  2. azhael says

    This is censorship by feminazi radicals against a poor, rational man who was only telling the objective truth (while saying “perhaps” a lot). All of the research shows that women are clearly inferior at producing papers because men, on average, have more hair on their backs or can run faster or something…and that’s just the truth whether it makes you uncomfortable or it offends your precious little social justice feelings!!

  3. says

    They did the “right thing” only after being called out on social media. The actual “right thing” would have been for the head editor to kick the ass of the reviewer BEFORE the author had to take matters in to her own hands.

  4. chigau (違う) says

    Or else it’s the other four that are wrong…

  5. sawells says

    @4: since the academic editor usually handles all the correspondence with an author, the head editor probably didn’t hear about this until the author went public. Hence the dumping of the academic editor from the editorial board.

  6. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @2:
    [continuing sarcasm…] Yes, the data shows that far fewer women get published as solo authors of scientific papers. So, therefore, it is the women’s fault for being inferior researchers. If only they had a man co-author, to monitor their paper, and prevent their wandering into ideological verbiage rather than sticking to hard empiricism. The facts are there: so many fewer women authors. full stop. why is that? most obvious conclusion is: the women are inferior researchers.

    the obvious conclusion (snark) of the above paragraph, is that it is too easy to reach a false conclusion, while ignoring one’s “privilege” status. The usual advice is “open your eyes a little more. don’t jump to conclusions based on scant evidence; collect more (unbiased) evidence.” // platitudes, I know, but obligated to say them. not to teach the readers here, but to reinforce the attitude in myself. [ o_O did I say that outloud?]

  7. themadtapper says

    @8. Then what is the job description of the ” Head Editor?”

    Probably just a manager over the editors who doesn’t actually go over everything they edit. Job titles are frequently misnomers. For years my title said I was a “programmer”, and I programmed absolutely fuck-all at my job.

  8. sawells says

    PLOS one publishes multiple tens of thousands of articles every year – it was already about 35K two years ago according to wiki ( ). And that’s accepted papers, so multiply by several for the number of submissions. It’s physically impossible for any one person to actually have a hand in editing every paper they get. The main job of the head editor in a setup like that is to find a large board of editors. And, as in this case, to can the ones who screw up.

  9. addicted44 says

    I would be very surprised if the “Head Editor” did any editing. I bet they are basically just a manager, but that title would most likely not fly in any sort of publishing medium (I can see how many editors would consider becoming a manager a demotion).

  10. numerobis says

    We have also asked the Academic Editor who handled the manuscript to step down from the Editorial Board

    Good! This is what bothered me the most about the episode: the fact that the editor didn’t simply reject the review. Asshats will always exist; it’s the affirmation that their asshattery is OK that turns asshats into a major problem.

  11. numerobis says

    Oh, and what sawells@8 said — something that I hadn’t really gotten around to reasoning about. Yet more reason to put the editor’s academic head on an academic stick.

  12. latveriandiplomat says

    Sure, the new scientific method featuring He-man seems like a step backward, but it contributes a factor that’s been missing in science until now. The opportunity for merchandising, especially action figures.

    I can’t wait for a spandex clad Ignaz Semmelweis figure that springs into action with the battle cry “Wash your hands!”

  13. AlexanderZ says

    Brian Axsmith #4

    The actual “right thing” would have been for the head editor to kick the ass of the reviewer BEFORE the author had to take matters in to her own hands.

    Leaving aside the actual job of the Head Editor, would that have been a better course of action? If they had done that the reviewer would have remained anonymous and would have been able to stealthily spread his misogyny elsewhere or even become some sort of MRA martyr. This way both he and the Academic Editor are canned and the entire scandal is another blow against sexism and misogyny in the academia.

  14. says

    I want to sincerely apologize for the distress the report caused the authors

    Taking action and apologizing is a start. But was “distress” really the best word to use? Even if there is no intent to call the two authors “emotional”, the word can be interpreted that way. Better wording would blame the editor rather than make it seem the two authors were at fault:

    “I want to sincerely apologize for the impropriety by one of our editors…”

  15. Bernard Bumner says


    Acknowledging the consequences is no bad thing, even if “distress” might be open to loaded interpretation by those deliberately misreading the statement.

    The statement clearly sets out that the reviewer was prejudiced, unfair, incivil, and unconstructive. That is very strong language in the context of academic peer review, where barely concealed self-interest and technical bias passes uncommented because editors don’t want to be seen to be intervening in the independent review process.

    The social comment made by removing the review from the record and the Academic Editor along with it also makes clear the seriousness of the failure of that person.

    The blame is very clear apportioned, I would say, and responsibility is clearly taken. Your suggested edit might even weaken the later – appearing almost like passing responsibility to those directly to blame.

  16. says

    Well, we all know that they don’T actually mean that. It was the politically correct feminazi witchhunt lynching end of free speech and academic freedom that made them publish this.
    Or alternatively they want to fuck the authors, because heavens forbid we thought people capable of human decency.

  17. Bernard Bumner says

    I like the fact that the statement not only acknowledges the blame, takes insituational ownership, but that it also recognises the structural issues which support those things and seeks to address them.

    If every instance of prejudice was met with this sentiment, even if the required action was only imperfectly implemented, we would be a lot closer to a realistic assessment of the world and the solutions needed.

    Anyone shameless enough to support that reviewer and claim that the response is political correctness or white-knighting should know that there is a generation of young researchers who have realised that they should be able to expect much better, and who are becoming enabled to demand much better.

    As an aside: I’ve just recruited 6 postdocs, and 5 of them are not male. No political correctness was required – the 6 were the best of a strong field. All of them confident, ambitious, and demanding. All of them see a future in research and have strong ideas about the next steps in their career. Given the status of the PI, they will be well supported.

    In recent years, our candidate lists have certainly reached apparent gender parity. This is in Chemistry, keep in mind. It is a very good start.

  18. Al Dente says

    I want to sincerely apologize for the distress the report caused the authors

    “I want to sincerely apologize but I’m feeling a bit cranky today so I won’t do it!”

    If you want to do something then just do it. “I sincerely apologize for…” Plus what left0ver1under said @18.

  19. sawells says

    I disagree with the nitpicking on the distress point. I’m a scientific author and I would have felt pretty damn distressed at such unprofessional handling of a paper. It seems only reasonable for the journal to apologise for that, especially since they also do all the right substantive things. I don’t think it’s a dig at the authors at all.

  20. carlie says

    The problem with apologizing for the distress is that it centers the “offense” on the impact of the action on the person at the receiving end, when the problem is the action was unprofessional and improper, regardless of how the receiver reacted to it. If they had shrugged it off and not cared, it STILL would have been unprofessional and improper.

  21. numerobis says

    Al Dente @22: by saying “I want to apologize,” one apologizes. It’s a bit more verbose than “I apologize” so sure, take off style points, but scientific publishing doesn’t care that much about style points. (Though it does care for page limits. I’ll keep your comment in mind next time I’m word-crunching.)

    left0ver1under @18 and carlie@24: I think distress was exactly the right word. Having a paper sunk by a bullshit review is something that all academics suffer (though it’s not usually as completely disgustingly awful as this particular bullshit), and it fucking hurts when it happens — both in the gut and in the CV.

    Consider the option of *not* mentioning the distress. Aren’t you then eliding a major part of the problem? It would be something like the argument that sexism is bad because then your university loses half its potential talent pool — as if the harm done to the individuals was irrelevant.

    I agree that if distress were the only thing mentioned in the apology, that would be bullshit. It’s not though: it’s one sentence in the middle of the apology, stuck between a paragraph that details the steps being taken to repair the injustice that was committed and a paragraph that discusses steps being planned to prevent similar injustice from occurring again.

  22. carlie says

    numerobis – I see your point; to make it more completely ironclad, then, I’d prefer apologizing for both the unprofessionalism of the review and the distress it may have caused the authors.

  23. Alexander says

    @22 Al Dente, @25 numerobis:

    Maybe it’s just my philosophy that actions may speak loudly, but usually carry indistinct meaning; as a result, I read that phrase as meaning something like: “I recognize the need for our institution make amends for your previous treatment. As a result, here are the actions we are taking to apologize: ….” The reset of the message (actions taken) is therefore the actual apology, and the header is phrased to make that clear.

  24. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    Damn, if only they hadn’t moved so fast we could have had He-Man as a co-author on a number of papers. After that, we could have concocted a “long-lost” paper authored by He-Man and Paul Erdős and gotten loads of women scientists an Erdős number of two…