13 April 2007

Gender Genies

I recently had an article accepted by an academic journal. When I showed one of the referee reports to my wife, she suggested that the reviewer was clearly male. When I asked her why she thought so, she said that it was the confidence of the referee's tone that gave him away. Her thought wasn't that women aren't confident, but only that a male voice can seem more empowered by language -- more able to assert himself through words. I didn’t believe her at the time, but perhaps -- as usual -- I should have ...

The very next day, this discussion commenced over at Thoughts, Arguments, and Rants. It concerns this proposal made by Ross Cameron (Philosophy, Leeds):

As I understand it, women are under-represented in the major journals (I mean, even given their under-representation in the profession - that is, woman are even more under-represented in the journals than you’d expect them to be, given how many women there are in the profession). Why is this? Well, we’d need a study on this, but the following seems likely to me. Since women are under-represented in the profession it is very likely, for every paper sent to a journal, that it will be refereed by a man. Men and women vary in their styles of writing and arguing. So while when a man submits a paper it is likely that it will be reviewed by someone who writes and argues in a broadly similar style, with women this is very unlikely. Hence, women face a disadvantage in trying to get papers published.

Okay - it’s hardly likely to be that simple. But I bet there’s something to this. And if there’s some truth to this then there’s a good case to be made, it seems to me, for journals implementing the rule that papers by women should, other things being equal, be reviewed by women. (The ‘other things’ packs in a lot, because it seems far more important that papers be reviewed by experts in the subject.) Is there a good reason why this shouldn’t happen?

The comments in this thread have been interesting. Worth noting is that Sally Haslanger (Philosophy, MIT) will be presenting some noteworthy results on the subject later this month at the Central Division of the APA. (According to this comment, Haslanger’s investigation reveals the disturbing result that “the percentage of papers by women in the top journals falls far short of the percentage of women at the top 20 research universities.”)

Also noteworthy is the so-called “Gender Genie” -- a website that purports to be able to determine the gender of any text’s author. (The site is based on an algorithm developed by academics at Bar-Ilan University and Illinois Institute of Technology.) I’m inclined to regard with some suspicion the presuppositions of such an endeavor, and this comment on TAR suggests that its results might not always be accurate.

Still, if Haslanger is right -- and assuming that submissions really are blind-reviewed (lest more sinister prejudices be at work here) -- perhaps the Gender Genies -- both the website and my wife! -- focus our attention on an issue worthy of further consideration.

No comments: