Sunday, July 26, 2009
Primitive behavior in males?
This is a continuation of the previous post regarding territorial behavior that seems to be prevalent among the more aggressive scientists. I told a story earlier about a male competitor trespassing on my field site.
Another time, I published a review paper. A male scientist, who had published one of the papers I reviewed, wrote to the journal demanding the retraction of my paper. His argument was that he had already studied this topic and closed the book on it twenty years earlier and that there was no need for any further work (particularly by an uppity woman!). He tried to criticize my statistics (to further question the validity of my work), but in his zeal confused variance with standard deviation. In my reply to the editor regarding this guy’s comments, I calmly pointed out that much had been done in the twenty years since his work and that my paper summarized and analyzed data from many sources, his being only one of many. I also pointed out his apparent unfamiliarity with even the most basic statistical principles. The journal refused to publish his letter or consider retraction (and basically told him to “take a hike”); my paper has been cited many times in the succeeding years.
I’ve since heard several stories from other female scientists who relate similar experiences. In one case, a colleague had studied a particular ecosystem and in her paper had included a species list. One day, she got a phone call from an irate scientist (male) who apparently studied a rare species that was included in her species list (not a focus of her study). He told her that this was “his species” and that she could not work on it. She assured him that she had no interest in “his species”.
Another colleague tells of a male coworker scrutinizing a recently published paper of hers and then reporting to her supervisor the occurrence of several “errors”. She was able to show that this coworker was mistaken about these “errors”, but her supervisor remained annoyed with her, not the coworker.
I’m sure these things happen to male scientists occasionally, but so far I’ve not found any who have experienced such extreme territoriality from other males. If you have such a story, I’d really like to hear it.