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Manuscript fights

E. Wijsman wijsman at u.washington.edu
Sun Nov 7 16:54:51 EST 1999

I would like to respectfully disagree that there is substantial
gender-based bias in the publication process.  It is self-defeating to
blame reviewers for difficulty in getting manuscripts published.  While it
is true that often junior people have trouble getting their first few
manuscripts through the review process, this is because of inexperience
with writing for publication, not because reviewers are biased. When one
of my students or postdocs gets a review back that indicates that a
reviewer has misunderstood something, I tell the student that I do not
want to hear *any* complaints about how stupid the reviewer is.  If one
reviewer didn't understand it, there will be plenty of readers who also
don't understand it. The student's job at that point is to use the
comments to identify what is unclear, to fix the manuscript accordingly,
and to learn by experience what needs to be done in the future to
anticipate and deflect *in the first submitted draft* comments and
directions that some reviewers may take.

I have been publishing papers for years, and have frequently served in the
role of both reviewer and editor.  In my experience it is the exception
rather than the rule that reviewers do not agree on the big issues in a
paper.  When there is a major disagreement between, say, the first two
reviewers, a good editor will often send the paper out to a third reviewer
to get another opinion.  There is dialogue between author and editor in
the review process, which everyone should learn to use.  It *is* useful to
include a 1-2 sentence description of what is important about the paper in
the cover letter.  However, it is also critical to make sure that the
introduction for the paper clearly puts the problem into context, and
states what, exactly, is being addressed in the current paper.  It is also
useful to suggest appropriate reviewers, and to "unrecommend" competitors
who may have a personal stake in the work.  Most editors will take this
into account if you give them the information.  Finally, it is important
not to take comments personally.  If there is a gender bias, this may be
where it comes up - not with the review process, but with the response to
the process. This is, perhaps, where a mentor can help - both in
critiquing manuscripts before submission, and in helping to interpret
comments after the reviews have come back.  

Ellen M. Wijsman                        EXPRESS MAIL ADDRESS ONLY:
Research Professor                      Ellen M. Wijsman
Div. of Medical Genetics and            1914 N 34th St., suite 209
Dept. Biostatistics                     Seattle, WA   98103
BOX 357720, University of Washington    (Note:  Use this address
Seattle, WA   98195-7720                 EXACTLY as given above, and
phone:  (206) 543-8987                   use ONLY for express mail!!!)
fax:    (206) 616-1973                  email:  wijsman at u.washington.edu
web page:  http://www.biostat.washington.edu/biostat/faculty/ewijsman

On 5 Nov 1999, S L Forsburg wrote:

> > From: "Pamela A. Norton" <pnorton at hendrix.jci.tju.edu>
> > There is likely truth to the reports that papers authored by women
> > are judged more harshly, and I have seen it reported (can't remember
> > where) that women publish fewer but higher quality papers.
> > 
>  What annoys me is the
> patently biased reviews that clearly have another agenda--and/or
> haven't read the paper.
> ususally I attribute these to personal bias, rather than gender
> discrimination.  Still,  I find it difficult to think that 
> I've offended THAT many people.   I'm really very mild mannered. :-)
> > My impression is that, as a junior investigator, or anyone outside of the
> > influential circles of (largely male) editorial board members, you need
> > to fight to get published. Literally - argue with editors and be a very
> > aggressive advocate for one's work. I find this difficult, and I think
> > that other women (and men) may share a distaste for this level of
> > confrontation.
> Oh yes, I think this is very true.  I have fought hard for our papers,
> sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  Unfortunately, this has
> probably given me a reputation as a bitch, where the guys are
> just viewed as confident in their work.
> >  It would be nice to think that our work stands (or
> > falls) on its own merit, but unfortunately you need to market it
> > against other "salesmen" competing for the same limited slots in the
> > journal of your choice. 
> One thing I've learned is that if you want the editor
> to know something, you ahve to tell him--you can't wait
> for the work to speak for itself.  My cover letters are
> much more explicit now about why our work is important and 
> should be published.
> But we still ahve to fight.  :-(
> -- 
> -susan
> :;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;
> DON'T REPLY to the email address in header.
> It's an anti-spam.  Use the one below.
> :;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;
> S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
> Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
> The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 
> http://pingu.salk.edu/~forsburg/lab.html
> Women in Biology Internet Launch Page
> http://pingu.salk.edu/~forsburg/bio.html
> :;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;
> "These are my opinions.  I don't have  
> time to speak for anyone else."
> :;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;:;

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