A couple of days ago I got an email from a postdoc at another Major Research University lamenting the poor behavior of the faculty in her department and wondering how to “reform academia” and fix our broken system. I wanted to reassure her that the system isn’t broken everywhere and that some of us really are interested in mentoring students and creating positive but rigorous professional environments. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t think that academia was broken, per se. Like any industry or government organization, there are parts where politics and other fuckedupedness prevail, but I have experienced some very supportive environments in my training. Not that everything has been perfect, but they’ve been good and have allowed me to be reasonably successful.
I get myself feeling all warm and fuzzy and hopeful again…just in time to be reminded of how many dudes are taking regular dumps in the sandbox. Damn it.
Pier Giorgio Righetti is Professor of Chemistry at Politecnico Di Milano. For the last several years he’s been publishing frivolous papers in the Journal of Proteomics examining the proteomes of assorted random fluids. I’ll admit I thought we moved on from fishing for proteomes in random stuff in 2008, but apparently this guy is still really into it. Each of his papers is accompanied by a graphical abstract. Some of them are pretty innocuous. Consider this one from a paper investigating the proteome of champagne:
I suspect they are an attempt by the authors at being cheeky. But, of course, there is a not-so-fine line between cheeky and innocuous and damned offensive and this dude hopscotches back and forth over it like whoa…
One of the tweeps called bullshit upon him and this was his response…
…amounting essentially to “Why can’t you ladies take a joke?” Center square on the bingo card, my friends. Center square.
Why is this a problem? Because Professor Righetti is continuing to publish his hilarious graphical abstracts (see this month’s issue) and I suspect it is but a matter of time before we get more titties. He is also on the editorial board of several journals (Electrophoresis, J. Chromatography, J. Capillary Electrophoresis, BioTechniques, Proteomics, Journal of Proteomics, and Proteomics Clinical Applications, according to his faculty page), including the journal with his hilarious graphical abstracts. He’s essentially using his leadership to be a huge creeper. Worse, the leadership of the journal is letting it happen. It is impossible to consider submitting a paper to that journal without thinking that the associate editor (and perhaps his affiliates) see me as nothing more than a holder of coconuts. Nothing more than an object.
Once upon a time, when I was but a wee trainee scientist, a more senior man in my field called me “sexy” during a professional interaction. He told me how great it is that I am young and smart and beautiful. It shocked me. “Sexy” really is the equivalent of “I have considered putting my penis inside of you” and I have never, ever been able to shake the knowledge of that. Even though it’s been years, I think of it every time I am in a meeting with him. I’ve never sat at a table with him since and not thought “I wonder if he’s thinking about me.” Am I going to be spank material after we part ways? It disgusts me, although I have at least been able to stifle the disgust enough to participate in these meetings. I won’t ever, ever forget it though.
The editors of this journal have essentially done the same thing, allowing Professor Righetti to remind us ladies that we are a place to rest his old man member. I hate that I have to council women trainees about the men at meetings that are known more for playing grab ass than doing good science. I hate that I now have to point to the list of journals that are not only biased toward women, but openly treat them like sexual objects.
I would sincerely hope that the journal’s editor Juan Calvete would consider the message that these articles are sending to his hermanas in ciencia (incuyendo la Dra Isis) and retract the images. Leave the science if it, indeed, be good science. But, there is no need for the sexualized images in any publication.
It’s not cheeky or funny. It’s an offensive reminder of just how little women are valued by many of their male counterparts.
(For my next paper submission, from here)