Why assume that?

Posted: May 3, 2011 by Jender in But surely you're male

I recently received a set of fair and very helpful referees’ reports on a paper I had submitted to a philosophy journal. In many ways, their comments are exemplars of how to phrase a rejection of a paper. They are at pains to emphasise that the topic is interesting, that the author has interesting things to say about it, but that there are various specific issues with the argumentation and its presentation that mean that considerably more work is needed. I wish that all referees’ reports I have received had been as careful and supportive as these two.

Two things, however, stood out about one of the reports. First, in it, the referee addressed the author as ‘he’. I am a man, but since the paper was double-anonymously reviewed, the referee couldn’t have known that. Second, in discussing an example in the paper which is deliberately gender-neutral – it begins, “Imagine a person” – the referee refers to “the guy” in the example. As I say, in many ways the reports are exemplary. Not in this one though.

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