So a research paper published in the journal Nature Communications caused quite a stir.
The paper published the findings of a study of 3 million mentor-mentee pairs, looking at a variety of dynamics between the two. Just one of the dynamics of interest in the study was the "possibility that opposite-gender mentorship may actually increase the impact of women who pursue a scientific career."
In polite society, there are certain questions one just does not ask, like asking a stranger at the supermarket if she's pregnant. It's the same in higher education. Because publishing the right answer to the wrong question can land you in a whole lot of hot water.
That seems to be the story behind the sudden retraction of this study. According to Breitbart,
The authors — which studied the disciplines of biology, chemistry, computer science, economics, engineering, geology, materials science, medicine, physics, and psychology — wrote that their study "suggests that female protégés who remain in academia reap more benefits when mentored by males rather than equally-impactful females."
Basically, the study showed women who were mentored by men had better results than those women who were mentored by other women. An interesting finding, right? Kinda wants to make you dig deeper to find out what might be behind those findin—
Leslie Vosshall, an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Robin Chemers Neustein Professor at Rockefeller University, wrote an open letter to the editor-in-chief of the journal excoriating them for even daaaaaaring to publish such a paper.
The main point has been underlined. She wants that sucker retracted.
Let me be blunt: for the good of the global scientific community and for the reputation of Nature Communications, you must retract this paper.
Don't you love science? The intellectual arguments, the research, the rigorous back and forth, the canceling of conclusions that conform to the political zeitgeist. It's beautiful!
Her critique ostensibly goes after the methodology of the study, challenging its "flawed assumptions and flawed analysis." But if you keep reading, it seems plain what's really going on. Her real issue is with the results, and particularly with whatever non-feminism-approved conclusions one might draw from those results.
The general consensus among hundreds of colleagues who have read and commented on this paper in large group email threads and on Twitter is that it is deeply methodologically flawed, and with the potential to inflict serious harm on the global scientific community.... I find it deeply discouraging that this message — avoid a female mentor or your career will suffer — is being amplified by your journal.
What did the journal do in response to this open letter?
Well, of course, they stood their ground. They backed up the article and it's authors (which has already been through the peer-review process). Certainly, they did not cave to the pressure to bury an academic journal article simply because the results were not popular.
They caved to the mob.
About a month afterward, the authors of the article retracted it themselves (I'm sure after a lengthy conversation with the journal), even while saying they "believe that all the key findings of the paper...are still valid."
Then the editors of the journal published an editorial saying basically, "We know what this looks like. But we swear this isn't a case of us surrendering to the mob and censoring inconvenient truths! Scout's honor!"
Which, just a tip for you, when someone says they aren't doing something because they are caving to the mob, that's a pretty good sign that's exactly the reason they are doing it.
"In this case," the editors added, "the conclusions turned out not to be supported, and we apologise to the research community for any unintended harm derived from the publication of this paper."
And let's be totally fair here, maybe the conclusions were not supported by the study. It still doesn't change the very obvious fact that the clear reason they went looking for problems with this paper was because of the conclusion. Because it had "the potential to inflict serious harm on the global scientific community," as Dr. Vosshall put it.
The conclusion was outside of the Overton Window. It was unacceptable. Therefore it needed to be cancelled. And so it was.