“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
– Irina Dunn
As medical journals scramble to endorse equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), it’s clear that certain editorial boards have held onto questionable baggage.
On Nov. 17, Nature Communications saw fit to miscommunicate the importance and value of non-male mentors, a case of questionable peer review that rivals the #MedBikini misstep courtesy of the Journal of Vascular Surgery. While the hapless authors of that latter piece waded into a non-debate about two-piece bathing suits and medical professionalism, Nature’s brainchild, “The association between early career informal mentorship in academic collaborations and junior author performance,” takes things one step further and suggests that associating with females in any guise is dangerous.
To paraphrase Scrooge, are there no editors? Two of the three authors are women. All of the authors are affiliated with New York University Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Their expertise is largely in computational sciences and they espouse what they describe as the “field of Science of Science,” which is clearly distinct from any philosophy of science.
Their first and lesser value-laden assumption relates to the definition of mentorship. They assume that co-authorship implies mentorship, an assumption questionably supported by a survey with a response rate of less than 10 per cent in which those responses endorsed some definition of mentorship barely 50 per cent of the time. (Their graphic is captioned “Responses of 167 randomly chosen scientists” when it ought to read “167 responses from 2,000 randomly chosen scientists”).
Further, the authors are explicit about publication quantity determining the strength of a mentor; they describe “big shot” mentors as those who have accrued a large “average number of citations per annum up to the year of their first publication with the protégé.”
Mentorship, however, exists on a spectrum; one can get career advice from colleagues who co-author publications but the depth of a mentor-protégé relationship transcends and is certainly not proportionate to publication output – the more generically mentorship is defined, the more one will find an association with broader existing trends in the scientific community such as the barriers to non-male, non-white scientists.