From Beth

Title My “cute” results

I submitted a manuscript to a prominent peer-reviewed journal. This was not my first first-author publication, but it was my first as corresponding author. I was excited and nervous when our reviews came back. One of the comments hit me straight in the stomach, and I’ll probably never forget it.

“This is a cute result.”

Now, please understand that myself, my colleagues, and the editor all felt like the result in this manuscript were of significant scientific interest. Further, no clipart was used in making the figures.

When forming a rebuttal to our reviewer comments, I wanted to address this microagression head-on. This language has no place in a professional peer-review report. It is meant to demean and belittle. And I would argue that had the first author been a man, this term would not be used. I was, and still am, disgusted.

I was further shocked at my male coauthors’ response.

“This is probably a positive comment in the reviewer’s first language.”
“You don’t want to embarrass the reviewer by addressing this.”
“You’re misinterpreting their comment!”

The journal in question has several articles about sexism in STEM, and if they’re sincere about fighting the bias agaisnt women in science then their editors need to be on the frontline. This kind of language is non-constructive and unprofessional, and editors should do more to call it out. I don’t care if a reviewer’s feelings are hurt, because their feelings do not get to supersede my own.


  1. “I don’t care if a reviewer’s feelings are hurt, because their feelings do not get to supersede my own.” Then why do your feelings get to supersede everyone else’s?


  2. My issue is this. Let’s say for a second that “cute” had been meant entirely as a statement about the data, like “Oh, what a cool little result!” I could totally see myself doing that, especially if I found it ironic. (I’d probably say something like that if it undercut some alt-right myth).

    When I got called out for it, why shouldn’t I just say “Oh, that’s not what I meant! I apologize! Here, let me use a better word. I found this really interesting if in a minor way because…”

    When people push back instead, at the very least it shows that they don’t see any reason to communicate clearly (which shouldn’t be accepted even if the outcome is benign and yet for some reason we accept it *more* when the outcome *isn’t*). But at worst it shows that everyone knew that it was a problem, that the guy implicitly or explicitly meant it, and they’re just not going to rock the boat. Neither is a good look.


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