Censorship at Science: Scientists Are Split On The Different Ways Men And Women Think

April 2006

An academic row has erupted after one of the world's leading scientific journals refused to publish an article which claims that men and women think differently.

Peter Lawrence, a biologist and fellow of the Royal Society, accused Science of being "gutless" after it explained that its decision was because the piece did not offer "a strategy on how to deal with the gender issue".

In his paper, Mr. Lawrence questioned why, when 60 per cent of biology students are female, only 10 per go on to become professors.

This "leaky pipeline" has been blamed on discrimination and a lack of choice which, if corrected, will produce equal numbers of men and women in science.

But Mr. Lawrence dismissed "the cult of political correctness" that insists men and women are "equivalent, identical even" and argued that "men and women are born different".

The journal considered the article for seven months and, after making a number of changes, gave Mr. Lawrence a publication date, proofs and a chance to order reprints.

But at the last minute he received an e-mail from Donald Kennedy, the editor-in-chief, in which he said that the journal was not going to publish the article.

The piece "did not, at least for us, lead to a clear strategy about how to deal with the gender issue," said Kennedy.

"So much has been written on all sides of this problem that it sets a very high bar for novelty and persuasiveness, and although we liked your essay we have had to decide to reject it."

Mr. Lawrence, a developmental biologist who works at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, said: "It was a lame excuse. I could not get it published for reasons that I think were political."

Mr. Lawrence's piece – Men, Women, and Ghosts in Science – has since been published online by the Public Library of Science Biology and has become one of the most popular articles over the past few days, attracting about 60 e-mails, almost all from women.

One woman reader said that the men who want to avoid the issues the article raises "are simply running scared of getting lynched like Larry Summers", a reference to the Harvard president who caused a furore with a speech in which he raised the issue of whether women have less innate scientific ability.

The most vociferous criticisms of Mr. Lawrence's ideas have come from Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who accused him of "mashing together true genetic differences between men and women with old- fashioned stereotypes. In so doing, he perpetuates the very problem he is trying to address about why so few women get to the top in science.”

Science is reeling from having published two papers that contained the most notorious fraud of recent years, Prof Hwang Woo-Suk's human embryonic stem cell research.

Over two years ago, the journal was also criticised for trying to influence a Congressional debate by publishing a widely reported paper linking the drug ecstasy to brain damage, which was subsequently retracted.