An open letter to Nature

In September, the science journal Nature published a “humorous” short story called “Womanspace”. The fact that it has taken two months for people to even notice this and react to it should really clue the editors at Nature into the fact that nobody is interested in reading fiction in a science journal, but that is not the point.

The fact that the editor allegedly responsible for the piece appears to be goading outraged comments, whilst perhaps speaking volumes about his suitability to remain an editor with what is meant to be a prestigious scientific journal is, though interesting, also not the point.

The point is this story serves to highlight the continuing problem of sexism in both science and science fiction. It really needs to stop and people need to grow up. Below is my comment to the editor of Nature, Henry Gee, added as a comment to the “story”. I have posted it here in case Nature decline to publish my comment (as is their right). The story itself, and my comment if published, can be found here.


Dear Mr Gee

I had to create an account on this site in order to comment. As part of that process, I had to accept your terms and conditions. These include:

1.You must not submit any material to the Site which… is inappropriate. Material will be considered in appropriate if that material is…defamatory, abusive, malicious, threatening, false, misleading, offensive, discriminatory, harassing, blasphemous, racist or sexist

So, had this “story” been a comment to the site, it would have violated your own terms and conditions and wouldn’t be allowed. So why publish it?

As a writer myself, I can tell you that this isn’t a good story. It reads like a poor, 20-second stand up routine padded out with the tropes of fiction. As an editor, I wouldn’t have even bothered to edit it, I would have passed on it. As a publisher, this would never have seen the light of day, either on a printing press or on a website, and I would be wary of anything the writer submitted in future.

Clearly this was published in order to be controversial. As a cynical attempt to drive traffic to your site, I hope this backfires spectacularly. Perhaps your advertisers may wish to consider if they want to continue being associated with this type of sexism? Perhaps your readers will wish to consider being customers of advertisers happy to be associated with sexism? Perhaps you won’t have many readers after this.

Finally Mr Gee, since Nature seems not to be discriminating about what fiction it publishes, I have three stories of my own you might wish to consider publishing in future issues of Nature:

    • Gayspace (a hilarious tale of how gay people access parallel dimensions to look fabulous)
    • Blackspace (a hilarious tale of how black people access parallel dimensions to be to be fast sprinters)
    • Jewspace (a hilarious tale of how Jewish people access parallel dimensions to save money)

Or maybe you’d have the sense not to publish these. Because they are offensive, and based on stereotypes. And you’d be right.

It is a pity that you and the other editors of Nature seem incapable of demonstrating that same level of decency towards half the global population.

19 Responses to An open letter to Nature

  1. Very well put, Paul. Thank you.

  2. Seen It In Action says:

    Glad that you saved Jewspace until last. Judgeing from Henry’s reaction at a ScienceOnline meeting, he won’t understand sexism until you put it in that context. At least he’ll have read most of your post before the spittle starts flying.

    Well done – glad to see a man acting honourably in this regard.

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  6. KateClancy says:

    Succinctly and brilliantly put. Thank you!

  7. Thank you for this letter, Paul. The Gay/Black/Jew-space comparison goes right to the heart of the matter. Very eloquently written.

  8. [...] My (white male, published in Science) colleague the other day was explaining to me that the journal Nature kind of sucks and he’s never felt the need to send any articles there.  Dr. Isis provides more proof on how Nature is behind the times and stupid.  Paul Anderson with a fantastic comment. [...]

  9. John Morales says:

    You really are a good writer!

    (I so hope Henry Gee sees your post)

  10. [...] new line of argument…).  And here’s a great response …and another open letter here (btw: who’s Paul Anderson? He sound’s hot. [...]

  11. Very good argument – I await the publication of one of your stories with great eagerness.

  12. Tami Lieberman says:

    Thank you for the continued smart commentary Paul.

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  14. Kelly McCormick says:

    Thank you for bringing this to light. I missed the first round of indignation.

    This gets the most-offensive-line-I-have-ever-read-in-a-scholarly-journal award:

    “we talked to everyone we knew (well, male, obviously) who could be relied on to observe such phenomena …”

  15. [...] false, misleading, offensive, discriminatory, harassing, blasphemous, racist or sexist,” as Paul Anderson mentioned in his detailed letter to you.  How can you hold reviewers and readers to high ethical [...]

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