Usher notes that peer reviewers once asked her to cite the work of a professor whose scholarship was substantively relevant, but who has “been fairly awful toward me and other women—although just a sexist jerk, not a sexual harasser.”
Declaring herself unsure about what to do, she concludes that “the best strategy” may be a “somewhat sketchy” one suggested by her friend: “Do what the editor wanted so that when he sent the revised manuscript back to reviewers, they would see I had followed their instructions and added the requisite citations. Then ... when I got the manuscript back before final publication, surreptitiously remove the citations.”
Why not simply cite the work?
For those men whose academic sexism hasn’t risen to the level of actionable correction, and very likely won’t — while they continue ignoring female scholars and belittling their work on a daily basis — their reputation overall will remain clean. A serial sexist is unlikely to cite the work of female scholars, but if he is a predominant voice in your field or subfield, there is no way for you to avoid having to continue to build his academic reputation through citations, even if you would like to avoid doing so … We have not tackled the question of how scholarship — in journal articles and books — amplifies the reputation and credibility of people who do not deserve that recognition.
One implication of this argument is that scholarly recognition should hinge not only on a scholar’s contribution to advancing human knowledge, or his utility to present and future scholars, but on his character.
Read: The coddling of the American mind ‘is speeding up’
The consequences of that mind-set could be far-reaching. Usher writes:
Consider the case of the Nobel-Prize-winning scientist James Watson, who, with Francis Crick, is credited with discovering the structure of DNA, and led the Human Genome Project. For years Watson was revered. Then in 2007, he publicly took issue with the idea that all races have equal intelligence: Watson told a British newspaper that people “who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”
Watson is now known as a notorious sexist and racist who failed to acknowledge the research contributions of his colleague, Rosalind Franklin. But we haven’t stopped citing or mentioning Watson and Crick because, well, DNA.
Is that a problem? Usher doesn’t commit, but adds:
In the present-day creative arts, at least, reputations suffer by exclusion, such as removing the artwork of a serial harasser from public display (sometimes only temporarily) or no longer choosing to include poems by outed sexual harassers in various best-of collections.
That may not be the best tack to take, but it is at least an acknowledgement that scholars’ questionable behavior needs to be raised as a factor in their reputation, even if their work itself is good.
Workplace administrators rightfully care about a scholar’s behavior; they need to look out for the welfare of colleagues and students. But should writers who merely cite that scholar’s ideas also care about such things?