Your work, but his name

The following anecdote is from Female Science Professor.  It could be a variation on the “in meetings no one notices my remark, but when a male says it, it is taken seriously.”  The story below in fact sounds very much like what John Dovidio recounts happens to people seen as outsiders; insiders don’t remember them and what they say

I’m wondering if there are other variations you would like to share.  If you’ve already put one on the What Is it Like blog, then do realize the tale probably bears repeating.

Not long ago, a Great Man of Science came to my department, gave some talks, and met with faculty, students, and researchers. I have met him before, most recently ~ 6 months ago, but we do not know each other well at all.

I expected him to be familiar with only one part of my research; i.e., research on topic X, as it was in the context of my work on X that we most recently met. Therefore, during my individual meeting with him in my office, I was amazed to hear him say:

My good friend, Other Great Man of Science, is doing some really interesting work on X right now. In fact, he is transforming the way we think about X, and has some recent results that are very exciting.

I was stunned when he said this, and sought clarification. I thought maybe I heard him wrong or somehow misunderstood.

I was stunned because he was talking about my research group’s work on X.

The interesting ideas and results have not been generated by my collaborator, Other Great Man of Science, who is at another university. In fact, the exciting results are primarily the work of one of my recent PhD students, as part of her doctoral thesis work.

Other Great Man of Science was a collaborator on the NSF grant that funded this work, but he has not been the most active member of the group and has not been a driving force behind the research. In fact, although I enjoy working with Other Great Man, his part of the project has been lagging.

My PhD student (now graduated) has been the most visible person doing this research and making the interesting discoveries and interpretations. Great Man also met her 6 months ago and saw her present her research results, at length. Yet Great Man erased her from his perception of the collaboration as well. In his mind, the only person worth remembering or mentioning is Other Great Man of Science.

It was surreal to have my group’s research described to me by someone else and attributed to a colleague, as if my student and I did not exist.

My ego, which is generally healthy but not too huge on most days, was wounded, but not mortally so, as I am dealing with the situation by wallowing in outrage and contempt for this particular Great Man of Science (as a person, not as a scientist).

I hasten to say that Other Great Man of Science is not responsible fo r this situation…It is Great Man of Science’s perception of the research that is the problem. He sees his famous friend; the rest of us either don’t exist or can’t possibly be important.

I’ll start adding other examples with a really odd example (I think):   Prof. X responded at a conference  to a paper of mine which had a fairly distinctive thesis; next year X published a paper arguing against that thesis.  No mention of me, or anyone else.  It was a “someone might think, but that would be wrong” paper.   It felt very strange, and indeed irritating,  to read it.

11 thoughts on “Your work, but his name

  1. That added comment reminds me of a situation several years ago. I was invited to be part of a 2003 journal symposium anchored by an article that claimed men are victims of a “second sexism.” When I read the guy’s essay, I was amazed to note that (1) it was primarily about feminist theorists claimed by him to be sexist toward men, and (2) of the several feminists he criticized, only one was mentioned by name in the body of the text — a man!

    So, while my rebuttal essay was rather long (title starts with “Male Trouble”), it contained absolutely no mention of the guy’s name anywhere in the body of the text! A small gesture, but still….

  2. Tom, so it isn’t just me who cannot be named!
    Thanks for the story, which has made me realize that I still ask, But why did he do that? I suppose the thing to say is that that is just what a**holes do.

  3. Sometimes I think I have a really good idea, and start to think I’m pretty clever, and then go back and look at some book or old journal article and see my handwriting in the margin or underlying around what is essentially the good idea I thought I’d come up with. I don’t know if that’s what happened here- the jerk hypothesis seems completely plausible to me, too, or one where the person is lazy- they know they heard the view in a paper at a conference, but didn’t want to bother to find out who it was, now that they have forgotten- but this sort of thing has happened to me at least a few times. (The science story seems more obviously to be a case of someone being a jerk.)

  4. This just goes back to a familiar problem, one rampant in philosophy: men are far more likely to cite men (and I think the research shows that women are far more likely to cite women). This hurts the women more than the men because they dominate the field.

  5. Matt, I completely agree about what is plausible, given one has no other information. So perhaps I should have emphasized more how distinctive the thesis is. It is a thesis about a paticular historical philosopher, and it involves rejecting a standard principle of interpretation. I can say, glumly, that the thesis may well not be attached to me, but recent collection editors, who have had to argue against reviewers’ objections to publishing applications of it, know it is non-standard.

  6. Anon, you remark, ‘women are far more likely to cite women’. Could you give us some evidence for this claim? There is a problem: in many areas, men seem to dominate the literature, and so it is hard to see how women can avoid citing mostly men, at least for many standard topics.

  7. Sure. Here’s a sample publication.

    Citations and Networking
    Marianne A. Ferber
    Gender and Society
    Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1988), pp. 82-89


    References to publications written by women constitute a significantly larger proportion of citations in articles written by women than in articles written by men in the same subfields. Further, the difference between citation patterns of men and women authors increases as the proportion of women in the discipline decreases, showing that these women are doubly disadvantaged in accumulating citations. These results suggest that the problems of members of an out-group tend to be most serious when their numbers are small and that they will find it increasingly easier to gain acceptance and recognition as their numbers increase.

  8. I think there’s still a problem, but it may be in understanding what you want to say. The sense in which “men are far more likely to cite men” and “women are far more likely to cite women” are parallel suggests that just as men cite mostly men, then women cite mostly women. But that does not seem to be what the abstract is claiming. Or, rather, it could be maintaining that there’s a higher proportion of cited women in women’s articles than in men’s. That makes it possible that women still cite mostly men, or even a very high proportion of their citations are to men.

  9. I never intended to deny that women still cite mostly men (in most papers and books for most philosophy subfields).

  10. OK, but then the parallel between the two constructions you use (men cite mostly men, women cite mostly women) seems to break down. In the sense in which men cite mostly men, women also cite mostly men. at least in some fields.

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