Wednesday, 9 September 2015

One of the funniest requests I've seen by a journal reviewer

Journal reviewers can be overly pedantic. They can be nasty. Often they can be really helpful. But sometimes you wonder if they are just taking the piss. One example of the latter struck me in a footnote to a paper I read yesterday:
At the request of an anonymous referee, we perform a check on our nominal masculinity measure by examining the score for Bacon Magazine’s “Top 10 Stripper Names.” In theory, female exotic dancers choose hyper-feminized stage names. Only two of those names, Candy and Porsche, had a nominal masculinity of 0. Three other names had nominal masculinity names below the mean female voter. Two other names on the list actually scored quite high in nominal masculinity; Angel had a nominal masculinity of 0.15 (due to its popularity among Spanish speakers as a boy’s name) and Houston had a nominal masculinity of 0.98. These findings suggest the potential for further research, which is beyond the scope of this paper.
Asking the authors of a paper to evaluate the masculinity of stripper names is a brilliant suggestion, not to mention hilarious (though one might wonder how the reviewer knew there was even such a thing as Bacon Magazine's Top 10 Stripper Names).

The footnote comes from this 2009 paper (ungated version here) by Bentley Coffey (Clemson University) and Patrick McLaughlin (George Mason University). In the paper the authors investigate whether women with more masculine names (i.e. where their name is more bestowed on a male child, like Bobby or Jerry) are more likely than those with less masculine names (like Carol or Robin) to be judges in South Carolina. They compare judges with members of the South Carolina bar, and with an enormous database comprised of the names and genders of all registered South Carolina voters.

They find that, indeed, women with more masculine names are more likely to be judges, providing support for what they termed the Portia Hypothesis. There are a number of different mechanisms that might lead to this finding, not limited to outright discrimination. The authors note:
The explanation favored by many who have reviewed our work is that there is a common cause: wealthier families give their female children “stronger” (i.e., gender-neutral) names and a daughter of a wealthier family is more likely to become a judge.
This seems plausible, and testable as well. A clear possibility for some follow-up work. Although, perusing the list of New Zealand High Court judges, there aren't a lot of women (just 11 from the 38 judges, and just one of seven associate judges), and fewer still with masculine names (Patricia, Pamela, Jillian, Ailsa, Rebecca (x2), Mary, Sarah, Rachel, Susan, Anne, and Hannah). So perhaps New Zealand has a gender bias in judges that is not mediated by the masculinity of names?

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