I was in the psychologist’s consulting room the other day playing Qui est-ce?, the French version of the classic children’s game Guess who?. Do you remember all the old favourites? Max, Anita, Herman, Susan et al. with their big-mouthed/small-mouthed, red-lipped/pink-lipped, up-turned/down-turned grins.
How many scientists have honed their powers of deduction by analysing facial hair, eye colour, and the facial vasodilation response? It seemed perfect preparation for life in the lab – scoring phenotypes, calculating probabilities, following dichotomous keys, not to mention improvised matchmaking (Maria & Tom forever).
You don’t have to stretch your faculties too far to work out that the skewed representation of women on the Guess Who? board resembles the lab too. In the original game by Theora Design, there were only 5 women out of 24 people. Asking ‘Is your person a woman?’ gave you the same chance of elimination as asking ‘Does your person have a moustache?’ or ‘Is your person bald?’. Whether that probability worked in your favour would depend on the luck of the draw. Of course, updated versions are now available; the current French version now has 8 women out of 24 characters.
What if all the characters on the Guess Who? board were researchers working in your field? Who would you choose to review a paper? What exactly divides Alfred and Anita apart from Alfred’s defiant flouting of Health and Safety rules? Claire might have all the right technical knowledge and just be wearing that hat for a bet with Eric and Bernard.
Editors, what questions do you ask when you choose a peer reviewer?