In a note on Nick Haverkamp’s Intuitionism vs. Classicism. A Mathematical Attack on Classical Logic, the reviewer Fred Richman, Professor for Mathematics in Florida, shows several bad judgements rolled into one. In the middle of his comments on the philosophical contents of the book, one finds the following sudden outburst:
“The author constantly uses the pronouns ‘her’ and ‘she’ in a gender-neutral setting. This juvenile affectation seems now to be de rigueur among male academic writers. I wonder if it helps them attract women or if it just makes them feel like cool dudes. Maybe they simply enjoy offending people, pour épater les bourgeois.”
So much comes to mind that one wonders what to say at all. Perhaps only two things:
1. It is bad judgement to think that a critical review of a young academic’s work is a good place for an old man’s rant about the youth gone astray. While this holds independently of the specific content of the rant, such an outburst is just obviously a wrong if that content doesn’t have anything to do with the substance of the work reviewed. But some old men apparently won’t learn that any more.
2. While I think that using the pronoun ‘she’ in a gender-neutral setting is an appropriate way of drawing attention to the curiosity of the habit of using ‘he’ in such a context, it can of course be discussed whether it is the best way, and also whether there are reasons to avoid this particular way. But note that the rant by Richman does nothing of that sort. Instead, it is a mere combination of sexist (surely, that is how to make women fall for you …) and outright stupid elements.
3. I do not think that editors should censor the work they publish, except in exceptional circumstances. How to define such circumstances, I do not know. But independently of that, the present case is a brilliant opportunity for the editors of Philosophia Mathematica to position themselves and publish an editorial notice in which they point out some advice on what should, and what shouldn’t, be part of a good review. That wouldn’t be censoring; it would just be the right thing to do.