A renowned American scientific journal refused the article by Dutch professor Ton van Raan because he refers to “Sleeping Beauty”. According to the editors, the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale is offensive to women and other cultures. Van Raan is angry. “This has gone beyond political correctness.”
Van Raan, professor of quantitative science studies in Leiden, coined the term “sleeping beauties” in 2004. He is referring to groundbreaking scientific articles that are not initially cited, but are rediscovered later because they were far ahead of their time. In the metaphor he devised, the first citation after a long time is called “the prince”. “The article is, as it were, being kissed awake, just like Sleeping Beauty,” explains Van Raan.
Van Raan’s creation caught on and has since been used extensively by fellow scientists. When Van Raan dedicated his latest scientific article to “Sleeping Beauty” last month, the American Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST) suddenly refused the contribution of the Leiden professor.
In the e-mail to Van Raan, the trade journal writes that the use of “Sleeping Beauty” is unacceptable and violates the guidelines of the magazine. Van Raan is stunned. “This has gone beyond political correctness,” he grumbles. More specifically, the use of “Sleeping Beauty” is offensive now since it would be “too sexualizing”. Also, Grimm’s famous fairy tale isn’t known in every culture, meaning it is “culturally discriminating.”
According to Van Raan that is nonsense. “I have given lectures all over the world about ‘sleeping beauties’ and they know it everywhere. Even in Egypt people thought it was wonderful.” He can still understand that the fairy tale is too sexual. “There are colleagues who have extended the metaphor and let the prince Sleeping Beauty kiss.”
These are exceptions, Van Raan emphasizes. He himself avoids further princely activities. “I just had Sleeping Beauty woke up. She needs to know for herself what else she is doing with her prince.”
Van Raan in any case does not worry about rewriting his article, even though JASIST is a very leading magazine in his profession. “Science is dry and colorless enough,” he says. “I am now sending my piece to another magazine that also has a good reputation.”
Van Raan receives support from Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker, the principal of Leiden University. “Bizarre,” he calls the refusal in a tweet. “I always thought ‘sleeping beauty’ was such a beautiful and completely clear metaphor.”
@rolandbouman @suzan @Jossedevoogd Ik vond “sleeping beauty” altijd zo’n prachtige en volstrkt heldere metafoor, waarvan ik gewild had dat ik m zelf had bedacht! 😉
JASIST was not available today for a response. In Mare, the independent weekly magazine of Leiden University, however, the editors state that they do not want to discuss their own editorial approach with third parties, other than the writer. JASIST emphasizes not to have refused the article, but only to have sent it back because it does not meet the editorial guidelines. Those apply to all authors, says editor-in-chief Julia Khanova. “If Mr. Van Raan has problems with that, he should turn to me or the editor-in-chief.”