Paper retracted for title and wording: “Where there are girls, there are cats.”

I haven’t seen the original version of this paper in Biological Conservation, which investigates the correlates of feral cat density in 30 Chinese universities, but a piece in Retraction Watch, below, implies that the title (and perhaps other bits of the paper) caused its retraction by Elsevier (the publisher) until until it was changed. The indictment: sexism—in particular, the frequent use of the term “girls”.

Retraction Watch, and the last link above, imply that the sticking point was indeed the paper’s title:

As promised, Biological Conservation has replaced a controversial paper on feral cats in China whose cringeworthy title — “Where there are girls, there are cats” — prompted an outcry on social media that resulted in a temporary retraction.

The new article boasts a different, non-gendered title: “Understanding how free-ranging cats interact with humans: A case study in China with management implications.” But it makes more or less the same point: Where there are women, there are more cats.

Cringeworthy? Well, why not call it “Where there are women, there are more cats”? Who’s running the railroad at RW?

The new ungendered paper (click on screenshot):

The abstract (with the sex aspect in bold, my emphasis):

The growing population of outdoor free-ranging cats poses increasing threats to biodiversity. While those threats are now well recognized, how human-cat interactions contribute to shape population dynamics have been overlooked. In this study, we explore major variables associated with the distribution of free-ranging cat density in 30 universities in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China. We specifically focus on possible even greater care devoted by women to the free-ranging cats. We found that, as expected, the density of feeding stations is positively associated to the density of free-ranging cats. More interestingly, the density of male students versus female students seemed to be non-randomly associated with the distribution of cats among universities. An online questionnaire confirmed that women were more concerned about the living conditions of free-ranging cats than men in China. Finally, a socialization test focusing on 27 free-ranging cats conducted by female and male observers suggests that cats may have the ability to adopt a friendlier behavior with female students. Our result suggests that human-cat relationships can be understood using multiple angles, including population dynamics, behavioral ecology and conservation psychology. Such a better understanding of human-cat interactions is necessary to develop relevant population management in urban context.

And a bit of the (new paper):

The TIRM model was selected for the analysis and we used the corresponding estimated density of the cats in each campus in the following analysis (Supplementary Table S2). The Pearson correlation test showed that the density of cats was significantly correlated to the student density (N = 30, r = 0.63, p < .001), to the feeding station density (N = 30, r = 0.85, p < .001), to the women density (N = 30, r = 0.78, p < .001) and also to the proportion of women (N = 30, r = 0.65, p < .001). However, it was not correlated to the percentage of greenery coverage of each campus (N = 30, r = 0.13, p = .49), to the density of men (N = 30, r = 0.26, p = .15) or to the survey season (N = 30, r = −0.07, p = .72). The percentage of total explained variance of those factors were ordered as follows: feeding station density (34.06%) > women density (22.44%) > proportion of women (17.78%) > student density (16.65%) > men density (6.52%) > season (1.44%) > percentage of green coverage (1.11%).

And the results from a questionnaire:

The 2038 online questionnaires showed that women had fed or rescued outdoor free-ranging cats more often than men (χ2 = 94.692, p < .001, df = 1, Fig. 1). Similarly, women tend to feed outdoor free-ranging cats more regularly (χ2 = 19.345, p < .001, df = 1, Fig. 1).

All in all, it looks like the authors found a statistically significant correlation between the density of feral cats and the density of women, and they could explain at least some of it, at least in theory, by the tendency of women to rescue and feed feral cats more often than men.

But that’s not good enough. Retraction Watch, which seems outraged by the original title, along with (of course!) social media, applauds the change:

The journal also published an editor’s note — in which they manage to keep the search engine optimization value of “Where there are girls, there are cats,” while disclaiming the title — explaining its actions. The editor, Vincent Devictor, didn’t respond to our request for comment when we reported on the withdrawal, and he is joined on the editorial by Danielle Descoteaux, of Elsevier, which publishes the journal.

Step one: blame language barriers for a poor decision that, as any editor should admit, falls squarely on their shoulders.

Was that decision really that poor? Or was it the “social media outcry” that made the journal retract the paper? You know the answer.

In truth, I am not that bothered by the title, which is pretty cute and, given the data, seems accurate as far as it goes—though had I written it I would have said “women” instead of girls. Nope, the title is dumbed down and gender-purified until it’s just the usual anodyne and tedious title we see so often. And the authors, of course, had to issue an apology:

. . . . we did not realize the topic is so sensitive, although at first we actually have tried our best to wirte [sic] the words… I firstly want to declare that I have not any sexism or even any thought of it, probably it is an English expression and culture difference that misleading readers since we are not native English speaker. For the title, may be catchier in our current version, it is like to say ‘more girls, more cats?’, just to catch readers that maybe cat density is related to sex ratio? In Chinese, it is very easy to understand and accept. I really don’t understand why human sex cannot be discussed in a paper, as we discuss more in animals research, or it is a culture difference…Not sure… 3, Actually in this paper, we just want to show a phenomenon, a point, a possible correlation, that cat density may be related to human social structure especially the sex ratio. I know correlation sometimes is not causation, but sometimes it is. Someone said feeding station is another more influencing factor, but who made these feeding stations? AT least from our observation, most are females in both universities and communities. Tell them more the fact that free ranging cat is invasive and affects biodiversity significantly and don’t feed them is very important. We have not any suggestions or ideas to control human sex, if I did not misunderstand some readers’ thoughts. Our suggestion is just to tell them the possible impact of feeding behavior to free ranging cats.

oooookay. . . .  so we live in a world where a title like that caused a social media outcry. Do these keyboard warriors ever rest? Yes, perhaps the use of the term “girls” was unwise, but really, people?

To wit:

Translation: “I used the term ‘girls’ which is regressive, counterrevolutionary, and contrary to the teachings of Chairman Meow.”


  1. Posted July 9, 2020 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    They, of course, should have titled it “Where the Cats Are.

    • boudiccadylis
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Of Female humans – felines

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes the subtle homage to Where the Wild Things Are is appealing.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Or just call it “Where the Wild Things Are” because it was about feral cats.

      • Posted July 9, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Also similar to the movie: Where the Boys Are, which is about college girls.

    • Posted July 9, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      You could be slightly alliterative and call it, “Human Females and Feral Felines.”

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      They could have gone full pedantic science mode and named it: XX + Felis

  2. Mark R.
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    How exhausting it must be to live in a state of perpetual outrage. To have that lens covering how one observes the world must be debilitating.

    • boudiccadylis
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 1:52 pm | Permalink


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      I read that as “a state of perpetual orange”. I think it was because I was thinking of orange tabby cats & not the POTUS.

      • Mark R.
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        I can hardly separate the word “orange” from POTUS. I hope one day I’ll be able to acknowledge the color orange as the benign color it actually is with no negative connotations. And I’m an Autumn so I look terrific in orange (joking).

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 9, 2020 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

          😄That colour has been unfairly maligned.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I think if they spent their time studying why there are so many cats out there in the first place they would accomplish much more. Such a waste of time. Maybe a study on ownership responsibility regardless of sex.

  4. eric grobler
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    God forbid we find that Pit Bull’s are found in proximity of brutish men.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      I hear they are very popular in Florida….so….

  5. jezgrove
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Using “girls” (or “boys”) to refer to adults is common in daily usage, but is probably out of place in an academic journal.

    • Posted July 9, 2020 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that’s why I would have used “women”.

      • eric grobler
        Posted July 9, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        Sigh, typical white cisgender male: you forgot the correct scientific term is “Womxn”!

        • Posted July 9, 2020 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

          How on Earth do they pronounce that?

          • eric grobler
            Posted July 9, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

            Another cisgender male failure, why is that important when half the human population is oppressed by the other half?

  6. Posted July 9, 2020 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Breaking News: The Black Lives Matter street mural has now been painted in New York, outside of Trump Tower. I rejoice.

    • eric grobler
      Posted July 9, 2020 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      “I rejoice.”

      Don’t you think this further inflame emotions and increases racial tensions.

      The police needs reform because working class people irrespective of race are subjected to unnecessary violence and unfair sentencing compared to the elites.
      This should not be framed in stark black vs white terms.

      The violent, intersectional marxist aspects of the movement with the semi-religious dogma that preaches that white people are racist by nature (irredeemable) and demand that white supporters should confess, kneel etc is something that is very unhealthy and unsustainable that will cause a lot of harm if it gets more traction.

      Psychologically there is something antisemitic about it.

      • Posted July 9, 2020 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        “Don’t you think this further inflame emotions and increases racial tensions.”
        No on both counts. Emotions are already inflamed. Things are already pretty intense.

        • eric grobler
          Posted July 9, 2020 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

          ” Emotions are already inflamed. Things are already pretty intense.”

          And you rejoice? There might be blood on the streets.

          • Posted July 10, 2020 at 6:29 am | Permalink

            know all the folks, black and white, that are celebrating this are wrong then.

  7. BJ
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the journal should have an asterisk next to its name moving forward.

    Biological Conservation*

    *the word “conservation” does not apply to any paper, title, subject, or other material deemed immoral by virtuous twitter mobs, outraged academics, and/or other similar arbiters of True Morality

  8. Posted July 9, 2020 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I have a feeling the original title was a lot more click worthy than the new one. Don’t the Woke understand marketing?

  9. pablo
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the title should have been, “Where there are women assigned at birth, there are cats.”

  10. W.Benson
    Posted July 9, 2020 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    “Chairman Meow”! Ouch!

  11. eric
    Posted July 10, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Step one: blame language barriers for a poor decision that, as any editor should admit, falls squarely on their shoulders.

    I think I admire the editor more for letting the authors decide on their title with minimal changes for grammar and spelling. IMO his/her job is to help the authors get their message across, not change the message.

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