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On Wednesday 24 April, Leiden University campus paper Mare published an article onLeiden professor of Quantitative Science Studies Ton van Raan, who studies the impact of scientific citations. Van Raan had submitted a paper for publication with the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST), which was refused because of his use of the term “sleeping beauties“. Used as a metaphor for rediscovered publications, the term was deemed ‘offensive’. What follows is an edited translation.

He is an expert on articles that have been dormant: published years ago, they initially attracted little attention. However, they were rediscovered, and cited again. In hindsight ground breaking, these once forgotten publications are now cited profusely. They are ‘awakened’.

Van Raan consequently came up with the analogy of ‘sleeping beauties’ for these kinds of articles, calling the first new citation ‘the prince’. The first paper in which he used the phrase is from 2004, the latest was published a couple of months ago. According to Van Raan “it has become a new genre.” Stressing that he always kept his metaphors chaste (“I have never said anything about what the prince does, exactly“), Van Raan says he uses the analogy for levity: “science is dry enough as it is.”

The JASIST disagrees. Deeming the term ‘sleeping beauties’ “unacceptable“, it has refused an article by Van Raan on the subject. Although JASIST published an earlier article using the term in 2010, sensitivities have since progressed. The editors let Van Raan know that his article Sleeping Beauties in Medical Research: Technological Relevance, High Scientific Impact will only be published after he rewrites it.

Appended to the email refusing publication were new editorial guidelines prescribing an “appropriate use of language and sensitivity to sociocultural norms.” According to the new criteria, ‘sleeping beauties’ is “a clear violation of sociocultural norms.” Van Raan calls the decision

“Bizar. I refuse to capitulate for this political correctness gone wild.”

He states that the ban is a typical example of things being carried too far on American campus-universities and

“a measure you can only expect in a DDR-like police state.”

JASIST editor Julia Khanova, when asked, commented that she deems it inappropriate to discuss the editorial process with third parties, while excluding the author. She stresses that

“the article has not been refused, but has been returned for correction because it doesn’t meet our guidelines, which are in force for all authors. If Mr. Van Raan has a problem with that, he should get in touch with me, or the editor-in-chief.”

Van Raan isn’t considering changing his article:

“They can hang it above their beds. I’ll offer it for publication somewhere else. Sleeping beauties are published about continuously, in very good journals. I have lectured on the subject countless times and have never received any complaints, not from female audience-members, not from anybody.”

Van Raan calls on university administrators to take a stance against this kind of over-sensitivity. He does admit that his own paper was a bit of a test case. While acting as a peer-reviewer for a JASIST-article last year, he noticed that they had “lost their marbles.”

“The authors were pressured into scrapping the term [sleeping beauties]. When I saw the dreadful word ‘hibernators’ in their second version, I told them ‘if you capitulate to this kind of political correctness, you can do it without me!'”