What @sciam’s actions tell me as a female scientist of color #standingwithDNLee

Guest Blogger Bio: DrRubidium is an analytical chemist. She blogs at Scientopia and JAYFK, and tweets @DrRubidium. This post was originally published at JAYFK.


Scientist and science communicator @DNLee5 declined an offer to blog for free from biology-online.org and got called a ‘whore’.  @DNLee5 posted a thoughtful response on her Scientific American‘s blog ‘The Urban Scientist‘.  A short time later, her response vanished

I couldn't access her link...

I couldn’t access her link…

@DNLee5‘s response post was taken down by @sciam.  Why?

In the words of the wise woman Judge Judy…

I was born at night – 5:05pm to be precise – but it wasn’t LAST night.   Unlike @sciam admin, I actually read a number of @sciamblogs.  It may shock @sciam admin, but a number of your bloggers aren’t writing all about the wonders of “discovering science”.  In a post titled ‘This is not a post about discovering science“, Kate Clancy lists the FIVE posts she’s written that aren’t sciency.  Christie Wilcox also pointed to her own non-sciency stuff.  Janet Stemwedel is also dubious of @sciam‘s position.   These are two  three @sciam bloggers taking @sciam to task over their… shall we say… inconsistent policy.

Take a moment and go view the twitter profiles of Kate Clancy, Christie Wilcox, Janet Stemwedel, and Danielle Lee.  No, seriously, go look at each of their profiles. I’ll wait here.

Notice that one of these three four @sciam bloggers is not like the other? Was it perhaps the same one that had their “not appropriate” post taken down?  Was it the one that is blogging while brown?

Yes, it IS shocking. Here’s what it tells me….

@DNLee5 isn’t seen as equal to her @sciamblogs peers by @sciam admin.  It tells me @sciam has one set of rules for its real team members and another set for us brown folks.

It makes me angry and sad for @DNLee5 – a colleague and friend.  It makes me look at @sciam twice – and not in a good way.

I expected better from @sciam. I want better from @sciam. If I don’t get better from @sciam?

I’m done with @sciam.


@DrRubidium

Image Credits: Judge Judy book image from here; Cookie Monster image from here; Eartha Kitt image from here; Real Housewives image from here; Double take image from here; Big Bang Theory image from here


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36 Responses to What @sciam’s actions tell me as a female scientist of color #standingwithDNLee

  1. Echo Zen says:

    It reads like a BuzzFeed article made of GIFs. And frankly, given the disgusting subject matter, this was the only way to make it palatable enough to digest in one depressing go… :-/

    • tigtog says:

      SciAm has really stuffed up here. Ofek’s calling DNLee a ‘whore’ is indefensible, and removing her post about it sends a very strong message, and it’s a really unethical one that entirely lacks integrity regarding the expectation of transparency that is the core of scientific endeavour.

      I’m glad DNLee’s post is being reblogged all over the ‘net, and that so many SciAm bloggers and other scientists are telling them that what they’ve done is unacceptable. SciAm is learning first-hand about the Streisand Effect, and what a PR clusterfuck looks like from the inside.

  2. Andrea says:

    You know, it would be helpful if you posted at least a little bit of the background on stories like this so that the uninitiated would have some small sense of what you’re talking about.

    Personally, I don’t want to click all the links in a post unless I know it’s something I’m interested in first.

    • evil fizz says:

      I rather think that “Scientist and science communicator @DNLee5 declined an offer to blog for free from biology-online.org and got called a ‘whore’. @DNLee5 posted a thoughtful response on her Scientific American‘s blog ’The Urban Scientist‘. A short time later, her response vanished…” pretty much covers the background.

    • Kerandria says:

      You know, if you read the story, you’d probably get the gist of what was going on, but let me simplify if for you:

      1. Female professional scientist DN Lee (who happens to blog for Scientific American) is given an opportunity to write without compensation for another blog. When she declines, the blog calls her a whore.

      2. DN Lee responds via her Scientific American blog. Scientific American removes the post.

      3. Looking at the posts that other female scientist bloggers have put on their SA blogs, you’ll see that some posts are off-topic – that is, some of their posts aren’t strictly about science. The difference between DN Lee and these other bloggers? DN Lee is a WoC participating in an field that remains exceptionally hostile to WoC. Draw what conclusions you may.

      Is that a bit more understandable?

      • a lawyer says:

        Kerandria October 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink | Reply
        Female professional scientist DN Lee (who happens to blog for Scientific American) is given an opportunity to write without compensation for another blog

        Way, way, way, WAY too polite.

        Here, let me try:

        1) A marketing asshole spams DNL, asking her to provide stuff for a blog. If you write, you get these marketing things all the time. Most of them get ignored. Most of them are written by assholes. Almost all of them are written by people who do not personally have any skills other than (a) selling you “link spam” and (b) obtaining free work for their employers.

        2) Probably because the marketer claimed to represent someone that actually seemed potentially reasonable (“biology-online.org” as opposed to “random-rightwing-screamysite.org”) she didn’t ignore it.

        3) So she wrote back and asked whether she’d get paid for it, this being a normal thing to wonder before you agree to do something.

        4) An acceptable response would be “no, sorry.” This is, as noted above, accepted as standard only because we’ve been so inured to the constant thread of greedy people asking us to work for free that we have ceased to bother regarding it as incredibly rude.

        5) But instead, she got a response “Because we don’t pay for blog entries. Are you an urban blogger or an urban wh0re?”

        Which… there are no words.

    • Kerandria says:

      Andrea:
      I replied to your comment; it’s in moderation.

      • tigtog says:

        Comments released from moderation now. FYI: wh*re is one of the words in our automoderation filter, so comments which use the word without munging it will languish in the mod queue until a moderator logs in.

      • Kerandria says:

        I’ll remember that for the future. Thanks, Tigtog!

    • karak says:

      I found this link on facebook that explained it a little more clearly to me: http://isisthescientist.com/2013/10/11/tell-someone-no-get-called-a-whore-standingwithdnlee-batsignal/

      Essentially, they asked her to blog. She asked if they paid (among other professional questions) and they said they did not. She very professionally and politely declined, not explaining why. She could have declined because of her schedule, or the fact they wanted her wait two weeks to post on her own blog, or whatever reason.

      They assumed it was because the money, and they asked her if she was “an urban scientist or an urban whore” because only whores want money for working.

      Sooooo yyyeah it’s like filled with poop.

  3. birdie says:

    Ah, yes! Admittedly, I do not look brown, but my ethnicity is ‘dubious’ and I am extremely unpopular for telling people that women and brown people in science have brains! I am strongly censored everywhere. Apparently, being a feminist/humanist is illegal in science!

  4. Donna L says:

    Scientific American has given one of those weaselly non-apology apologies, along with a “I should have let you know that we were taking your post down but my phone was dying all weekend” excuse for deleting her post without telling her. (There’s a story at Jezebel.)

    And the biology online people are still “investigating” (you know, to see if maybe Ofek had a good reason for calling DN Lee an “urban wh**e”), and haven’t done a damn thing about it yet.

  5. Safiya Outlines says:

    Actually, since “Feministe Guest Posts” too often involve trawling through vast introductory paragraphs (often as long/longer then the post itself) about how the author knits healing jumpers with goats’ tears in their spare time, I really appreciated a G. P who just got to the point. More please!

  6. DN Lee: awesome.

    SciAm: turds.

    Ofek: recycled dog vomit.

    (My meaningful contribution of the day.)

  7. karak says:

    I’m so baffled at this. Just… what was something thinking? Were they drunk? Because I don’t know anyone at anytime who would think that was an okay thing to say to someone.

    • Fat Steve says:

      ’m so baffled at this. Just… what was something thinking? Were they drunk? Because I don’t know anyone at anytime who would think that was an okay thing to say to someone.

      The terminology was what was unacceptable, so I would guess that this guy uses the term quite a bit. It’s reasonable to criticize someone for being money-hungry or money-motivated (perceived or otherwise, right or wrong) but if you immediately refer to that person as the ‘W’ word then that says a lot more about you than them. Even if it’s not about racism/sexism towards the specific person (i.e. if the editor in question used the ‘W’ word towards every white man who had rejected his offer of free work,) it would still be unacceptable and indicate an overall sexist view.

      • Flavia says:

        You really, really are fond of mansplaining, aren’t you?

      • Fat Steve says:

        You really, really are fond of mansplaining, aren’t you?

        Mansplaining? Karak asked if the person was drunk and I just theorized that anyone who comes up with that word in an email is obviously sexist. I’ve read a lot of articles on mansplaining and none ever refer to a situation like this, but I apologize for mansplaining if you feel I did.

      • Flavia says:

        Good grief, that you are allowed free reign in a feminist space is testament to the failures of feminism to protect ourselves.

      • Fat Steve says:

        Good grief, that you are allowed free reign in a feminist space is testament to the failures of feminism to protect ourselves.

        Do you have a specific criticism?

      • Flavia says:

        I do have a specific criticism, which I have already offered: the fact that a white, cis, American dude is mansplaining another commenter about sexism in a feminist blog. That, and the fact that you fail to see how you are a mansplainer.

        If this was my blog, you wouldn’t be allowed to comment to begin with. I’ve seen your comments before. You are a cis, white mansplainer. I fail to see how feminist spaces have time for someone like you.

      • Fat Steve says:

        I do have a specific criticism, which I have already offered: the fact that a white, cis, American dude is mansplaining another commenter about sexism in a feminist blog. That, and the fact that you fail to see how you are a mansplainer.

        If this was my blog, you wouldn’t be allowed to comment to begin with. I’ve seen your comments before. You are a cis, white mansplainer. I fail to see how feminist spaces have time for someone like you.

        I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ve never been accused of mansplaining before, so I will look back at my old posts for ways in which I can improve that.

      • Matt says:

        Steve, you actually have been accused on mansplaining before on Feministe. I can’t give you a link sadly because its not something I purposely kept track of. But I’m positive I recall it somewhere.

      • Fat Steve says:

        Matt, I’ve apologized and said I’ll look into changing. You may be right about it happening once before. I apologize for forgetting. Now can we move on? I’m sure a giraffe would appreciate that we stop making this thread about me and move this to spillover.

      • PrettyAmiable says:

        I actually don’t see how that was mansplaining either.

  8. Willemina says:

    Exposure doesn’t keep you warm at night and is often accompanied by starvation.

  9. jrockford says:

    For what it’s worth, Biology-Online sacked the editor in question and issued an apology to DNLee.

    http://www.biology-online.org/biology-forum/about34647.html

    • Donna L says:

      It’s a way better apology than the one Scientific American gave.

    • Ginjoint says:

      I think Biology-Online’s email “apology” to Dr. Lee sucks, however. It’s insultingly informal and familiar, starting with the greeting: “Hi Danielle”?! How about “Dear Dr. Lee”? The letter writer then goes on to “introduce” himself as simply “Alan” – no last name warranted in this unimportant situation, apparently. And while I appreciate the depth of his dismay (maybe) at Ofek’s actions, demonstrating this by the use of multiple exclamation points and question marks is again not only way too informal and familiar, but unprofessional in the extreme. Hey Al, go learn to write like a grown-up.

      Dr. Lee deserves better. She should’ve received a phone call from the highest position at Keebali, the company that owns Biology-Online. I think they should also post a video apology from this same person as well.

      Alan states of Ofek, “What was he thinking??” Same thing you are, buddy. That women aren’t deserving of real respect. Only Ofek was a lot more open about it.

      Speaking of being open, I want to know why Ofek’s identity is being withheld. Dr. Lee had to suffer the indignity of being called a wh***, but somehow the perpetrator of this act deserves protection. Same old, same old.

      • Donna L says:

        I agree with you that it was too informal, unless he knows her/they’re friends.

        The fact remains, though, that it was a genuine apology that didn’t go through ten layers of corporate PR people and lawyers before it went out, wasn’t a faux apology, and actually involved firing the guy who did it. Your assumption that his underlying opinions of women in science are similar to Ofek’s goes, I think, beyond what the evidence justifies.

      • Ginjoint says:

        As I not-too-clearly alluded to in my post, Donna, I too appreciate the fact that it wasn’t a watered-down, corporately-filtered apology. I should’ve made that clearer; my fault. And the fact that the offender was actually fired makes Keebali’s apology ring truer.

        But. I have a hard time believing that Alan Weisleder would’ve sent the same sort of letter to a distinguished white male scientist who had just been grievously insulted by one of Weisleder’s employees. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of Weisleder’s writing skills, but I think he could’ve written something just as emphatic and heartfelt, while showing a lot more professional respect to Dr. Lee. This is completely doable.

  10. GallingGalla says:

    Looks like SciAm restored Dr. Lee’s post. SciAm, however, has prefixed it with an editor’s note basically repeating their ridiculous excuse for taking it down.

  11. a lawyer says:

    We get blamed for a lot of shit we don’t deserve, but sometimes you DO get to blame the lawyers. This is probably one of those times.

    Writers get edited for content (by editors) and for exposure (by lawyers.) This is because businesses don’t like to get sued, and the lawyers who represent them are trying to prevent that from happening. It is our job.

    I’ll bet my left nut that the reality went something like this:

    1) The original post by Lee was flagged somehow by someone, perhaps for language or perhaps for content.

    2) A lawyer got it and said something like “SciAm, take this down until we’ve done a bit of checking and are a bit more certain that you won’t get sued.” That’s almost certainly because it was (in appearance) linked to a major blog, who would have quite a bit of incentive to sue if the accusation was true.

    3) True, the lawyer might not have bothered if it was “small marketing agency.com.” But most of you can probably see how it would be worth double checking if it was cnn.com, right? Someone made a call that put this in the “double check before publishing to avoid potentially expensive libel claim” box. It was probably a lawyer; might have also involved others.

    4) SciAm took it down. Which was good. If the person you’re hiring to advise you on risk tells you to do something to avoid risk, you should listen to them. Otherwise, you end up getting fired by the board when they ask you to justify why you ignored the lawyer you hired.

    5) SciAm posted a stupid excuse. Now, before you complain about the quality of the excuse, consider that they have very limited options. If the official excuse is “we need to make sure that Dr. Lee isn’t lying, and/or that Dr. Lee hasn’t been taken in by a spammer” then that is obviously offensive to Dr. Lee. If the official excuse is “Biology-online.org’s representative has been accused of calling Dr. Lee a whore and we’re looking into it further” then that’s a new set of problems. EVERYONE gives these sort of BS excuses for a perfectly good, valid, reason: they don’t incriminate anyone, they don’t make things much worse, and they leave all options open (as much as possible) until the investigating people figure out what they hell is going on.

    6) They did an investigation. Now, I think that they should have done this more rapidly, but I have no real idea what they were thinking in the process. I am reasonably confident that the holiday weekend didn’t make things easier.

    7) SciAm reposted it after the investigation. Again: I think they should have been more clear about why. But they’re probably walking a bit of a fine line, as discussed in #5. After all, they will (and should!) pull posts again if they fear a lawsuit. They will (and should!) review them if they pull them, and repost them if there isn’t tons of exposure. Posting content is their job; avoiding libel suits is also part of their job. They can’t guarantee a particular speed of turnaround, because they all take different times to investigate.

    So the apology that some folks want from SciAm is probably not going to happen here. I’m not entirely convinced that it should.

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