UPDATED:

This is a very interesting and important question, and it probably requires more context than I have the ability or time to give, but I think it is worth putting on the table.

If you look at the twitter hashtags #standingwithDNLee and #IstandwithDNLee (which, interestingly, have distinctly different groups of people using them, which itself is worthy of study … perhaps an example of Tweet Drift?) you’ll be able to catch up if Twitter does not drive you crazy. Looking at the early moments of each thread, we see these two tweets:

and

So that was Friday Evening.

(I’ve described the incident in more detail here.)

Here is what happened.

1) Some jerk at an annoying aggregation site that exploits biology bloggers and writers asked scientist and blogger DN Lee if she was some sort of whore because she declined to provide him with some of her stuff for free. Her stuff being, in this case, blog posts. (unlike)

2) DN Lee wrote about this incident, and for this I and I’m sure the entire community of science communicators thank her. She could have just ignore this, absorbed it, let it pass without comment, but this was a situation where the right thing to do really was, I think, to write about it. Anyway, she did that on her blog at Scientific American. (like)

3) Scientific American Blogs deleted Danielle’s post at first without comment. (unlike)

4) Several blogs (including here but there are many) reposted DN Lee’s original post. (like)

5) A slurry of invective over the deletion of DN Lee’s post began to gush from the intertubes. (like)

6) In response to this response, Mariette DiChristina, a senior administrator with Scientific American and executive editor, placed her foot directly on the poo and went in knee deep with these two tweets:

(unlike*2)

That second tweet is in reference to the apparent fact that there is some sort of affiliation between Scientific American and the lame-ass blog aggregator site that employs the sexist, misogynist, racist jerk that insulted DN Lee

As I write this, it is Sunday morning. An entire evening, followed by an entire day (Saturday) followed by several hours of night and morning have passed and there has been very little, almost nothing, in the way of response by Scientific American. Bora Zivkovic is the Blog Editor for Scientific American, so he is really the person who needs to address this. Bora is, as you probably know, one of the people who helped build, shape, and define the science communication on line community over the last several years, and is one of the key movers and shakers of Science Online, an important annual gathering of science communicators. Bora also, or at least this is my impression, is mainly responsible for building the Scientific American Blogs entity, and it is widely acknowledged that Scientific American Blogs is the top science blog network out there. And now, there is widespread hate raining down on that network. This morning’s twitter feeds on those two hashtags are stating, in the main, that Scientific American’s failure to respond to the removal of DN Lee’s post equals boycott, canceling of subscriptions to the magazine, etc.

The response from Bora as of this writing has been only this:

There is a great irony here. Just prior to the creation of Scientific American Blogs, was Pepsigate. Pepsigate happened at Scienceblogs.com. Scienceblogs administration decided to create a blog run by the research unit at Pepsi. This made sense to some people because this was a group of scientists working on food and stuff, so why not have them blog at a science blogging network? The problem was that this would be a corporate blog sitting like a wolf in sheep’s clothing among regular science blogs that were written mainly by individuals scientists with mainly academic, not corporate, affiliations.

Bloggers were enraged. Within a short time Scienceblogs.com announced that they had been stupid, apologized, nixed the Pepsi blog, and set up an internal system to help avoid being so boneheaded in the future. But, many bloggers including Bora and a handful of others who are now at Scientific American quit scienceblogs.com anyway. Some even said that bloggers who did not quit scienceblogs.com were doing it wrong. At the time I felt that the exodus was overly dramatic, that scienceblogs.com had handled the problem (eventually) as well as we might expect any institution or company to handle it, and I felt no desire to mess around with moving my blog. There were a few weeks there when I felt compelled to privately contact friends and colleagues after they publicly implied that the hangers-on at Scienceblogs.com were bad, asking them if this is really what they felt and if they were really prepared to defend that position. In all cases, I think, people realized that they were being overly judgmental. The irony is, of course, that Scientific American Blogs was built in part on the basis of a kind of restructuring of the science blogosphere that came out of Pepsigate, and the PepsiExodus was fully (and skillfully) exploited to create an excellent stable of bloggers at Scientific American. But the culture of Trial by Tweet, in part embolded by things like Pepsigate and in part shaped, one way or another, by movers and shakers such as Bora (who has written eloquently many times about the increasing power of the social networks over old fashioned blogging and commenting, etc.) is now looking a lot like a huge flock of chickens. Coming home. To roost.

So, here are the main questions.

First, did Scientific American Blogs do something wrong by taking down DN Lee’s post? Answer: No doubt, yes.

Second, did Scientific American Blogs mess up by ignoring this problem over a weekend (so far)? Answer: I don’t know. Maybe an entity with employees who work Monday though Friday should be forgiven for ignoring a problem over the weekend and dealing with it on Monday (we assume they will do this, yes?)

Third, is there anything Scientific American can say or do to fix this, and..

Fourth, is it the case that failure to address the problem for 36-48 hours is itself so offensive that no matter what they do they can’t fix it?

Answer: Who the heck knows? I would hope the twittersphere would separate the two different issues of removing the post (which was totally wrong) and not responding for several hours. I tend to prefer that we not try and convict others on the internet for delays in addressing things. The rate at which a couple of thousand observers can produce tweets about something, any time of day or night, is high. The rate at which a handful of people with responsibility for a certain important decision can make and put into effect that decision is low, and slower on weekends because weekends are for tweeting, not work. Indeed, the rate of response of the twittersphere may be higher on weekends! In other words, people tweeting about this should ask themselves if they want to be judged regarding something they’ve done on the internet mainly by how long it takes them to respond to someone tweeting about it. This means your level of guilt is tied to the inverse of the rate at which you check your twitter account. That seems wrong. unlike.

Fifth, jut for fun, if we compare Pepsigate and DN Lee’s post removal, is one worse than the other? What is the difference in response by the blogospehere to the two? Will people who stormed off from scienceblogs.com now be required to storm off from Scientific American Blogs or risk being thought of as misogynist sexist racist creeps because they failed to take extreme action?

Word on the street is that Bora will fix all of this using his intertubual magic. The fact that Mr. Internet has not responded (other than one tweet) for so many hours suggests to me that he is stuck between a rock (a centuries old institution that still has not replaced board meetings and face to face conversations with tweets!) and a hard place (the world that he himself has been so influential in creating).

I hope that everyone who has said that they are boycotting Scientific American or otherwise materially responding to this realizes that the speed with which you respond to this problem is not a virtue. Responding correctly is important. Responding rapidly is not. Wait to see what Bora says, or others at Scientific American. Also, listen to what DN Lee says, and give her time to say it.

Then, of course, feel free to fall upon the perpetrators, rend limb from limb, and toss them off the island, if you must.

Comments

  1. #1 Kim F. Hall
    United States
    October 13, 2013

    This is a great nuanced post. I would hope that people calling for a boycott might think about what that means for DN Lee who has been a successful blogger on this post.

    It might be useful for Bora to: be totally transparent about what transpired over the weekend; sincerely apologize to DN Lee; clarify the “policy” that led to taking down her post; ask for, publicize, and TAKE suggestions on how we might reduce casual misogyny/racism in STEM fields. He could turn this episode into a teachable moment that rewards Lee’s efforts.

  2. #2 Doug Alder
    The Great White North
    October 13, 2013

    I think you nailed it in the antepenultimate paragraph. People need to calm down, express outrage/disapproval whatever at what happened, then sit back and wait a reasonable amount of time for a response. Expecting a speed of light response from a corporate entity, particularly an entity that is as old as SciAm,but in any case any legally constituted corporate entity, shows substantial naivety in how corporations work – especially public corporations. Think fiduciary responsibility.

  3. #3 Rosie Redfield
    October 13, 2013

    I bet the SciAm lawyers are now a big part of the problem.

  4. #4 daedalus2u
    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/
    October 13, 2013

    I doubt that SciAm lawyers are driving policy.

    What people need to remember and appreciate that changing the default “atmosphere”, so that bad things like this don’t happen in the first place is much much more important than “punishing” the person(s) who did this bad thing.

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