Final Update: From Scientific American:
Bora Zivkovic resigns from Scientific American
STATEMENT FROM SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
October 18, 2013
Bora Zivkovic resigns from Scientific American
Following recent events, Bora Zivkovic has offered his resignation from Scientific American, and Scientific American has decided to accept that resignation.
The Scientific American Blog Network is a vibrant group of voices who challenge, educate and widen the discussion about science and science communication, and Bora played an important part in that. The bloggers who write on the Scientific American Blog Network are important to us, as is the science online community. We will be in regular contact with members of the Scientific American Blog Network over the coming days. Learning from recent events, we are also looking at how we support our bloggers in future.
Scientific American has an anti-harassment policy. We offer live and online anti-harassment training to those who manage employees. We’ve recently begun providing such training to individuals who work with freelancers and contractors as well. We take allegations, such as those that have appeared online this week, very seriously. When Monica Byrne contacted Scientific American a year ago, we investigated her report, offered the Company’s apologies and Ms. Byrne acknowledged in her blog that she was satisfied with our response. We were unaware of any additional allegations until this week. Our investigation of those is continuing and we will investigate any additional allegations that are reported to us. For employees, our employee handbooks and policies provide detailed information about how incidents should be reported. Our corporate Code of Conduct is publicly accessible online here: http://se.macmillan.com/Who-We-Are/Responsible-business/Responsible-business/. It includes contacts for reporting inappropriate behavior.
Head of Corporate Communications, Nature Publishing Group
Tel: +44 (20) 7014 4063
A hero of the online science community, a man widely regarded as a friend and a good colleague, Bora Zivkovic, behaved inappropriately towards a woman in a professional context. This community was already examining sexism and sex bias in its ranks so this new revelation adds fuel to that ongoing conversation, but it does something else as well. The online science community is struggling with what to do when a man known for his good will and in particular his promotion of women and minorities is found to be part of the problem. The online social-networked community is at present acting in an uncharacteristic way, which is probably a good thing because it is being surprisingly thoughtful, and perhaps a bad thing because this could be moderation born of fictive nepotism.
UPDATE: Bora Zivkovic has resigned from his position on the board of Science Online.
Bora Zivkovic has voluntarily resigned from the ScienceOnline Board of Directors. The Board is reviewing Bora’s future role in the organization.
— Monica Byrne (@monicabyrne13) October 16, 2013
UPDATE (18 Oct 11:00 AM ct):
Go read, without delay, Two stories: One man got away with it — will the other, too? by Kathleen Raven.
Also, NASW board comments on recent events, a post from the National Association of Science Writers.
Then, below, note that I’ve made use of the HTML ‘del’ tag to remove text and italics to indicate newly added text, throughout.
You probably already know the story, and if you don’t, you can catch up by reading the following two blog posts and the post by Kathleen Raven linked to above:
I won’t recount the story in detail but I will make a few brief comments. First and foremost, it is bad that this happened to Monica and others, and it is important to read
her their posts and take it them seriously; she they express es what was bad about this incident to her them, which is the bad that counts because this may be different from person to person. It These things should not have happened, clearly.
Depending on what one reads into the stor
ys, one could say that Bora did two different things here. It seems like this was something of a come-one, and it seems like this was an awkward spilling of the guts about personal matters. (Though these two things were rather intertwined.) You can do both of those things if you want. You can come on to someone, and you can spill your guts to someone. But, it is a very bad idea to do either one of these things in a the context of a professional meeting, especially if you are the one in the position of relative authority or privilege, as was the case here. Also, it is a very bad idea to do either one the first time you meet someone, with someone you don’t really know, regardless of the circumstances. The context is key here. To those who know him it is not terribly surprising that Bora was exuberant and even personal (well, surprising that it was this personal), but there was a clear power imbalance, and this was a professional setting. I will never look at the hashtag #Ihuggedbora again without feeling a twinge of pain and a glimmer of irony.
Bora was already, before this event, my friend and my colleague, and somebody I liked. I therefore have a bias in his favor, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. The internet is starting, slowly, to fill with blog posts by both women and men (that’s an important fact) who “did not want to write this post” The bias I and others feel is based on earned respect for real things, and I’m not likely to cast it off very easily. More importantly, there is another aspect of this story, in that I have a particular view of judgement that I find too rare, in my opinion, elsewhere on the internet. Let me put it this way. I have three kinds of friends: the kind that have carried out an indiscretion, or worse, that has become public, the kind that have carried out an indiscretion, or worse, of which I am aware but that has not become public (you know who you are!), and the kind that have carried out an indiscretion, or worse, of which I am not aware and that also has not become public. There is a theoretical fourth category, the category of friend that has never carried out an indiscretion, or worse. I assume that is a null set. Behavior that is bad comes in varying degrees of badness, and are sometimes only indiscretions (or worse) in particular people’s eyes, but friendship is neither cheap nor fragile. So, my relationship with Bora does not change at all, but my personal and professional efforts to partake in the redress of uneven and poor treatment of women (and others) in society in general (I am a teacher so I get to do that) and in the communities of which I’m a member, an activity in which I’ve been very much engaged, will yet increase. But I don’t have to throw Bora under the bus to do that, nor do I have to wag my judgmental finger at him because he’ll get plenty of that (but see below). Nor, of course, do I have to excuse him or apologize on his behalf. He’s a big boy, a thoughtful man, and I think he is going to be a better person, in the end, for all this.
Collectively, this is all very messed up.
Oh, and that pattern of friendship, of knowing only people with indiscretions? That’s not just me. That’s you too.
But we’re no longer talking about indiscretions.
Monica Bryne’s blog post is written by a credible person (and very well written, I might add) and the story itself holds together and is plausible. Given only what she has said, one would best accept it as what happened, with the obvious caveat that everyone’s version of an event may be somewhat different. This is reminiscent of other recent somewhat similar blog posts about other incidents involving men behaving poorly (N.B.: generally to a
vastly greater degree than Bora). In the comments section, there are additional claims that range from those that note that a similar situation (involving Bora) may have happened around the same time with another person to those that consist of nothing other than cryptic anonymous “me too, he did it to me too” remarks. While the former may be valid comments, the latter smell rather fishy to me. I am happy that Bora made a straight forward validation of Monica’s post. Also, apparently Scientific American acted appropriately, according to both Monica and Bora.
But, unfortunately, it does not appear to end there. (See link above in the third update.)
Things like this, broadly speaking, happen to a lot of women a lot of times. And by “a lot” I mean for some women depending on the circumstances of their lives almost as frequently as they encounter men. That women have to deal with a wide range of inappropriate male behavior is something too many men are not aware of, or refuse to accept as reality. If you think that is not true, than you are wrong. Last year a friend of mine mentioned the fact that she received unwanted sexual advances from men every single time she took the bus to or from work, which she did daily. I related this at a later time in a conversation with some men, each one of whom claimed some degree of association with the fight against sexism or a link to feminism, and the reaction was general incredulity. Since this is something men don’t personally experience, men are privileged to imagine the rate at which these things happen to women. We all have personal mechanisms of denial and these are often supported by cultural mechanisms of denial, and I’m pretty sure most men in our Western culture are in denial of the rate of sexual harassment that happens and that is directed almost entirely at women. Just as importantly, men can learn the appropriate boundaries and modify their behaviors, we hope. But first it is essential to get past the denial that there is a perpetual ubiquitous real problem.
Recently, in the blogosphere, it has become a thing for women to relate their own personal stories of situations ranging from uncomfortable to mortifying to horrendous in order to make this more widely known, and with this growing body of knowledge perhaps those who are incredulous will better understand. This is what Monica Byrne
has and others have done, and everyone should thank her them and fully support them for that and appreciate the meaning and significance of her their efforts.
So the above is the good and the bad parts. But mostly bad. The thing
s that happened, atonement, friendship, frailty, wrongness, rightness, irony. The ugly part I wanted to mention is something I’ve seen many times on the internet, and have written about before. This is the mob mentality We The Internet have as a deeply ingrained feature of our collective temperament. I think you know what I’m talking about in general, but more specifically, I want to examine (informally) variation in this feature of our culture. The main feature of variation in the reaction of the mob is, I’m afraid, that there isn’t much.
Everybody and everything is Hitler.
The situation of which we speak here, the thing that happened, overlaps in time (and is causally linked, in that Monica chose to name Bora because of it) with the horrid treatment of DN Lee by some dweeb at Biology-Online, and the subsequent taking down of her post by Scientific American. Those were two bad things that were bad for different reasons, though Scientific American maintains that they were right in removing DN Lee’s post (I’ll not comment here on their argument for taking the post down, but clearly it was not without negative consequences). Perhaps the Biology-Online editor was the bigger jerk because he said something really awful. Perhaps Scientific American was the bigger jerk because they didn’t trust and immediately back up DN Lee. But either way, the outrage expressed on the dual Twitter feeds that arose to address this event were on balance mostly about how long it was taking Scientific American to say anything. Scientific American was Hitler because it did not react in Twitter Time.
What I find interesting now is the initial low level of reaction to Bora’s fateful conversation with Monica. The Twittersphere has not, as of this writing, even assigned a hashtag to it. The very same community that is capable of an epic eruption of criticism and that often fails to focus on the main issue at hand seemingly due to mob mentality has chosen to not collectively throw Bora under the bus. Why?
Bora is a widely respected person in the science blogosphere, and he is recognized as having contributed to this community in a number of tangible ways. He helped make Scienceblogs.com what it was before Pepsigate, and he seems to have been the major mover and shaker in creating Scientific American Blogs. He has contributed numerous philosophical tomes (really long blog posts) about blogging, social networking etc. And, perhaps most importantly, he co-created Science Online, which is a much needed and enormously successful project (now with spinoffs) that has probably had the biggest impact on science blogging among all of these contributions.
bla bla bla
So we are seeing an interesting range of reactions on Twitter. For example:
— Daphne Zohar (@daphnezohar) October 16, 2013
@drisis I’m just amazed at the almost complete lack of discussion about this at all. Or maybe i’m just missing it somewhere.
— Erik Klemetti (@eruptionsblog) October 16, 2013
— Peter Griffin (@petergnz) October 16, 2013
— Chris (@DrChrisKellogg) October 16, 2013
See? People are talking about it. They have different opinions, they are being somewhat thoughtful (for Twitter), they are conversing, in a way. What if it had been a different person that Bora? Someone the community was pre-disposed to dislike, or an outsider? What would the conversation be like then?
Priya Shetty notes that “What is crushingly disappointing is how unfazed the science community seem to be by Byrne’s revelation” in reference to the apparent lack of response. I’m not sure we should be crushed, though, by a response to an important event taking a day or two or even a week to emerge. In all due respect to Priya, I am certain that the online science community is not even remotely unfazed, but rather, it is excessively fazed. Judgement of appropriateness of reaction should not be based on rate of eruption of the Twittersphere. This is a point that has been hard to impress until now. At present, I think the point is indubitable.
And, as it turns out, I was right. This drama is still unfolding, but there is no way the initial reaction could have been formed into the shape it ultimately would need to take (and this is still an ongoing process). What seems to be happening is that hopes that a significant thing, with a small number (maybe two?) victims who experienced truly disturbing and negative events, was at least somewhat limited in extent is turning into something larger, broader, worse, more troubling, more insidious.
Or, maybe everyone is afraid of Bora because he is big and powerful. Is it the case that the old boy network, which in this case includes a rich mix of both men and women, is acting like molasses when it should be on fire? Or is it the case that the usual eruption really is often over the top, and many have realized that they need to think this through more carefully? In other words, are we seeing a calibration in Twitterspace of the nature of judgement? Either way, there is a deep irony here. The very same community that wanted heads to roll at Scientific American because a thing that happened late Friday before a holiday weekend was not addressed fully by Saturday evening is sitting on its hands ON A TUESDAY!!!1!!
The above paragraph still makes a valid point, but it seems irrelevant and weak now.
I would argue that the denizens of the science blogging community have decided to moderate their reactions. Perhaps they (well, ok, we) have decided to be thoughtful because of some sort of comradeship or friendship, or even just from a sense of professionalism. (Though not all, of course.) Culture, it seems, can sometimes override raw reactionary skepticism. Rarely, but it happens.
And then the other shoe dropped and we are left wondering, legitimately, how many shoes there are.
Let this be a lesson to us all.
I’m not yet positive what the lesson is. If you know, please tell me.
The most important thing to do now is to support in whatever way possible the women who have come forward, assure others that they would also be supported, and to pressure Scientific American into doing the right thing, though in detail I don’t know what that is not being privy to the details of the current layout and arrangements there.
I would also add this: There have been discussions about the degree to which women who have been brought into the Scientific American Blogs network should feel that they are there as part of Bora’s stable of lady friends as opposed to being there because of their talents and the contributions they can make. It is simply not true that any of these writers and bloggers and scientists lack talent or should not have the positions they have. It is impossible for them to not wonder about this, but it is possible for others to honestly tell them how they are thought of.
With this latest information, also, we see for the first time talk of the most extreme possible outcome, the taking of a life. This is not necessary, Bora, if you are reading this. It is important and appropriate that Scientific American (and other entities) act in a professional and appropriate manner, and we hope they will. I don’t know what that outcome will or even should be, in any detail. But in this case an act of violence against oneself is an act of retribution against others, who should be regarded as innocent victims. So Bora, you must do whatever it takes to remove that option from the table.
NB: I did something I usually don’t do with this post; I asked a handful of trusted friends to look over an early draft and comment. I just wanted to thank those anonymous individuals for their efforts. Also, any errors or poorly thought out statements in this blog post are entirely their fault. (Only kidding.)