Scientific American Blogs Responds


This just in...

A Message from Mariette DiChristina, Editor in Chief

Scientific American bloggers lie at the heart of the SA website, pumping vitality, experience and broad insight around the community. Unfortunately our poor communication with this valuable part of the SA network over the recent days has led to concerns, misunderstandings and ill feelings, and we are committed to working to try to put this right as best we can.

We know that there are real and important issues regarding the treatment of women in science and women of color in science, both historically and currently, and are dismayed at the far too frequent cases in which women face prejudice and suffer inappropriate treatment as they strive for equality and respect. We recently removed a blog post by Dr. Danielle Lee that alleged a personal experience of this nature....

CLICK HERE to read the entire post.

Key points: "Unfortunately, we could not quickly verify the facts of the blog post and consequently for legal reasons we had to remove the post....In removing the post, we were in no way commenting upon the substance of the post, but reflecting that the underlying facts were not confirmed."

I have a problem with this because it seems to say that DN Lee was not being trusted as truthful. But, lawyers will be lawyers, I suppose. But still, it feels a bit icky.

"Biology-Online is neither a part of Scientific American, nor a “content partner.” We are investigating what links we currently have with Biology-Online. "

This does not surprise me, as the links seemed rather tenuous to begin with. Good to hear, though, even aside from the present maneno. Biology-Online seems a bit questionable.

"Juggling holiday-weekend commitments with family, lack of signal and a dying phone, alongside the challenges of reaching colleagues over a holiday weekend, I attempted to at least address initial social-media queries about the matter with a tweet yesterday: “Re blog inquiry: @sciam is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed.” I acknowledge that microblogs are not the ideal medium for such an important explanation to our audiences and regret the delay in providing a fuller response. My brief attempt to clarify, posted with the belief that “saying something is better than saying nothing,” clearly had the opposite effect. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had simply promised a fuller reply when I was able to be better connected and more thorough."

(Emphasis added wherever you see it, by the way)

Yes, I agree with the final statement here. That was a goof.

"...we intend to discuss how we can better investigate and publicize such problems in general and search for solutions with Dr. Lee and with the wider scientific community. With the help of Dr. Lee as an author, Scientific American plans to provide a thoroughly reported feature article about the current issues facing women in science and the related research in the coming weeks."

Mariette does not seem to say if Danielle's post is back up. BRB...

No, I don't see it.

Well, this is a start, anyway. Hopefully with this post the conversation will shift to where DN Lee has said she'd like it to shift, towards the underlying problem. This post is a bit unsatisfying but it does explain some things. I think it would be a really good idea for Scientific American Blogs to re-post DN Lee's post as a matter of faith and good will.

I look forward to seeing a long and thoughtful post on all of this by Bora!

More like this

I am not really all that impressed with it. Her post now changes the reasoning to legal reasons, after having twice said it was due to the personal nature, and not discussing "discovering science". The changing story is pretty disappointing and dishonest. In addition, why did they not simply hide the post and verify the e-mails? They handled this in a terrible way, and frankly until they repost it I am not really going to be all that happy.

I strongly suspect this is not the end of it. I think Scientific American Blogs will make this right. It might take a few days, though. Here's hoping!

They are really taking their time though. It is really poor PR for them to keep dragging this out without dealing with it completely. The longer it takes to finish this, the more damage there will be. Half solutions really do not work well.

Regardless of their motive for taking that post offline, if, as it now appears to be, biology-online is not connected with SciAm - then, from SciAm's perspective, there are good legal reasons for them to remove it. SciAm is ultimately responsible for what bloggers put on their site and, while highly unlikely as it is, if that email turned out to be fake then they could be held responsible for libel in a lawsuit.

Regardless of whether it was, or was not, the morally right thing to do, legally, for fiduciary reasons, it was the right thing to do. While they may not have been involved from the start you can bet their lawyers are now.

By Doug Alder (not verified) on 13 Oct 2013 #permalink

The groveling seems sincere, but until that post is restored, I count this as crocodile tears. Let's see some real, principled actions to correct matters, not mealy-mouthed weasel words.

I am not impressed by DiChristina's post today, or her previous communications. She is not some rookie; if on Saturday morning she had posted something like

Re blog inquiry: Post raised legal concerns that could not be addressed in Friday timeframe @sciam values @DNLee contribution.

then the uproar would have been dampened. Instead, she threw gasoline on the fire.

I also think the passage about a dying cell phone and family commitments were unprofessional.

Here is what I don't understand. I thought Bora was the manager of the blogs. Why is the managing editor tweeting about management of Scientific Americann's blog network and not Bora?

Grant, you might need a comma in that sentence. But if I understand you correctly, I agree, Bora would have known how to handle this; he is the manager of the network because of his professional expertise on social networking, blogging, etc.

Liz: Ya, that would have been much better!

Doug, are you sure? Lee's post was a straight forward recounting of events. I am pretty sure email is not protected private information. I don't see the legal issue.

I'd be interested in seeing what a lawyer thinks of the risk involved in leaving the post up. Wouldn't a defamation suit require actual malice, or does that not apply here? It is my understanding that poor fact checking is not generally enough to win such a case.