Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Let me say these things, because they are important. Bora was wrong. Scientific American was wrong. Ofek was wrong, Wrong, WRONG.

If you follow science blogs beyond this one, you have no doubt run across the gigantic debacle that erupted this past weekend; if not the first few paragraphs of this Slate piece give a reasonably compact summary. The shorter short form is: an editor at a blog network called Danielle Lee a whore (which was wrong), she wrote a blog post about it (emphatically not wrong), and the responses to that splattered a gigantic festering mess of Wrong all over everything.

So, let's be clear on three things:

1) What "Ofek," the editor at Biology Online did was utterly and completely outrageous, and he richly deserved to be fired. That would be unacceptable behavior from a lone castaway on a deserted island, let alone anyone with a position of power in a civilized company.

2) Scientific American was wrong to pull Lee's blog post, and utterly bungled the handling of that decision. They deserved to be called out for that.

3) Bora Zivkovic was wrong to have unwarranted sexual discussions with women who had approached him in a professional context. If you doubt that, read this highly personal account of some of the incidents. That was unprofessional, unacceptable behavior for a person in his position.

I have avoided commenting previously because there are aspects of the way these situations have unfolded about which I am deeply conflicted. I think these are important, but at the present moment it's not possible for me to discuss them in a way that would be productive. And I thought it would be better to say nothing at all until I had time to explain those issues properly than to try to rush a comment out and end up saying something that would actively make things worse.

As discussions on Twitter and elsewhere have made it clear that silence is being taken as unwarranted support for general wrongness, though, I think it's important to say these things. Bora was wrong, Scientific American was wrong, and Ofek was staggeringly, stupefyingly wrong. I do not accept or endorse any of the things that they did, and my lack of statement should not be taken as any hint of agreement with them.

There are, as I said, other issues raised by this that bother me, and I may come back to those later. Or I may never have the time to do justice to them. It's not a set of topics I'm going to enjoy writing about.

But make no mistake, Bora, Scientific American, and Ofek were all wrong, wrong, wrong. We should all be able to agree on that.

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yeah, they're wrong (...it's a common human tendency), but there are still a lot of assumptions being made and a lot of details missing, making it hard to pass final judgments on certain matters in a truly informed way. I respect that you've waited this long to say much, and are waiting further to say more.

I do find this all strange that if you don't say something, you are "obviously" supporting the evil that has broken loose on the internet for the first time ever.

But, really, I understand as I've been struggling. What if I put a science related post at SciAm at this time, and fail to mention how wrong everything is there? Will I be (very falsely accused) of being insensitive to the plight of all of these women due to this perceived implicit alliance with SciAm? It is a worry. Maybe I'll just link to your post and be done with it. :)

By Joanne Manaster (not verified) on 17 Oct 2013 #permalink

I'm probably the wrong guy to ask about that, as 1) I'm still on ScienceBlogs after the great Pepsi debacle, and 2) my primary reaction to this kind of unpleasantness is to post lots and lots of new science content, as a kind of hopeful counterbalance. But I would say that if you've got science related stuff to post, go ahead and post it. We need more good science blogging, and I don't think SciAm is irrevocably tainted by this.

SciAm was a decent magazine - most emphatically NOT a journal - until about twenty years ago when it went astray from being educational and instructive into the greed side. It has improved - somewhat - in recent years but this demonstrates the rot in their management. I fear that a cornerstone of American Science outreach has been shattered.

By Bruce W. Fowler (not verified) on 18 Oct 2013 #permalink

I do find this all strange that if you don’t say something, you are “obviously” supporting the evil that has broken loose on the internet for the first time ever.


As Chad says in the OP, it is perfectly rational to say nothing if you believe you wouldn't contribute anything productive to the conversation. Yes, certain people screwed up badly. Dozens of people have already said that, and I don't have anything to add. (I had only a few interactions with Bora in comments when he was on ScienceBlogs, and I have not had occasion to interact with Danielle or Ofek--I hadn't even heard of Ofek until this brouhaha erupted.) Meanwhile, other things are happening in the science world, and there are people who will want to hear about these things.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 18 Oct 2013 #permalink

Speaking as someone who has been there and done that when it comes to trying to get other people on the Internet to understand that a bad thing is bad, really, no, this is hurting people!--

it really does help to hear, among all the people impugning your character and wishing you harm and aggressively failing to understand, that you are being heard and understood, that you are not making things up, that these things you are talking about are important.

It's not mandatory. But it really does help.

By Kate Nepveu (not verified) on 18 Oct 2013 #permalink

Much as it pains me to, we have to add this to the "OMG, so very, very wrong" column.

Chad, I am genuinely curious what is so wrong about that statement. I agree that there's a problem when people suggest that participation in a complicated discussion is mandatory. However, Kate specifically said (I assume you're referring to the most recent comment before yours, and not a previous one) that joining such discussions is not mandatory, just helpful for some of the participants.

If you're saying that joining the discussion is not helpful for all of the participants, you're probably right in many cases. In fact, joining the discussion might even be a net negative if it's getting ugly and needs to end. But it might still be a comfort to some individual participants, and how you weight that individual comfort against the overall conversation is the hard issue.

Alex, you've missed that Chad was linking to something in his comment . . .

By Kate Nepveu (not verified) on 18 Oct 2013 #permalink

(There isn't great color contrast between link text and regular text in comments, especially not with the gray background of the blog owner, but IIRC that isn't something Chad has control over.)

By Kate Nepveu (not verified) on 18 Oct 2013 #permalink

Ah, never mind. As you said, poor color contrast made it look like a reply to #6.

Heh. Yeah, no, since he's married to me that would definitely not have been a reply to #6 . . .

By Kate Nepveu (not verified) on 18 Oct 2013 #permalink

(Hell. Long experience of the Internet compels me to add, not because of any "ha-ha, how funny!" henpecked husband stereotype, but because a healthy marriage involves far better communication than that would be.)

By Kate Nepveu (not verified) on 18 Oct 2013 #permalink