I’ve seen a number of tweets and blog comments over the last few days wondering – some nicely, some not so nicely – why so many of us reacted more strongly to Scientific American’s response to Dr. Danielle Lee’s post, rather than to Biology-Online’s worker’s comment about her being an “urban whore.”
Here’s the short version:
- The “urban whore” was blatant sexism and racism from an unknown person and company. This is the kind of drive by stuff all of us who work online have had to deal with regularly. It rattles us but doesn’t ruin us.
- The response from Sci Am implied a set of rules we thought we were governed by – editorial control, inclusivity, feminism and anti-racism – were not the rules after all.
- The “piling on” and continued conversation on Twitter and Facebook are a way that all of us are trying to process our hurts, make sense of this new ruleset that has shattered our original illusions, and figure out next steps.
- The extreme disappointment many of us continue to feel are related to the ways in which Scientific American perpetrated secondary trauma to a victim. What’s worse, this secondary trauma came after the victim did a marvelous job standing up for herself and moving forward, exposing the sexism and racism she first experienced.
- The response by Scientific American still seems to miss the boat on how sexism and racism works: intent doesn’t matter, impact does. And the wellbeing of one of our bloggers, and the trust established here, should have been the higher priority.
Being called something bad by someone in an email is just part of living in the world today. Writing about it, explaining its effects in making it even harder for a woman in science, took a lot of courage. And having Scientific American take down the blog post so clumsily demonstrated how even science-based organizations can get things so wrong.
Women is science are often silenced in ways that men are not. Writing about that bullying is supposed to lessen its power. remocing that voice simply gives the bullies power.
Now it looks like Scientific American is doing the right thing moving forward. They apologized. They put the original post back up. I hope they learn from their mistake.
They spent a lot of effort building up this very strong scientific community, one that benefits them a lot. But it can be gone in a minute it they screw up.
And an interesting thing I am really seeing coming into focus is just how Twitter is affecting science communication. If you had not been on Twitter this last weekend, you would have known nothing.
But it was a conversation going on that threatened to dismantle everything Scientific American wanted. because lawyers would not let SciAm people speak.
You cannot ignore the conversations going on Twitter.If you do, you may very well lose the community in just hours.