Category → Blogging community
For far too long, the presumption has been that if you’re a woman, a person of color, or from a lower socioeconomic status that folks think they can get you, your talent, your expertise, or your energy for free.
- Danielle N. Lee, Ph.D., video commentary
Since Friday night, the science blogosphere and larger media enterprises (Buzzfeed, Business Insider) have been abuzz with discussion over the treatment of biologist and science writer Dr. Danielle Lee by the alleged editor of the Biology-Online blog network and, subsequently, censorship by the editor-in-chief of Scientific American.
A recap of the situation is as follows:
1. Danielle receives a query from a person identifying themselves as Ofek, blog editor of Biology-Online.org, which he/she described as “one of the world’s largest biology websites with over 1.6 million visitors per month.”
2. Within 12 hours, Danielle responded that it sounded like a good opportunity but she had questions about the frequency of blogging since it wasn’t exactly clear from Ofek’s original query and another about their payment rate for guest bloggers? (1 and 2 in this correspondence PDF).
3. Ofek responded 10 hours later that he was soliciting a monthly article which Danielle could then repost on her blog after two weeks but that, “Regarding payment, truthfully, we don’t pay guest bloggers.” He/she goes on to say that even Mayo Clinic physician Dr Michael Joyner didn’t receive payment for his one contribution but that one would gain indirect financial benefit from exposure to their 1.6 million monthly visitors.
4. Danielle responded 11 hours later to thank him for his reply, indicated that she would decline his offer, and wished him a good day. (3 and 4 in this correspondence PDF).
At this point, the discussion has been cordial with both parties promptly responding to each others’ queries. But then. . .
5. Ofek responded 11 hours later with a two-line email that read, “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist [the name of her blog] or an urban whore?”
6. Danielle responds eight hours later (Fri 10th October, 8:41 am EDT) with a one-line question, “Did YOU JUST CALL ME A WHORE?” (5 and 6 in this correspondence PDF).
8. Sometime around 10:00 pm on Friday night, the blog post disappears intermittently from Danielle’s blog, and she tweets that she postulates there’s some sort of technical network issue, perhaps due to high traffic. Minutes later, it’s clear that no one can access the blog post.
9. At 10:14 am on Saturday morning, a tweet is posted by Editor in Chief and Senior VP of Scientific American, Mariette DiChristina, that read, “Re blog inquiry: @sciam is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed.”
10. Much rancor and speculation ensues, in part because Scientific American appears to be selectively penalizing Danielle’s content relative to other bloggers there who post similar kinds of protests or appeals for equity in science and science writing. Biology-Online.org is also listed as a “partner” of Scientific American.
Why, exactly, was the post removed?
So what about Danielle’s post was worthy of censorship by Scientific American? Other women at SciAmBlogs have noted their writing on issues of equity and experiences in the professions. So it can’t be that.
Is it because, out of all her writing and video dialogue, she used one borderline vulgarity (“butt-hurt”)?
Well, then, let’s search SciAm for the f-word.
It’s found in various conjugations in other blogposts and even a Fast Company article that SciAm posted. And I’d have to say that its use serves the story and the reader in all the cases where I see it appear.
Now, C&EN prefers that I not use any of George Carlin’s seven words here. But they give me great latitude in writing about topics that affect almost any scientific or personal issue. In fact, I just checked my contract: I’m a non-staff freelancer who has been contracted, “to expand the breadth of coverage and diversity of voices at CENtral Science.”
As for content, the only stipulations are that my work must be my own (other than explicitly-credited guest posts) and that, “the materials produced hereunder do not infringe any copyright violate any property rights or contain any scandalous, libelous or unlawful matter.”
(I double-checked the dictionary to be sure that this post isn’t scandalous, or, “causing general public outrage by a perceived offense against morality or law.”)
CENtral Science blog network is not the 90-year-old magazine that C&EN is – the official organ of the American Chemical Society. CENtral Science is a modern genre extension of the magazine where bloggers who are mostly magazine staff writers can spread their wings and write in a style that doesn’t fit in the magazine yet still serves a subset of their readers.
Some of that content is cleverly fun. Former laser chemist Dr. Lauren Wolf pees in the ocean. She convinced her niece that it’s okay to pee in the ocean. They are now trying to convince her husband that it’s okay to pee in the ocean.
Her post on the concept was a blockbuster here, having some truly superb scientific content and getting picked up by larger and more broad online sites such as Gizmodo and Jezebel. So proud were we of Lauren’s levity that fellow chemist and C&EN reporter Dr. Carmen Drahl did a five-minute interview with Lauren that had a similar, tongue-in-cheek tone. (Postscript: I can personally vouch for the fact that Dr. Wolf doesn’t pee in the wide-open desert of northern New Mexico.)
Hence, I submit that the blog media is different from the more staid, older publications like C&EN, 90 years old this year, and Scientific American, now 168. But it’s the host’s prerogative to define what tone and voice is permitted on the blog network they host (yes, yes, I understand that it’s difficult to fully define contractually.). One would expect, however, that such editorial decisions are applied equally across the network
Where I write at Forbes.com, it’s made very clear that they want me to write on topics within my “swim lane” – pharmaceuticals and drug safety, education, and general science. The one time that I flailed four lanes over – on a weekend – I was politely but firmly told by an editor (within eight hours) that the post was inconsistent with our agreement and that it hadn’t been a problem in the past and they were sure it wouldn’t happen again.
But they did not remove the post.
Why professionals who are men and white still need to stand up for professionals who are women, from other underrepresented groups or, in general, not part of the dominant demographic
In the case of Danielle Lee, it appears that the editorial appropriateness of a post was defined for her differently than for other bloggers at the SciAmBlogs network. Our chemist colleague, Dr. Rubidium, raised the point last night at the irrepressible JAYFK that she feared rules were being inconsistently applied to Danielle because of her being a scientist of color. Dr. Rubidium speaks to this issue from the standpoint of being a chemist who is a woman and a person of color.
I tend to agree with Dr. Rubidium, but for somewhat different reasons. I fear that the selective application of censorship to Danielle’s SciAmBlogs piece was that she wrote in a tone of black, Southern vernacular, with or without an unconscious editorial view of her “blackness.” Danielle herself calls it, “inner city anthropology.” (We can speak elsewhere about acceptable modern terminology to describe people of color as black, Black, brown, or, still in some older parts of my community, yes, Negro.)
I am unapologetically black and urban and female. Why does this matter to science? Because access to science (information and career opportunities) has real life consequences for people. But if the academia doesn’t have representation or at least people who understand these students, then how do they gain access to higher education or STEM?. . .
. . .If I, as a PhD scientist with credentials, cannot call my fellow scientists to task on the role privilege and prejudices play in academia, then who can? Better yet, who else will?
– Danielle N. Lee, Ph.D., The Urban Scientist, 24 January 2013
I’m a middle-aged man of only moderate intelligence (1100 math and reading SAT score, 1120 GRE) from a northeastern US white, middle-class family who was fortunate to be given an opportunity for education that I might not have had without the support of a few crucial champions. Whatever that did to me, consciously and unconsciously, is that I’ve spent my independent professional career working on minority scholarships and career development in pharmacy, had a laboratory environment that disproportionately attracted trainees who were women, and spent four years as a pharmaceutical sciences professor at an HBCU in the American South, a region where I’ve now lived for one-third of my life.
So one wouldn’t be surprised to know that I’ve been working on ScienceOnline sessions diversity in the science blogosphere and scientific community for several years. I’ve worked specifically with Danielle Lee since ScienceOnline2011 when she, Alberto Roca (MinorityPostdoc.org) and I co-moderated a session on the underrepresentation of minorities in the STEM discplines and science communications community (in fact, my original proposal for a diversity session held in 2010 included Danielle and the now-silent blogger, AcmeGirl). We subsequently did a similar session in San Jose, California, at the 2011 annual meeting of SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science).
And most recently, I worked with Danielle on a Science Journalism 101 panel for the 2013 annual meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in Orlando, Florida. Together with SciAm editor Robin Lloyd, MedPage Today executive editor Ivan Oransky, and Washington, DC, radio host Jamila Bey, we discussed ways that black-specialty publications might improve their coverage of science and health while encouraging up-and-coming writers of color to pitch science stories.
I shall refer here to the JAYFK’s publication of Danielle’s original post as it appeared on Friday at her SciAm blog, The Urban Scientist.
1. Danielle launches the post about a wrap cloth called a khanga that she wore in Tanzania during her last three-month stint of research there. The English translation of the quote on the khanga is, “Give trouble to others, not me.” This was, in my view, a wonderful metaphor with which to lead the post.
2. She relates this African saying to a 21st century ghetto proverb she learned from growing up in inner South Memphis, “Don’t start none, won’t be none.”
3. She then wrote this paragraph after introducing that Ofek had called her a whore:
My initial reaction was not civil, I can assure you. I’m far from rah-rah, but the inner South Memphis in me was spoiling for a fight after this unprovoked insult. I felt like Hollywood Cole, pulling my A-line T-shirt off over my head, walking wide leg from corner to corner yelling, “Aww hell nawl!” In my gut I felt so passionately:”Ofek, don’t let me catch you on these streets, homie!”
4. After embedding her video response that lacked such vernacular and discussing why anyone would decide not to write compensation-free, she wrote:
But the fact is I told ol’ boy No; and he got all up in his feelings. So, go sit on a soft internet cushion, Ofek, ’cause you are obviously all butt-hurt over my rejection. And take heed of the advice on my khanga.
5. She closed with a beautifully classic photo of herself giving what I would call the ever-so-slight mal ojo, and this:
I’m concerned that the censorship of her post related to editorial discomfort over a woman of color using (mild) inner city language. If that’s one of the reasons, it reflects northern, white discomfort with the way non-northern, non-whites speak.
Two of the most-resonant things Danielle ever said were that when talking to young, black kids about her science, mostly when she was getting her Ph.D. in St. Louis, is that they said she “wasn’t black enough” to be authentic in her call for them to be interested in science – to which she then broke into some good ghetto language that she used to respond to the students.
Second was that she felt we in the sciences tend to underestimate or even disrespect the role that the church plays in the lives of African-Americans. Rather than demonizing religion, as some bloggers and academic do, she felt that reaching out to the religious community would be an effective strategy for scientists to cultivate minority students into our disciplines. Here at CENtral Science, I have to say that I’m proud of some ACS chapters that do just that – a Philadelphia ACS group ran a series of outreach activities at African-American churches to tell the story of the renowned black chemist, Percy Julian.
And while teaching at an HBCU, I fielded scholarship applications where students would unapologetically profess that their pursuit of a pharmaceutical sciences and biotechnology career was a call from God and a way for them to live their faith by doing good works to benefit others.
These kinds of experiences, so common to Danielle and those I have come to understand and appreciate over the last 20 years, lead to a writing style and cultural environment that often makes some white folks uncomfortable.
But for us to be truly inclusive in science – both with regard to recruiting and retaining minority scientists and effectively engaging with underrepresented public audiences – we need to be culturally-sensitive and respectful of the manner in which non-white, non-northern US communities communicate.
Yes, in academic contexts, we are all expected to speak and write in a relatively standardized manner regardless of our backgrounds. But as I mentioned earlier, the blog medium is generally much more informal and inclusive of the thoughts, views, and values that we bring to science communication. The decision to censor Dr. Danielle N. Lee’s blogpost was inconsistent with the medium and, more importantly, the manner in which the writings of other network bloggers are treated.
Note added: It’s been brought to my attention that Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds wrote yesterday on this issue of code-switching and the perception of Danielle’s writing. My apologies for not noticing it until now.
Editorial response update
While I was writing this post, in fits and spurts since 6:15 am, a full explanation was offered by SciAm’s editor in chief, Mariette DiChristina, that Danielle’s post was perceived as a personal issue and, “unfortunately, we could not quickly verify the facts of the blog post and consequently for legal reasons we had to remove the post.” DiChristina then goes on to justify the lack of advance notification of Danielle about the post’s removal with the harried weekend activities. But if one had enough access to remove the post, one would also have the wherewithal to send a three line email to Danielle that they were taking the post down for the weekend, why, and that they would discuss the issue in further detail with her and SciAm bloggers on Monday.
While I read more about the discussion that ensued the rest of Sunday, let me say one thing about the founder and blog editor of SciAm blogs, Bora Zivkovic, in part because he is a local friend and usually a vociferous commentator on a great many issues. I have had no contact with Bora other than to drop him a Twitter DM saying that I would be posting a defense of Danielle and that I would be briefly defending him.
So I can only postulate that he has been working behind the scenes to keep the SciAm blog community informed, unified, and assured that he was working as much as he could on a decision that was probably made up the supervisory chain. Because Bora, like me, left ScienceBlogs.com during the ethical lapse known as Pepsigate, one would expect him to be outraged at the editorial treatment of Danielle’s post. If lawyers became involved, as DiChristina notes, I suspect that Bora had to work very hard to keep his opinions out of the public space.
Bora’s relative silence speaks volumes about how the censorship of Danielle’s post was out of his hands. In fact, I would offer that Scientific American should be very thankful that Bora is their blog network editor because most commentators have given the network the benefit of the doubt because of his integrity. While this episode has blown up, I believe it could be even worse for Scientific American if Bora had not been their blog editor.
Comments and alternative interpretations are always welcome below.
Update: 5:24 am, 14 October – Alan Weisleder of Keebali, the company that operates Biology-Online.org, sent an apology (JPEG screenshot) to Danielle Lee overnight. On their discussion board, a slightly extended apology is directed to the community. Weisleder notes that Ofek was a new employee and has since been terminated.
Yes, I know this was a long post. Follow me instead on Twitter @DavidKroll.
To celebrate National Chemistry Week, the esteemed synthetic chemist blogger See Arr Oh put out a call for folks to describe to younger folks how they got where there are in the broad field of chemistry:
What do you do all day? What chemistry skills do you use in your line of work? How do you move up the ladder in chemistry? What do I need to do to be in your shoes?
The resulting answers from other bloggers — and any respondents, for that matter — will be compiled at his blog, Just Like Cooking, in what’s called a blog carnival. Specifically, contributors to blog carnivals are asked to respond to a theme or a series of questions. In this particular case, we are tagging our posts with the hashtag, #ChemCoach.
Here’s the list and below are my responses. You may find it helpful to play this Talking Heads video while reading my answers.
Your current job.
What you do in a standard “work day.”
What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?
How does chemistry inform your work?
Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career*
The most important question to ask yourself - If I were just coming into the field, would I learn something useful from your story?
In this quiet moment on a rainy Saturday evening in North Carolina Piedmont, I lie here in awe of the breadth of creative talent and boundless enthusiasm that this place attracts.
Tonight at 5:00 pm Eastern time, a couple hundred folks or so learned that they had not scored a slot in the lottery for the remaining spaces at ScienceOnline2013. I won’t be there this year either but I can certainly understand the disappointment. This simple idea of Bora Zivkovic along with Let’s-Get-Together-and-See-Where-This-Goes Guy, Anton Zuiker, has grown from a small gathering of likeminded online science enthusiasts to become the South-By-Southwest of science meetings, now under the exceptional leadership of Karyn Traphagen.
I encourage everyone to stay on or sign up for the waitlist. Lots of plans change between now and late January so registration slots will most certainly open up.
But in the meantime, you might consider another possibility that just happens to be available this year very near to the same GPS coordinates: ScienceWriters2012, the annual conference of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and the National Association of Science Writers.
Scheduled for October 26-30, 2012, ScienceWriters2012 will be headquartered at the very same hotel with a program crafted by a broad group of science communicators that include a subset of ScienceOnline folks. (For the record, we’re called Science Communicators of North Carolina, or SCONC.).
My substance abuser writer and researcher friend DrugMonkey (@drugmonkeyblog) just tweeted a CNN story suggesting that actress Demi Moore may have suffered adverse reactions after smoking a synthetic cannabimimetic product:
A woman called 911 soliciting help for actress Demi Moore, whom she said was “convulsing” and “burning up” after “smoking something,” according to a recording of the call obtained Friday from the Los Angeles Fire Department.
[. . .]
“She smoked something — it’s not marijuana, but it’s similar to incense. And she seems to be having convulsions of some sort.”
Reports of tremors and seizures have been accumulating in association with synthetic marijuana products. These products are generally composed of an herbal material that is spiked with one or more synthetic compounds that act at cannabinoid CB1 receptors.
The “burning up” described by the 911 caller in the story would be consistent with some reports of serotonin-like syndrome associated with synthetic marijuana use.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency is currently regulating some of the psychoactive compounds as Schedule I substances, illegal for use or sale as they are deemed as having no medical value. Individual states have also issued bans on compounds containing even more related compounds in these products. However, marketers have been skirting laws by using compounds not expressly deemed illegal in state or federal statutes.
Moreover, analytical crime laboratories across the nation have suffered extensive budget cuts making it difficult to keep up with the demands in determinig which products are illicit.
On a personal note, the synthetic marijuana story that DrugMonkey, dr_leigh, and I have been writing about for two years is growing increasingly disturbing. I just received my second reader email in three months from a father whose son shot himself to death while allegedly addicted to synthetic marijuana products. We’ve been in touch with the US DEA to inquire as to whether similar cases are currently under investigation.
Just as DrugMonkey wrote awhile back (I have to find the post), adverse drug effects with celebrities are usually required before aggressive government action is taken against illicit drugs (death of University of Maryland basketball player Len Bias from cocaine and a congenital cardiac abnormality).
Next week in the state capital of North Carolina, 450 science communicators of various flavors are meeting for three days at ScienceOnline2012 to learn from one another the most effective ways to, well, communicate science.
I’m really excited because several of my C&EN and CENtral Science colleagues will be joining me from the DC HQ, including our benevolent overlord, sister in Gatorhood, and C&EN Online Editor, Rachel Pepling, and my Santa Fe science writing bud and fellow Ryan Adams enthusiast, Lauren Wolf. Even Sarah Everts – our beloved Canadian – will be joining us from post in Berlin. In fact, the attendees will include folks from over 25 US states and a dozen countries.
As a wee blogger during the mid-noughts, I was fortunate to join the co-founders – Anton Zuiker and Bora Zivkovic (with Brian Russell and Paul Jones) – to help lead sessions at what was then the 2007 NC Science Blogging Conference. This crowd-sourced meeting is now known as ScienceOnline and has grown to be one of the most highly-sought online meetups in the world, having spawned similar meetings such as Science Online London. Someone – I can’t recall who – called ScienceOnline the South-By-Southwest (SXSW) of science communication.
Most readers know that I was originally a Jersey kid. We were raised (or forced by peers) to be full of self-important hubris and my undergrad education was a four-year battle of one-upsman(woman)ship.
That piss and vinegar got diluted out of me – in a good way – during residencies in Gainesville, Florida, and Denver, followed by the middle-ground of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, where I began writing a science blog.
I realized that in these places, outside of the influence of the New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia corridor, that one could be a solid, critical scientist, while also being a human being. (Although I realize it’s even been tougher in NC now with the harsh competition of workforce reductions, especially in pharma.)
Co-founder of ScienceOnline and general BlogFather Bora Zivkovic, now blog community manager for Scientific American, wrote a characteristically long post about the nature of this unconference. Bora writes a lot – a real lot – but even his greatest admirers may often miss the richest of his gems.
This was one that should be of particular focus to any nervous folks attending for the first time:
The ScienceOnline Community
ScienceOnline2012 is a community-organized, community-planned, community-funded, community-owned and community-run conference. The ethos of the meeting is that this is an egalitarian community. Nobody is VIP, nobody is a priori a superstar. One becomes a superstar by virtue of being here (including virtually, yes). Participating in ScienceOnline is a badge of honor and a matter of pride – it means “I am a part of the small but cutting-edge community that is changing the worlds of science and science communication”. Even those who tend to get treated as VIPs by other conferences – New York Times and The New Yorker columnists, senior scientists, Pulitzer Prize winners, familiar NPR voices, CEOs, top bloggers – love the fact that, once a year, they are equal to undergrads, high school students (and their teachers), beginner bloggers, programmers, artists, librarians, and others in the community. Everyone is a superstar in their own domain, and a n00b in others. Everyone has something to teach and something to learn. It is a lot of fun. A lot of networking goes on. A lot of intense learning goes on. Many, many collaborations and projects got started here, and those often turned into gigs and jobs later on. Some of those projects would then be first announced to the world at the next meeting.
I’ve been most fortunate to be a contributor and beneficiary of this community.
And I very much wish that we behaved this way every day.
So, we’ll see some of y’all next week.
And for those of you among the 56% of first-time attendees: stop me (if I’m running around madly) and say hello and tell me who you are.
You’re simply a friend I haven’t yet met.
I have changed the title of my previous post to more accurately reflect a comment by Michael Eisen that sharing PDFs of journal articles is an act civil disobedience toward the scientific publishing enterprise.
I had previously compared the practice to the Underground Railroad or Napster music file sharing. I deeply regret the use of the analogy of PDF file sharing to the Underground Railroad, a network of abolitionists who facilitated the safe escape of enslaved African-Americans in the southern US to freedom in the North and northward to Canada.
I, in particular, should be especially sensitive to making such an ill-considered analogy of one of the most degrading episodes in US history to an intellectual discussion of sharing scientific papers.
It was wrong, period. I apologize deeply to my friends, students, colleagues, and any others who were offended by my thoughtless mistake.
Some lively Twitter banter has arisen this evening regarding the practice of sharing PDFs of scientific articles when one does not have personal or institutional access.
Specifically, some among my stead have taken to tweeting requests for articles using the #icanhazpdf hashtag.
For non-open-access articles, does this practice violate a publisher’s copyright?
(And I welcome input from my ACS overlords.)
Update 24 December: I have changed the title of this post to reflect a comment below by Michael Eisen that sharing PDFs of journal articles is an act civil disobedience toward the scientific publishing enterprise. I had previously compared the practice to the Underground Railroad or Napster music file sharing. I deeply regret the use of the analogy of PDF file sharing to the Underground Railroad, a network of abolitionists who facilitated the safe escape of enslaved African-Americans in the southern US to freedom in the North and northward to Canada. I, in particular, should be especially sensitive to making such an ill-considered analogy of one of the most degrading episodes in US history to an intellectual discussion of sharing scientific papers. It was wrong, period. I apologize deeply to those offended by my thoughtless mistake.
We’re packing up the world headquarters of Terra Sigillata this afternoon and high-tailing it out to San Jose, California, for the annual meeting of SACNAS – the Society Dedicated to Advancing Hispanics, Chicanos, and Native Americans in Science. It’s a tremendous organization comprised of several of my former students and faculty colleagues from over the years and I’m ecstatic about reconnecting with them.
With the initiative of my colleagues – Alberto Roca of MinorityPostdoc.org and Danielle Lee of The Urban Scientist at Scientific American blogs (plus a whole host of online activities) – we pitched and were accepted to present a session on Blogging, Tweeting, & Writing: How an Online Presence Can Impact Science and Your Career.
I’ll be discussing how a responsible, online presence on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook can enhance networking opportunities for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty. Specifically, I’ll introduce how I’ve increased the exposure of my students who are RISE Scholars at North Carolina Central University. In this NIGMS-funded grant, I’ve been helping my students capture their research experiences in their own words (with previous review by their P.I.’s of course, to prevent accidental disclosure of unpublished data). The students have been surprised by the level of engagement and support they’ve received in the comments from scientists all around the world.
But I know of many other students who use blogs and Twitter to engage with the scientific community in ways that brings them positive recognition outside of their academic and laboratory work.
To better prepare for this session, I’d like to gather some advice from you, Dear Reader:
Who are some of students, trainees, and junior faculty, who best exemplify the use of social media for career advancement?
Are you a student who has had Good Things happen to you because of your social media activities? How did that transpire?
If you have any responses, please drop a link in the comments with a brief explanation – or longer if you’d like! And also feel free to recommend the sites and stories of others. I’ll be sure to promote your responses in tomorrow’s talk and direct attendees to this post for future reference.
The three of us thank you so much in advance for your suggestions!