Science, ‘whores’ and dissent

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First published as an op-ed at Al-Jazeera English.

Privately owned publications and governments threaten to cut to the bone of intellectual freedom in science.

Last Friday, popular science magazine Scientific American (SciAm) removed a blog post by a black female scientist and blogger discussing a recent professional exchange and the issue of integrity.

The incident – which SciAm justified by claiming that her article was not “scientific enough” – highlights the insidious forms of censorship in the science and research worlds.

So what exactly happened? Danielle Lee, a scientist and blogger at SciAm-hosted blog Urban Scientist, had been approached by a staff member of Biology-Online.org – referred to as “Ofek” – to contribute an article. When Lee asked for compensation details and learned she’d be writing for free, she kindly turned down the offer. In response, Ofek called her a “whore”. Consequently, Lee wrote a post on her SciAm-hosted blog addressing integrity and misconduct in science. Shortly afterwards, the post was removed without any explanation or prior notice.

Following SciAm’s seemingly arbitrary decision, a few scientists and bloggers started drawing attention to this bizarre development. Some noticed that Biology Online is SciAm’s partner; others (including yours truly) re-blogged the original post so everyone could read it. SciAm started getting a lot of heat. Pressing questions and critical debate followed, but SciAm’s editor-in-chief Mariette di Christina responded with two magnanimous tweets. The first one explained that pulling the post down is due to insufficient scientific content; the second one claimed the partnership between SciAm and Biology Online has nothing to do with the removal.

So on the face of it, a woman is called a “whore” in a professional setting, and then denied a voice in this environment to discuss her (mis)treatment. Uh oh, SciAm. I saw the regular blame-the-victim rhetoric on Twitter, too.

But wait: This isn’t the first time SciAm has removed content on the basis of “not [being] ‘sciencey’ enough”. Back in August 2013, the MIND Guest Blog published a post on sexual harassment female scientists encountered at work. The post was removed. At that time, Karen Stollznow, a prominent linguist, wrote about years of harassment escalating in job-related retaliation and even physical assault. SciAm removed her guest post (that is, content published after editor’s approval) without prior notice. When she asked about the rationale, it emerged that Stollznow’s employer involved their legal department in the matter, and in doing so potentially intimidated SciAm into action.

Let’s say, SciAm got swamped under a sudden wave of timidity. But have a look at a Slate editor’s note on a piece entitled “Skepticism and Secularism Have a Serious Sexual Harassment Problem”, describing Stollznow’s experience. The piece, available thanks to the WebArchive, tells of traumatising stalking and aggression by a fellow male scientist that began in 2009. Apparently, such an account “did not meet [Slate‘s] standards for verification and fairness, and we have taken it down”, says the editor’s note. Really, Slate?

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Scientific American screws it up big time, or censorship in science

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UPDATE: To sum up the story and highlight SciAm’s (lack of) reaction, I wrote this for Medium.

Earlier today, I spotted Dr. Isis’s #batsignal about @DNLee5’s delirious encounter with biology-online.org editor. DNLee is a biologist who was called a “whore” by Biology Online editor who asked her to blog for free, a gig she kindly refused. Later on, DNLee5 wrote a response over on her blog hosted by Scientific American, but the post was pulled down. According to Dr. Isis, DNLee’s happy to have the original post reproduced, so here it is below, with the original images and screenshots that I hosted here (they linked to SciAm’s servers, but since SciAm removed the post, they may as well remove the pics, too, for the sake of consistency, of course.).

Here also a link to the Storify I curated gathering quite a few outrageous reactions. And — more and more disappointingly — the deafening silence SciAm crew is being burying itself in.

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Women in Science: Why So Few?

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[This piece was first published on FutureChallenges.org.]

When a  few years ago I first got interested in this topic, I obsessively read all I could about it. The oldest paper I found at that time was from 1965 and bore the title: “Women in Science: Why So Few?” Yes, it’s the same as the title of the current posting and no, this is not a simple coincidence: women are thin on the ground in science and technology.

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Men, women, gender equality and… natural laws?

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As you may have noticed it already, I am kinda interested in gender issues. This means quite a few things, “gender issues”. Sounds trendy, fashionable, LGBT-compliant, gently feminist, etc. Dunno, it is just end of any form of sexism for me. In “gender issues”, there is gender = not only women, not only men, but both.

Anyway. I am not intending to write a crash course on gender studies here. Although, honestly, after what will follow, I think some people should urgently take one. For the context: I was attending an one-day seminar where I presented an international workgroup I will chair and which will focus on encouraging women in science. As this is a long story, I’ll skip it here and come back to it later.

So, the context, was I saying: at this seminar, as at any seminar or conference, there are brochures, leaflets and stuff presenting various initiatives. I always take them all to read them calmly once I am home and have time. This time, no exceptions: I got back home with nearly a kilogram of brochures that I read from page 1 to the end. The part #mylife stops here. I wanted to tell you about one of them which definitely got my attention. It is a… surprising reading.

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RIP Lynn Margulis

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Sad news, everyone. Lynn Margulis passed away two days ago.

Important? Hell, yeah. Never met her in person. But she came up with one of the most fascinating scientific theories ever: the endosymbiotic theory. Remember, the stuff you are told from high school: mitochondria and plastids (such as chloroplasts) originated from free-living bacteria that were integrated in other cells. The whole system ended up being an eukaryotic cell, in other words what composes us.

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[Brevia] Gendered Innovations portal

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I got this through the eq-uni mailing-list, from Londa Schiebinger, Stanford University, Ineke Klinge, Maastricht University and Martina Schraudner, Fraunhofer & TU Berlin. It is about the Gendered Innovations In Science, Health & Medicine, and Engineering Project.

This project develops practical methods of sex and gender analysis for scientists and engineers, and provides case studies as concrete illustrations of how sex and gender analysis leads to innovation.

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To PhD or not to PhD?

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StudyingOk, so here is some quick thought. The other day, I received a nice mail from Nature Staff member asking me whether I’d like to take part to a blogging initiative they had about PhD. I did accept with great pleasure since this was an excellent opportunity to talk about important things and to be read by a huge amount of people. Whether they would agree with what I say or not is not the question. Nobody asked for. To me, the crucial thing was to tell about what people can live through their years as as PhD. My answers are here.

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