I don’t usually drink and write, but I’m doing it now. It isn’t because I needed to drink to write this. It’s because I need to write this now, before I can flinch, and I happen to have had some wine.
This morning, my friend Bora Zivkovic sent me a Twitter direct message that was merely a link to this post.
I am very ashamed of this incident which happened more than a year ago. Staff at Scientific American spoke to me and Ms. Byrne about our interaction at that time. I asked that my sincere apologies be conveyed to Ms. Byrne for the distress she suffered as a result of my inappropriate remarks and emails to her, and I also expressed my deep regret to the company about acting unprofessionally. The company offered her an apology as well. It was a difficult time for me personally and I made a mistake – I should not have shared my personal issues with her. It is not behavior that I have engaged in before or since. I hope to be known for my continued professional and appropriate support of science writers rather than for this singular, regrettable event for which I am deeply sorry. My behavior before and after this incident reflects my true respect for women, and I deeply regret the distress I caused to my wife and Ms.Byrne. I appreciate the messages of support I have received and understand the views of those who have been critical but I intend to let Ms. Byrne’s post and this statement end the discussion from my side.
Monica Byrne’s post is here. There are allegations of additional harassment in the comments. (Update: See also this post from Hannah Waters about, in her words, “not-quite-harassment“. I don’t have much to say about it at the moment except that I’m glad she wrote it, and I’m glad that her community feels supportive enough to her for her to have written it.)
I thanked Bora for sending me the link directly, though due to the fact the Twitter isn’t sending me notifications, I only saw his message just before starting to write this post. By then, I’d found out through other channels. I’d talked to a friend who had more background, who had, in turn, talked to more women Bora has worked with and supported.
I could, from all that, talk about the speculations Byrne made that are off. But that wouldn’t make what happened right. I could talk about Bora’s behavior with me over the years that made Byrne’s story so shocking when I first read it. But that wouldn’t make what happened right. I could talk about all the work and thought that Bora has put into supporting women in science and science communication in the time I’ve known him, myself included. But that wouldn’t make what happened right.
I do want to talk about Bora’s confession and apology. They don’t make what happened right, but they’re important on their own. Those I appreciate, not just as a friend, but also as someone who writes about this issue. I’ve seen too many women’s tales of harassment be denied or minimized and watched that lead to minimization and denial of the entire issue of sexual harassment. I’ve seen them increase or bring out toxic sexism. Confessing and apologizing aren’t just the right thing to do. They also spare the online science communication community that additional harm.
I also want to talk about Byrne’s post. As much as I dislike learning what I did from it, I think it was the right thing to do, both originally, and when she added the name. The post also says some smart things about the effects of harassment; those should be read. I agree that what she experienced was sexual harassment, that Bora sexually harassed her, and I’m relieved and thrilled beyond measure that no one appears to have been harassing her further for saying so.
I don’t want to talk about the allegations of additional harassment in the comments on her post, just as I didn’t want to talk about AJ Johnson’s lawsuit against American Atheists. I hate talking about things I know nothing about. Sometimes, though, that’s an important thing to say. I don’t want to believe those allegations. I can come up with reasons why I could doubt them. I don’t want to believe anyone would make false allegations, though, either. And sadly, Bora has given me a reason to doubt him in the behavior he’s already confessed to. In the end, unless and until more information comes to light, I simply have to live with not knowing and figure out how proceed when either could be true.
With that said, I don’t really want to talk about this more, though there will probably be things I need to say here and there.* The wine is gone, and I have a headache from staying up until I was sober again.
*One of those things: I’m leaving comments open here, but leave the issue with SciAm and Danielle Lee from this weekend out of this. Bora was on vacation when the decision was made to take the post down, and none of the (many) SciAm bloggers I know have suggested that he had any part in creating that problem or the authority required to fix it.