Maryn McKenna has a very good piece up at Superbug about the online science communication community (most specifically the part of the community that focuses around (is focused by?) the ScienceOnline conferences. There’s one paragraph in the post that I think I have some responsibility to respond to.
Second, there have been blog and Twitter threads emerging over the past 36 hours in which additional accusations of harassment and inappropriate behavior, not by Zivkovic, have been made public by other science writers. Some of these have been launched not by the alleged harasser or victim, but by third parties trying… something: mistaken helpfulness, malice, who knows. And there are other such conversations happening in private channels, which I know because I’m enmeshed in several. These are troubling, and potentially toxic, too. Overall, I perceive in the science blogosphere (your networks may vary) a loss of security and safety; many expressions of mutual trust, but an at least equivalent number of expressions of uncertainty.
While I’m not the only person to have said something, I appreciate McKenna’s uncertainty about my motivations. Not everyone has shown that.
McKenna also isn’t the only person to use the word “toxic” with regard to my post yesterday. [Details of that post are now redacted at the request of parties involved.] Yes, I’m looking at the criticisms. Yes, I’m considering them. As of yet, I don’t agree. Why? Because from my position, the situation was already toxic.
This community, of which I find and feel myself only on the periphery even after running sessions at three ScienceOnline conferences, is currently reeling not only because one of its trusted and valued members was found to have harassed at least three people. It is also reeling because that person had been supportive of women in a way that is exceptionally hard to reconcile with his other behavior, including acting to foster discussion and action on harassment. Additionally, the community is undergoing intense and extraordinary self-examination over ways in which the community may have enabled the harassment.
In the middle of that, someone who has harassed other people (as confirmed, now, by eyewitness account in one set of circumstances) spoke up to suggest that the community was remiss in not recognizing harassment that her statements–harassment she located entirely outside her own behavior.
To at least some of the people who had been harassed, this was already a toxic situation. To at least some of us who witnessed or participated in “managing” the harassment (before ScienceOnline had procedures for doing so officially), this was already a toxic situation. Because this person didn’t have the power Bora did, she couldn’t have the same degree of influence Bora had over matters of dealing with harassment. However, this was still someone who wasn’t acknowledging her own role in harassment shaping the discussion about harassment.
That was toxic. It was toxic in the present term, as some people in the know were watching that dynamic. It would be toxic in the future if and when these revelations were made and people looked back to this time when the community tries to regain its equilibrium and move forward with clear eyes.
I could have put pressure on the people harassed to speak up, but I don’t think that’s a thought I should have to finish. I will say that some of the comments I’ve seen that appear to deny that harassment can happen between peers leave me feeling pretty comfortable about not suggesting to them that speaking is something I could make safe(r) for them. The same goes for other witnesses and “managers”.
I could have said something privately, but to whom? One of the best things about this community is its ability to take ideas and information from many sources, many people and build something from it. There are no one or two people who can quietly and efficiently handle problems. And if there were, what would they do? Nothing she said about harassment was wrong except her lack of disclosure.
I could have gone to her privately. However, I’ve spent the last two years talking–albeit intermittently–to harassers about harassment. The primary result has been to increase attacks on me personally. I am unwilling to do more of that right now. This may be a character flaw. I don’t think so, but I probably wouldn’t.
The final option I can think of is to sit silent in the face of a toxic situation. I’m not very good at that. That may be another character flaw. Plenty of people say so. Every once in a while, though, someone tells me that it’s integrity. I’m probably too close to the situation to judge.
So, since I think I do owe this particular community some accountability for my behavior yesterday, that’s why I chose the action I did. I am well aware I’ll be responsible for this set of ripples.