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An official reply from Scientific American

Oh, my. What a lovely example of a not-pology. I think it’s a common refusal to acknowledge error in full blossom!

We deeply regret that we were not able to communicate our decision to Dr. Lee before removing the post on a late Friday afternoon before a long weekend. We recognize that it would have been better to fully explain our position before its removal, but the circumstances were such that we could not make that happen in a timely way.

They did nothing wrong, they would have removed the post no matter what, her only sin was having a dying cell phone so she wasn’t able to bossplain to DNLee why she needed to roll over and accept this entirely reasonable executive decision. Oh, and Scientific American must protect their interests by making sure that all the facts presented by their bloggers are entirely accurate and confirmed.

Wow. So they go through every blog post over there with that degree of thoroughness? I’m impressed. I’m not so impressed with their respect for their bloggers, though.

She might be interested in looking at Popehat’s interpretation of events.

Perhaps “Ofek” is some kind of scientist. If he is, and his identity is revealed, he is likely to experience significant social consequences — that is, he is likely to be treated as someone who calls women “whore” when they decline to provide him with free content. But Ofek is currently in the business of spamming bloggers to ask them to contribute free content to a sordid little advertising-heavy aggregator site in order to increase traffic and thereby increase advertising revenue to Ofek and Ofek’s team. In other words, Ofek has ceased to be a scientist and begun a career as a marketeer.

And marketeers are entitled douchebags. Within the context of online marketing, Ofek’s behavior is perfectly typical. Ofek’s belief — that he is entitled to profit off of Ms. Lee’s work, and that she’s worthy of abuse if she objects — is the apotheosis of marketeer culture.

I see that not-pology as an admission that Scientific American is an enthusiastic collaborator in marketeer culture.

Comments

  1. Emptyell says

    Wow. That has to be one of the worst notpologies I’ve ever seen. Crap. And I’ve always been a fan of SciAm. I don’t subscribe anymore but now I’ll have to think twice at the airport newsstand. I really hope they come around and fix this. Otherwise the time that I have to “turn off all electronic devices” will be a diminished experience.

  2. says

    It’s worse than a not-pology. They’re saying that there was reason to suspect that Dr. Lee made up the whole thing, including fabricating the screenshots of the e-mail. Again, a woman reporting sexism, harassment, or sexual assault should expect her employers, colleagues, friends, and family to think she’s lying.

  3. Ogvorbis: Apologies Available for All! says

    Interesting. Not apologizing for what SciAm did, apologizing for how it was done.

    My take on it? Translation: “I am sorry I was not able to warn you in advance that I was going to be an asshole.”

  4. rnilsson says

    So, at how many colleges did Ms Marionette have to shop for her PhD in editing?
    Was the number greater or less than former Governor Palin went to for her BA before she switched careers?
    I don’t really want to know, JAQing.

  5. Pteryxx says

    Again, a woman reporting sexism, harassment, or sexual assault should expect her employers, colleagues, friends, and family to think she’s lying.

    …and that’s not an exaggeration. That’s exactly how DiChristina’s disgusting official statement reads.

    We know that there are real and important issues regarding the treatment of women in science and women of color in science, both historically and currently, and are dismayed at the far too frequent cases in which women face prejudice and suffer inappropriate treatment as they strive for equality and respect. We recently removed a blog post by Dr. Danielle Lee that alleged a personal experience of this nature. Dr. Lee’s post pertained to personal correspondence between her and an editor at Biology-Online about a possible assignment for that network. Unfortunately, we could not quickly verify the facts of the blog post and consequently for legal reasons we had to remove the post. Although we regret that this was necessary, a publisher must be able to protect its interests and Scientific American bloggers are informed that we may remove their blog posts at any time when they agree to blog for us. In removing the post, we were in no way commenting upon the substance of the post, but reflecting that the underlying facts were not confirmed.

    so SciAm admits there are “real and important issues”… but this doesn’t count as real or important, merely as unverified personal allegations about correspondence. Oh, and SciAm’s bloggers agreed to their terms so they can’t complain. Nice. I’m sure the rest of SciAm’s bloggers really feel like they have a great non-exploitative relationship with Scientific American right now, unlike that creepy content aggregator pushing marketing-culture entitlement.

  6. Trebuchet says

    Here’s an “interesting” comment by Biology Online Admin “Honee_v”

    If the complaint is proven true and Ofek failed to give an ethical reason for his behavior I too would ask that he sends his apologies and that fair action must be taken to prevent this incident from happening again.

    (My bold)

    What on earth “ethical” reason could she possibly think of for her editor calling someone a whore?

    (In fairness, she’s since admitted that was a very poor choice of words.)

    Here’s the link to the Biology Online forum, which I found from Dana Hunter’s SA blog”
    http://www.biology-online.org/biology-forum/about34625-24.html

  7. says

    Trebuchet Quoth:

    If the complaint is proven true and Ofek failed to give an ethical reason for his behavior

    Ethical reason? For what, being unprofessional or for calling someone an urban whore or both?

    Aaaaand…there’s an ethical reason for calling a person an urban whore? I’ll just bet half the internetz is awaitin’ that one with bated breath.

  8. Sili says

    4. rnilsson

    So, at how many colleges did Ms Marionette have to shop for her PhD in editing?

    You probably didn’t mean to, but that sounds perilously close to what we’re chastising Ofek for.

  9. Pteryxx says

    More about that official statement invoking the “personal”:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/10/12/when-does-politics-become-personal

    I’ve talked before about how sexual harassment is too often considered to be a personal matter between two people instead of the social problem it actually is. Just today, as a story of sexual assault and its aftermath has come out of the Ruby programming community, I saw one woman remark that HR had told her it was up to her to get her harasser to stop, as though the two of them were having a disagreement over something trivial. Women’s political concerns are less important, downgraded to personal differences. That dynamic is probably at play here in some small way.

    More likely to be a relevant factor, however, is the language in which Lee made her complaint. If you haven’t heard of code-switching, go find a writer of color who’s written about it find out more. I was aware of code switching as something I did before I heard the term, but only as a curiosity. If you really want to understand it, find someone in whose life code-switching plays a much bigger part and pay attention to them.

    The point is, Lee consciously code-switches less than most other scientists of color who communicate their science to the public. As her bio says, “DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups.” She speaks to the people she wants to reach in the language they speak.

    In this post and video, Lee used phrases she identified as “South Memphis”, just as she does in the rest of her work. She used selfies to identify her mood. She shone with attitude, though less than usual.

    These are some of the things many of us like about Lee and her work, but writing the way she does has costs. The language Lee uses is broadly seen as less educated, less formal, and decidedly less scientific. Those judgments are passed on to her message. In this case, that means her blog post is read as less formal, less political…and more personal.

  10. zenlike says

    First I thought: hmm, just a notpology combined with a reason of removal which is bullshit, plus the reason given contradicts the reason given yesterday in the tweet written by the same person. Then this:

    a publisher must be able to protect its interests and Scientific American bloggers are informed that we may remove their blog posts at any time when they agree to blog for us.

    So it’s DNLee’s fault! She just shouldn’t have blogged for SciAm! Thanks for clearing that up Mariette DiChristina and SciAm! And fuck you to.

  11. Al Dente says

    for legal reasons we had to remove the post.

    Perhaps Ron Lindsay wrote another letter to SciAm telling them to remove a blog post.

  12. says

    It seems odd that organizations that solicit the work of scientists should show so little regard for their networks’ critical thinking skills. You can’t PR wordsmith a response that essentially says nothing in a way that will fool scientists interested in understanding.

  13. says

    Also, the moderator on biology-online.org is waiting to see if there was an ethical reason for Ofek’s response?

    My brain nearly exploded when I read that. I can’t believe that sentence was thought by anyone, much less typed, proofed, and posted.

    It hurts my brain trying to imagine the scenario that would lead someone to conclude that Ofek called her a whore *ethically*.

  14. says

    @6: Saying that she had a poor choice of words is to renounce the words but not the idea behind it. What magical collection of words would make it more reasonable to suppose that there could be a justifiable reason for Ofek to call her that?

    This seems to be a pretty clear cut case of needing to ascertain that the email exchange went down the way it did, then decide how to respond. There can be no circumstances that justify Ofek’s response, no matter how you want to word it.

  15. says

    If the reason they removed the post was legal concerns, then I’m sure they’ll get their lawyers to review it first thing Monday and as soon as everything checks out, the post will be right back up there, yes? After all, if they don’t check into it or if they don’t reinstate the post when the info checks out, that’s an implicit admission that this excuse is bullshit.

    That’s my marker: Is the post going back up or not? As long as it’s not up, they haven’t really admitted that there was anything wrong with taking it down.

  16. rnilsson says

    @ 4 Sili : It is indeed intended malice. So she can’t take her own medicine now, you think?

    The difference is, these editors did actually do something to provoke an ugly response, while Dr Lee did not. I have little respect for these more or less amorphous SciAm droids now; and for the magazine.

    I tend to respect the person, not the degree as such. Anyone can print out a diploma to stick on the wall, or buy one over the net. Even a widely published, innovative researcher can behave like an asshole and deserves to be regarded on the merits in both arenas. And someone without a high academic degree can do much good. We all know of shining examples, right?

    Now, seriously, both Editor DiChristina and this “Ofek” character are obviously sorely lacking in skills necessary to do their work. Why should that be tolerated, when it is so damaging to so many people – not to mention their employer? Have they no boss, I wonder. Irresponsible.

    I know I will never buy or perhaps even peruse another copy of SciAm. It’s way beyond redemption now.

    And I seriously don’t get how “whore” can be anything but a personal insult. So not professional. (And as someone said: Doesn’t that make Ofek the pimp for soliciting?)

    My 2½ cents.

  17. says

    rnilsson:

    Why should that be tolerated

    It shouldn’t be. However, you went quite a long way to evade Sili’s point. Not tolerating such bad behaviour and the attitudes behind it does not mean “hey, yeah, I can do just what they’re doing, because it’s okay when I do it!” If you get to use that excuse, so does everyone else.

  18. says

    We subscribed to SciAm from the early 80’s to the early 00’s. We dropped it because the articles were getting dumbed down to the point they were no deeper than Discover (which we also read), and worse written.

    They’re not giving me much motivation to return, either in dead-tree or electronic format.

  19. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @trebuchet –

    and anyone interested in Honee_v’s “admission” of a poor choice of words, here it is, with emphasis added by me:

    Apologies for my phrase “ethical reason for his behavior” since it was not clear… I agree that there is truly no ethical basis calling anybody as such.. What I meant from my statement is if he truly said it, thus failing to exhibit professionalism as well as failing to give justifiable reason that this incident happened then he should be facing consequences…

    Shorter biology-online.org:

    I apologize for saying there might be an ethical reason to call someone an urban whore. What I meant was that if someone actually said that, there might still be a reason justifying calling someone an urban whore.

    Thank you for your kind attention.

    Heavens to Murgatroid. And they don’t want the biology-online.org staff all to be tarred with the same brush as Ofek? Why exactly? Because they disagree on the details of the circumstances in which they would call DNLee an urban whore?

    Wonderful.

  20. David Marjanović says

    “We recently removed a blog post by Dr. Danielle Lee that alleged a personal experience of this nature. Dr. Lee’s post pertained to personal correspondence between her and an editor at Biology-Online about a possible assignment for that network. Unfortunately, we could not quickly verify the facts of the blog post and consequently for legal reasons we had to remove the post.”

    Oh, really. Lee has the e-mails, but they fear Ofek could sue them anyway. Seriously?

  21. rnilsson says

    @ Caine, Sili: Alright, that was a clumsy attempt on my part to turn the tables. I guess I reacted rather badly to the Editor’s fumbling way of handling the crisis by piling onto the person treated badly instead of trying to solve it. Both of them appear to be bad hacks. Also, her feeble excuse of poor communications with her vague subordinate for ditching an actual contributor is so off-putting. Makes me even angrier. Sorry.

    The one who rises way above this whole sorry mess is Dr D N Lee herself. Now, that is class!

    Only wish I had half of that. And wish I didn’t hold a well-founded grudge for so long, too.

  22. mirror says

    @9 Louis CK, Chris Rock, Rick Gervais, all talk about things that are “personal” in their comedy stand-up shows. Does that make any communication where people ask them to do a show “personal”? Is it more “personal” if you are asking Chris Rock to do free stand-up than if you were asking him to act in a movie for free? Because Chris Rock uses African-Amercian vernacular in his stand-up, does that make it more personal? Whether money is or isn’t offered doesn’t make it less of a professional question.

    As David Marjanović notes in his comment on DiChristina’s non-apology, DiCristina says DHLee’s post was about her “personal experience” with a “personal correspondence.” In truth, there was not one second in DHLee’s interaction with Ofek where the correspondence was personal. Every part of the interaction was professional, therefore DHLee’s experience was in her capacity as a professional. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that DHLee herself is not a professional. SCIAM and DiCristina just keep making it worse…

  23. says

    Oh FFS, they think using “justify” is going to help here? Really? Why not just come out and say “hey, we haven’t figured out how to rationalize it yet”? Alrighty then. There is no justification for using Urban Whore in any setting, let alone a professional one. Attempting to justify it will simply result in much sexist blathery bullshit, all froth and insignificance. What might Ofek the Offensive say? “Well, I was angry, and I thought the whole ‘urban’ thing was clever…” Please.

  24. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Mirror, #23:

    Also, having read pteryxx for quite some time, I think you’re reading a normative statement when pteryxx intended a descriptive one: Pteryxx isn’t saying that is the way it ought to be. It’s saying that it’s a factor that helps us understand the psychology of whichever persons at SciAm were involved in deciding that this was a “personal” post and not a “professional” one. [I don't assume that it was merely DiChristina involved in that]

  25. Deoridhe says

    The irony of posting something not having to do with the discovering of science (or for possibly having false content) about deleting something for not having to do with the discovering of science (or for possibly having false content) is…. epic fail.

  26. Seize says

    This is speculation that fits with the facts: SciAm got a C&D or a scary lawyer email on someone’s behalf claiming they’d posted libel, and the person who should have taken a DEEP FUCKING BREATH and emailed DNLee for proof that she hadn’t just woken up and decided to post lies on her blog instead scurried to delete the post they were told was “wrong.”

    As me mam would say, they pissed their pants.

  27. says

    @Seize
    Sounds like a plausible scenario. That could happen to any organization, but the problem is that instead of admitting the fuck-up, they tried to cover it up and pretend that they were right all along.

    At the moment, they’re sending the signal that if they get any legal saber-rattling, they’ll happily sell out their bloggers to protect the management.

  28. kantalope says

    sciam and biology-online also seem to have some kind of financial partnership going on. So it may be that legal threats were unnecessary.

  29. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Stephanie Zvan:

    No.

    F’n.

    Way.

    You might as well get a fake Malala Yousafzai account next time.
    [/initial gut reaction]

    Okay then. That’s awesome. I think not even an evening immersed in the evidentiary rules pertaining to the Coroners Act, RSBC 1996, c 72 (not in force) can wipe this grin off my face before I fall asleep.

  30. says

    andyo @35, I have no idea. Nothing I see on Google. I’m guessing a nice review of one of his books or citing him approvingly in something not online?

  31. nathanaelnerode says

    Scientific American needs to promptly disassociate from “Biology Online” in every way, condemn “Biology Online” and Ofek, and promptly reinstate Ms. Lee’s article as soon as they have consulted with their legal department (who will tell them that they are a lot safer, legally, if they don’t edit or censor ANYTHING, and that Ofek and “Biology Online” are nothing but trouble).

    Alternatively, Mariette DiChristina can resign in disgrace. Or, if this bullcrap wasn’t her idea, she can resign in *protest* and name the name of the person whose idea it *was*.

    Alternatively, Scientific American can face the wrath of the horde, which is what happens when you do the wrong thing, people notice, and you double down on it. Somehow I think that’s what’s going to happen. I liked Scientific American, but the country won’t suffer if it’s destroyed.

  32. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    promptly reinstate Ms. Lee’s article as soon as they have consulted with their legal department (who will tell them that they are a lot safer, legally, if they don’t edit or censor ANYTHING

    yeah, I’m careful about that, b/c it depends on the jurisdiction of incorporation of the unit that controls SciAmBlogs + the physical locations of the servers + the physical location of the servers that provide overflow protection during times of high traffic, etc. All that *and* the physical locations of MDiC, other decision makers, the staff that do any editing of content, and even more can be relevant in determining which jurisdiction’s laws apply.

    Then it’s not necessarily true that they have provided no editing of other posts in the past. If they have performed infrequent editing in the past, it’s too late for the treatment of DNLee’s post to make a difference in the liability outlook.

    They **might** be a lot safer legally if they don’t edit anything going forward, but now that they’ve tampered with DNLee’s post, putting it back up is much more dangerous to them than it would have been to not touch it at all – again, only if the laws of certain jurisdictions are applied.

    Worst case? This is all adjudicated under UK law. That’s where the money goes jurisdiction shopping in defamation cases these days.

  33. Rich Woods says

    @Crip Dyke #39:

    Worst case? This is all adjudicated under UK law. That’s where the money goes jurisdiction shopping in defamation cases these days.

    And we’re proud to offer this service to the world. It’s one of our few remaining growth industries, along with the creation of brass-plate companies for tax avoidance and a nod-and-a-wink attitude to the tax laws of British dependencies.

    Pass the sick bag…

  34. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Biology Online has issued a real apology and fired Ofek, so they’re taking it a lot more seriously than Scientific American did.

    Finally, some real integrity. Now it’s SciAm’s turn.

  35. says

    Wow. I wrote a polite but unstinting message to Ms. DiChristina’s e-mail address. I only used all-caps on one word, even (ANYONE, as emphasis when I discussed against whom it could never be justifiable to use such a slur).

    Very, very disappointed with SciAm on this one. Glad to see that biology-online has done the right thing. I wonder how many others he’s used that kind of language with, but who never said anything because they were that sort of aspiring writer who think that they can never criticize any editor if they ever want to work for pay, or various other reasons i can think of that they mightn’t like (or didn’t have the capacity) to make noise about it. It seems very unlikely that he has never done so before, if he’s willing to do so with someone who is making a living as a writer and scientist…

  36. David Marjanović says

    As David Marjanović notes in his comment on DiChristina’s non-apology

    I was just quoting Crip Dyke, who explained this at length in the comment 22 Snowden mentioned in his tweet. Everything that’s in italics is quoted – like Google/Blogspot/Blogger, SciAm is too stupid to allow the <blockquote> tag in its blog comments.

    sciam and biology-online also seem to have some kind of financial partnership going on.

    Fourth paragraph of DiChristina’s post: “We would like to make clear that Biology-Online is neither a part of Scientific American, nor a ‘content partner.’ We are investigating what links we currently have with Biology-Online. We intend to take further action, but due to the timing of this situation and our need to investigate the facts further, we cannot provide additional information at this point. We commit to updating you as we progress.”

    Somebody cynical might of course interpret “we are investigating what links we currently have with Biology-Online” as “we have no idea what links we actually have, and we’ll need to find out at some point”…

    Finally, some real integrity. Now it’s SciAm’s turn.

    Seconded.

  37. andyo says

    #45 F [is for failure to emerge],

    And I see the asshat brigade has shown up in the comments at that post, dragging in, of all things, their AGW denialism and racist/racist apologetic behavior.

    They show up every time a major scientific publication is criticized for whatever. See the comment here: http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/scientific-american-faces-firestorm-after-removing-blog-post-about-scientist-being-called-a-whore/#comment-64774

    At the sciam post, I took a gamble and sure enough that Dunning-Kruger case (of course) escherbach and someone else took the bait and he came right out with what his gripe with SciAm might really be.

  38. David Marjanović says

    …You provoked the AGW denialists, though. You brought up both AGW denialism and evolution denialism in comment 52; they hadn’t been mentioned before.

    At the sciam post, I took a gamble [...] someone [...] took the bait

    …Oh, you were trolling?

  39. andyo says

    They were saying “stick to the science”. I didn’t think that even if SciAm did stick with the science they would be happy. Shoot me.

  40. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @SC – 53

    Thank you. Fortunately I didn’t tell anyone other than my honey that Edward Snowden had called attention to my comment over at SciAmBlogs. Now I don’t have any awkward walk-backs to do.