Sci Culture »« Oprah’s bigotry

Oh, lord, no more

By now, you’ve all heard about the unpleasantry between Monica Byrne and Bora Zivkovic. Bora screwed up. He let his personal desires interfere with his professional obligations and he wrecked what could have been a productive interaction.

I’m happy that he has come forward and openly expressed contrition. We all screw up — what’s important is that we recognize it and try to better ourselves.

Janet Stemwedel has an excellent response in which she takes a broader view.

We should hold each other to high standards and then get serious about helping each other reach those standards. We should keep tinkering with our culture to making being better to each other (and to ourselves) easier, not harder.

Being good can be hard, which is one of the reasons we need friends.

I stand with others who have been harassed. And I hope, as a loving and honest friend with high expectations, I can help bring about a world with fewer harassers in it.

Meanwhile, we men (because it’s mostly us who have the power tilted in our favor) should just assume that every woman has laid out Kathleen Raven’s set of rules. Make those your base assumptions in every professional interaction.

Just as an exercise, when you read those rules, try imagining applying them to interactions between two professional men. That they would virtually never have to be stated tells you quite a bit about the differences in how women are treated.

Also, if you plan to protest that it’s unfair to expect men to behave this way, or that it’ll interfere with your love life, or that some women might like being treated specially in the office, please go read Chris Clarke’s metaphor. If you don’t get it, and don’t understand what he’s talking about, you’re not smart enough to converse here yet, and you should just read quietly until it sinks in.


First, let me apologize for the use of the word “unpleasantry” above — I was going for what I thought was obvious understatement, and it wasn’t read that way. I think this is a terrible, awful, miserable thing that Bora has done, and I sincerely hope he can do better.

Other news: Bora has resigned from the ScienceOnline board.

Comments

  1. embertine says

    While I agree his apology was forthright and seemed sincere, there are other women coming forward who have said that he did the same to them or to a friend. I am afraid that this will turn out to be a pattern of behaviour which will render his apology a lie.

  2. embertine says

    You’re right, sorry colnago. On Monica Byrne’s original post, which is PZ’s first link, in the comments.

  3. carlie says

    I’ve been saying this one hits me harder than the others have, because he has such a great reputation and has done so much good. I’m sorry for all of the bloggers who are friends with him and now have to figure out not just how to move on in their own relationships with him (PZ included), but also have the burden of feeling it necessary to figure out public statements to make as well.

  4. ekwhite says

    Sorry PZ, but if you read the comments on Monica Byrnes’ blog, several women have come forward to state that this asshat tried the same thing on them. His apology is pure unalloyed bullsit until he apologizes to all of the other women he has harassed.

  5. pschoeckel says

    Wow, just wow. Before reading Kathleen’s set of rules, I was expecting something a bit more subtle, like maybe it was inappropriate of me to invite two female coworkers (the one who actually did the work and her boss) to dinner for the extra effort they put in helping me with a shipping issue that wasn’t part of their job.
    I’m still not sure if it was inappropriate, so if it was, please someone here, let me know.
    I’d be upset if even one of the things on Kathleen’s list happened much less all of them. I can’t imagine ever doing or saying any of those things to someone at work and the idea that the men saying that shit are protected by management pisses me off even more.
    Reminds me of a story my wife told me about her old boss at True Value corporate HQ. He made the women in the accounting department kneel on chairs so he could measure their skirts to see if they adhered to the company policy. No one ever said anything because they were all afraid of losing their jobs.

  6. Trebuchet says

    @PZ:

    If there are more cases, then he needs to apologize for all of them. Why are you saying this as if it counters what I wrote?

    I’m not sure anyone was saying that. However, his “apology” explicitly says:

    It is not behavior that I have engaged in before or since.

    That appears to be untrue.

  7. embertine says

    I think, PZ, that the problem is in this line from the apology:
    “It is not behavior that I have engaged in before or since”
    As that’s looking less and less likely to be true, that doesn’t seem like sincere contrition to me. That seems like “continuing to lie as long as I think I can get away with it, just like I harassed women as long as I thought I could get away with it”.

    I’m sorry to be so cynical and I would love for the additional stories to not be true, but from past expereince we will find it is even worse than initially portrayed, not better.

  8. pschoeckel says

    Giliell,
    I can answer yes, yes and yes. Since I’m not in a position of authority, but I ask a lot of favors from other groups, I like to do stuff for them depending on what they did. I’ll bring pastries, take people to lunch or dinner, or send flowers, if it is for someone I’m also close friends with outside of work. Not sure if there is a problem, but there’s always the perception of coworkers and rumors.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    I can’t quite put a name to the feeling that arises when I remember how fervently Zivkovic supported John Edwards before the latter’s under-controlled sexuality destroyed his political career in ’08.

  10. carlie says

    It is possible that “not before nor since” means that there was a particular period of time when life was bad and his marriage had problems, and all of the reports fall within that period. How long that period is, though, could indicate something of the validity of it. Even so, though, although I can understand him being lonely and depressed and trying to find some kind of escapist way to deal with it that involved fishing for a relationship, doing so within the framework of a power differential is a pretty bad thing. :(

  11. Pteryxx says

    … “Unpleasantry” and “mistake”? Really?

    I suggest looking again. From Monica Byrne’s account: (bolds mine, and the phrase “without naming names” is out of date now.)

    I decided to post without naming names for two reasons: (1) to report an incident of sexual harassment publicly, on principle, to demonstrate what it looks like, how it causes harm, and how even a woman as “aware” as I am didn’t recognize it and tried to excuse it at first; and (2) to ask whether anyone has experienced something similar with a man who fits the below description, and if so, to get in touch with me, in case you’d like me to report it to his superiors along with my own account.

    […]

    In this case, I honestly don’t know whether this was an isolated incident or not. I’ve decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, which is why I’m not naming him publicly at this time; but as I said before, I would like to hear from anyone who’s experienced something similar to what I’ve described above with someone who fits the above description: a high-profile science blogger and editor. I did report the incident to his superiors, turning over the above text and all relevant communication, and they were wonderfully responsive and supportive. They’re taking steps to ensure his behavior doesn’t continue.

    and speaking in comments:

    That’s why I feel like I’m in a good position to speak up and demonstrate what it looks like. This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME, and it has profound effects on the victims’ lives that are almost always invisible to the abuser, and often to the victim, too, until years later.

    Sorry, PZ. Not even Bora deserves the automatic presumption against all odds that this was an isolated incident or a simple error in judgement. He’s an accomplished adult whose career is built on communication. He has done harm already, and almost certainly has done more, or Byrne would not have spoken up about it at all. Apologizing by claiming he’s never done that “before or since”? Would that hold up from any other professor or author or scientist who wasn’t someone y’all personally respected?

    And whatever his superiors did to ensure the behavior wouldn’t continue, if anything, well it doesn’t seem to be working. And that’s par for the course, too. Apologizing for a supposed single incident will not reassure women who have to work with him that they won’t be unpleasanted upon, nor that reporting the next incident(s) will do any good, for them or the women he works with in future. Bora, and his organization, have to go much further than that.

  12. Pteryxx says

    There’s a comment on Byrne’s post claiming Bora’s behavior continues to this day.

    http://monicacatherine.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/this-happened/#comment-1540

    Oh, just saw BZ’s “apology.” The “It is not behavior that I have engaged in before or since” is obviously completely untrue. I was present when my friend met him in the fall of 2010. That particular harassment has been going strong ever since. So, there’s your “before AND since.”

  13. says

    @15: … “Unpleasantry” and “mistake”? Really?

    This. Once might be charitably euphemized as a “mistake”. But it’s pretty weak sauce that really doesn’t assume responsibility for one’s own actions. Mistakes are what you make in spelling and arithmetic. Extended interactions, not so much. And repeated “mistakes” aren’t errors, they’re a pathology.

  14. says

    Also, if you plan to protest that it’s unfair to expect men to behave this way, or that it’ll interfere with your love life, or that some women might like being treated specially in the office, please go read Chris Clarke’s metaphor. If you don’t get it, and don’t understand what he’s talking about, you’re not smart enough to converse here yet, and you should just read quietly until it sinks in.

    This made me happy.

    Then I came to comment and say that it made me happy and I realized from past experience that there will, by now, almost certainly already be a comment from someone who really needs this advice, and won’t take it (I haven’t checked yet). And that made me unhappy.

  15. says

    Where did this claim that it was characterized as simply a mistake come from? I didn’t say it — I think Bora screwed up, that it wasn’t just an error, but that he actively did harm.

  16. Pteryxx says

    PZ @19, that was me – as far as I know, “mistake” and “screw up” mean exactly the same. (and “mistake” comes from Bora’s apology; you only used the latter term.) And I didn’t read any overt acknowledgement that he did harm to anyone in your post – just that his professional obligations and productive interaction were messed up.

    Bora screwed up. He let his personal desires interfere with his professional obligations and he wrecked what could have been a productive interaction.

    I’m happy that he has come forward and openly expressed contrition. We all screw up — what’s important is that we recognize it and try to better ourselves.

    I think I can see where you’re coming from if I mentally replace the phrase “screw up” with “actively do harm” but is that really how it reads?

  17. Nick Gotts says

    By now, you’ve all heard about the unpleasantry between Monica Byrne and Bora Zivkovic. Bora screwed up. He let his personal desires interfere with his professional obligations and he wrecked what could have been a productive interaction.

    I’m happy that he has come forward and openly expressed contrition. We all screw up — what’s important is that we recognize it and try to better ourselves. – PZ

    Come on, PZ, you know better than this. The “unpleasantry between Monica Bryne and Bora Zivkovic”? WTF? Zivkovic sexually harassed Byrne: why not say so straight out? It wasn’t some sort of mutual misunderstanding. And as several others have pointed out, there are other women in the comments to Byrne’s post saying he’s done the same on other occasions, including one who alleges an ongoing campaign of harassment, which if true, makes Zivkovic’s apology an insincere piece of damage limitation. And how likely is it that it’s false? Doesn’t what we know about the typical behaviour patterns of harassers, the reluctance of victims of harassment to speak out, and the effect on victims of not being believed, mean we should credit these further claims unless and until we have good reason not to?

  18. David Marjanović says

    You’re right, sorry colnago. On Monica Byrne’s original post, which is PZ’s first link, in the comments.

    *scrolls back up*
    *clicks on link again*
    *scrolls down beyond 1st comment this time*

    :-o

    Gah.

    We all screw up —

    How many of us screw up in such damaging ways? How many of us have that combination of desires, willingness to use power, lack of shame, and lack of knowledge or care what it all does to the other person?

  19. David Marjanović says

    And how likely is it that it’s false?

    Not very. Let’s see how far my imagination reaches.

    Sure, Byrne (not Bryne) and the other victims that come out in the comments could be out to destroy him. But several of them say they don’t want to do that. Sure, maybe it’s a concerted action (or they’re all sockpuppets), maybe that was put in to make it look more realistic or even because the sockpuppeteer is genuinely conflicted…

    Nah.

    To come up with a scenario where the allegations are false, I need to pile assumptions upon assumptions. Ockham’s Razor says no. I have no reason to think the allegations are false.

  20. ChasCPeterson says

    I am unsurprised at the tone of the OP. It is the ECO’s SOP to be very generously forgiving for friends but not at all for random people on the internet.
    I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing, but it is what it is.

  21. Howard Bannister says

    Sorry, Chas, what does ECO stand for in this context? OP I get and SOP I get but ECO has only ever meant Equipment Control Officer to me.

  22. ekwhite says

    PZ, I am sure this is hitting you hard on top of an already bad week. I apologize for being harsh towards a friend of yours and towards someone who has contributed to the science community.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be a pattern of harassment on his part. His behaviour was unacceptable. His apology to Monica Byrne is a good start. He needs to come clean and apologize to the other women he allegedly harassed.

  23. jalyth says

    I opened this tab to comment and hope that with this event and the apology that it could be this great example of a person learning from past mistakes, communities overcoming an individual’s mistake, and general hopefulness of that kind. BUMMER with the reality.

    Why is this always a pattern of behavior and never some isolated incident that could be a model? (rhetorical)

  24. says

    To answer the almost immediate demand of “citation needed” at comment #2 by slc1/colnago80, a second woman, Hannah Waters, has come forward with her experiences of Bora’s unprofessional behaviour towards her: The Insidious Power of Not-Quite-Harassment

    I don’t consider either Byrne’s or Waters’s stories to be ‘not-quite-harassment’, since it seems clear Zivkovic behaviour towards them was predicated entirely on them being women rather than men; but what makes it harmful is that Zivkovic was in a position of considerable power to affect their immediate writing careers. Which is often how leverage is applied in these situations.

  25. Pteryxx says

    PZ, thanks for the clarifying update. I appreciate it.

    —-

    Via Gawker’s summary, Knight Science Journalism’s article includes a statement from Sci Am:

    http://ksj.mit.edu/tracker/2013/10/scientific-american-blog-editor-admits-s

    In a long post on Facebook, Kate Clancy describes Zivkovic as “a friend, even a father figure, to me,” who “is the reason I have a job at Scientific American.” She wonders “whether it’s possible to completely trust, honor, respect and support targets of sexual harassment, and also care for the perpetrator and want to figure out how to help him never do this again.” She has an “inclination towards forgiveness,” but wonders if it’s wrong. (In a later update, she partly retracted her post, writing that henceforth she “will be aimed towards being better allies[sic]” to women targeted for abuse.)

    In a long comment string, many respondents said they were similarly confused by the situation. What I found striking in many of the comments was the absence of angry demands that Zivkovic be fired or punished. The predominant reaction was confusion, not anger.

    […]

    Early this afternoon, Scientific American’s press spokesperson sent me the following statement from Scientific American’s editor, Mariette DiChristina:

    We take allegations such as Ms. Byrne’s very seriously. A year ago we investigated the incident. Bora Zivkovic issued a statement and an apology: http://blog.coturnix.org/2013/10/15/this-happenned/. We also offered our apologies at the time and Ms. Byrne acknowledged in her blog that she was satisfied with our response. We will investigate any such incidents that are reported to us and take whatever additional action we deem necessary.

    So it seems Zivkovic will keep his job at Scientific American–for now.

  26. Pteryxx says

    Another account via Stephanie Zvan. There’s really no explaining this away.

    https://medium.com/the-power-of-harassment/3e809dfadd77

    “Which room are you in?” Bora texted before or soon after he entered the hotel. I sent him the room number where my husband and I stayed. “Can I come by and see you now?” he texted. “No, I’m afraid we have to wait until tomorrow morning. My husband is already in bed, sorry,” I texted back. A few moments later, I heard a knock at our door.

  27. ChasCPeterson says

    Very powerful experience reading the “ripples of doubt” storify. Modern life is so fucking fraught and fucked up. Self examination: I have always been way too introverted and raised-polite to have ever harassed or even not-quite-harassed anybody IRL. But I have stood by with no more than a facial expression of disapproval while it happened in my presence. And I fear I may have skated close to the line a couple of times online. Even stuff like that, I am learning, can cause debilitating ripples. More consciousness moving forward.

    I am surprised that others seem surprised that somebody can be at once sincerely supportive of equality and professional advancement for women generally yet skeevily sexual and objectifyingly harassy in personal interaction with particular women. Whitman ws not the only person to contain multitudes.
    I found Christie Wilcox’s post especially affecting.

  28. ChasCPeterson says

    I found Christie Wilcox’s post especially affecting.

    jeez.
    Since I linked that, I guess I should also link this.

    curiouser and curiouser. I cannot grok the ways of (some) extroverts.

  29. ChasCPeterson says

    And since I linked that, and have thought about that post some more, I now want to link this. Zvan’s post bothers me for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on.
    For one thing I agree with Laden(!) that it sets up what seems to me an egregious false equivalence. Aside from the gender-switch, drunken behavior by a graduate student at a party is just simply very different from serial attempted predation by a trusted mentor/employer.
    For another, to me it comes off as a gossipy mean-girl tu quoque. It’s hard for me to discern much in the way of potentially constructive purpose there (and Zvan’s self-serving rationalizations are just par for her course imo).
    (I’d say this over there if I wasn’t banned.)

  30. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Pteryxx and Chas,

    thanks for the follow-up comments.

  31. David Marjanović says

    I found Christie Wilcox’s post especially affecting.

    …Yeah.

    jeez.
    Since I linked that, I guess I should also link this.

    :-o

    That one doesn’t even compute. Like… I can’t empathize. Blue-and-orange morality? Always Chaotic Evil? I don’t get it.

    I won’t put any spoilers here. Follow the link, everyone who hasn’t yet.

    For one thing I agree with Laden(!) that it sets up what seems to me an egregious false equivalence. Aside from the gender-switch, drunken behavior by a graduate student at a party is just simply very different from serial attempted predation by a trusted mentor/employer.

    I can’t see anyone drawing such an equivalence. The point is made in the comments: even without the power imbalance, harassment still does real harm.

    For another, to me it comes off as a gossipy mean-girl tu quoque.

    Not Zvan’s fault that people only start talking about the missing stair now. Not her fault that she only found the courage after two years.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Probably because he’s a Serbian immigrant.

    Yay, the next layer of unpleasantness. *black comicbook cloud above head*

  33. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    David,

    It could be “one of ours” reporting. Reads pretty neutral.

  34. ChasCPeterson says

    Not Zvan’s fault that people only start talking about the missing stair now.

    ? “People”? It wasn’t “people”, it was just Zvan, in this case.

    Not her fault that she only found the courage after two years.

    ? “Courage”? Looks to me like it wasn’t “courage” she (we’re still talking about Zvan, right?) lacked so much as a percieved reason to get catty.

  35. cicely says

    David, thanks for that Missing Stair link. If I’ve seen it before, it had completely escaped from my memory; but now I’ve got it bookmarked.
     
    For later.
     
    ‘Cause we all know that there will be a later.
    -