How not to ask for a favor

So how are things going for Scientific American? Not very well, from what I can see. There’s a lot of very strong criticism of their move in taking down Danielle N Lee’s blog post about the editor at Biology Online who called her a whore when she declined to write for Biology Online for free. Most of it is coming directly from working scientists. That can’t be what they want.

I still haven’t seen any explanation of their reasons for taking down the post; as far as I know there hasn’t been one.

They can’t take refuge in the claim that their blog isn’t the right place for personal quarrels, because this wasn’t personal. Ofek and Lee were strangers, and still are. They exchanged three emails apiece. The exchange was about writing for the blog Ofek edits. That’s not personal, it’s purely professional – or rather it was professional until Ofek called Lee a whore, and then it became unmotivated unprofessional abuse.

I used to have a job in which I asked people to write things for no money, come to think of it. I was deputy editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine for several years, and part of my job was doing just that. Sometimes people did reply asking if there was any pay involved, and it was my job to answer the question. I must say it never crossed my mind for an instant to abuse people if they declined on learning that the answer was no. (Mind you, I always worded it more carefully than Ofek did. I was faintly apologetic, I phrased it as inability as opposed to refusal, I expressed both hopes and complete understanding of a potential refusal. I definitely did not put it as “we’re doing you a favor” or anything resembling that. I put it as the invitee doing us a favor.)

Yeah. I used to have a job doing what Ofek did, and I would never in a million years have done it the way Ofek did. I can’t even figure out what could have motivated Ofek to do it that way.

Liz Ditz at I Speak of Dreams has a useful compilation of posts on the subject.


  1. says

    Mariette DiChristina responded to the Buzzfeed article that the post was taken down because it “verged into the personal.” Meanwhile she’s getting growing pressure from other SciAm bloggers, especially those who have written posts that “verged into the personal.”

  2. says

    Ah, thanks for the information.

    It was personal in the sense of being a response to one person – but it wasn’t personal in the sense of being a personal quarrel with no connection to DN Lee’s work or to the broad subject of the sociology of science. Also, “Ofek” is just a label. So all in all, not a good move.

  3. smhll says

    I don’t always love Twitter, but it has made it harder to sweep ugly and unflattering stories under the rug.

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