I’ve been very thoughtful tonight about whether to post again about the events that happened over the weekend, beginning with the insult of my friend DNLee, the removal of her blog post by Scientific American, and their subsequent scramble to make sense of their actions in the face of public scrutiny. At the end of the day, there are only two things that are important to me: 1) Making sure my friend had a place to tell her story if she was so inclined. You all have helped her do that phenomenally. Here alone, DNLee’s post has been viewed ~500K times and I know that many of you answered the call to mirror her words elsewhere. A woman who makes the choice to speak out about injustice should never be silenced. 2) I wanted to see things work out in a way that satisfied my friend. I might feel indignation about something, but at the end of the day, it’s all what I now term “privilege-level analysis.” I can have whatever thoughts and opinions I have because this stuff isn’t happening to me. It’s not threatening where I eat or how I choose to advance my career.
And, truly, some of the smartest things written about this far have come from other dear friend of the blog Dr. Rubidium at JAYFK. If you’re not following Rubidium in any and all venues, you’re missing one of the smartest people on the Internet. We’re all going to work for her someday.
Still, there’s one aspect of how this is all going down that continues to chap my ass. Mainly, it’s that I can see the editor of Scientific American continue to successfully use a classic derailing technique – the insistence that DNLee’s experience was personal and, thus, not appropriate content. In her original tweet Mariette DiChristina wrote:
Re blog inquiry:
@sciam is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed.
In her reply to Buzzfeed, DiChristina elaborated:
“I’d like to elaborate on the original brief statement on Twitter that this blog fell outside Scientific American’s mission to communicate science. While we interpret that mission with a lot of latitude, Dr. Lee’s post went beyond and verged into the personal, and that’s why it was taken down. Dr. Lee’s post is out extensively in the blogosphere, which is appropriate. Dr. Lee is a valued member of the Scientific American blog network. In a related matter, Biology Online has an ad network relationship, and not an editorial one. Obviously, Scientific American does not want to be associated with activities that are detrimental to the productive communication of science. We are pursuing next steps.”
It doesn’t take much to see that bullshit for what it is. Part of communicating science is communicating what it’s like to be a scientist, and many folks on the network post about topics tangentially related to science. In her latest of public statements, DiChristina claims that the post was, in fact, removed for legal reasons and that:
Juggling holiday-weekend commitments with family, lack of signal and a dying phone, alongside the challenges of reaching colleagues over a holiday weekend, I attempted to at least address initial social-media queries about the matter with a tweet yesterday: “Re blog inquiry: @sciam is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed.” I acknowledge that microblogs are not the ideal medium for such an important explanation to our audiences and regret the delay in providing a fuller response. My brief attempt to clarify, posted with the belief that “saying something is better than saying nothing,” clearly had the opposite effect. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had simply promised a fuller reply when I was able to be better connected and more thorough.
Making me wonder just how stupid she thinks her readership is. Her dying phone and desire to celebrate the Festival of White Oppression with her family kept her from communicating to DNLee the reason for the post removal at the time of its removal? It kept her from clarifying her original tweet vis-a-vis Scientific American’s legal concerns in a timely manner? Yet, she had plenty of battery and 4G signal and time to stop crafting commemorative smallpox blankets with her children to release a statement to Buzzfeed about how DNLee’s post didn’t communicate science and fell outside of Scientific American’s mission?
I am not a trifling woman.
Speaking only as a consumer of Scientific American’s product who is concerned about the integrity and honesty of the publications I read, DiChristina’s statements strike me as lie covering lie and make me think that she really believes her readers are that dumb. I’ll acknowledge that finding the source of my continued discomfort took some time because I was initially soothed by the shiny objects at the end of her latest statement:
With the help of Dr. Lee as an author, Scientific American plans to provide a thoroughly reported feature article about the current issues facing women in science and the related research in the coming weeks. I am personally grateful to Dr. Lee for her support in these endeavors and am looking forward to working with her on these issues.
But these shiny objects come under the guise of a faux sisterhood of unified feminism that DiChristina creates, thereby minimizing the unique experiences that women of color might be having. Because, after all, DiChristina has been dealing with these problems for 20 years…
We take very seriously the issues that are faced by women in science and women of color in science. As a woman who has worked in science publishing for more than 20 years, I can add that we intend to discuss how we can better investigate and publicize such problems in general and search for solutions with Dr. Lee and with the wider scientific community.
Here’s the root of the motherfucking problem. DiChristina’s experiences, had over the more than 20 years of her career, are professional. Yet, out of the opposite side of her mouth, DiChristina continues to frame what happened to DNLee as personal (emphasis mine):
We recently removed a blog post by Dr. Danielle Lee that alleged a personal experience of this nature.
Thereby allowing her the option to continue the narrative that the original post was too personal and fell outside of the scope of Scientific American’s mission.
Long time readers may remember that this humble little blog was once hosted at a little joint called ScienceBlogs. I can’t deny that my time there substantially increased my visibility but, damn it, those years came at a cost. I remember that I was brought into the network specifically because I wrote about my life as a scientist. I remember thinking it was a great opportunity to share my experiences as the barrio-raised product of Spanish-speaking grandparents and maybe encourage some other little barrio kids to see themselves going to graduate school some day.
When I wrote about my family, I was alright. The readership found me quirky, but generally harmless. When I wrote in general about my lab or professional issues, I was alright. That’s the fortunate thing about being pseudonymous. People can read you in any voice they choose. When I wrote about broader issues related to women in science, I ruffled more feathers but I still usually had the strong backing of the feminist scientists. The things that made people the most uncomfortable were the posts I wrote that contained experiences where the intersections of race and ethnicity could not be denied. And the times when I chose to write in Spanish? That’s when the cries were the loudest from some of the readers…
Why is she on this network?
She doesn’t write science
There’s no place here for a blog about someone’s personal life
She’s not a serious scientist
One of the most effective derailing techniques used against non-majority scientists on the internet is the insistence that they are not contributing serious science. That they are not serious scientists. That their contributions don’t belong with those of the serious scientists. That they don’t belong in the club. That, if they were serious scientists, they would conform their vernacular to the cultural norm and stick to posts “about science.”
But, science is a human endeavor and if one of the primary goals of Scientific American is to serve as a “powerful tool for forward-thinking readers“, then surely they must be committed to increasing the ability of everyone to participate in the endeavor.
DNLee once taught me, as only she can, that the most important outreach a minority scientist can do is to get her degree and keep her job. She lives her outreach everyday, teaching us about her work and about the process of her career. She’s genius at it. DNLee’s gift is her talent for personal, thoughtful communication.
I hope that if Scientific American is truly committed to highlighting issues faced by women of color in science, they’ll begin to recognize why continuing to let this be framed as an issue of personal versus professional for one of the most visible women scientists of color is problematic.