On Why Ed Rybicki is No Better Than Henry Gee: Lessons from #Womanspace

If you had asked me a week ago what I thought of Ed Rybicki, my response would have been, “Le sigh.”  Admittedly, I believe I used the word “dumbasses,” when describing two men apparently unable to successfully purchase underpants, but I also sort of felt bad for Ed Rybicki.  You see, it was apparent to me at the time that Ed Rybicki had been thrown under the bus by Henry Gee.   My read of the situation was that Ed Rybicki had written this bizarre piece of – well, whatever it was supposed to be – that he thought was funny.  Henry Gee knew that it was offensive enough to rile up his female audience and pressed on with the hopes of stirring the pot.  But, Henry Gee has always been the feminist antichrist in my book, without the will to acknowledge that there are other society-dependent biases beyond those he has experienced.  Very simple.  Ed Rybicki = Oblivious.  Henry Gee = Antichrist.  That’s a basic enough dichotomy to allow me to comfortably live my life.

And, we all have our biases.  White Men.  Brown Women. All of us.  Everyone has a set of life experiences that influence how we regard the world around us.  These life experiences may be modified by geography.  Still, when standing in the midst of offended people, it is a mark of maturity to be able to take pause and reflect on whether one’s actions are the product of cultural construct.  And, it is a mark of maturity to be able to appreciate that one’s actions may affect someone else in ways that were unanticipated.  Sometimes a bunny is not just a bunny. The smart move when one’s bias is revealed is to step back, offer up an “I didn’t realize and I’m sorry” and then privately reflect on the origins of your personal shitstorm. 

Or, you could do what Ed Rybicki is doing, which is about the single most awkward thing I have ever watched unfold.  It’s like watching someone trying to put out a stick of dynamite by peeing on it.

Ed has a blog.  And, on this blog Ed has written a non-pology explaining that his piece was just a story.  A tale of “FICTION”.  He writes

They publish SCIENCE FICTION, which in recent months has dealt with, in the words of one their editors, “…petty thieves, terrorists, pedophiles, mass murderers, religious maniacs, lesbian robots, quantum-jumping time travelers and genocidal aliens”. So I was in good company – I thought.

…because writing about some ability that is allegedly inherent to women is apparently on par with writing about pedophiles, murderers, maniacs, and genocide…[insert longer awkward pause in which we all stare at each other until someone is uncomfortable]…?  But, the beat goes on…

I was utterly dumbfounded: to read those highly charged comments and frequently vicious personal attacks on me, was to see a reflection of a person I certainly don’t know looking back at me – and one that is also utterly unrecognizable to anyone who knows me…

We get it, Ed.  You’re not a bad person.  You’re probably a hilarious dude to grab a pint with.  But, let’s put on our big boy pants long enough to realize that someone can be a generally good person and still do something that ends completely cocked up (h/t @tideliar for what has become my favorite phrase in the universe). 

I’ll admit at this point in the post I felt some pity for ole Ed Rybicki.  He’s a clueless d00d, chilling in Cape Town, writing some little unfunny stories.  He could use some pointers from our dear friend Physioprof, but perhaps he was salvageable.

Until that fucker pulled out his Bingo card and started playing full force…

Let me get this straight: pointing out IN A WORK OF FICTION that women have superhuman abilities, and that most men are bozos, perpetuates a bias that makes it hard for this person to do their job??

We ladiez are clearly oversensitive for thinking his silly little FICTION could ever affect us.  The same way we are silly for thinking that hundreds of years of these silly little stories could contribute to a patriarchal society that dictates gender roles and does, indeed, make it hard for us to do our jobs.  Get over it, girlz!  Stop being so sensitive!!!!

In the comments section, in response to criticism from Michael Eisen, Ed says:

I AM reasonably elderly compared to many of the respondents (amazing number of PhD students out there who seem to have time to blog); I have read a LOT of SF, and I am into dark humour, satire, irony and sarcasm – and tried to share a little of what had been an interesting discussion between a few friends of like mind.

We are young, ladiez.  And Ed’s sophisticated humor is lost on our unrefined palates.  Except, that many of us are not so young and many of us are not students.  We’re his colleagues.  Michael Eisen is no student. Anne Jefferson, Kate Clancy, and Janet Stemwedel are not students. Our dear friend Drugmonkey is not a student.  I’m not a student.  But, Ed Rybicki’s story did not reinforce misogynist tropes.  That dude’s Mark-Fucking-Twain, using sarcasm and irony to…well, I don’t know what.  Except that it was apparently funny to his friends.

What’s amazing to me is that it was so offensive to so many folks.  The response has been fairly equivocal from men and women on this one.  And, while I would never suggest that the endorsement of men is required to validate our outrage, I will say that the fact that members of both genders found this story so blatantly offensive should be a huge signal.

But, remember, it’s just a story…

It does NOT reflect my personal views of women and gender.

Ed Rybicki doesn’t even believe the shit he wrote.  It’s a story!  It could have written itself!!!!  Ed Rybicki is the victim of unfair persecution and hair-trigger political correctness.

Except, now Ed Rybicki does believe the shit he wrote.  In his most recent blog post he cites REAL SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE of womanspace.  This is some high quality science…

Undergraduate students (N = 467, 298 females and 169 males) at two large Mid- Western American public universities and who were enrolled in introductory psychology classes participated in an institutionally approved on-line survey at their convenience.

That’s the evidence.  467,298 women and 169 men who self-selected themselves to respond to an 0nline survey.  Boom goes the dynamite, indeed.

Ed, I write this last paragraph directly to you.  Let this one go.  Let this whole situation fade into the world of that which occupies the 47th page of some google search for “sexy housewife girls knickers.”  Watching you continue on like this is even more uncomfortable than that time Michael Richards went on Letterman.

And, for every post you write, one or more people are going to write a post in response.  That’s how the blogosphere rolls.  And with each post someone new is going to walk away from this thinking you are a huge goatfucker.  Because, for fuck’s sake, at this point that’s the only way I can see this going down.  Your friends think you’re funny, but the rest of us are offended.  Take some time, reflect, drink some more wine, and then, if you feel the need, comment later.  Much later.  Much, much later.  Comment to your friends who think you’re hilarious, because the rest of us really, really don’t. 

 Or maybe to Henry Gee.  That dude clearly thinks you’re a stitch.

UPDATE: According to Michael Eisen, in the bit about the study that I copied and pasted from Ed Rybicki’s blog, I have misinterpreted the sample size.   He informs me that the sample size is “N=467, of whom 298 were women, 169 men.”  Instead of ” (N = 467, 298 females and 169 males)”, the authors should have written, ” (N = 467;  298 females and 169 males)”.  I suggest reading the rest of the article for other lessons in ridiculousness.

38 responses to “On Why Ed Rybicki is No Better Than Henry Gee: Lessons from #Womanspace

  1. …Awesome. This made me grin so hard.

  2. Here’s another lesson in ridiculousness… the paper, while claiming to confirm their hypothesis that men are hunters and women are gatherers when they shop, rejects the hypothesis that men and women use different strategies in the setting of Rybicki’s great discovery – the shopping mall:

    “In contrast to the moderate and strong sex differences seen with the other scales, the male bias for Euclidean navigation strategies when shopping was quite weak. Modern shopping centers have shorter distances, more systematic layouts, and more straight lines of transit compared to the natural environments of ancestral foraging. Perhaps these factors enable women to use Euclidean navigation strategies more so than under foraging
    conditions. The distances and complexity of layout may be insufficient to generate male advantage.”

    And, really Ed? THIS is the kind of “science” you cite to prove your point? I have to give an lecture on infectious diseases to my undergraduate genetics class on Monday. I think I’ll give the students (N=237, 130 female and 107 male) a survey exploring their feelings about the evolutionary origins of viruses…

  3. My hypothesis is that Gee is an evil genius, and he selected Rybicki’s story to publish because he knew that Rybicki is such an absurd self-deluded douche that he would fan the flames ever higher and higher, rather than just slink off back into oblivion.

  4. Like I’ve said before, Rybicki is just some small minded* virologist from South Africa. Unimportant. A side show who likes to Google himself every morning and repeat himself on blog after blog. Henry Gee and the Nature magazine should still be the real target. I am shocked that the editorial staff seems to be doubling down rather than writing an official apology.

    I think you’re right that Gee realized the potential of this buffoon as an instrument for his own nefarious plots. And I’m not actually that surprised that Rybicki doesn’t understand selection bias or how to determine if a study is valid– if he had critical reading and critical thinking skills he wouldn’t still be saying the same garbage in blog comment after blog comment. He’d also realize that such doings aren’t actually helping his reputation. But maybe all he cares about is the infamy.

    *mind may not actually be the word I’m thinking of: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/stereotype-threat/

  5. Other lessons in ridiculousness? Like, not having a mental flag spring up at interpreting almost 500,000 women as a reasonable number of undergraduates at two public universities? Don’t pin that on the authors using a comma where they admittedly would have been better off with a semicolon.

  6. There’s a chance Rybicki wouldn’t be offended by #Jewspace, either. I don’t know if the ability to perceive any discrimination makes one better or worse, but I shudder to think of what it’s like to be in South Africa if Rybicki is any indication.

  7. Isis the Scientist

    Yeah, dude. It did raise an eyebrow, which I was all skeptical-like and boom goes the dynamitez. So, yeah, when Michael emailed me and alerted me to the space I was overlooking, it made things slightly less ridiculous. It doesn’t make it less ridiculous that Ed Rybicki’s big proof is this paper.

  8. Isis the Scientist

    I got a feeling Henry Gee wouldn’t publish #Jewspace. Call it a hunch.

  9. I’m sure Henry Gee would have no trouble publishing a provocative Futures bit which explains that Jewish scientists disproportionately excel in science by accessing JewSpace. Where they have an assignment of 20 folks (out of the missing 6 mil…what did you think happened to them?) to act as their surrogate brains.

  10. “Goatfucker”? I think the polite term is “Muslim” these days. Theo Van Gogh popularized “goatfucker,” but he’s dead and was notorious for being deliberately offensive. Not sure that’s the goal here, and not sure why anyone’s bringing Islam into the discussion.

  11. @becca @nicoleandmaggie– South Africa has troubles, no doubt, but there is some great science being done there. Rybicki is no more or less a representative of South African science than he is a representative of men in general. Personal promis.

    @Isis the Scientist– I’m very grateful for your efforts here. I hope that the momentum generated from this whole situation will help to move forward more issues for women in society and in science in particular. If this document (http://eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED509653.pdf) could get as much traffic as #Womanspace, I’d be thrilled (I’m not saying you, or anyone here, isn’t doing a sufficient job of bring up these subtler issues, but for science in general, yeah, I feel like #Womanspace is getting way more attention… )

  12. Grant proposals are adult science fiction, the other stuff is juvenile.

    Who are these clowns trying to kid? Fire Henry Gee.

  13. @zy- oh, none of this has made me doubt the scientific worth of any person or group (well, maybe evolutionary biologists, a little bit, because they selected Henry Gee to be their Gatekeeper of Glamour, but they were already suspect).
    I was more wondering if the legacy of apartheid could have contributed to typically privileged academics having the kind of hair-trigger heads-up-their-arses defensiveness about accusations of ‘isms’ as the rabid right wing talk radio personalities that I’m familiar with.
    If Rybicki is just an outlier, that’s great.

  14. @becca This obviously doesn’t explain or excuse any aspect of Rybicki’s behavior (and might make it worse), but one thing I did notice in exploring his world is that the majority of the faculty in his department are female.

    And did I miss the party when Nature sent around ballots to select senior editors? (I know Nature already hates me, so maybe they left me out, but I’m pretty sure I’d have heard about it).

  15. Isis the Scientist

    I don’t think that’s how the editorial staff is “elected” at Nature.

    All the more reason I find myself warming up to PLoS more and more with each passing month.

  16. Nice way to not deal with any of the substantive issues people raised, Petey.

  17. Isis the Scientist

    Amateur at best. A few years ago a post like that may have been novel to the blogosphere. But now that the feminist science-o-sphere is firmly established, it’s like trying to take down a redwood with a vegetable peeler.

  18. Humorless and insane… *yawn*. Why not add in a hysterical while you’re at it? Get the trifecta.

    Here’s some more ideas, Pete: http://hoydenabouttown.com/20070414.431/anti-feminist-bingo-a-master-class-in-sexual-entitlement/ and http://hoydenabouttown.com/20080218.1460/antifeminist-bingo-2/

  19. From Michael Eisen:
    “This obviously doesn’t explain or excuse any aspect of Rybicki’s behavior (and might make it worse), but one thing I did notice in exploring his world is that the majority of the faculty in his department are female. ”

    Damn, when you people stalk, you really do it well…yes, I am the only male full Professor (of 4); there are another 2 Professors Emeritus (1 female); there are a further 3 Assoc Profs (1 male), and 8 Lecturers and Senior Lecturers, of whom 5 are male. Of three Research Officers (=Academic Staff), all are female. Of 13 Scientific Officers ONE is male.

    SO yes, the majority of the Faculty, and the majority of the SENIOR AND junior Faculty, are female.

    But you don’t know that of a total of 3 HoDs in our new Dept since 2000, two have been women – and so are the next two.

    And I don’t have a problem with any of that. Or that my wife is an immediate past `Acting Head of the Division of Medial Virology in our Faculty of Health Sciences, or that her sister and my former PhD student is the present Head.

    The thing you folk don’t seem to apprehend is that our biosciences academic world in Cape Town is very feminised. Really. This is strange for ANY academic sphere, and probably very strange for a developing country, but it is true.

    And I don’t have a problem with any of that.

    SO what is it, exactly, that you think that I think? Because you’re almost certainly wrong.

    And Michael: don’t bother commenting any more on my site, thank you. Fly, little electrons, fly…!

  20. @nicoleandmaggie: Nice to know you have real names. That you’re not ashamed to use. When you say, again, that:
    “Like I’ve said before, Rybicki is just some small minded virologist from South Africa. Unimportant.”
    Ad hominem attacks are SO mature. Play nicely, children! I know a lot of people who cannot believe the level of immaturity here.

  21. Isis the Scientist

    Feel free to comment here. I have a very generous comment policy.

    And Ed, I suggest you learn the meaning of “ad hominem” versus “shit you don’t like.” The civility debate is soooooooooooo last year.

  22. Ed,
    I’m sorry if you want people to think you’re a bigger man than you actually are. Truth is truth. Sorry sweetie, you’re just not as important as the editor at Nature. You can cause harm, but so little harm compared to Nature. I’m sure Henry Gee also wants people think he’s a bigger man than he is, but he actually wields real power that he shouldn’t have access to given how he has abused it.

    Also: Either Dr. Isis is right and you don’t know the definition of ad hominem (I suspect she is), or you need to look up irony (or perhaps, hypocrisy)… ‘cuz I’m pretty sure us not using our full names is irrelevant to the argument at hand. (That argument being, “Nature is hurting women by publishing sexist dreck and not apologizing for it.”)

    I know Dr. Isis gets less sorry for you with each inane comment you make, but I actually get more sorry for you. Poor thing.

  23. Pingback: The One Good Thing to Come From #Womanspace | On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess

  24. “Ed, I write this last paragraph directly to you. Let this one go. Let this whole situation fade into the world of that which occupies the 47th page of some google search for “sexy housewife girls knickers.”

    You know something, I may actually listen to you – and Henry Gee, and my wife, who all told me not to get engaged.

    Just because it really is such a lot of nonsense.

    And nicoleandmaggie: you’re so sweet. Now get a job.

  25. Ed, what the fuck is your problem? I was trying to point out something good about your department (and by reflection likely you).

    Like many, I started this whole thing thinking you were probably just some guy who wrote something stupid that was exploited by a Nature editor to cause a stir. We all make mistakes. I figured with the chance for reflection, you’d feel bad about it. But it turns out you’re kind of a petulant child who can’t take or learn from criticism. Do you send your works of fiction to Nature just so people can pat you on the back at toast you at the pub for being so clever and famous?

    And thanks for banning me from your site despite my efforts to engage you in a high-minded and constructive way. That speaks volumes and doesn’t require any of my time. Awesome.

  26. Micheal: I engage with you at my end and find I am being discussed negatively at this. Life is too short….

  27. Why does it matter what the makeup of ER’s department might be, his wife’s and/or sister’s testimonial? This is not about what he is, it is about what he wrote.


  28. Isis the Scientist

    You are exactly right, D-Smooth.

    And Ed, is this all coming down to that fact that the blogopshere has hurt your feelings?

  29. Of course, DM. I got sucked in. My bad.

  30. just an engineer

    @Michael Eisen (27 nov 4:26 pm)
    > I figured with the chance for reflection, you’d feel bad about it. But it turns out you’re kind of a petulant child who can’t take or learn from criticism. Novices focus on positive feedback (“good job!”) because hearing they’re doing well helps them stay committed. Experts focus on negative feedback (“You’re doing that incorrectly”) because they’re interested in progress. As people go from novice to expert their focus shifts. <
    from : Source: "Tell Me What I Did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback"

    so clearly, E. R. is continuously disqualifying himself aka "failing at being a decent human being 101" (apart from imho practicing e.g. "bad science")
    fyi, see also :

  31. Isis the Scientist

    I’ve done a smidge of browsing and he’s socked up here too to support himself. I’m not surprised.

  32. Ed, what the fuck is your problem?

    Rybicki’s problem is that he’s a witless dumshitte who–sadly and surprisingly for someone who appears to be at least partially successful as a scientist–can’t comprehend that there are things in the world that he cannot comprehend.

  33. “SO what is it, exactly, that you think that I think? Because you’re almost certainly wrong.”
    I think that the fact you are surrounded by successful women means that you think there’s nothing critical left for you to do to contribute to equality and supporting all of them professionally. If so, you are almost certainly wrong.

    It’s good to hear about the composition of your department though.

    just an engineer- that’s an interesting observation, that rings pretty true. Still, it likely has something to do with the fact that experts have appropriate *confidence* and can therefore focus on negative feedback without feeling like their identity is at stake. In other words, it’s important to take into account the expertise level of someone you are talking to when delivering feedback, but it’s not like by adjusting your mindset to take criticism better you will get to be an expert ultra-rapidly (though maybe more rapidly than you would have otherwise).

  34. For some reason it took me until now to grok the fact that we paid Ed to write #womanspace.

    (And by “we” I mostly mean our institutions, who pay insane fees to subscribe to Nature, giving them the luxury to pay people for shit like this).

  35. just an engineer

    @becca – thank you for your thoughts.
    sry, my comment got a bit cut and is not as i originally typed it.
    re – this novice vs. expert “must be my perception”-then aka #/*myfaultimfemale or somesuch ./. i simply have taken the proverbial-Einsteinian “question-everything” to mind and simply apply it *whenever/everywhere – clearly, also i am disregarding sex/gender/body in any applied-sciences-related topic. ouch – in this case to *womanspace resp. doing my-ongoing-personal-meta-anylysis.
    thus, a certain E.R. is redundant per-se

    Dr. Isis e.a., somehow i have come to realize/think that a lot (?) of other outlets/bloggers are not writing/commenting on *womanspace because imo e.g.
    1. it’s November
    2. there is this USian thanksgiving weekend right now and/or
    3. *women in applied-/sciences simply cannot afford to commit soc.
    professional suicide by being outspoken/blogging their opinion etc.
    4. all of the above plus N

    fyi – AWIS :

    (pls. feel free to edit my comment in case the link was already posted on your blog)

  36. Pingback: On anonymity in science and on Twitter

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