An Open Letter to Scientific American and Why You’ve Lost a Reader: #BoycottSciAm

Dear Fine Network Editors,

Yesterday early in the day, I saw some tweets from my friend DNLee about an interaction she had with an editor at biology-online in which she was called an “urban whore” by the site’s editor.  I’ll admit I had the following two reactions:

1) I took my earrings off and was ready to fight on behalf of my friend, because no woman should every be called a whore.

2) “Who the fuck is biology-online and what right does some low rent aggregator think they have to come at anyone?”

I looked around the site a little more though and realized that some of my big named colleagues in physiology have had posts aggregated there.  I was glad later in the day to see that DNLee had posted about her experience on her Scientific American blog.

Then I went to lab meeting, came back, and the post was gone. Vanished into the ether. Rumor circulated around Twitter that it had been pulled. I talked to DNLee and she very graciously provided me its content to post and was classy as fuck about what had gone down, refusing me any additional comment.

But, I’m a smart woman, I’ve been running this game a long time, and I know when things smell shady as fuck.  It doesn’t take much googling to discover this:

sciam network

Figure 1: Note at the bottom that Biology Online is part of the Scientific American Partners Network.

The same people that Called DNLee an “urban whore” are part of  your Partners Network.  Where there’s a partnership in this industry, there’s usually a financial relationship. I really crossed my fingers that you hadn’t pulled DNLee’s post to keep your financially-allied partner happy. I hoped you’d had a moment of panic and would come to your damned senses and do the right thing. But then your editor released this statement on Twitter:

sciam response

Figure 2: With a link to the original tweet.

And, with that, the confirmation that once again a publication is more interested in chasing paper than doing the right thing.

Now, I realize that you fine folks have been playing at “discovering science” for a long time, but I’ve been actually doing science for a long time and I’m hoping I can offer some insights that might help you all understand why this is such a cock up of a problem.

You see, science is about discovery, yes. But, more importantly, at its core science is about discovery with integrity. It’s about accepting data for what they are, even when they challenge our view of the world. It’s about reporting your conclusions, even when they are not popular and create conflict. Science is about chasing the truth and uncovering more of that truth with each new discovery. Not obscuring it.  I became a scientist because science is about honesty and curiosity and that little moment of excitement when you’re holding something brand new and you can’t wait to show it to the world.

I have a vision of what science should look like. When I close my eyes, I see a community where we are fascinated by the world around us. Our core value is, indeed, discovery, The more senior of us extend our hand to raise up those more junior than us.  We mentor them, care for them, love them, and protect them. We respect and value that our diversity makes us stronger. We empower those folks to feel like super heroes, because they are. They really, truly are. More so than any character, these folks have the power to shape our future for the better.

What you’ve taught me today is that you do not share my values. You may post glossy, sexy pictures of science, but you are not interested in discovery. You do not value truth, honesty and integrity – the core values that I hold most dear as a scientist.  Most importantly, you did not empower my friend.  You shut her down when she shared that she had not been respected. You put the dollar before the scientist.

I can’t read you anymore, Scientific American because there is truly nothing scientific about you.

What I can do, is to support my friend and fellow scientist and I can ask my fellow readers and scientists to join me in boycotting your publication.

Kindest regards,
Isis the Scientist

66 responses to “An Open Letter to Scientific American and Why You’ve Lost a Reader: #BoycottSciAm

  1. I’m just so upset over this. The other thing SciAm’s actions say to me is that they don’t value any of DNLee’s previous work, not even the traffic that she brings to the site. I expect more out of Bora et al. in this regard. What this tells me is that SciAm purely sees DNLee as a just a blogger who provides them with low-cost science coverage. Their reaction is as bad as the first part of Ofek’s reaction. It will be interesting to see what the other bloggers on the site do in response …

  2. Well we know where SciAm’s values are—and they’re not mine. Money is more important than scholarly integrity. Got it. And of course, it’s quite acceptable to continue a monetary relationship with a publication that responds to a woman’s courteous “no” by calling her a whore.

  3. As if SciAm never has anything to say about the business of science.

    But I guess how the scientific community functions is only relevant if it harms white guys. Otherwise it’s a women’s issue, or a black issue, or just generally “off topic”.

    Good to know that social assaults on scientists are important when biological work is being deterred by animal rights activists, but social assaults on scientists are entirely unimportant when biological and ecological work is being deterred by racist, sexist jerks.

    Because fighting racism & sexism is unscientific.

    Thanks SciAm. The clarification is very, very helpful.

  4. My worry is more on how other SciAm contributors respond. Personally and professionally (note: I am not a scientist, writer, contributor so my opinions mean diddly), I would be embaressed and post nothing on sciAm until theituation was resolved with the reposting of the article and disassociation with biology online. Who calls someone a”whore”? Then, call someone a “whore” in a professional relationship? Isn’t science and academic freedom somewhat tied together so the pulling of the post is a little bit of censorship dictating content? Granted, SciAm has editorial comtrol but this does not soumd like bora of scienceblogs fame?

  5. Pingback: Don’t Start None, Won’t Be None | Sean Carroll

  6. Pingback: Biology-Online & DNLee5 | GeoMika

  7. So the prediction that follows from the editor’s statement is that every single blog post on their site is about discovering science, right, and nothing else? I’d be interested to see if that hypothesis holds up, and whether there’s evidence from other bloggers on that site that this censorship is as routine as it is purported to be.

  8. Pingback: Another hostile work environment » Butterflies and Wheels

  9. in re above comment: “I’d be interested to see if that hypothesis holds up”

    Hypothesis, thou hast been weighed and found wanting.

  10. Pingback: Sean Carroll is in » Butterflies and Wheels

  11. Pingback: An Open Letter to Scientific American and Why You’ve Lost a Reader | Boardmad

  12. Pingback: I will not be silent any longer about the way women and people of color in science and leadership are treated | Highly Allochthonous

  13. You know, while I sympathize and thing this biology-online guy’s a complete asshole, SA is well within their rights to not want off-topic posts in their blogs section. There’s a TON of places on the internet that cater specifically to calling out authority figures that abuse their position, and even more dedicated to calling out misogynist assholes, but SA is NOT one of those places. To analogize, I wouldn’t expect NatGeo or CNN to allow an official blog post specifically about one instance of workplace misogyny either, not because they condone it, but because the internet’s a big place and there’s more appropriate places to discuss the issue.

  14. Dave– I see no reason why SA shouldn’t have blog posts about calling out authority figures abusing their position in science; I don’t see why it shouldn’t have an entire section devoted to misogyny and other serious problems in *the business of discovery* in science. I take a publication *less* seriously if it can’t figure out how to acknowledge the importance of, support, and house these conversations.

    Also, I think it’s worth stepping back a yard or a mile or two. SA is not a scientific journal. Nobody publishes discoveries in SA. SA is a popular magazine *about* scientific discoveries. And I see no reason why it shouldn’t also be about the business of scientific discovery — the discoveries don’t come from the hand of God.

  15. Comradde PhysioProffe

    Jeezus motherfucke. I sure hope Bora takes a strong stand on this.

  16. I came to this post via Butterflies & Wheels. As a practicing scientist, I agree completely with your analysis, especially the part about the values our scientific community should strive to uphold. Thanks for saying it so well.

  17. Bora is not being silent. He’s trying to get more information from his employers.

  18. Pingback: What @sciam’s actions tell me as a female scientist of color |

  19. My comment thru Biology-Online: “You have lost all credibility. I will be working down the list of your contributors to be sure they are aware of how you allow your employees to treat an accomplished young woman who was considered knowledgable and professional enough for you to wish to use her work and I will contacting them to ask them to cease to provide the content your site requires to survive. I will also be joining and spreading the word to encourage all my science and engineering friends to boycott not just your no-name recognition site but the very vulnerable to public opinion Scientific American. I will also ask these scientists to consider that by allowing for-profit companies like yours to use their work for free to build your company’s value that they are devaluing their own professional expertise. If your site does not have the information needed then google will direct interested parties to their own sites and build their brand. Your company structure is just another example of the “unpaid intern” debacle.

    I picture a scenario in which after your CEO and Board of Directors becomes aware of the fallout from this disgusting email exchange that biology-online company security (literally) tosses “Ofer” onto the pavement and flings a cardboard box full of his belongings on top of him. I suggest filming it for youtube to show your audience that you take harassment and debasement of women seriously. I also am pleased to see that Ofer has an unusual name–this should make it harder for time to erase the memory of his unprofessional and plainly stupid behavior and remind other potential employers that he is a liability not an asset. “Ofer” / “oaf”–hmmm. Easy to remember that.

    Kindly attempt to clean up your mess though hopefully for the women scientists of the world, it will be too little, too late and you’ll go the way of other internet dinosaurs.”

  20. I am Happy to Boycott SA. and I would definitely inform others. let us know when they are ready to apologise to that fine woman.

  21. Richard White

    Scientific American has never been a scientific journal – it is the National Enquirer of science, and always has been.

  22. If DNLee blogs on ‘diversity in the sciences’, then a post about sexism or racism would be entirely within her blog’s remit as part of ‘discovering science’. Unfortunately, this disgusting behaviour keeps on happening, and it’s only when people call it out that it stops. Way to show your journalistic integrity, Scientific American.

  23. Pingback: Life as an Extreme Sport » Blog Archive » SciAm Doesn’t Think Sexism in Science is “An Issue”–Will They Think Boycotts Are?

  24. Interesting tidbit: I just perused Scientific American and have found at least THREE blog posts covering this topic from other bloggers. If their blog posts are still up, why isn’t @DNLee’s still up?

    Important note to @mdichristina: If this woman scientist studies animal behavior and she’s blogging about the behavior of a science editor and her behavioral response, isn’t that her job? I think that’s completely appropriate! Humans are animals, after all. #science

  25. @mdichristina should lose her job if she doesn’t make this right. this is all sorts of messed up

  26. Part of writing about science is writing about how scientists work. Not just in labs or in the field, but things like public outreach and education about science. (I teach budding scientists and engineers how to write, including communicating to the public.)

    This kind of transparency does several things. First, it gives the public an idea of just how much and how varied work scientists do. It also helps to humanize science by letting people see that it is people doing a lot of interesting things that makes up science, not just the occasional talking head expert they see on TV or quotes about the latest paper that has been turned into an alarmist article by a newspaper or TV station. Scientists write, teach, try to get grants, help Museums, visit community groups, and do lots of other things that help people understand science and the world around them. In my experience, scientists love to share and are passionate about their work.

    Finally, writing about the broad work of scientists pulls back the curtain and lets people exploring careers see what goes on. And that is where the encounter that DNLee wrote about is important. It lets potential scientists see what to expect in their careers. And it rightly names and shames a person who represents a real barrier to a lot of people considering a career in science. So I applaud DNLee’s original post and the restraint that she showed in her response. No one should have to defend themselves for asking for professional compensation for professional services. So far as I know,”exposure” is not a negotiable currency anywhere in the world (well, maybe in Hollywood….). Thank you, and keep up the good work. You deserve better.

  27. So Sci Am is against other female scientists knowing what they might be up against? Good to know.

  28. Hit ’em in the Pocketbook the way we smacked down Limbaugh: contact their (SciAm’s and BI’s) sponsors and tell them you’re unhappy they’re sponsoring misogynistic racists and will tell all your friends.

  29. Scientific American should seriously rethink their response to this situation. Sexism in science is “not appropriate for this area.” Scientific American, biology-online and Ofek should apologise for their lack of appropriate response to DNLee. We are all waiting and watching with bated breath…

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  33. I agree with Dave above. while I sympathize with her, Sciam is not the place for DNLee to air her grievances.

  34. Pingback: Scientific American faces firestorm after removing blog post about scientist being called a whore | Retraction Watch

  35. @SugarTax: IF airing your grievances where they arose is not the place then where/, pray tell, should be?

  36. @Joseph Singer,

    DNLee’s grievances did not arise at Sciam ( ). Her grievances arose at biology online ( ).

    DNLee posted her grievances with biology online at Sciam.

  37. The address, phone numbers and name of the CEO of SCIAM’s parent company, Nature America Inc. is here And in NYC too. This outrage cannot stand. I think everybody knows what do do.

  38. SugarTax has a point. Why should SCIAM serve as DNLee’s soundboard?

  39. I think we are overlooking the implication of classism and racism in biology-online’s “urban whore” remark.
    But hey, as long as they are holding up the pompous-rich-white-guy’s entitlement to be sexist, they’d prolly ignore classism and racism too.
    afterall, sex, class, and race aren’t issues rich-white-men are facing in science so it therefore is not an appropriate conversation for *anyone* in science.
    good to know SciAm has the status quo’s priorities in mind.

  40. I’m a subscriber to Sciam(Mind) and I’ve asked them for their reaction, on Twitter. Appalled by this story. And surprised that it should have come in the context of academia, where expertise should be valued. This a few days after I’d blogged about writers working for free and whether it’s ever OK. Experts, workers, be paid for your expertise and work.

  41. M. D. Sheppeard

    I was boycotting them, anyway. I discovered some time ago that outspoken feminists in science are sentenced to death by torture. And I am not exaggerating. The inquisition lives.

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  46. It’s unfortunate this happened. I really liked SciAm.

  47. I am not saying that this specific woman should have been called a whore, but am instead responding to the comment that “no woman should be called a whore”. This is incorrect. Any woman who actually is a whore, should be called a whore. Because that’s what she is.

  48. Dave,
    Try to be a little less judgmental. The term is “commercial sex worker.” Some people are dealt a bad hand and have few choices. You don’t know why people do what they have to do, so have a little sympathy.

  49. Pingback: On Science, Communication, Respect, and Coming Back from Mistakes | morganicalhy465

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  51. @patch, “Ofek” is a Jewish name. Gilad is as well. But continue your circlejerk about whites, while unmentionable Jewish racism continues.

  52. Is there any way to read her column/account of what happened elsewhere, now that it’s been pulled from the SciAm site?

  53. Pingback: Don't Start None, Won't be None | Random Musings from Bill Ryan

  54. I enjoyed SciAm much better when I was reading it in high-school back in the early 90s. We’ve both changed. Me for the better.

    I stopped my subscription with not a little disappointed misanthropy for the editors’ desk (I think John Rennie was the turning point, DiChristina seems his acolyte in philosophy). It felt like a divorce. I still visit my ex occasionally at the library. As such visits typically go, mine usually end in regret for having tried.

    Dear SciAm,
    Sorry it’s still not working out. It’s you.

    (Remember James Burke and Mathematical Recreations and Amateur Scientist? …it was good once. Ugh, recall Sustainable Developments, and Science Agenda? An editor might point to their Citizen Science initiative, but there’s a subtle difference there that might just go to the heart of what changed at the magazine. Amateur was about exploration, achievement and discovery on an individual basis; personal development and growth at scientific understanding. Citizen is about joining the collective and giving you (or your computer CPU’s) time and attention to advance your friendly professional’s PhD work. Citizen Science isn’t bad per se, not at all…but it’s the focus shift toward being collectively minded in all things sciencey. This shift I think is at the center of all that’s different about the modern SciAm. Let me just say that very often (maybe even most often), it’s the scientist outside the collective that advances the state of knowledge with the novel insight, discovery, and experiment. All the rest tends toward consensus-building and is more a political activity than real science. At least they’re still running Skeptic.)

  55. It’s not “judgment” to call a whore a whore. It’s simply stating a fact. And I wasn’t talking about prostitutes. Stop trying to tedefine words to make sin okay! By definition, any woman who has sex outside of marriage is a whore. And any man who does the same is a whoremonger. Oh and why they do it is irrelevant. The sob stories do not make it okay. There are other choices. Of course, being forced into sexual slavery (which does not mean whatever you want it to) is another story. But this is getting off track here. I made a simple comment that is factually true. That’s all. If you want to sugar coat things on your blog, go ahead. It’s your blog.:) But I don’t do that on mine. I just state the facts, whether positive or negative. Anyway, I’ll leave now. No point in turning this into an argument. I believe in remaining civil and am not upset at all and I truly do wish you the best! Your blog also looks nice in a mobile view, btw. My mobile view is having an issue that we’re working on at the moment.

  56. Pingback: On Science, Communication, Respect, and Coming Back from Mistakes | ilifemoro

  57. Dave, you are incorrect. A whore is a prostitute, whether male or female. While some sex workers reclaim the word “whore” to describe themselves, the rest of us just say “sex worker.”

    A whoremonger is someone who sells whores, ie a pimp.

    The word you are thinking of is perhaps “slut”? Again, a word that some of us use to describe ourselves but others are better off not making that presumption.

    Marital status has nothing to do with the definitions of any of these words.

  58. Actually, you should read it more carefully:

    “A woman who engages in promiscuous sexual activity; USUALLY for money.”

    Also note the placement of the semi-colon. The definition stops there. What you see after it, is the USUAL reason.

    As for “slut”, that will work. But it’s also USUALLY a prostitute by definition.

    The reason for this, is that it was almost always only prostitutes who were that promiscuous. Now it’s just about all women who are promiscuous and “promiscuous” is the definition, not “prostitute”, so yes, they’re “whores’/”sluts” by DEFINITION. Take your pick.

    Either way, it’s fornication and if one of them is married, it’s adultery.

    Now please, for the last time hopefully, this is off track. I was simply, as I originally said, correcting a general claim that you made.

    And why any woman would think that there’s nothing wrong, nor “whorish”/”slutty” about being promiscuous, I have no idea. Being 2013 does not make a whore into an angel, just by virtue of the number of the year, so the argument that “It’s 2013!” is simply an attempt to admit to what one is doing.

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