Scientific American Does Not Stand With DN Lee

By Arturo R. García

The science blog community was lit up — and rightly so — after the disturbing treatment of DN Lee came to light.

As Lee explains in both the video above and at Isis The Scientist, Lee was approached by Biology-Online.org for a guest blogging stint. When Lee asked about payment, B-O said they did not pay for guest contributors, but argued that her work would benefit from being exposed on the site.

When Lee declined, however, B-O replied — and we quote — “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”

One thing that’s interesting: Not even the regulars at Biology Online seem to have heard of “Ofek,” the editor who contacted Lee — and let B-O know about it.

Meanwhile, Lee penned a response to the incident in a post at Scientific American, which reportedly had a collaborative agreement with Biology Online. But SciAm took Lee’s post down on Friday. More on that in a second.

Lee’s response found a new home at Isis’ site:

It wasn’t just that he called me a whore – he juxtaposed it against myprofessional being: Are you urban scientist or an urban whore?Completely dismissing me as a scientist, a science communicator (whom he sought for my particular expertise), and someone who could offer something meaningful to his brand.What? Now, I’m so immoral and wrong to inquire about compensation? Plus, it was obvious me that I was supposed to be honored by the request..

After all, Dr. Important Person does it for free so what’s my problem? Listen, I ain’t him and he ain’t me. Folks have reasons – finances, time, energy, aligned missions, whatever – for doing or not doing things. Seriously, all anger aside … this rationalization of working for free and you’ll get exposure is wrong-headed.

“Wrong-headed” would also describe SciAm‘s reaction thus far. First, Editor-In-Chief Mariette DiChristina said on Twitter that Lee’s post was taken down because the site “is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed.”

But numerous responses pointed out to DiChristina that contributors there have long been allowed to talk about having a life in science, on top of science itself. And the hashtag #StandingWithDNLee quickly gained traction.

DiChristina doubled down on that argument in a statement to Buzzfeed, saying that:

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.

However, in a column on Sunday, DiChristina took a whole other tack:

We know that there are real and important issues regarding the treatment of women in science and women of color in science, both historically and currently, and are dismayed at the far too frequent cases in which women face prejudice and suffer inappropriate treatment as they strive for equality and respect. We recently removed a blog post by Dr. Danielle Lee that alleged a personal experience of this nature. Dr. Lee’s post pertained to personal correspondence between her and an editor at Biology-Online about a possible assignment for that network. Unfortunately, we could not quickly verify the facts of the blog post and consequently for legal reasons we had to remove the post.

DiChristina also blamed “holiday-weekend commitments with family, lack of signal and a dying phone, alongside the challenges of reaching colleagues over a holiday weekend” for her Twitter misstep. So, Scientific American never heard of Skype? Or did the phone tap out after she talked to Buzzfeed?

As ScienceBlogs pointed out, though, the matter may not be done yet; SciAm blogs editor Bora Zivkovic has not weighed in — an absence that matters since Zivkovic was part of a group that left ScienceBlogs for SciAm following an incident in which a Pepsi-sponsored “research” piece was placed amid Science Blogs’ usual offerings.

And as Isis noted late Sunday night, it’s encouraging that DiChristina promised in her column to feature Lee’s work in “a thoroughly reported feature article about the current issues facing women in science and the related research.” But Isis also nails the contrast in her responses thus far:

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.

But with an intersectional group of readers and contributors now calling DiChristina out, how far out of this hole can SciAm really dig itself?

  • PatrickInBeijing

    Science is personal. While it strives to be objective, when it is honest, scientists admit and display their biases, so that the effects on their writings can be judged. But too often white people seem to believe that they and only they can be considered objective. The response to Dr. Lee smacks of that. She isn’t a white male, so of course she isn’t objective. Frankly her response has been very measured and much fairer than the attacks on her deserved. She doesn’t need to prove anything. Really. Sadly, in issues of race, much like rape, society always demands that the victim prove their innocence. We have a long way to go. Shame on Scientific American, and thanks for a great article. Best wishes to Dr. Lee.

  • http://www.melissadanielle.com/ Melissa Danielle

    Yes, and, I’m also disturbed by the implication that Dr. Lee by DiChristina that she did not herself “verify the facts” of the person sending her the email as well as the website, as though Dr. Lee, a scientist, would not perform her due diligence before publicly sharing her experience. I’m also still confused as to how someone being asked to contribute something they do as a part of their profession/work would be considered personal.

  • crazygemini12

    The irony of silencing her discussion about the lack of women and ethnic minorities within the realm of science is obviously lost on the folks at SciAm. Thanks for proving her point!