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Danielle N. Lee, Ph.D., posted a video and written response to being called an "urban whore." (Credit: Scientific American/ Danielle N. Lee, screenshot)

Biology-Online fired an editor who blogged under the name “Ofek” for calling Scientific American blogger Danielle N. Lee an “urban whore.”

Ofek’s firing came after his insult to Lee, a biologist, said she wasn’t interested in blogging monthly for Biology-Online for free.  In response to Lee’s rejection, Ofek wrote: “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”

Lee outed the e-mail exchange with Ofek and her reaction to his insult on her Scientific American blog The Urban Scientist.   Her blogpost about the incident outlined the exchanges and explained what she found so upsetting about the e-mails:

“It wasn’t just that he called me a whore – he juxtaposed it against my professional 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?”

But the post was soon deleted from Scientific American‘s website without comment. Later, Scientific American gave conflicting explanations for doing so.

At first, Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina said that the post wasn’t science-y enough. Later, DiChristina said it was because Scientific American couldn’t fact check the blogpost so legally it needed to take the post down.

Finally, Scientific American re-published Lee’s blogpost on Oct. 14 and apologized for the confusion.  Likewise, Biology-Online apologized for Ofek’s e-mailed insult to Lee and fired the editor for having “failed to show the respect and prudent behavior expected of him.”

iMediaEthics sent multiple questions to Scientific American about this incident.

Alice Henchley, Head of Press for Nature Publishing Group, responded to our inquiries on behalf of Scientific American. However, Henchley declined to answer our questions and instead pointed us toDiChristina’s already published statement and the editor’s note. She did note that “we will be releasing a further statement and will send it to” us when it’s out.

Here are more details from the back story.
 

Scientific American‘s explanation for unpublishing

Scientific American admitted it unpublished Lee’s blogpost about being called an “urban whore” without letting her know.  And, when Scientific American did respond to the public outcry about why it yanked the post, the answers seemed contradictory.

Originally, DiChristina, the Scientific American editor-in-chief, said on Twitter and in an interview with BuzzFeed that Lee’s post wasn’t acceptable because it didn’t deal with science. DiChristina’s Oct. 12 tweet stated it was deleted because the post wasn’t “appropriate” given Scientific American‘s purpose of “discovering science.”

 

 

In her statement to BuzzFeed, Scientific American‘s DiChristina said the post was taken down because it “verged into the personal.”

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However, in an Oct. 13 post on Scientific American‘s website, DiChristina suddenly stated that the post was unpublished because of “legal reasons” — not “the substance of the post.” DiChristina wrote:

“Unfortunately, we could not quickly verify the facts of the blog post and consequently for legal reasons we had to remove the post. Although we regret that this was necessary, a publisher must be able to protect its interests and Scientific American bloggers are informed that we may remove their blog posts at any time when they agree to blog for us. In removing the post, we were in no way commenting upon the substance of the post, but reflecting that the underlying facts were not confirmed.”

Her statement seemed to contradict the earlier explanations that the problem with the post was because it wasn’t science-related and it was “personal.”

DiChristina also apologized for “concerns, misunderstandings and ill feelings” about the unpublishing incident.  And, she added that she shouldn’t have tweeted about the incident until she could have given a “fuller response” since her tweet didn’t help explain what happened.

In a final twist, Scientific American re-published Lee’s blogpost.

iMediaEthics found an Oct. 14 editor’s note atop Lee’s now re-published blogpost, Scientific American repeated that the claim that the blogpost was unpublished because Scientific American needed to fact check Lee’s claims about Biology-Online. Since Lee’s original blogpost included images of her e-mails with Biology-Online and largely consisted of her reaction to the e-mails, iMediaEthics believes that there wasn’t much to check. We asked Scientific American to explain, but didn’t receive a response to this question.

Scientific American‘s editor’s note added that it has reached out to Ofek and Biology Online, which “confirmed” the authenticity of Lee’s e-mails with Ofek.  Ofek didn’t respond, and Biology Online wouldn’t provide “his identity” or “contact information.”

Related to this, DiChristina’s post on Scientific American’s website also distanced the publication from Biology-Online and said it is looking into “what links we currently have with Biology-Online.” In a statement to BuzzFeed, DiChristina explained that “Biology Online has an ad network relationship, and not an editorial one” with Scientific American. “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,” she is quoted as saying.

 

Scientific American Unpublishing, Republishing same blogpost

This debacle highlighted what appear to be some editorial problems at Scientific American in handling blogs.

The fact is that Scientific American clearly didn’t read Lee’s blogpost before publication or else it would have known it was too personal, not related enough to science, needed fact checking or had legal problems.

Scientific American apparently doesn’t vet posts before publication. If fact checking is important to Scientific American — which, based on its stated desires to fact check Lee’s post, it must be — then the magazine should fact check before posts are published, not after. And, if Scientific American wants to control what is on its site, then it has to review posts prior to publication. Then, Scientific American could prevent this messy situation where it has to delete an already-published post — and then, even worse, re-post it — because it wasn’t vetted.

It was also embarrassing to have Boing Boing and others call out Scientific American for their inconsistent excuses.

Boing Boing rebutted Scientific American‘s DiChristina’s claim that posts have to be related to “discovering science.” It wrote  “SciAm bloggers frequently wander off the reservation and the postings remain live,” pointing to an Oct. 12 post by Kate Clancy. Clancy’s blogpost had responded to DiChristina’s tweet by copy and pasting the following sentence 11 times in her first paragraph: ‘This is not a post about discovering science.”

She also listed five of her other blogposts that, under DiChristina’s claim that only science-related posts are permitted, shouldn’t “have been allowed either.”  Clancy states: “I almost never write about discovering science, and in fact write frequently about oppression and privilege.”

iMediaEthics reached out to Scientific American for confirmation that it doesn’t vet blogposts before publication. We asked for a response to blogger Kate Clancy’s claim that Scientific American doesn’t actually require bloggers to write solely about “discovering science.”

Hat Tip: Media Bistro’s Morning Newsletter, Andy Carvin

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‘Urban Whore’ Blogpost: Scientific American Unpublished, Re-published, Biology-Online editor fired

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