Scientific American has many blogs in various scientific fields. One is The Urban Scientist, by Danielle N. Lee, a biologist specializing in the excellent fields of animal behavior, mammalogy, and urban ecology. She has blogged about her fieldwork in Tanzania with Gambian Giant Pouched Rats (Cricetomys gambianus). She has also written about camel crickets.
Dr. Lee got email from “Ofek,” blog editor at Biology Online, suggesting that she might also like to blog for them. It would allow Lee to “enjoy a great deal of exposure.” After establishing that Biology Online does not pay bloggers, Lee politely declined the offer.
Ofek responded: “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”
Yeah, that always works.
“Did YOU JUST CALL ME A WHORE?” Lee shot back, but got no answer.
Why did he call her a whore? Because whores expect to be paid. Guess what? SO DO SCIENTISTS. Nor do I think blog editors work for free. Ofek undoubtedly likes to be compensated for his time and HIS AMAZING PEOPLE SKILLS.
The next day, a Friday, Lee posted on the Urban Scientist blog about the exchange. It was an impassioned, funny, clear post that looked at the insult in the context of her professional life and expertise. It examined the all-too-common situation of being asked to provide sophisticated content for free. It included a 4-minute video addressed principally to other scholars who might receive similar offers. She noted that some people might have reason to accept an offer she had reason to turn down.
Within an hour, Scientific American removed the post.
They didn’t say anything to Lee, but editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina tweeted, “Re blog inquiry: @sciam is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed.”
“Discovering science” doesn’t include scientists’ professional lives and how they are treated? Oh please.
Naturally science-oriented social media went wild with indignation.
DiChristina posted an explanation. It’s long, so I’ll just hit a few conspicuous points: We love our bloggers! We love women and people of color! Lawyers forced us to remove that post! Or at least our respect for the law did, because it’s JUST AN ALLEGATION. We regret we had to! We regret we couldn’t tell Dr Lee because of the long weekend! We have no connection to Biology Online! We think!
Did we mention it was a long weekend and we put family first and the signal was weak and our phone was running out of juice? We wish we hadn’t tweeted that tweet, but AREN’T WE ALL WISER IN HINDSIGHT?
We are a woman too! We will make it better, with an article about women in science and Dr. Lee alleges she will help write it! It will have reporting and research! Dr Lee’s not mad at us, so you shouldn’t be!
Scientific American also restored Lee’s post — yay! — with a note saying Biology Online had confirmed the exchange happened.
That wasn’t really an apology. Did it take responsibility? Why no. It was an explanation, and a bunch of excuses. It doesn’t say they wouldn’t do it again, just that they wouldn’t tweet about it the same way. I’ll give them points for restoring the post and for the promised future article, but it’s still not an apology
But wait! Biology Online apologized.
It said, in part:
We would like to express our sincerest apologies to Danielle N. Lee (DNLee) and anyone else who may have been offended by the way our recently hired employee, Ofek, handled the conversation with her. Ofek’s behaviour was completely out of line and after gathering the facts we immediately terminated his employment. Ofek failed to show the respect and prudent behavior expected of him as a contributor to Biology Online.
Alan Weisleder, a partner in the company that owns Biology Online, sent a separate email to Lee, which they helpfully reproduce:
My name is Alan and I am a partner at Keebali – the company that owns Biology-Online. I’ve just now been made aware of your correspondence with Ofek and I’ve got to tell you that I was totally shocked!!! Ofek was recently hired to help grow biology-online’s relationships with bloggers and scientists in the biology arena. We obviously made the wrong hire! The way he corresponded with you is completely unthinkable and unacceptable – I am speechless! What was he thinking??
Please accept my apology on behalf of biology-online. Ofek has been terminated effective immediately. We are terribly sorry about this situation and hope the future will offer us an opportunity to establish a new and fruitful relationship.
Thanks and Regards,
Those are better apologies. By the way: instead of saying you apologize to “anyone else who may have been offended,” try saying you apologize to EVERYONE who WAS offended. The “anyone/may” formula is much too vague and demonstrates a vain hope that no one was offended. (There’s a silent sorry-if.)
Also, please make up your mind whether or not to use a hyphen when referring to Biology Online in a non-URL setting.
I like “We obviously made the wrong hire!”
However, the hope that the future will offer Biology Online an “opportunity to establish a new and fruitful relationship” with Lee seems doomed until they START PAYING BLOGGERS.
Okay, what have we learned? Bloggers just wanna get paid. “Exposure” may be nice, but it won’t pay for such things as a long family weekend in a place with weak phone reception. Scientific American pays, but I suspect they won’t be asking me to blog for them. And hey, headhunters – Ofek’s available.
All this hoo-rah about blogging and science and unfortunate hiring decisions takes focus away from something vitally important: The GAMBIAN GIANT POUCHED RAT.
They’re not exactly rats, they’re big (up to three pounds), and they have great noses and can be trained to detect landmines by smell (three pounds is too light to set the mines off) in return for snacks.
While we bicker, giant pouched rats work for world peace.