'Scientific American', Censorship and The Role A Writer Plays Online
I’m a monthly subscriber to Scientific American and read through their website and blogs pretty often. Their content is intriguing and a fair representation of wide-spread and ever-expanding advancements (scientific, psychological, technological, environmental, societal etc.). So when I read on The Wired that a female blogger for Scientific American was censored by her editor because she called out another magazine for calling her a whore, my mind was blown. And not in a good way this time around.
Danielle N. Lee, Ph.D, is a biologist who writes a lot about marginalized groups in the science field, where she feels there is more and more need for representation. Last week, Danielle received an e-mail from the editor of Biology-Online.org, a website which The Wired claims is Scientific American’s partner site (although Mariette DiChristina, editor of SciAm, denies this). The e-mail basically asked if Danielle would like contribute to their blog without any pay and Danielle politely refused. Which she had every right to do. The editor of Biology Online responded with: “Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”
Dr. Lee, furious that a representative of a science website would call her a “whore” for not accepting an unpaid offer, wrote a post about this sexist and dismissive treatment: “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.”
Immediately after her post was published online, Scientific American took it down. She didn’t receive any warning, her editor didn’t send her a message asking her to maybe tone it down a bit, nothing. Nothing except for a Tweet that said, “Re blog inquiry: SciAm is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed.”
On one hand, I totally see Mariette’s point. The blog post was not the kind of “science” or scientific commentary that SciAm normally features on their website. She’s right. It wasn’t exactly “appropriate”. On the other hand, there were no set rules given by the magazine to their bloggers. Furthermore, by deleting Danielle’s post without even warning her, Scientific American essentially booted her thoughts and concerns. This is a problem, because many writers feel that the magazines they write for should back them up, even if it’s over a controversial topic. If their writers are being slandered, its part of the editor’s job to make sure something happens. In this case, I think if Mariette DiChristina strongly felt that Dr. Lee’s content was not appropriate, she should have personally e-mailed her and asked her to revise it or somehow make it pertain more to the role of women in the science industry, if anything.
After tremendous support from Buzzfeed, Metafilter, and Twitter (which showcased hundreds of Dr. Lee’s supporters), Scientific American re-published the blog post as of the 14th of October.
Still, this scenario effected me in a way it would for any freelance writer who often voices their opinions with the knowledge that she or he will receive criticism. I do have strong opinions about certain topics, and I’m not afraid of voicing these ideas; I’m lucky to write for HelloGiggles, a writing community that bolsters and encourages its’ female (and male) writers to speak their mind if they are passionate about something. But we make mistakes, too. We are not omnipotent beings that get to throw rowdy ideas around like candy on Halloween. We get called out maybe if we go too far or cause way too much chaos, but this happens professionally.
In Dr. Lee’s case, I think her editor should have had her back and approached the situation differently. And clearly she (her editor) thought so too, because she re-posted the entry, even after writing a letter that explained her actions.
At the core of journalism, a writer is expected to push buttons. In the rhetoric class that I teach, I tell my students that it’s easy to write someone off because you disagree with them, or you think their writing is “bad”. It’s hard to justify your ill will towards a piece when its well written, well thought-out, and exploring a topic that doesn’t have one right answer. And rarely will a subject have one.
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