October 13, 2013 | 107
Scientific American bloggers lie at the heart of the SA website, pumping vitality, experience and broad insight around the community. Unfortunately our poor communication with this valuable part of the SA network over the recent days has led to concerns, misunderstandings and ill feelings, and we are committed to working to try to put this right as best we can.
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. 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.
We deeply regret that we were not able to communicate our decision to Dr. Lee before removing the post on a late Friday afternoon before a long weekend. We recognize that it would have been better to fully explain our position before its removal, but the circumstances were such that we could not make that happen in a timely way.
We would like to make clear that Biology-Online is neither a part of Scientific American, nor a “content partner.” We are investigating what links we currently have with Biology-Online. We intend to take further action, but due to the timing of this situation and our need to investigate the facts further, we cannot provide additional information at this point. We commit to updating you as we progress.
Juggling holiday-weekend commitments with family, lack of signal and a dying phone, alongside the challenges of reaching colleagues over a holiday weekend, I attempted to at least address initial social-media queries about the matter with a tweet yesterday: “Re blog inquiry: @sciam is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed.” I acknowledge that microblogs are not the ideal medium for such an important explanation to our audiences and regret the delay in providing a fuller response. My brief attempt to clarify, posted with the belief that “saying something is better than saying nothing,” clearly had the opposite effect. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had simply promised a fuller reply when I was able to be better connected and more thorough.
We take very seriously the issues that are faced by women in science and women of color in science. As a woman who has worked in science publishing for more than 20 years, I can add that we intend to discuss how we can better investigate and publicize such problems in general and search for solutions with Dr. Lee and with the wider scientific community. With the help of Dr. Lee as an author, Scientific American plans to provide a thoroughly reported feature article about the current issues facing women in science and the related research in the coming weeks. I am personally grateful to Dr. Lee for her support in these endeavors and am looking forward to working with her on these issues.
UPDATED on October 22, 2013: Further to my earlier statement of October 13, 2013 (above), please see below for responses from Scientific American to specific concerns that have been raised:
Why was Dr. Lee’s post taken down?
On Friday night, October 11, we took the decision to take down a blog by Dr. Danielle Lee on the Scientific American blogging network while we worked to verify an allegation contained in it. We were shocked and disappointed by what happened in the correspondence that Dr. Lee blogged about and wish to support her in her ambitions to bring issues of race and gender in science to the fore. However, we noticed a serious allegation was being made and that a person and a company were being named. This meant we were concerned about possible libel and consequences. We worked over the weekend to have the facts checked and to try to contact the parties to give them an opportunity to reply. On Monday, we were able to re-post the blog in its original form.
In our concern to act quickly, we failed to promptly and fully communicate our intentions. This breakdown in communication was a mistake on our part, and one that we regret. We have apologized to Dr. Lee personally, and to the Scientific American blogging community for taking the blog post down before we had communicated with Dr. Lee.
Why did Scientific American wait so long to restore the post?
Over a holiday weekend, we were busy fact checking for legal reasons and trying to contact the named parties to get their responses.
Why wasn’t Dr. Lee contacted before the post was removed?
We regret not contacting Dr. Lee before the post was removed. We made a very quick decision to remove the post as soon as it came to our attention. Two members of staff contacted Dr. Lee within half an hour of the post being removed, but the actual reason for removal was not clearly explained.
It took longer than we hoped to address our concerns because the post was removed on the Friday of a holiday weekend. We have now addressed our concerns and reinstated the post.
Has Scientific American terminated its partnership with Biology-Online.org?
Scientific American did not have a partnership with Biology-Online. Biology-Online is one of several science-themed websites whose traffic is reported as part of the Scientific American Network — meaning that, if someone were to look up “Scientific American” on Nielsen or comScore (services that track audience data), they would see two sets of numbers: one for the Scientific American “Channel,” which would just be ScientificAmerican.com, and a second for the Scientific American “Brand,” representing the Scientific American Network, which includes several sites, including Biology-Online. Beyond ascribing their traffic, there is no additional commercial relationship between the sites in the Scientific American Network and Scientific American or ScientificAmerican.com. We do not sell ads into Biology-Online nor provide them with any other remuneration nor, in turn, do they provide any remuneration to us.
We welcome how seriously Biology-Online has taken this matter since it came to light and are not planning on taking any action against them.
Have the editors at Scientific American apologized to Dr. Lee personally?
Yes. Editor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina has spoken to Dr. Lee and apologized to her personally. We would like to state for the record that we are very sorry for the way that we handled the situation and for the upset that it has caused Dr. Lee.
Mariette also offered a personal apology to our blog network on Sunday, when she shared the public statement with them. We reprint it here in the interests of transparency:
“In summary, I would like to personally apologize to you all that we have not reached the high standards of communication that you expect of us and that we expect of ourselves. We will be in touch again and would like to reaffirm our commitment to addressing important issues to the scientific community, including those relating to gender and inequality.”
Your earlier statement referred to a feature story. When will it run?
We cannot tell you exactly when the feature story will be published as it will depend how long it takes to research and write. We can confirm that Dr. Lee has indicated that she is willing to work on the story with Scientific American. We can also confirm that we intend to run the piece online first in order to publish it as quickly as possible, and we will also publish it in a print issue of the magazine.
What steps will Scientific American take to try to reduce the chances of this type of issue re-occurring?
We take the situation seriously and we are looking at our current practices.
Scientific American will provide information to its bloggers to help them to better understand potential legal issues to help them know when to notify Scientific American of their concerns regarding those issues.
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