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Standing with DNLee and “discovering science”.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This post is about standing with DNLee and discovering science.

In the event that you haven’t been following the situation as it exploded on Twitter, here is the short version:

DNLee was invited to guest-blog at another site. She inquired as to the terms, then politely declined. The editor then soliciting those guest-posts called her a whore.

DNLee posted on this exchange, which provides some insight into the dynamics of writing about science (and about being a woman of color writing about science) in the changing media landscape on her blog.

And then someone here at Scientific American Blogs took her post down without letting her know they were doing it or telling her why.

Today, by way of explanation, Scientific American 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.

Let the record reflect that this is the very first time I have heard about this editorial filter, or that any of my posts that do not fall in the category of “discovering science” could be pulled down by editors.

As well, it’s hard to see how what DNLee posted counts as NOT “discovering science” unless “discovering science” is given such a narrow interpretation that this entire blog runs afoul of the standard.

Of course, I’d argue that “discovering science” in any meaningful way requires discovering that scientific knowledge is the result of human labor.

Scientific knowledge doesn’t wash up on a beach, fully formed. Embodied, quirky human beings build it. The experiences of those human beings as they interact with the world and with each other are a tremendously important part of where scientific knowledge comes from. The experiences of human beings interacting with each other as they try to communicate scientific knowledge are a crucial part of where scientific understanding comes from — and of who feels like understanding science is important, who feels like it’s inviting and fun, who feels like it’s just not for them.

Women’s experiences around building scientific knowledge, communicating scientific knowledge, participating in communities and networks that can support scientific engagements, are not separable from “discovering science”. Neither are the experiences of people of color, nor of other people not yet well represented in the communities of scientists or scientific communicators.

Unless Scientific American is really just concerned with helping the people who already feel like science is for them to “discover science”. And if that’s the situation, they really should have told us bloggers that before they signed us up.

“Discovering science” means discovering all sorts of complexities — including unpleasant ones — about the social contexts in which science is done, in which scientists are trained, in which real live human beings labor to explain bits of what we know about the world and how we came to know those bits and why they matter.

If Scientific American doesn’t want its bloggers delving into those complexities, then they don’t want me.

See also:

Dr. Isis
Kate Clancy
Dana Hunter
Anne Jefferson
Sean Carroll
Stephanie Zvan
David Wescott
Kelly Hills

Janet D. Stemwedel About the Author: Janet D. Stemwedel is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at San José State University. Her explorations of ethics, scientific knowledge-building, and how they are intertwined are informed by her misspent scientific youth as a physical chemist. Follow on Twitter @docfreeride.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. David Marjanović 12:58 pm 10/13/2013

    More for the link list: PZ Myers.

    Link to this
  2. 2. rkipling 1:36 am 10/14/2013

    This situation might inspire items for your list of Obligations of Scientists.

    Unfortunately, successful completion of post-graduate studies does not correlate with higher ethical standards. People with both attributes exist. They are harder to find, but it’s worth the effort.

    The staff at the referenced blog appear to be volunteers. They may not have adult supervision. I can’t think of an excuse for Scientific American. I suspect the “discovering science” requirement is a fresh policy that may not be uniformly applied. Just guessing.

    I would encourage you to stay. I have yet to find an organization without failings. Your focus on ethics improves this site for me.

    Link to this

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