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A Response to Recent Criticism

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

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Scientific American has recently been criticized for two posts that appeared on our blog network. The first was a guest post in April about Larry Summers’ statement regarding women in science. The second was a post in May, which favorably reviewed a controversial book by Nicholas Wade, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History.

The posts provoked accusations on social media that Scientific American was promoting sexism, racism and genetic determinism. While we believe that such charges are excessive, we share readers’ concerns. Although we expect our bloggers to cover controversial topics from time to time, we also recognize that sensitive issues require extra care, and that did not happen here. The author and I have discussed the shortcomings of the two posts in detail, including the lack of attention given to countervailing arguments and evidence, and he understood the deficiencies.

As stated at the top of every post, Scientific American does not always share the views and opinions expressed by our bloggers, just as our writers do not always share our editorial positions. At the same time, we realize our network’s bloggers carry the Scientific American imprimatur and that we have a responsibility to ensure that—differences of opinion notwithstanding—their work meets our standards for accuracy, integrity, transparency, sensitivity and other attributes.

We are currently revising guidelines with our blogging community with the aim of preventing missteps. We will not un-publish the posts, however, because they are now part of a digital record of this incident that others may learn from. Toward that end, we have added an editor’s note to each with a link to this post. As always, we rely on the community for feedback and support for guidance.

Curtis Brainard About the Author: Curtis Brainard is the Blogs Editor at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @cbrainard.

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

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  1. 1. M Tucker 12:48 pm 07/2/2014

    I disagreed with the point of view in both those posts BUT I would defend the right of free expression. I don’t give a furry rat’s backside what the prevailing opinion is on “social media”. I abhor attempts to shut down free expression just because it is repugnant or racist or sexist. Now I say this with the full understanding that the free expression I am defending is that of the sponsored blogger. People like me who comment on the blogs are subject to censorship and if I don’t like it I can get my own blog or take to ranting on social media.

    Please stop the overreaction. You have created a wonderful space here and I would hate to see that diminished. I feel free to disagree with your bloggers and they have allowed all kinds of comments to their posts. You do not need to do THIS kind of babysitting. Do not get jerked around by reactions from social media. Do you suppose Penguin Books is worried about social media’s reaction to the Wade book? Do you suppose fewer people will visit your web site because a blogger gave it a positive review? I think the answer to both those questions is NO!

    Stop the handwringing and support your bloggers right to free expression. Show a little backbone.

    Link to this
  2. 2. jtdwyer 3:18 pm 07/2/2014

    I applaud M Tucker’s comment and wholeheartedly agree with it.
    On the other hand, I also support commentator’s freedom to express their disagreement with blog posting, and suggest that blog authors are sometimes a little too quick to delete disagreeable but polite comments. Perhaps some oversight should be exercised there?

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  3. 3. PaulaDGS 8:23 am 07/6/2014

    You are are currently revising guidelines with our blogging to community due to 24 critical tweets?

    No mention of scientific inaccuracies either, just people being sensitive.

    Maybe you should revise the title of the Scientific American to Sensitive American.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Chryses 5:47 am 07/8/2014

    I retain the impression that it’s OK for the blogger to delete whatever comments he or she sees fit. Remember the SciAm policy of “You have no right to be here, no right to say anything – it is up to me to welcome you here, and up to you to ensure you are welcomed.”

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  5. 5. jrkipling 12:11 am 09/28/2014

    Your blogs are the only part of Scientific American Online that remains open to free expression. I’m sure you have observed what has happened to the comment sections of the so-called news side. It is amazing to see some commenters, who are apparently like-minded to those in charge, get away with crude expression and foul language while others, who express dissent with civility are silenced.

    Seeking improvement is to be commended, but you are doing a fine job.

    Link to this

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