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A Word On Bora And The Science Blogging Community

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


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I’ve written extensively about sexism in the past and am extremely troubled over the past week’s revelations regarding Bora Zivkovic. My read of the situation (some background here) is that he acted inappropriately. However, having been a science blogger since 2006 at Scienceblogs, Discover, Wired, and now SciAm, I must also acknowledge that he has done more to promote women and diversity within the science online community than anyone else. But what’s bothering me most right now is observing several individuals now chiding Bora – as bloggers have a penchant to do – who have themselves acted just as, if not more so, inappropriately at meetups and conferences. That is not to say any such behavior is excusable, but I am reminded of  the old saying about the pot and kettle. I genuinely feel sad over this entire situation.

Sheril Kirshenbaum About the Author: Sheril Kirshenbaum is Director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin where she works to enhance public understanding of energy issues and improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Follow on Twitter @Sheril_.

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





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  1. 1. Shecky R 8:53 pm 10/17/2013

    Thanks for writing this Sheril. I too am genuinely saddened by all this, and hope people don’t lose sight of the boundless contributions Bora has made to the Blogosphere and science communication in so many different ways across so many years. His energy, passion (for science), and intelligence, indeed prescience, have always amazed me.
    I don’t mean to excuse his actions, but some commentary I’ve read is simply over-the-top, and some writers seem to only be responding to things they’ve suddenly read, with no other knowledge of Bora. I hope good does come out of all this, and a good person doesn’t have his livelihood or family scarred forever by it.
    …And yes, there are a LOT of pots and kettles out there.

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  2. 2. Helgav 12:36 am 10/18/2013

    I like Bora Zivkovik. I think he has a great mind and a tremendous gift for communicating interesting news in science. I am very sad that he has now been so roundly criticized for flirting and with women he meets in the course of his work. I have seen and experienced far worse behaviour from so many men it almost comes as a surprise when it doesn’t happen. I think we should all lighten up on this, stick with our friend, and let him digest the results of his own misstep. He is hardly alone in having made this error of judgement. In the meantime, we women need better come back lines that let men know, yes, it is flattering, but no thanks. Move on.

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  3. 3. David in Cincinnati 12:57 pm 10/18/2013

    Sheril, I wish you would give more details. You mention that “what’s bothering me most right now is observing several individuals now chiding Bora – as bloggers have a penchant to do – who have themselves acted just as, if not more so, inappropriately at meetups and conferences.” I assume that the “several individuals” were asserting their authority rather than simply flirting. One of the commenters on your post seems to be talking mainly about flirting. After all, many females clearly enjoy flirting. The issue here is abuse of power.

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  4. 4. jctyler 1:21 pm 10/18/2013

    On one hand he has done his most substantial part in bringing the SciAm blogs alive from what I hear. And SciAm’s blogsphere is by far the best I know. If most of that is to his credit, too bad this then happened.

    On the other hand, I once wrote a comment in support of North African women defending them against the religiously explained, nevertheless primivitely patriarchal machism of North African men. The female blogger didn’t like my initial comment because it showed that her student opinion conflicted with a number of validated research from German academics. From what I can only assume to be most basic social comparison bias, she then removed my comment in support of these women. When I dared to protest, he intervened, calling my comments “sexist” and “chauvinistic”. Which was the strangest thing ever. He had by his own admission not read the original comment, nor checked the sources I had quoted. He had only sided immediately and very fervently with the female blogger of whom he seemed to be very protective despite her most dubious article. Carried by the momentun I guess and within the same week he then censored me and some others when we objected to a SciAm staff blogger who had written a national chauvinistic piece on US science, education and Nobel prizes which sneeringly dismissed research in the rest of the world. I had at the time found his unexplicable support of obviously wrong pieces very strange to say the least. Professional bias spilling over into the personal? Or was it the other way round? And, regardless of which way, what would explain it?

    Now, between these two hands clapping I was uncomfortable with his own blogging because I found it, very subjectively many will find, quite narcissistic. Which as far as I can see presently would explain why he felt he could go that step too far. Because narcissism blurs the view for anything outside the mirror, for example what happens when one gets more influence and power. Both are very corrosive when one is not careful and I say from observation that it changes half the people who achieve it in strange ways. And it looks now as if he fell into the trap.

    I congratulate him for what he has done professionally, I am simply astonished that he overlooked the obvious pitfalls that come with the position and the perks.

    One does not always chose the time for introspection on one’s own free will in my experience.

    In this sense, most respectfully, all the best.

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  5. 5. John Bruno 1:32 pm 10/18/2013

    I appreciate your points Sheril and was having conflicting feelings that at times were in line with your points above. But as David (above) and a lot of people online have been trying to clarify, this isn’t about flirting and come ons, it is about the use and abuse of power to sexually harass people. Context really matters in this case. But this is what has really nailed it for me:
    https://medium.com/the-power-of-harassment/3e809dfadd77

    This newest revelation makes Bora’s actions and intent much more clear.

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  6. 6. M Tucker 2:00 pm 10/18/2013

    I have of course been following this developing revelation. I am not at all surprised that a third person has now reported her experiences with Bora. It always happens this way. What we are seeing is well ingrained and developed behavior that has been a hallmark of Bora’s interaction with women. Probably not with every woman he has ever worked with but it certainly is more than one. So went I saw the story about Hanna’s experiences I was not overly surprised. Today when I saw the third story the only shocking part was the long email relationship and continued inappropriate subjects that Bora insisted on pursuing and his defense of his actions.

    I am glad that Bora now is apologizing without reservation to those he has harmed but we should not expect him to admit that he needs to apologize to more women. I suspect, without any evidence of course, that there must be more. I pray there will be no more victims but Bora has been behaving like this for the majority of his adult life. Do not be amazed if more victims come forward.

    Yes, this hurts because Bora has also done tremendous work and has been a valuable advocate and mentor for many writers. That is precisely why it hurts EVERYONE so much, but certainly not as much as it hurts his victims.

    We need to have this conversation because of the pain and suffering this behavior inflicts on the victims. It does not necessarily just involve men in positions of authority harassing women. Men can also be sexually harassed by men and women could harass men who they have authority over. Since discussing this requires that the victim identify themselves the true magnitude of the problem will continue to be largely underestimated.

    Sure, like I have seen expressed so many times, I too like and admire the work Bora has done but I have much more empathy and sympathy and tremendous respect for the women who have come forward. That takes a truly heroic effort.

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  7. 7. nmatasci 8:54 pm 10/18/2013

    Can we for a second put things in perspective? http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/07/23/sexual-assaults-continue-to-plague-military/2577995/

    Here we are talking about adults, not linked by a formal supervisory relationship, and interactions that occurred outside the workplace. Have we become so unable to handle direct human interactions that everything that may lead to a negative experience has to be criminalized?

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  8. 8. rossm 3:10 am 10/19/2013

    Briefly (1) Miley Cyrus, and all the other singers and dancers who twerk. With these sort of social forces, is it any wonder some women get hit on when they are not interested? (2) the other voices. Today I read a blog post from a woman who claimed not only had she been hit on but she has such fantastic mammaries that even a woman stranger came up to her and want to “cop a feel”. Being harassed isn’t a competitive sport.

    This has been a bad experience, but if BZ never received feedback he was out of line, why would he have stopped?

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  9. 9. jctyler 3:41 am 10/19/2013

    He seems to always hit on young adolescent women, always using the same strategy. Is that compulsive or obsessive? Was he not aware of his inappropriate behaviour? What could that tell us possibly about his judgement? Do we have to reconsider his objectivity?

    Also, mustn’t we see this in the publishing context? Has it influenced his work? Has he done more for/been more lenient with those symphathetic to his advances/as long as they were symphathetic?

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  10. 10. abolitionist 11:23 am 10/19/2013

    “what’s bothering me most right now is observing several individuals now chiding Bora – as bloggers have a penchant to do – who have themselves acted just as, if not more so, inappropriately at meetups and conferences.”

    My guess is the bloggers at SciAm are no less hypocritical than is the general population.

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  11. 11. David Marjanović 9:07 am 10/20/2013

    Briefly (1) Miley Cyrus, and all the other singers and dancers who twerk. With these sort of social forces, is it any wonder some women get hit on when they are not interested?

    (1) What?
    (2) By “hit on”, you mean full-on harassment. Use the word for it.

    (2) the other voices. Today I read a blog post from a woman who claimed not only had she been hit on but she has such fantastic mammaries that even a woman stranger came up to her and want to “cop a feel”. Being harassed isn’t a competitive sport.

    If you seriously believe she took that as a compliment, read it again. She froze in terror as everyone else at the table just kept laughing. Some people get violent, some people scream, some people freeze.

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  12. 12. Shoshin 1:17 pm 10/20/2013

    Bora Z. should have been punted long ago. His ego and arrogance were massive, as well as his blatant intolerance and insecurity. His censorship of opinions that he disagreed with and then bragging about it made him an embarrassment.

    Good riddance. But I’m sure he’ll find employment at the LA Times. I hear that they have just opened up a Science Censorship desk. he should feel right at home there.

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  13. 13. abolitionist 6:27 am 10/22/2013

    “Bora Z. should have been punted long ago. His ego and arrogance were massive, as well as his blatant intolerance and insecurity. His censorship of opinions that he disagreed with and then bragging about it made him an embarrassment.”

    Alas, those characteristics were not unique to him among SciAm bloggers

    Ref here “A Message from Mariette DiChristina, Editor in Chief”
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/at-scientific-american/2013/10/13/a-message-from-mariette-dichristina-editor-in-chief/#comment-297

    Post #78. (SoftLanding, 11:04 am 10/14/2013)

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  14. 14. scientificr 12:15 pm 11/27/2013

    Is Bora also “Ofek” who insulted Dr Lee?

    Link to this
  15. 15. Sheril Kirshenbaum 2:29 pm 11/27/2013

    Absolutely not.

    Link to this

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