A Scientific American blogger, Danielle Lee, was asked by another organization, biology-online.org, to write something for them. The editor, the pseudonymous “Ofek,” called her a whore when she turned him down politely. She then wrote up the interaction, posted it on her Scientific American blog, went away for a while and came back to find it had been deleted with no notice to her.

Ofek’s actions clearly have a sexist side: of course a woman who turns down (presumably) a man is a whore. Thus has it always been for some men. And it’s easier to call people names when your own is obscured. Happens every day on the internet. And that’s terrible. More women in science? No thanks, according to these guys. Or maybe they’re okay if they’re compliant enough.

Scientific American’s taking down the post without notifying Lee looks sexist in that context – other Scientific American bloggers are challenging the magazine by writing about the situation. As far as I know, none of their posts have been taken down. The editor now says

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.

and promises a “a thoroughly reported feature article about the current issues facing women in science and the related research in the coming weeks” with Lee’s help. Ah yes, the current issues facing women in science…

The sexist, and possibly racist, overtones are being objected to on Twitter with the hashtag @standingwithDNLee. There are a couple of other aspects to the situation as well. Arianna Huffington formed the Huffington Post with the assumption that people would write for it for free. And they do. Huffington makes a great deal of money from that. biology-online.org and Ofek probably aren’t as wealthy, but they take the HuffPo ethos for granted and take it a little further: if you don’t want to write for us for free, you must be a whore.

Well, no. Once upon a time, before HuffPo and the concept of unpaid interns, people were paid for doing work. Writing a post is work. It takes time and thought. It’s fair enough to ask to be paid and then to turn it down.

I began blogging in 2004. At that time, newspapers and magazines were trying to figure out how to use this internetty thing. They barely were able to put content on it in an attractive and useful way. But then we bloggers got something going, and the newspapers and magazines took it over. The difference is that independent bloggers are not subject to the restrictions inherent upon those larger organizations. If you’ve got an editor, they just might pull your piece if they don’t like it. And that is what Mariette DiChristina did, for the good of the organization. The blogger is definitely second, or further down the line.

This incident manages to combine a number of unsavory factors: pseudonimity allowing a male free rein on his sexism, the expectation that bloggers work for free, and the inherent limitations of organizational blogging.

Here are some relevant links. They also have more links.

Mariette DiChristina’s statement

Biology-Online.org, “Urban Whores,” And The Many Axes Of Douchebaggery

Retraction Watch: Scientific American faces firestorm after removing blog post about scientist being called a whore

Update (October 14, 2013): Biology Online has offered private and public apologies to Lee, and says Ofek has been fired, as Chris notes in the comments.

Good summary here, not many links.

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