In all situations, I like to try and remain cool and objective. In fact, with a couple of rare exceptions, it takes quite a lot to ruffle my feathers. But one thing which can never fail to piss me off is when someone decides to mess with people who I respect and admire. Particularly when that someone is representing a large and well known scientific organisation. You’d think that a publisher as renowned as Nature wouldn’t allow things like this:
This requires a little elaboration. Dr Isis is a pseudonymous blogger. Much like me, she doesn’t use her real name for blog-related internet activities. As many bloggers choose to, she does this in order to speak more freely than the regular constraints of society might otherwise allow (once upon a time, this was a raison d’être of the internet). She’s also a professional scientist. The man deriding and mocking her is Henry Gee, an editor for Nature – and for anyone who doesn’t know, Nature is one of the world’s top science journals, and one of the highest impact publications someone like me can ever hope to publish in. The part I’ve redacted is where he chooses to reveal her real name. Private information which he has acquired. Subsequently, he’s been mentioning her name every 4 or 5 tweets like a parrot on amphetamines. Very professional, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Finding and publicising someone’s private information on the internet is a practice known as doxing. Usually reserved for the more toxic corners of the internet like 4chan, this is typically done in order to hurt people. Needless to say, this is not exactly something a professional twitter feed should be allowed to get away with.
Frankly, this is unacceptable. I don’t care about any backstory, existing animosity, or anything like that. That’s not my business. This, however, is: Someone in a position of power, who represents an important organisation should not be able to get away with such blatant disrespect for any member of the community, no matter who they may be. An editor at Nature should not be calling a scientist inconsequential, and certainly should not be sharing their private information without permission.
There’s been an alarming tendancy over recent months. Three times now, a man in a position of power has behaved inappropriately towards a woman in the science community. I’d love to believe that the genders in that statement are purely coincidence, but I don’t believe it to be so. Last year saw an inappropriate insult to Danielle Lee in an e-mail exchange with a blog editor at Biology Online, known only as “Ofek”. It also saw former Sci Am blog editor Bora Zivkovic named for sexual harassment towards Monica Byrne (and, evidently, others too). Now an editor at Nature, Henry Gee, is calling Dr Isis “inconsequential” and divulging her private information on the internet. Incidentally, it doesn’t take a lot of looking around the internet to find out that Gee has something of a reputation for being a misogynist. Possibly not the best choice of editor for a journal which “has a strong history of supporting women in science.”
Three editors, all male. Three scientists/writers, all female. Three abuses of power. Coincidence or not, this is concerning. Deeply concerning.
Isis, in a post on her blog, assures us that she’s ok (though after being publicly outed, there are others who have not been). But this latest event should be moving all of us in the community to start re-thinking things. Exactly how much should people in power be allowed to get away with. Zivkovic, for example, seems to have made some attempt at a triumphant return to the community, backed by various supporters and root vegetables. I’m not alone in feeling ill at ease about this. These people seem to be relatively free of consequences, and that is simply not right.
In the latest case, we have an editor at a scientific journal divulging private information purely because he didn’t like someone. His twitter feed claims he was “victimised”. I know, right? You poor, poor editor man. Boo hoo. You’ve been treated so terribly by someone on the internet. Whatever will you do. Oh, that’s right. Perhaps you could maybe grow up and act like an adult?
And what about the rest of us in the scientific community? We all submit private information when we try and publish an article. We all submit anonymous peer review comments. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that when people like Henry Gee are involved, who may evidently be happy to use that information if he decides he doesn’t like me. For whatever reason (maybe this blog post?).
In short, we, as a community, should not stand for things like this. We need to stop tolerating this kind of behaviour and, simply, prevent it from happening.
And for the record, yes thanks to Henry Gee’s childish behaviour, it’s now very easy to find out Dr Isis’ identity. As a mark of respect, I hope everyone who reads my blog will do as I have: Forget it. Forget the name. Don’t Google it. Don’t find out her work details or her personal information. Don’t find her academic web page. Just don’t. It’s a matter of respect. As bloggers, some of us choose to wear masks and hide our real faces. Yes, they’re only masks, and yes any 13 year old with an understanding of the internet can probably find out our true names. It’s actually pretty easy to reach out and peel off the mask if you know how, but that doesn’t stop it from being insufferably rude and disrespectful. I’d hope that you all would accord the same courtesy to me, as a pseudonym user, as well as others like Sci Curious and Dr Sky Skull. Thank you.