Confronting sexism in the world of science communication

Confronting sexism in the world of science communication
Sugar Chemistry Room: Central Cancer Research Laboratory
Image by unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Amanda Maxwell   |   21.10.2013   |   Science Stories

Beginning in October 2013, the science communications community has been dealing with issues of personal behaviour, inherent misogyny, betrayal, speaking out, doubt and professional worth. Much has been written, tweeted and posted; the paragraphs below are an attempt to collect the resources together for future reference. Our intent here is to capture both the key events and the remarkable commentary, analysis and (we hope) change that have come out of it. The stream of amazing articles and blog posts is too much to stay caught up on, so if you think there's something missing that should be here, tweet them to @afmaxwell or @everickert.(Eve Rickert)

The main points and chronology of the timeline can be found in this Storify, with further relevant content linked under the headings below.


10 October – 14 October 2013

Scientific American blogger and researcher Dr. Danielle N. Lee posted details of an email exchange with a Biology-Online editor, who labeled her a whore for declining to guest blog on the network. Lee's post was removed within an hour by Scientific American.

  • Lee's original blog post on Urban Scientist 
  • Scientific American Editor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina tweets about deleting the post


This Happened

14 October – 15 October 2013

Possibly as a response to the Scientific American deletion/re-posting and tweeting, playwright and science journalist Monica Byrne updates her blog post about sexual harassment in the science communications world, naming Bora Zivkovic, Scientific American blog editor and Science Online founder, as her harasser.


But this happened … again

October 15 – October 16, 2013

A second science writer comes forward to accuse Zivkovic of sexual harassment. Hannah Waters, a science writer for the Smithsonian Institute and Scientific American blogger, describes the incidents on her blog.


This happened more than just twice

October 16 – October 18, 2013

Science writer and Scientific American blogger Kathleen Raven publishes two blog posts describing sexual harassment and abuse. Her first post does not name the men involved, but she later identifies her abusers in a second post; Zivkovic is one of them.


#ripplesofdoubt and other stories

A lot of female science writers are now questioning their own professional abilities: am I a good writer or just sexy enough/potentially beddable enough to get noticed? Writer and Beagle Project co-founder Karen James noticed this and initiated the hashtag #ripplesofdoubt to collect the conversations, opening them up and increasing exposure for the underlying current of sexism within science communications.

I hereby christen the hashtag #ripplesofdoubt for continuing/promoting the convo started by this tweet Please share.

- Karen James (@kejames) October 17, 2013


#ripplesofhope – moving forward

October 19, 2013 and after

Many people have laid out paths for dealing with the harassment and moving forward in the science blogging community. Here are just a few of the thoughtful musings on the road ahead.




At Scio14

27 February – 1 March 2014

Hundreds arrived in Durham for Science Online together 2014.


And it continues…



Understandably, a lot has been written about the events, including personal reflections and analysis. There are also good chronological summaries available. The following is in no way comprehensive.


Other Resources

  • SciAm post about dealing with unintentional sexism from July 2013
  • Jailbreak the Patriarchy – this modest little Chrome extension genderswaps your online reading material on-screen. It's a complete eye opener. Once clicked it changes she to he, hers to his, and gives you a glimpse into this other world. If you're still on the fence about this whole sexual-abuse-that-doesn't-involve-touching thing, install the extension, turn it on and read through some of the harassment posts with fresh eyes. It will make you think.