Confronting sexism in the world of science communication

Confronting sexism in the world of science communication

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.

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.

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.

  • Monica’s updated blog post
  • Zivkovic’s friends rally: Andrew Maynard emails Byrne, asking her to delete Zivkovic’s name from her post, and Roger Pielke comments that this might be perceived as a cover-up. Other Twitter accounts comment
  • Zivkovic blogs his admission the next day on his personal, non-Scientific American blog, saying that this was an isolated incident (link is from; the original post has since been removed)
  • Zivkovic’s wife, Catharine Zivkovic, tweets her support for him  
  • People express shock at the admission from “the blogfather,” with support for Zivkovic and expressions of doubt e.g., this tweet from @HankCampbell, and also confusion from friends
  • Reaction to Zivkovic’s tweeted admission
  • Journalist Priya Shetty’s analysis and condemnation of the science world’s apparent silence and victim-blaming, and a response from Greg Laden
  • Medium issues a call for submissions of personal stories of sexual harassment and its effects

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.


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