Scientific American’s Damage Control

Scientific American has issued a lengthy response to the events which I wrote about yesterday. I’m not very satisfied with it, but it does indicate pretty clearly that Scientific American understands that they have a problem. There are commitments to further reporting on “the issues that are faced by women in science and women of color in science.”  That is commendable and should be encouraged to the fullest extent possible.

On the other hand, the majority of the article seems to be devoted to what I call “CYA” verbiage. Dr. Lee’s original post was deleted because the editors were concerned about potential legal issues. Dr. Lee’s article “alleged a personal experience” and on short notice the editors were unable to “verify the facts of the blog post”. They couldn’t communicate with Dr. Lee in advance of deleting her article because it was Friday before a long weekend. (Cell phones? Email? Text messages? Skype? Land lines?) The initial Twitter response to the controversy was handled poorly because of dying batteries on someone’s cell phone. (Really? I can recommend some really great external battery products that I’ve used for years, no rocket science involved.)

They “regret”. They “recognize”. They “commit”. They “are investigating”. We, on the other hand, have “concerns, misunderstandings, and ill feelings”.

Notice what’s missing here. Nowhere does Ms. DiChristina ever even come close to admitting that she and/or the other Scientific American editors were wrong when it comes to the big picture. There were procedural problems and mistakes made that made them look bad – but they’re not admitting they were wrong.

In addition, nowhere is there anything that even comes close to being an apology to Dr. Lee. Again, there are regrets about the way that it was handled (it made them look bad), but there’s no apology. Apparently there’s nothing to apologize for — at least in their minds.

I came away from reading the article feeling like I had just been lectured by a sanctimonious Republican CongressCritter. There’s a condescending, “you just don’t understand” tone to the response that isn’t doing anything to make me feel better about Scientific American.

I “recognize” that I’m not buying it. I “regret” that I don’t have any trust or respect for Scientific American at the moment.


Filed under Freakin' Idiots!, Moral Outrage

2 responses to “Scientific American’s Damage Control

  1. J. Spencer Love

    It’s a teachable moment, for sure. And it’s clear that the editors are not willing to admit (yet?) that they learned anything; we won’t actually know for a while. But there is also an element here of the Internet lynch mob mentality. Honest, not everyone lives on a 5-minute news cycle. People take time to digest new information, points of view, reactions to their mistakes, and it doesn’t help if it’s clear a bunch of people are calling for their heads, because defensive is not a good place from which to be grappling with these issues. Finally, though it LOOKS really bad, we DO NOT KNOW all the facts. As a *former* member of the Readercon concomm, I find this level of rage to be definitely premature and possibly misguided. (I can not say more about that in a public forum.) If you’re this upset already, picture the result of living in the echo chamber for a few weeks, times all the other people in the echo chamber. Lifelong enemies result from this kind of thing, and good things are destroyed that really don’t have to be.


  2. Spencer, I completely agree that we don’t know everything and that we need to give the Scientific American editorial and leadership teams some time to process, gather information, and figure out how they’re going to go forward. I sincerely hope that they can find a solution which satisfies all of the parties involved.


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