Shakeup at Scientific American Over Sexual Harassment

Prominent blogger Bora Zivkovic reportedly on personal leave after accusations of harassment from two female bloggers.

Sexual harassment accusations against prominent science blogger and editor Bora Zivkovic have sent ripples through the science writing community and has resulted in the "Blogfather's" resignation.

On October 14, however, writer Monica Byrne accused Zivkovic of sexual harassment in a blog post. She first wrote about the incident about a year ago, but declined to name the man who made her feel uncomfortable during a coffeehouse meeting to talk about her writing.

Byrne says she made the decision to name Zivkovic after a separate incident arose this month involving another Scientific American blogger, Danielle Lee. Lee posted about an incident where an editor at a separate publication called her a "whore."

Byrne's piece was followed by another blog post on October 17, this time at the Medium, by science blogger Hannah Waters—also a Scientific American blogger—who described an incident in which she claimed Zivkovic had also harassed her.

A third woman came forward on October 18 with a post describing a string of instances involving Zivkovic. "If you have read the pieces by Monica and Hannah, then you have read what Bora did to me," writes Kathleen Raven—a researcher who blogs for Scientific American and contributes to Reuters Health. "But I have more to add."

Raven goes on to detail nearly three years of interactions with Zivkovic. "But it's time that you see this side of Bora that I have seen. I want you to understand. This must stop," she writes.

Zivkovic has admitted to and apologized for the incident with Byrne. And in addition to stepping down from his blog editing duties at Scientific American, he has also stepped down from ScienceOnline's board of directors.

A Social Conversation

The charges, and Zivkovic's resignation, have since set off a firestorm of conversation on news sites and social media about conditions for women, and sexual harassment, in the science writing community. The hashtag #ripplesofdoubt encapsulates a lot of the reaction on twitter:

@JakeYeston writes: "The #ripplesofdoubt drove home how powerfully the sexist undercurrents in society impact women in ways men may barely contemplate."

@rachelannyes tweets: "Culture that creates #ripplesofdoubt is *why* I'm not in academia. I distrust entrenched institutions to treat women well. I play outside."

And @docfreeride asks: "Will other men in sci comm/sci blogging recoil from promoting our work (or even getting to know us) ... #ripplesofdoubt 4/n."

Laura Helmuth, Slate's science and health editor, writes in an article that the most distressing thing in Waters's post is the blogger's doubts that she has only made it as far as she has because of her "value as a sexual object."

"I told Waters directly and repeat here that she and Byrne are talented writers who are not faking it. But of course they wonder how their career trajectories will be perceived, and I'm sure many other people who have gotten a break or a boost from Zivkovic have the same nagging worries," Helmuth writes.

The blog LadyBits has asked for submissions from people on the power of harassment.

"Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to forget about the very real, very tragic effects of the myriad manifestations of sexual harassment because, most of the time, the recipients remain silent. That’s why we, the purveyors of LadyBits on Medium, have created a place on the web to discuss this psychological manipulation tactic that ruins so much and is acknowledged so little."

LadyBits will curate the best essays and post them online.

A Subtle Thing

Sexual harassment against women, and men, is nothing new. Nor is it confined to certain fields.

"[But] a lot of what we've seen in terms of sexism is less overt now," said Anne Lincoln, a sociologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, who has studied sexism in the scientific research community, in an interview earlier this year.

Lincoln says because we are all socialized in the same society, we can all pick up subtle biases for or against certain things.

The incidents Byrne and Waters write about involved conversations with Zivkovic that made them uncomfortable.

"What makes this so hard to talk about—my experience and Monica's—is that it may not look like sexual harassment. There was no actual sex or inappropriate touching," Waters writes. "Bora wasn't vulgar toward me, nor did he even directly announce his interest. It was all reading between the lines, which made it easy for me to discount my own experience."