Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Outing Dr. Isis: A retaliation of consequence by a Nature editor

A couple of days ago on Twitter, Henry Gee, the senior editor of biological sciences at Nature, outed a widely-read, oft-shared, and sometimes controversial anonymous blogger, Dr. Isis. He took great glee in doing so because he didn't like some of her blog posts in which she called out some outrageous and sexist editorial decisions he had made (you may recall the awful "Womanspace" essay, described and eviscerated here by Dr. Isis), as well as her distaste for Nature’s bleak record regarding women in the sciences. The reaction in the scientific community online has been one of outrage that a senior, white, male took it upon himself to out a junior woman of color, and did so in such a publicly vindictive way, describing her as "inconsequential" and threatening on Twitter to "add (others) to the list" for daring to call him out for his boarish (at best) behavior (see Michael Eisen, co-founder of PLOS, condemn Gee here.).

Please do not dismiss this as "just happening online." Online (e.g. Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc.) is *exactly* the place where important discussions about gender and color equity in the sciences occur on an hourly basis, it is *exactly* the place where junior and other marginalized scientists are finding a voice to share doubts and build power in a system that constantly knocks us down, and it is *exactly* the place where a Senior Editor at the science journal with the highest impact factor chose to publicly punish and damage an untenured woman of color who dared to challenge him.

As a biological anthropologist working toward tenure, a paper in Nature could “make” my career. I have as-yet-untenured colleagues at Ivies who get tsked-tsked for NOT submitting to Nature. The reverence for impact factors requires us to consider this the pinnacle of scientific publishing, at the same time that senior representatives of that very same journal with public platforms show absolutely no shame in trivializing our efforts as scientists or our very real struggles as outsiders in the Old White Boys Club. Struggles that make me feel like this a lot, and I actually have it pretty easy.

This continued outsider existence is what leads many to seek the clearly imperfect protection of an online pseudonym. Pseudonymity on the the internet has a long and defensible history, largely as protection of some kind, often against reprisals by employers. Sometimes as protection against cyber-stalking and sometimes real-life stalking and physical assault. But another reason is that it can offer protection against the clubbishness and bullying of privileged scholars with powers to hire, publish, grant funds. The power to deem one as a scientist of consequence. The power to refuse the pervasive poison that is their privilege and blindness. Henry Gee's outing of Dr. Isis clearly illustrates the continued vulnerability of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people speaking their truths and challenging Goliaths. Nature may well have a binder full of teh womenz (it’s so heavy, I hope they still have the strength to pat themselves on the back!), but they also got a million problems, most of which can be well visualized in a mirror, should they choose to look. 

Hahahahaha! I know, I know. That's not gonna happen. So, fine.  Nature, you are on my list. My list of overly inflated institutions that I've been taught to revere even when they've made it clear our kind isn't really welcome. I'm done. As long as you stand with Henry Gee and make no real efforts to change the climate for scientists like me, like Dr. Isis, like Danielle Lee, like millions of others, you won't be getting my papers (and trust me, I do some smoking hot, Nature-worthy science), you won't be getting my reverence. You don't get to push us around and have us thank you for it. 


  1. Ultimately, I think (hope) Dr. Isis will recover and, like she said emerge, as a phoenix from the ashes. BUT that's because she has already established her voice, her posse, and her role. But what of the future voices now uncertain to take up a pseudonym to contribute the the prosocial effort of discussions within our community? They have seen a powerful gatekeeper attack with the full and clear intention to rip naked, exposed, a promoter of diversity and inclusive climate in academia. By coming together and saying NO WAY NATURE, we protect the ecological niche in our intellectual community for the pseudonymous contributors in the future that make our community more aware, more inclusive, and more accountable.