Misogyny and sexism in SciComm, pt 2: Act inappropriately and suffer the consequences. Full stop.

Yesterday, I tried to publicly process my feelings about an incident in which Scientific American blog editor and ScienceOnline co-founder Bora Zivkovic acknowledged acting inappropriately^ toward a young writer named Monica Byrne.

Over the past twenty-four hours, I’ve had many conversations and spent many hours thinking about the information that’s come out as a result of all of this. I’m not sure if I’d even know how to get into all of that here, but I’ve been left with the following conclusion: If we, as a community, are to acknowledge that sexual harassment is both pervasive (and literally every single woman I’ve spoken with has confirmed that it is) and wrong, we are obligated to find ways to address this — not in the abstract and not in the future, but now.

One obvious step is to insist that there be consequences for people who engage in inappropriate behavior regardless of whether they were aware that their behavior made someone uncomfortable at the time. We can’t say, on the one hand, that we want to be a community where women are treated equitably and fairly and then on the other hand say that those among us who do not treat women equitably and fairly get a one-time free pass. Inappropriate behavior often occurs under murky circumstances, and women are right to assume that promises of raised awareness and different standards in the future too often translates as a quick return to business as usual.  There has to be a line in the sand. This is wrong. Do it and you will be punished.

Even after reaching this conclusion, I still struggled with the appropriate consequences for Bora. At least until this afternoon.


Earlier today, Hannah Waters, a Scientific American blogger who also runs Smithsonian‘s ocean portalposted a vividly disturbing and searingly honest account of her uncomfortable interactions with Bora over the years. I’m unspeakably grateful she shared what I can only imagine was an excruciating story to tell:

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. 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. Instead, I did my best to ignore my discomfort to avoid conflict, or otherwise convinced myself that I was reading too far into it. How vain! To imagine all men want to have sex with me!

I’ve made it far enough now that I know my work is valuable on its own. And I’m writing today to let anyone else who has experienced sexual harassment—especially the type of harassment that can be mistaken for acceptable behavior—that you aren’t alone. Whoever did this to you is the one in the wrong. They are the one who did not examine their own power and the effect their “harmless flirting” could have on you.

It’s easy to say that now but, at my most insecure moments, I still come back to this: have I made it this far, not based on my work and worth, but on my value as a sexual object? When am I going to be found out?

I don’t think Bora intended to make me feel this way. In fact, if he knew I were carrying this with me, I’m sure he’d be horrified. But it’s our actions that matter, not our intentions. He did make me feel that way. His actions degraded my self-worth.

That’s a horrible experience for anyone to go through, and it embarrasses me that I’ve been clueless about the extent to which my colleagues and co-workers have dealt with painfully similar situations and emotions. I’m still struggling with the best and most appropriate ways to translate what I’ve learned into concrete actions.

There is one action that can occur immediately. Bora can leave SciAm and his leadership role at SciO. Bora has done a lot for the science communication community over the years, and he’s had an enormous positive impact on many young writers’ lives — and for that, I’ll be forever thankful. He’s also made smart and talented young women question their abilities and their worth — and that is unforgivable.

* Update, 4:22 pm: As I hit publish on this post, I saw that Bora voluntarily resigned from the ScienceOnline Board of Directors; his future involvement with the organization is under review. The full statement from Anton ZuikerKaryn Traphagen, and Scott Rosenberg is here.

^ Update, 5:04 pm: In the first iteration of this post, this passage read “acknowledged sexually harassing.”

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88 Responses to Misogyny and sexism in SciComm, pt 2: Act inappropriately and suffer the consequences. Full stop.

  1. Nikita says:

    I think I may be missing something, but could you please clarify where Bora acknowledged that he “sexually harassed” Ms Byrne? Could you also cite evidence of Bora harassing Ms. Byrne? So far I have only seen that Ms. Byrne was offended over a misunderstanding. I see no evidence of sexual harassment.

    Please clarify or adjust your story. As is, it seems you are being grossly unfair and prejudiced towards Bora.

    • jipkin says:

      Bora does not dispute Byrne’s account and agrees that his comments were “inappropriate”: http://blog.coturnix.org/2013/10/15/this-happenned/

      He also states that “[m]y behavior before and after this incident reflects my true respect for women” which seems to be belied by the latest revelation. He probably does think he respects women, but it seems he hasn’t always acted that way.

      • Nikita says:

        That is a very far cry from sexual harassment. Bora, being Bora, acknowledges that he has offended, NOT that he has engaged in sexual harassment. He confirmed the account of events and that he has indeed made sexual comments. He also did the right thing in respecting that, however good his intentions were, Ms. Byrne was offended and he offered his apology.

        Where is there any actual sexual harassment?

        In all this, I do not see any evidence that Bora ever did not respect women nor that his actions were in any way purposefully disrespectful towards Ms. Byrne.

        • Brett says:

          Uh, Nikita, if you make sexual remarks towards someone that make them deeply uncomfortable, that is sexual harassment.

          • Nikita says:

            Is flirting of any sort sexual harassment?

          • Mark Grobbelaaar says:

            “Uh, Nikita, if you make sexual remarks towards someone that make them deeply uncomfortable, that is sexual harassment”

            Well, a lot of that depends from the personal “harassment threshold” of that someone.
            If that someone has a harassment threshold such low that if you say “Excuse me, where is Oxford Street?” this is interpreted like an harassing approach, then would you expect a judge to classify this behaviour as sexual harassment?

            To say that the most dangerous sexual harassment is the one that it doesn’t show explicitly as sexual harassment, but the one “between the lines” it’s a very dangerous and slippery slope.
            Because we go in a very vague terrain, where everything can be interpreted or misinterpreted at will , and a lot of all that, then, it depends from the “eyesight” quality (or malice, or agenda) of the one who thinks he/she can “read between the lines” and detect harassment where is not so evident. It’s like if I accuse an old lady to want to steal from my shop, and if the woman says to her defense: “Listen, how can I steal from your shop? I am an old woman and cannot run away with your stuff” and I say back to her: “Even worse! You are a sly thief who takes advantage of her innocent old lady appearance to deceive onlookers to a major degree!”

        • Tsu Dho Nimh says:

          Nikita –
          This IS sexual harassment … it doesn’t have to be tit-grabbing physical to be harassment. Taking advantage of a power imbalance to get your jollies by discussing your sex life is harassment. A “hostile environment”.

          From the beginning, it was a difficult interaction on my end. Thinking this was a business meeting, I tried to tell him about my background and interests, but he seemed mainly interested in telling me about himself, and my input was mostly reduced to reactive responses like “wow” and “that’s so cool” and “that’s so neat.” I managed to mention that I used to write a column for The MIT Tech called “I Did It For Science,” where I did weird activities like getting my tarot read, visiting a strip club on a Tuesday afternoon, and doing MRIs for the neuroscience department. He began describing his own experience of going to a strip club. Then he described himself as “a very sexual person.” Then he told me about his wife’s sexual and mental health history. Then he began telling me about his dissatisfaction with his current sex life with his wife. Then he reminded me that he was “a very sexual person.” Then he told me, in an awful lot of detail, about how he almost had an affair with a younger woman he’d been seeing at conferences—how they’d met, how it escalated, how “close they’d come.”

          • Nikita says:

            Tsu Dho Nimh, what you describe does not constitute sexual harassment. Harassment is a conscious and malicious action. Bora was neither malicious in his intent nor aware that Ms. Byrne was uncomfortable. If Ms. Byrne had actually said something, I am sure Bora would have immediately changed course.

            At worst, this makes Bora dense. That’s not sexual harassment and certainly should not result in calls for resignation.

          • D. K. says:

            Unfortunately, the climate of not being able to speak out about this kind of behavior that many women are forced to work in has made sure that this does constitute sexual harassment, in my opinion and I would venture in the opinion of most.

            But this is really up to a judge, not to either of us. What is not up to a judge, however, is whether Mr. Zivkovic should leave his job. Whether his actions legally constitute sexual harassment or not, he is clearly not to be entrusted to with creating a safe working environment.

          • Nickie Bray says:

            I would totally disagree. I am appalled that a man would consider this to be appropriate discussion during an interview, or during any conversation with a woman in a professional situation. Perhaps men do not understand how improper, how uncomfortable this is. It makes me squirm just to read it.

            Not very scientific, not politically correct, but that is my female opinion.

  2. Bruce K. says:

    Utter and absolute rubbish. This person cannot even articulate what the other person did wrong and you say he must be punished for it, EVEN if he did not know he was doing anything wrong? Even if this complaining person never made a single effort to speak with this alleged misogynist? This is just way, WAY off.

  3. Nikita says:

    Seth, you know, re-reading your post is making me more and more frustrated. You are looking for heads to roll for Bora, an innocent individual who’s only mistake seems to have been that he misunderstood context of a conversation and opened up to a stranger without any intent to offend or harass. In the process, you actually claim sexual harassment where there actually was none! So you punish an innocent, yet you give a free pass to a woman who has censored discussion on her blog slandering Bora. And you are writing on PLOS Blogs??? Do you represent PLOS? Will you and/or PLOS be issuing Bora an apology for this slander?

    I find your article incredibly frustrating and atrocious journalism.

    I don’t find that Bora did anything wrong. I don’t think Ms. Byrne was wrong in being offended. Misunderstandings happen – they are part of life and this is where our humanity should come into play where we try to understand one another before throwing labels around.

    Ms. Byrne’s response that followed in betraying information from a fellow human being, censoring conversation on her blog, your “articles”, and the “scientific” community’s response overall thus far have been abysmal. I am extremely disappointed.

    • jipkin says:

      Mr. Bernstein you have yet to even acknowledge that Bora harassed another young science writer (Ms. Waters) whose story is recounted above (and _perhaps_ even alluded to in Ms Byrne’s account, which Bora acknowledges as accurate).

      Or maybe it’s all a conspiracy…

      • Nikita says:

        Where exactly did he harass Ms. Waters? She herself writes:

        I don’t think Bora intended to make me feel this way. In fact, if he knew I were carrying this with me, I’m sure he’d be horrified.

        Are you suggesting that Bora should be held accountable for what Ms. Waters described:

        There was no actual sex or inappropriate touching. 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.

        Should I now be worried that everytime I smile at a woman I should be concerned that I am sexually harassing her? Should I avoid hugs?

        To me it seems that Ms. Waters raises very important questions about how we perceive our worth, how challenging it is for women, how men can unintentionally make women feel insecure and other issues – all good and important issues that deserve discussion. But none of this has actually anything to do with Bora.

        • Nikita says:

          Sorry, forgot to close the bold quote :/

          • Miranda Black says:

            You are speaking from a position of privilege. you are a man, not a woman, and as such have never been exposed to the harrassment that women experience on a daily basis, and the fear of harrassment and harm because women are smaller and less physically strong than men. You can never know what this feels like. So your comments about smiling at women, about seemingly harmless flirting, are utterly ignorant because what you think of as harmless is in many cases unwarranted and unwanted and just what women over the years have experienced as a precursor to harrassment.

            Until you have been harrassed and in fear of harrassment by someone bigger and stronger than you – who is more likely to be believed – don’t even begin to think that you can make judgements on this situation.

          • Nikita says:


            You are right. I am not a woman and I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like. But does that invalidate what I am observing, which is basically a mob tearing a good person apart over a misunderstanding?!?!

            I am with you that sexual harassment is terrible. I (and I am sure so is Bora) am with you that women (and other groups) have to deal with prejudice and harassment and I (and I am sure so is Bora) stand with you against bigotry, harassment, bullying of any human being, not just women. But calling what Bora did “harassment” is completely wrong.

            Also, note that at no point did I suggest that Ms. Byrne was wrong to be offended – she had every right to be. But, again, public lynching over labeling something that it is not is not adult behavior.

        • Ren says:

          Would you concede that there are instances where you don’t flirt, don’t bring in sexual conversations, don’t talk about some things that are not part of the professional relationship you’re tying to build? I mean, we can play “what if?” all night long, but you don’t seem to want to address the fact that these interactions – casual or not – were not exactly professional.

          Is being unprofessional a crime? No, but it does open you up to the kind of thing that Bora is now going through. Life ain’t fair, and that’s that.

          • Nikita says:

            I completely acknowledge that there are situations where you don’t flirt. But do you concede that people make mistakes and sometimes interpret situations differently?

            Bora could see as a friendly encounter what Ms. Byrne expected to be professional.

            As far a being unprofessional opening one up to what Bora is going through – I do not believe that this hatefest is normal. This post by Seth is terrible – Seth, on the PLOS blog, is slandering Bora. Is that ok?

            So far, I haven’t heard anything that should indicate that Bora should resign or that should have resulted in so much hate directed at him. And it is further entirely shameful that Ms. Byrne, upon blogging, has moderated out comments (including mine) that were not supportive of her and sought to correct the misunderstanding.

            What should happen next is that Seth, Ms. Byrne, and other people who fueled the fire in this should issue Bora a public apology.

        • jipkin says:

          no I don’t think Bora wanted to make women feel the way he did, but he still engaged in inappropriate behavior which he was capable of understanding could lead women to feel how they did.

          He suggested that Ms. Waters walk him to his hotel (when he could have asked her to call him a cab if he thought he might get lost). He called her a concubine and gave her a flower. Men don’t call male mentees concubines or give them flowers. Yeah, he didn’t sexually assault anyone. But sexual assault is different from sexual harassment, which is at issue here.

          And yes, you should avoid hugs. Smile, okay. But otherwise, keep your hands off, don’t talk about sex, don’t talk about a woman’s appearance in a professional setting, don’t try to have a relationship with someone underneath you power-wise… I mean. common sense.

          • Nikita says:

            Are you are saying is that romance in a professional should never happen? You see where I am going with this, right?

            I don’t know Bora well and perhaps, as another poster noted, he behaved in an unprofessional manner in blurring lines between personal and professional. But none of that should result in this public lynching to this level.

          • jipkin says:

            Yes, I am saying that romance at the professional level is a bad idea. Especially when there’s a power differential involved.

          • Nikita says:

            Bad Idea != sexual harassment.

  4. Tom B. says:

    I agree with Nikita’s sentiments. No one can tell anyone else how they feel. These women felt denigrated and insulted. However, in one case Bora responded to identifications of harassment with an apology, and in the other case he didn’t even know he was harassing someone. We all have different personal boundaries, so to help elucidate this the law (in the US) states the following: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when

    submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,
    submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or
    such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. (29 C.F.R. § 1604.11 [1980])
    A key part of the definition is the use of the word unwelcome. Unwelcome or uninvited conduct or communication of a sexual nature is prohibited; welcome or invited actions or words are not unlawful. Sexual or romantic interaction between consenting people at work may be offensive to observers or may violate company policy, but it is not sexual harassment.” So the question becomes how can two people with different boundaries interact without communicating something as being unwelcome. As an outside observer it seems that Bora did nothing wrong, after all, you don’t know what you don’t know. He didn’t know, and when he did he stopped. I’m not condoning his behaviour, just simply noting that as Nikita points out it seems to be the result of a miscommunication between people with different boundaries, not that Bora is some sort of predatory old man, which it seems that those in the SciComm community are quick to paint him as.

    • jipkin says:

      To quote Alex Wild from twitter: “The scandal isn’t that Bora was flirty. That’s missing the point. It’s that he was in a position of power.”

      And you and Nikita ought to read Bora’s tweet as well:


      “No need to defend me. Kudos to @monicabyrne13 and @hannahjwaters for having the courage to speak up. I was wrong. I am sorry. I am learning.”

      • Tom B. says:

        I’m not very interested in defending him. More that I recoil at the oppressive liberalism. Neither woman was his employee or his graduate student, so I fail to see how he held any power over them. Few if any are taking is as a chance to have a nuanced discussion about how sexuality interplays with informal social networks that are relied upon to find connections to employment etc… It’s simply that he was wrong, end of story. But as Nikita says, should all hugs be avoided? Should I never hug a woman for fear of being castigated on the internet? The question seems absurd on it’s face, but I’ve worked for women (e.g. a far more formal power dynamic than seen here) and they have hugged me. Is that wrong, how can I know the boundaries. You said in an earlier comment “it’s just common sense” but that’s precisely the problem, what is common sense to you may not be to others, or people from other cultures. But as Nikita said instead of a reasoned conversation, we have only public lynching and feel good platitudes.

        • Nikita says:

          Tom, I agree with you completely.

        • jipkin says:

          Bora was (and is) a direct supervisor of Ms. Waters at Scientific American. He’s the editor there, and he brought her onto the network. And it should be clear why that’s a major power issue if you read her article. It should be blatantly obvious that Bora is a gatekeeper in the scicomm world. He is at the hub of the network, so to speak. He can control whether your blog is elevated to a new platform, where you can get paid for your work. How can you fail to see where his power is?

          With regards to more nuanced discussion, I think that will come out. Write your own article, if you like. But in this case, as even Bora says, he WAS wrong. And that part, at least, is indeed simple.

          About hugging – I say receiving hugs is fine, offering them is to be avoided. Maybe that is just me but it seems like a good way to play it safe, no?

          In any event, your argument (and Nikita’s) hinge on the notion that if you don’t know where the boundaries are or if you don’t know that your behavior is incorrect, that you might unknowingly cross them. That all of Bora’s behavior was a misunderstanding (which -again- he doesn’t even say).

          Okay, maybe you don’t know where exact boundaries are. But you should know when you’re putting yourself at risk for crossing them. If you’re not talking about sex, if you’re not flirting with people you have power over, if you’re not asking them to walk you home, if you’re not constantly remarking on the attractiveness of the women you get to work with, then you’re not in danger of going over the line.

          Maybe none of what Bora did was illegal – who knows. But he violated the social norms that he himself and that the community uphold. His behavior made women uncomfortable. He was capable of understanding that talking about his sex life and calling someone a concubine could make someone feel harassed.

          In other words, I concede that there may be and are grey areas where certain actions might or might not cause a woman to feel harassed. But to that I say, Don’t Go Into The Grey Areas! There’s no excuse for taking a risk that could end up hurting someone, as Bora’s actions did.

    • Todd W. says:

      “not that Bora is some sort of predatory old man”

      Who is doing this? Certainly not Seth or anyone who has commented here.

      Part of the problem, it seems, is that every time something like this comes up, there are folks who are quick to exclaim that “it was probably just miscommunication” and then start attacking a strawman version of the real issues. That completely misses the point and belittles the subject. And the quick, apparently knee-jerk leap to “it’s a witch hunt” style comments serve little purpose other than to generate heat, but not light.

      • Tom B. says:

        You’re correct, No one used the words “predatory old man”, I use that as a euphemism for the tremendous amount of public shaming that’s happening, including in this post. In this post Seth wrote: “One obvious step is to insist that there be consequences for people who engage in inappropriate behavior regardless of whether they were aware that their behavior made someone uncomfortable at the time.”

        This effectively says there can be punishment at any time. How can people know if their behaviour is inappropriate or not? Yet we should still punish them? How though? Harassment has a legal definition for a reason, to prevent this kind of persecution. How can we say “punish them if they do something wrong” without defining what “wrong” is? This is the very nature of the law is it not? We say: “X is wrong, there are consequences for transgressions of X”. Not “It’s unclear what’s wrong, you’ll know when you get punished”. No one is saying it’s a witch hunt for sexual harassers, what I’m asking, why can’t we have a nuanced discussion? I’m saying great, this is the scenario, women felt like there were transgressions, Bora admitted it. But response of the community is: “Punish wrong doers without saying what ‘wrong’ ” is. I’m asking for light, and getting none.

        • Todd W. says:

          You said that some seem to be quick to paint Bora as a predatory old man. So, who? I haven’t seen such, using those words or something else.

          What I see is disappointment and acknowledgment that there should be some consequences even from Bora himself. No one is calling for a “lynching”, to use your own and Nikita’s choice of word. Instead, people are saying that there should be consequences and that those consequences should be dependent on the severity of the transgression, without making excuses that minimize what occurred.

          As I said, every time something like this comes up, there is invariably a rapid response to excuse, or at least downplay, the behavior. Coupled with this are comments about “lynching”, “witch hunts”, “slander” or “man hating” or how the person in the wrong is being treated so incredibly unfairly. The comments are full of heat and are, from the beginning, closed off to the nuanced sort of discussion you claim to want. They typically downplay or even disregard what the victim experienced. Such comments do not help the discussion.

    • Nickie Bray says:

      “Unwelcome or uninvited conduct or communication of a sexual nature is prohibited;”

      I once had an employer who would tell dirty jokes when another lady and I were in his office in a meeting. Now, we felt harassed, because he was our employer. How do you tell the boss you don’t want to hear those? As a man, it may seem easy enough to do, as a female, it’s not.

  5. Kevin says:

    Monica’s experience is disturbing and informative. But what happened to Hannah (and why Seth would be unspeakably grateful to her for sharing it) is a total mystery. As a man eager to avoid offense, what can I learn from Hannah? That any time she feels offended I am guilty, no matter how hard I may try to avoid offense? Go back and read “to kill a mockingbird.” It isn’t only about race. It is about the grave injustice that can occur when a man is held responsible for how a woman feels. If men are responsible for a woman’s self esteem, then showing too little interest is just as risky as showing too much.

    • Todd W. says:


      You’re ignoring the context. It is not simply the interactions between a man and a woman, but between a person in power and someone subordinate to them.

      Here’s the lesson to learn: if you are a man in a position of power, interacting with a woman subordinate to you, don’t go into those grey zones, like jipkin said. In fact, that’s one of the best suggestions I’ve seen in all this. If you do venture into those grey areas? Then be prepared to accept the consequences if things don’t go like you may have wanted.

      • A Hermit says:

        It’s staggering that so many seem to not understand this. it’s not a “Madmen” world anymore guys…

        And Seth Mnookin is right in his post here; ignorance is no excuse. If we simply dismiss this all as some kind of innocent misunderstanding, as some here are doing, and refuse to learn how our own inappropriate behaviour can negatively affect others then the problem (and it is a real problem) is never going to change.

    • bbkazier says:

      Here’s what you can learn…

      When you are in a position of power, don’t joke about how your job brings you into contact with desirable women. Don’t make jokes about concubines and don’t discuss your sex life. Don’t get drunk and ask your employee to come back with you to your hotel. All of this adds up to a powerful implication that makes your employee question why they were hired, and creates an environment where they must consider if calling you out will put their job at risk.

      In short, don’t sexually harass people. There is actually very little grey here…if you’re in a position of power, keep the sex talk out of the work environment. I’m honestly not sure what is difficult about this, or why it’s unclear in her post where Bora went wrong. Yes, it would be much more obvious if he had simply said “I hired you because I wanted to bone you.” Instead, he created a situation in which she had to worry if that were true…something no employee should have to deal with. Sexual harassment often isn’t overt and flashy, but here we have a clear pattern of behavior.

    • Anonymous says:

      The easiest way for a man to resolve the issues Kevin mentions (“if she’s offended, you’re guilty”) is to treat female friends and colleagues like tender innocents and exclude them from the more robust conversations that may occur. Better yet, just stick to “good morning” and otherwise stay mum. Which is why I, a female, feel I’ve been harmed by this whole conversation as it pertains to “fixing” the supposedly systemic problems “revealed” by Bora’s outing as a “harasser.” If my male colleagues are forced to constantly monitor themselves around me, they’re going to make themselves scare. And this is a net win for me as a female wanting to be judged only on merit?

  6. Rosalind says:

    Nikita and Tom,

    As a woman who has and continues to suffer from sexual harassment you are simply wrong. Inappropriate comments are unacceptable behavior at work. It not only makes me feel uncomfortable, it impedes my ability to focus on my work because I’m upset. And when no one believes me which is all the time, it’s even worse. It’s about power you must understand that. I’m suffering from PTSD triggered by sexual harassment that brought back historical traumas of child sexual abuse and rape that happened a long time ago and I thought were forgotten forever. I believe the reason is because I always feel powerless just as I did then. I have flashbacks of these traumas all day everyday and this disease is a living nightmare.
    I can keep leaving such jobs but then I go on to a new job and I’m sexually harassed again. So I feel if that’s the kind of behavior I elicit it’s better I stay out of Science entirely. Note that I’ve done nothing wrong, I go about doing my cancer research and I’ve always treated my male colleagues and bosses with respect even though they have not. I’m seriously considering leaving Science entirely at this point which is sad as I love Science.
    I’m very concerned about your attempts to excuse/justify/minimize/deny that it’s about power and it’s injustice.
    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -MLK
    Does that come from misunderstanding? I’m not sure but understanding always bring compassion. Would you please try to understand? Would you please try to put yourself in the shoes of the women suffering from sexual harassment? Just imagine what it would be like if it was you and you’re afraid for your job and for your career and please find in yourself some compassion for sexually harassed women everywhere.
    “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – MLK

    • Nikita says:

      Rosalind, I am truly sorry for what happened to you in your past and for your PTSD. Please understand that I am not in any way justifying or supporting sexual harassment and, from the beginning, I acknowledged that everyone has a right to feel uncomfortable and seek an apology/clarification/etc.. But neither Bora, nor I, nor most men have anything to do with your past and we would defend you and support you as much as we can given the chance. If I were working with you and I knew that you have PTSD, I would be extra sensitive (as I am sure would Bora and most men you encounter would as well) because we care deeply about this issue. A friend of mine was raped a while back and, as someone who was in a situation when I was powerless to help her, I completely acknowledge that sexual harassment is a huge problem when it happens. That said, what Bora did was not sexual harassment by any stretch of imagination. It may have been inappropriate, but that’s about it.

      On a separate note, have you heard of EMDR? Stands for Eye Motion Desensitization and Reprogramming – I looked into it back when my friend was raped. It was a relatively new therapy at the time, which was seen as effective although nobody quite knew why. I think more studies must have been conducted since. In my understanding, this therapy guides controlled recall of trauma while providing a secondary stimulus (visual or tactile) and while triggering controlled recall of positive events. The goal, as I recall, was to allow processing of events that might not have been processed due to trauma and to recalibrate of emotional responses to associated stimuli.

      I hope that you don’t quit anything because someone is an asshole. I would strongly advise however that, if your PTSD is serious, you make it known to your colleagues that you are extra sensitive to certain issues. Assuming that you are working with good people, they should take extra care to ensure that you feel safe and respected.

      • Rosalind says:


        Thank you for your concern. I suffer from PTSD for the past 2 years triggered by sexual harassment and I’ve done countless treatments including EMDR over this time but I’m not getting better. In fact I’m getting worse as I still get triggered pretty much every day. Please read this post on my blog: http://rosalindevefranklin.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/sexism-spectrum-1/

        Note that I’m not going to make my PTSD known in the workplace, my health is my privacy, no one’s business.

        Women should be treated with respect at all times regardless of whether they have PTSD or not, period.

  7. Pingback: Rose-colored glasses | You've Got Some Science On You

  8. Rosalind says:

    Nikita and Tom,

    Furthermore, I realize this may be difficult for men to understand since you don’t have breasts so rather than ask you to put yourself in women’s shoes, imagine it was your girlfriend/wife or daughter or better yet your mom. You must have had a mom at some point to give your birth.

    Please take a moment and consider this from your mom’s perspective. If you don’t get along with your mom, please consider a woman that you care about/like/admire/love whatever.

    • Nikita says:

      That’s the first thing I did when I first read the story. I also asked clarification from Ms. Byrne – my comment was neither acknowledged nor responded to. That said, you are describing this as if someone did something incredibly terrible. This is where you are wrong – nothing terrible happened. At worst, a misunderstanding and miscommunication.

      But perhaps you don’t understand what it’s like to be accused of something heinous because you are not a man and this hasn’t happen to you? Because you do not know what it is like to find a woman attractive, to confide in her, and then to have her unapologetically rip you apart in front of the entire internet? Please take a moment to consider from your son’s, brother’s, father’s perspective. Do you understand what I mean?

      You bring up a good point – empathy. Everyone seems to be showing a tremendous amount of empathy for Ms. Byrne when she leveled an ugly and, in my opinion, ultimately false accusation of sexual harassment against someone who never intended to hurt her, someone I respect. Yet at the same time, the community has zero empathy or skepticism about the claim and effortlessly ascribes sexual harassment over something that is a misunderstanding deserving of an apology.

      Not every sexual comment is sexual harassment.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Another science insider here. I am an active participant in women in science type groups and often see this sort of overblown hand-wringing about the perils of being a female scientist. Any and all hardships of making a career in science (and it IS hard) are viewed through the lens of gender, and massive amounts of thoughtful deconstruction expended on analyzing and fixing the perceived gender bias. Not to be glib, but similar single-mindedness in the pursuit of their research questions would go a long way to vaporizing the perceived barriers. Tellingly, many senior/successful female scientists are wary of participating in these groups–too busy working, and quite possibly not wanting to get sucked in to the hand-wringing circle. (Of course, they are viewed as unsupportive traitors to their gender.)

    I know Bora quite well, and have interacted with him over 10+ years. He is indeed a bit socially awkward and not the best at reading cues–he is the sort that stands chatting for 15 minutes as you try to move on to the next person, is over-enthusiastic in his gestures, and laughs at the wrong moments sometimes. He is also extremely smart, a great synthesizer of ideas, and one of my favorite people to talk science with. He has always been all these things. In the realm of online science journalism, he seemed to have found the perfect way to use his undoubted skills, and he did so in a way that helped other people far more than it helped him. It’s only recently that he’s even had a salary for his blog-related stuff, and the spin from his accusers that his massive powerfulness was sooo scary that they dare not speak up is an utter joke. The entire debacle is sickening and makes me want to write nasty things about these harridans, and certainly I will do them professional harm should their “pitches” ever cross my desk.

    Like others, I am too entangled in the science world to comfortably use my own name here.

    • throwaway says:

      This is interesting and I think you’re right. There seems to be a logic flaw in the argument that Bora has extreme power over these women and if they didn’t comply then there would be seriously career consequences.

      If you read from Kathleen’s account she say’s she rebuffed Bora’s advances on numerous occasions. Yet, she was still fiercely promoted by Bora. This leads us to two conclusions: either 1) as the poster above suggest, Bora’s power to hinder people has been GREATLY exaggerated and these accounts and accusations are more self promotion than anything else or 2) Kathleen didn’t rebuff Bora’s advances but was in actuality tossing more salad than a caterer at a vegan convention. Personally, my gag reflex is much more comfortable with option (1).

      It’s al very unfortunate and I’m sure more careers than just Bora’s have been tarnished (and justifiably so) from these awkward events.

      • Nikita says:

        Assuming that everything is as described, seems like there is also choice 3) where Bora did not have any sort of cause-and-effect between his private life and his professional activity. Which doesn’t preclude 1).

        Also, I am not sure if I misunderstood, but I find your reference in choice 2 quite offensive and disrespectful towards both Bora and Kathleen.

    • D. K. says:

      I’m getting a bit sick reading your comment, “anonymous”. You seem to have already decided what the circumstances are, who is to be trusted and who isn’t (again, Mr. Zivkovic has not disputed any of the accounts — does that count for nothing?), and that ‘stepping out of the sexist line’ is to be retaliated against.

      You actually, seriously say, that you will retaliate professionally against these women if you ever get the power to do so, for their sharing of a disturbing story of a personal nature, none of which has been disputed by the other party? That you would retaliate professionally, using the power that your position provides you? You wouldn’t like to first see and consider what comes out of all this? You’ve already made your judgment?

      I’m not a professional in the science writing field myself, but that seems highly unethical. I sincerely hope you don’t get away with it.

      • throwaway says:

        Not really. Look at the person who insulted DNLee. He showed such amazing incompetence that anyone getting their resume in the future should be highly suspicious of this skill set.

        This is similar in this case – particularly for Kathleen. She showed such blatant disregard for due process and consideration for others (I’m talking about the collateral damage she causes) and such an attraction for tabloid style journalism that her competence to write objective science pieces is seriously in doubt.

        • D. K. says:

          That’s right, the BiologyOnline editor was rightly fired. As was Mr. Zivkovic.

          Problems with Zivkovic’s sexual harassment were reported to his superiors before, and nothing happened. I think disregard for ‘due process’ is warranted in that case.

          What collateral damage was caused, exactly?

          • throwaway says:

            Well gee i dunno, maybe the complete humiliation of Boras wife? COuld Kathleen sent all of that to ‘the powers that be’ with the threat that she would release it if proper sanction weren’t conducted. But no, she took the low road and decided to throw a fellow woman under the bus to jump aboard that blogger train. Further collateral damage is @NerdieChristie b/c some other blogger decided to ‘out her’ for inappropriate actions at a conference. Is any of this fair? No, it’s not. Trial by internet is not the way to do these things.

          • D. K. says:

            That damage was caused by Zivkovic himself. Would you consider his wife unwronged if all this was kept in the dark and hadn’t come out?

            I would not think you one to condemn a trial by internet, looking at your posts so far. But it seems an open exchange of information generally improves things, as we are seeing.

  11. throwaway says:

    You know what’s weird – why does @sci2mrow have photos of BoraZ on her twitter account? Why would someone being harassed by someone put of photos (with complimentary captions) on their twitter account? He forced her to do that to? This really is hard to believe.

    I am now convinced that this must be some twitter experiment and I await the results!

    • D. K. says:

      You are aware what you are talking about here? Do you understand how offensive this is?

      • throwaway says:

        Not I don’t – could you elaborate?

        • D. K. says:

          You are making light of a terrible situation — based on very little information available to you.

          All of the women in this story have already made clear that it was very difficult for them, being situated in our culture, to even admit to themselves that what happened was sexual harassment. All of them expressed that for a time before sharing their story, they wished nothing more than returning to ‘business as usual’, leaving everything behind just to try to forget it. Posting pictures on your twitter feed ‘as normal’ is part of that. Sadly, returning to a normal life is apparently not allowed many of them, in the climate that they have to work in.

          Tagging a person on twitter pictures does not constitute a wholehearted endorsement every facet of their character — what’s more, especially with professional bloggers, much of what appears on their twitter feeds is part of a professional setting.

          Sexual harassment is not a joke.

          • throwaway says:

            I really doubt that any sanctions would have been put on her if she didn’t put up photos of her harasser on her twitter feed. It doesn’t make any sense in the context of her narrative that she wrote.

            Sexual harassment certainly isn’t a joke and this barely meets the threshold of that. Lets save our outrage for woman who have actually suffered physically, mentally and in their career.

            The punishment needs to fit the crime and although Bora’s actions were certainly distasteful they did not meet a threshold for a life destroying week long internet shaming.

          • Anonymous says:

            Sometimes when it is so hard to recognize a thing, it’s because the thing is not what you think it is. Being “forced” to listen to squeamishness-inducing talk is uncomfortable. One might consider asking the person to “shut up already about your sex life.” There are over-sharers of every stripe out there, and being “victimized” by listening to them is self-victimization.

            Some points I’d like to address:
            “Bora admitted it.” Bora admitted that the exchanges occurred as described. He did not admit to harassment.

            “Professional retaliation against the accusers.” For exactly the reasons Throwaway describes, you’re damned right I would “retaliate.” Why would I trust the professional ethics of someone whose public behavior has been, in my judgement, shabby and self-aggrandizing?

            “Collateral damage.” This goes beyond the very obvious harm to Bora’s wife (and that is substantial. And could have been avoided if the accusers had left out some trivial details from their reports, without diminishing the impact of those reports). The collateral damage I see is a further cementing of the idea that women in STEM fields must be handled with kid gloves lest they blast your professional standing.

            “Who gained?” So, Bora consistently promoted the work of these women and has not been accused of requesting ANYTHING other than an audience for his inappropriate disclosures. As pointed out above, the accusers seem to have gained something from knowing Bora. What he gained is unclear.

            “OMG.” Finally, I think the one-sided release of personal emails by Raven is criminal. Does no one else wonder very strongly what was in her half of the correspondence? The simple unfairness of filtering a long-running email exchange to fit the story you’re telling is shocking. The saddest thing to me is that by all accounts (from Bora, Raven, and their colleagues) Raven was one of Bora’s close friends up until the big reveal.

            Honestly, this whole thing has me musing about the genetic basis of perception. I am a female scientist who truly does not perceive a cost to my gender in terms of professional advancement. Other women scientists, whom I respect enormously, feel that gender bias is near-insurmountable. What can explain such diverse perceptions? I’m thinking a genome-wide association study on the perception of bias would be very interesting.

  12. Rosalind says:

    Anonymous and throwaway,

    Now you’re pissing me off. Have you even taken 2 minutes to read what I wrote?
    I don’t know this Bora and I don’t care to know him either.
    You people are deluding yourselves. Please stop, for god sakes you’re so ignorant it hurts to see you debating your ridiculous opinions but not spending 2 minutes getting informed.
    Now I’m not gonna follow this anymore because it pisses me off and it’s bad for my health as a PTSD sufferer triggered by sexism.
    Hope you enjoy disrespecting women! If you’re a woman, hope you enjoy disrespecting yourself.

  13. Rosalind says:

    For everyone: http://angieup.tumblr.com/post/64577581035/son-its-okay-if-you-dont-get-laid-tonight

    Favorite quote: “But specifically, you have core values that will always trump getting laid. Like protecting people. Like looking at every situation and determining what your best role is in it. Like rooting for the underdog and not siding with the people who have power in a given scenario.”

    Now those who wanna stay in their ignorance their free will. I will stay away.

  14. Rosalind says:

    For the neutral types,

    “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Desmond Tutu

    • D. K. says:


      don’t let them get to you. They are on the wrong side of history, and their arguments will not hold in our society for much longer. My favorite quote of MLK’s is: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

      Nonsense shows itself for what it is, and people will recognize it. We just have to ride it out.


      • Rosalind says:

        Thank you for your kind words Dan. I’m very sick today. I can’t even go out grocery shopping and no one will help me with that. It’s my own fault I decided to write about Brutus some other evil greedy unethical sexist racist ignorant bureaucrat on my blog and it upset me too much.
        The bad guys always win. He’s sitting comfortably while I’m so sick. My second abuser is a movie director now he was in Cannes festival a couple of years back. Do you think they ever spend a nanosecond thinking about what they did to me? Never. And I’m so sick, broke and alone without family or friends. My own damn fault all of it. I could have had a career at Harvard and I would be doing Science now rather than crying.

  15. Rosalind says:


    You claim to be a woman. You claim to be a scientist. How can you not stand on the side of women? I don’t understand that. Where is your ethics? Where is your conscience?

    Why would women who suffer sexual harassment make that up? Do you think it’s fun to suffer sexual harassment, is that it?

    Personally it always hurts me more when it’s a woman who doesn’t believe me rather than a man.

    Hope you feel what it’s like someday, to suffer from sexual harassment and then that no one believes you.

    Good luck to you really.

  16. throwaway says:

    Wow Rosalind, what a horrible thing to say – you come off as a really terrible person. Also, your blog is nuts. Whatever you’re on, please up the dose.

    • throwaway says:

      OK, what I said may have been a bit harsh but wishing sexual harassment on someone is really nasty thing to say. Get it together.

  17. Rosalind says:

    Hey Throwaway, How dare you tell me to up the dose moron? Fuck off!

  18. Pingback: The Bora Controversy and American Values | Nikita's Blog

  19. Nikita says:

    “An adult doing adult things is not sexual harassment, until they intentionally do something in bad faith. Until then, misunderstandings happen and are generally resolved by way of personal and respectful conversations. Companies and the community are wrong in how they have treated Bora – wrong in a very fundamental way.”

    My full response is here: http://nikitab.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/the-bora-controversy-and-american-values/

    • A Hermit says:

      “An adult doing adult things is not sexual harassment, until they intentionally do something in bad faith”

      Not that simple I’m afraid…


      “If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.

      If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.

      If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.

      If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.

      If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.

      If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.

      See, that’s why I don’t get the focus on classifying harassers and figuring out their motives. The victims are just as harassed either way.”

      That paragraph I’ve bolded? That’s Bora Zivkovic.

  20. Rosalind says:

    Thank you Hermit. You know what’s interesting? This Nikita who says he’s against censorship has censored my comment on his blog. No problem.

    Nikita, I’m not done with you yet. LOL :)
    Once again you choose to remain in your ignorance and flat out lying about the events that have been reported by the numerous victims. So please read this post because you sound a lot like my moronic realtor lady. And that landlord is not walking through my door, period. Seriously, open your mind and learn something, I deal with this every single day! http://rosalindevefranklin.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/avoid-triggers-1/
    Your erroneous beliefs are beyond cemented in your brain it’s like for the 10th time you don’t wanna listen. So this is the absolute last time I’m trying to get through to you. After that, if you still don’t get it, stay you in your ignorance and enjoy it but I suggest you please wear a sign that says “I step on people’s feet cause I feel like it.” http://rosalindevefranklin.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/awakening-2/

    • Nikita says:

      Dear Rosalind,

      That is correct – I’ve moderated your comment out, because you were extremely disrespectful and offensive in it. I also added a “Moderation Policy” on my post as a result, which states:

      Moderation Policy: I intend to maintain a respectful tone on this thread. Disrespectful comments will be moderated out. However, if you feel that you’ve been moderated unfairly, feel free to blog about it and post a comment with a link to your blog.

      While I will continue to moderate out any material that is disrespectful (my blog, my rules), I will remain true to ideas of free speech and, if you blog your position on your blog and comment with a RESPECTFUL link to your content, I will allow the link to be posted.

      As far as engaging in a discussion, I will not engage you in a discussion until you begin to behave in a manner that is respectful to those around you.

      Respectfully yours,

  21. Rosalind says:

    Oh respect? Yea that’s a good idea… How about you don’t tell me to up the dose? That could be a useful start. And then consider respecting women? How about that? Just some ideas there for you to consider. Respectfully. :) I will not be posting on your blog or commenting there. I’m not for propagating ignorance obviously I’m for removing it.
    Speaking of ignorance, have you read this paper? It really reminds me of you :)
    “Unskilled and unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”
    Respectfully yours.

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