Building a new normal

Oct 21 2013 Published by under Academia, Activism, Uncategorized

This is the post about Bora. And the "community" that I thought was there. There's been other stuff going on as well. But this one is about Bora.


I warn you all that this post is very hard for me. Normally what you see here, even the longer ranting or opinion pieces on academic life, even the big reviews on opponent process theory or long posts on a paper? Those are drafted and posted on the fly. I hammer them out in a single sitting, fast as you like, and throw them onto the internet. Maybe I'll have a friend or two look over an opinion post. But usually not.

But this? This I went over, over and over, in my head. This I took notes for. I wrote an OUTLINE. It's the only way I feel I can fit all the thoughts and feelings in, and even then, I don't think that I'll hit them all.

I don't process on the internet. I don't process on twitter or write posts trying to understand my feelings. I never have, I probably never will. Partially because, when I process, I do so in far more than 140 characters. Partially because, at this point, if I say something I regret... I say it to 23,000 people. And I shudder at the idea of saying something wrong, or something hurtful to someone else, to 23,000 people. And it's partially because I just can't react that fast. It means I've been quiet on a lot of issues, even though people have told me I need to say something. I do want to say something. I just want to make sure I've processed, and that it's the thing I need to say. My silence does NOT mean I do not support the victims. Far from it.

It's taken me a lot of time to process. In the first few days, I drank more than was good for me, I admit. I ran more than was good for me, too (which is very possible). More miles vanished under my heels in two days than I'd run in the previous 10 days combined. I would think I felt better, and come back to a fresh cut. I went whole days forgetting to eat. Not sleeping, waking up in a panic thinking it couldn't be this way.

I know this seems like an over-reaction. But I felt like my world was falling down. Science blogging, BORA, who introduced me to science blogging, made me love science again. Bora, and his guidance, got me where I am. Entering into the world of science blogging showed me where my real talent lay. It gave me an entree into a new career that I am unbelievably excited about. I'm so glad to have found something that I'm good at, and that I love. For all this, I thanked Bora. I still do. Science blogging has become my world. It contains most of my friends. It's no longer a world I can step away from and back into the lab. It's my career now. My life.

But it turns out...Bora was not the man I thought he was. I trusted him implicitly. He told me to jump blogs, I would jump. He told me to apply for something, I would. Without hesitation. To me, he was a mentor. Almost paternal. He told me I was his oldest blogdaughter (from way back in '08). He was never inappropriate to me.

But he was horrible, horrible, to others. And it was chilling, and nauseating, to read. I met Bora like all of them did. In a coffee shop. Alone. Nervous. I was no different.

And now I wonder if I was just being used for my sense of loyalty. I think it's obvious to many people who know me. My college boss from the old coffee shop used to tell me I was like a big labrador retriever. I LIKE you! I like you all! I want you to like ME! I trust you implicitly and I think you're GREAT. And if you knock me down, I'll come bounding back, still thinking we're buds. I'm very, very loyal to my friends. They make mistakes, and I know that. Often, I forgive them instantly.

But when those mistakes HURT people. Hurt many, many people. Hurt their own families, possibly beyond repair. Hurt careers. Use power to take what they want. Lie to me. Lie to everyone. Hurt MY FRIENDS.

Even the friendliest dog has a line.

I feel terrible for his victims. I feel terrible that my faith in Bora, in a way, kept him able to harass others. I admire their bravery, their grace. I am with them in every way.

People have been having the uncomfortable, difficult, painful conversations. I've been having a lot of them myself. I have found out that this thing I thought was my community...was not a community to everyone. I have found out that where I tried to be inclusive...people felt excluded. This was not the "community" of everyone at all. I have found that the ScienceOnline meeting, the place where I felt the safest I have ever felt outside my own house...people did not feel safe.

Bora is not the man I thought he was. And the science communication community was not the place I thought it was.

The whole week has been full of downs. But toward the end. I started to see #ripples of hope. Not just the hashtag (though that alone is brilliant), but from other bloggers, saying, we can, in the future, be better. We want to be better. We WILL be better. People taking decisive action.

And I have been incredibly impressed with many of my colleagues. Yes, people fought, and jumped to conclusions, and etc. But there have been no death threats or rape threats, and compared to some communities I've seen...well I'm impressed. I always thought I wrote with and worked with some amazingly good people. Now, I KNOW it.

And it gives me hope. It makes me believe we can do better. It has made me think HARD about how I behave at conferences. Am I friendly? Am I too friendly? Do I exclude people by accident, without knowing? Am I ever in power over someone...even when I may not realize it?

I may have to change how I operate. All of us may. Our rose colored glasses are gone. But I am willing to change. I think many people are. They are willing to admit that what we had...wasn't as great as we thought. And willing to help build a new normal. I hope it's teaching us to listen. I hope it's teaching us to see. Even when we don't like it.

I'm working with some people to help. I would like to help make Science Online the amazing experience I have had for as many people as I can. I would like to make it safe. I've got a few ideas, and I've seen some great ones around. But does anyone else have ideas? Twitter has been a free-flowing stream, and I don't want things that I could help with to flow past. Please please put them in the comments. I'd love to keep track. I'd love to help build a new, better, more trustworthy normal.


ADDENDUM: ScienceOnline is very committed to making stuff better. Karyn is collected responses. So please if you have ideas, send her a summary (not a link or a storify or a tweet, a summary) to Together we can make this better.

35 responses so far

Science Communication: A Conversation

Sep 21 2009 Published by under Academia

So a few days ago, Brian of Laelaps and I had a conversation. The conversation went like this:

Sci: Somebody wrote a book where he referred to the "tone" of as being bad for science. The book is "Don't be SUCH a scientist". Because we are "such scientists", as in, people who are obsessed with facts and take passion and interest from everything we communicate with. I'm really getting annoyed by this. Though I see the point, in that we all know many scientists can make learning some pretty dry stuff. But look, I'm a communicator, so are you. We write stuff people find entertaining! It's on a blog for ALL THE WORLD to see, it's even on the NY Times sometimes. Yet. I get 1500 hits a day. I know twilight fanfic websites that get way more than that. So I'm communicating, and I'm doing it well, and it's not for lack of exposure...why aren't people clicking then?
Brian: Yeah, [that scienceblogs reference] I don't understand how it's bad for scientists to help more people understand science! I haven't read "Don't Be Such A Scientist" yet, but a copy should be coming to my mailbox soon.
Sci: I think I want to post something. Because one wonders. There are those of us out there. Scientists, students of science, etc, who post about science. We try to do it so everyone can understand. It's interesting, it's relevant. It's not fact-obsessed. There are tons of popular science books out there doing the same thing. But NO ONE CLICKS. And no one reads. Scientists might be part of the problem, but we're not the only ones causing a major lack of interest.
Brian: Well, the people that read us are already interested in science. It's harder to reach everyone else. You can't make people care about something if they're just not that interested. How about we write our own book, "Maybe they're just not that into science?"
Sci: hehehe. That would be SO FUN! So it comes around again. How do we get people interested. People focus on scientists and science being portrayed as "cool". But I don't know if that's it. People want to become doctors, and doctors are not necessarily cool. They want to become doctors because doctors save people. I want to be a scientist because scientists save the world. Perhaps we should focus more on how people doing science are heroes. Saving the planet, saving people.
So it comes around to how do we get people interested
Brian: Right, and for me, science just had this inexplicable draw. I loved nature, and if I wanted to learn more about nature I knew I would have to become a scientist. Making scientists "cool" will not solve the problem, and it might be a problem we never really solve. We just have to keep working as hard as we can to popularize science.
Sci: But you will contribute to human knowledge. You will inspire, which is very important.
Brian: I think a major improvement would be getting more science-savvy people into mass media outlets to replace some of these journalists who are on the science beat but don't know a thing about science! I reject this idea that there was some golden age when people respected science all the time and we need to go back. There never was such a time. It's always been a fight to get people to understand science, but it's something that is worthwhile.
Sci: Yeah, i definitely agree. People talk about how, during the "space race" people were interested in science. Of COURSE they were. It could come down on their heads any minute. If I were building a fallout shelter and heard about spy satellites orbiting the earth, I'd want to know how they worked, too. But that's because it's relevant, not because science was somehow "cooler". And people NOW are interested in science. They are interested in medicine, in vaccinations and psychiatry, because it's relevant. It's something they're dealing with every day. I don't think we can say that people are "less" interested in science than they used to be. They are interested in what is relevant to them at the moment.
Brian: Right. Well lots of people are interested in science, it is just what aspect, and to what extent. And it would be great if we could get people excited about science that isn't directly relevant to their everyday lives, because there's more to science than just medicine and technology.

And this conversation caused me to do a lot more thinking.

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29 responses so far