Be Not Afraid…
A couple days ago Henry Gee tweeted what he believes to be my real life identity. To address the elephant in the room, if such things are important to you, he was correct in his identification of me. But, really, what Henry did required only high school level sleuthing. Any amateur with a Cracker Jack decoder ring could have figured it out, largely because my pseud has eroded as you all have become a more important part of my life. When you’ve reached out and needed me, I’ve never hesitated to help you as my real self when that has been helpful to you. Even when we haven’t agreed. I’ve met with many of you in real life and we’ve laughed and cried together. I’ve read fellowship and grant applications and manuscripts. It’s makes me chuckle and brings me happiness to see myself (as my real named self) acknowledged in book chapters and in publications and know that there was something I could do for some of you to help you succeed. I started doing Pub-Style Science with Michael Tomasson because he had a neat vision for how science communication should look and an openness and enthusiasm for hearing a diversity of voices. We don’t see that in science communication and I saw what he wanted to do as an opportunity to do something good. I never wore a mask to hide. I knew that when many of you heard my voice, or saw the lower half of my face, you’d know who I was. I wore it as a symbol of our relationship here. When we meet as professionals, that’s how I promised to engage with you. The things that you may have shared with “Dr. Isis” remain with Dr. Isis.
Henry referred to me as an “inconsequential” scientist. In the long term, he could be right. But, that comment has made me think a lot about the person I am and the person I want to be. I have been humbled by the support I have received in response to these shenanigans. While I may be inconsequential, maybe never winning a Nobel, I’ve been generally pleased with my work. But, who do I want to be here? I have been happy to share with you the up and down realities of my life. I’ve been happy to help when you’ve called for me, and I have been happy to help people find the resources they need. I realize more and more that this is what I should be doing here. There’s no point in getting through doors if you can’t help others find them and walk through them with you. I have been helped substantially along the way and am thankful for it. I also think that I should speak out when I think something is not just. Otherwise, what’s the point? I am neither brave nor revolutionary. I sit in a place of privilege compared to where I came from and I see no point in having it if I don’t use it for what I think feels meaningful and right.
So, to address the question that so many of you have lovingly asked in the last 24 hours, “Am I ‘ok’?” I am fine. My pseudonym has never been a secret to the people I work with and they all know what a swearing, scotch drinking, pain in the ass I am. I will admit that it has given me pause to have online people contacting me through my professional email, especially in light of some of the crazy, sexually explicit, and violent email I get. But, I always knew that level of wackaloonery reaching my real life was a possibility. My silence over the last day came only from that – from pondering the realization that the probability of that sort of nonsense reaching my real life was increased by his actions..but I won’t be afraid. I have always been motivated by the goal of increasing the participation of women and minority scientists in science and I can’t be surprised that this ruffled some feathers. It feels like the right thing to do.
So, while I am “ok”, were his actions “ok?” Of course not, and they give me pause. I have undoubtedly been vocal over the last four years of the fact that I believe Nature, the flagship of our profession, does not have a strong track record of treating women fairly. I believe that Henry Gee, a representative of the journal, is responsible for some of that culture. That’s not “vitriolic” and it’s not “bullying”. That is me saying, as a woman, that there is something wrong with how this journal and its editors engage 50% of the population (or 20% of scientists) and I believe in my right to say “this is not ‘ok’.” Henry Gee responded by skywriting my real name because he believed that would hurt me personally – my career, my safety, my family. Whatever. Regardless of the actual outcome, the direct personal nature of the attack is highlighted by its support from some that I “had it coming..
Henry Gee’s actions were meant to intimidate me into silence. He took this approach likely with the thought that it was the most powerful way he could hurt me. Nothing more. Although I am ok, there are some recent victims of outing behavior that are not. That’s frightening. To think that the editor of a journal would respond to criticism of his professional conduct regarding the fair treatment of women by attempting to personally injure and damage..
Michael Eisen raises a valid point – what about the other identities that are trusted to the editors of that journal?
And, what about people that might submit to Nature? He’s clearly willing to use his knowledge of people’s identities to injure them personally. If you’ve ever criticized him, or the journal, in the past, can you really be confident in fair peer review?
I speak only for myself and I have no personal feelings about Henry. My only concern has been in his conduct as an editor of a journal that very publicly represents my profession. When Henry Gee said, in reference to my self-professed boycott of Nature (until they get their act together regarding the treatment of women), “Nature boycotted by [an] inconsequential sports physio… Nature quakes in its boots”, he spoke as a high level representative of that publication, making a statement as to how that publication regards me.
That someone would engage a personal vendetta and conflate it with how I should expect to be treated by an allegedly peer-reviewed publication gives me more pause than having my name displayed publicly. And, it should serve as a gentle reminder of the possible outcome women face when they speak up about misogyny and sexism in their field. Retaliation can be a real bitch.