Science Journalism World Explodes With Sexual Harassment Allegations
Scientific American, not normally thought of as a hotbed of media scandal, is currently embroiled in a wave of sexual harassment allegations against a top editor. The science journalism world is in a low-grade uproar.
We'll bring you up to speed with what's happened so far.
1. A year ago, a writer named Monica Byrne wrote a post on her blog describing how a "prominent science editor and blogger" contacted her, showed interest in her work, met with her, and then proceeded to steer the conversation straight towards sex (such as repeatedly telling her he was a "very sexual person.") On Monday of this week, Byrne decided to name the person that her post was about: it was Bora Zivkovic, the Blogs Editor at Scientific American, cofounder of ScienceOnline.com, and a big name in science journalism.
2. On his own blog, Zivkovic posted an acknowledgment that Byrne was telling the truth, and apologized, writing "I am very ashamed of this incident."
3. The cat, however, was out of the bag. Yesterday, Hannah Waters, a Scientific American blogger, posted a story on Medium describing her own experiences with Zivkovic, saying "even if [Byrne]hadn’t named him, I would have recognized him from his behavior because I have gone through it too." Her story was similar to Byrne's in many way: after expressing interest in her work, Zivkovic began steering conversations towards sex, flirting, and at one point, after a night at a bar, asking her to walk him back to his hotel. "There was no actual sex or inappropriate touching," she writes. "It was all reading between the lines, which made it easy for me to discount my own experience."
4. After Waters' piece was published, another female Scientific American blogger, Kathleen Raven, published a post of her own on Medium. Raven purposely does not name names, or make accusations against specific people. However, she lists more than 20 incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault that she says have happened to her over the past 15 years at the hands of "professional men." They include unwanted kissing and groping, inappropriate sexual remarks, offers of sex for money, unwelcome massages in the newsroom, and even rape. One sounds particularly familiar, given the Zivkovic case: "You cannot meet me for coffee under the guise of wanting to talk about a potential internship, only to talk only about yourself, and later act like I don’t exist."
Yesterday, Zivkovic "voluntarily resigned" from ScienceOnline's board of directors. Scientific American told a reporter that they investigated the initial charges a year ago, but there is no indication that Zivkovic will lose his job there.
Zivkovic has been unwaveringly apologetic since the story broke. [Update: Monica Byrne emails me to note, "I'd just like to clarify that while Bora was 'unwaveringly apologetic,' he also stated in each apology (public and private) that the incident with me was isolated, and hadn't happened with anyone else before or since. A significant part of the uproar seems to be the discovery that that isn't the case."] After the allegations surfaced, some in the science writing community spoke up to defend Zivkovic, and most others stayed silent—something that prompted its own backlash from female science journalist Priya Shetty, who called the tepid response "crushingly disappointing."