cc: Nature editors & Executive Board
Dear Dr. Campbell,
On January 18th, one of your senior editors, Henry Gee, deliberately revealed the identity of female scientist-blogger Dr. Isis without her consent. By Gee’s own admission, this was in retaliation for Dr. Isis’ comments about problematic behavior that Gee has exhibited over the years.
As the members of a collaborative, pseudononymous blog about women in academia, we were appalled and alarmed by such behavior from an editor at an important scientific journal (and one with which some of us have professional relationships). There are many reasons why a scientific or academic blogger might want to write under a pseudonym instead of their name; it is no coincidence that a majority of such writers are women and others from groups that are disproportionately underrepresented in science and the Academy.
The risks are personal and professional. In our workplaces, when women do speak up about our experiences, we are branded as trouble-makers. The fact that women make up 50% of STEM undergraduate degrees, but only 17.6% of full professors highlights not only the importance of addressing institutional barriers to equality, but also the lack of security that many women feel in their positions. Speaking up also has a personal toll: we may be harassed or bullied; often, the nature of this harassment is violent, and may extend to our families and our workplaces.
Despite these risks, women speak out about the factors that influence our underrepresentation in science and the Academy. These factors include the kinds of institutional biases mentioned in a recent Nature editorial, as well as a hostile climate perpetuated by the recent letter-to-the-editor in Nature (for which you have since apologized), and the Womanspace short story published in 2011. We speak out about our experiences to draw attention to them, to seek advice and solidarity, and to create a safety valve.
Since our blog was created six months ago, Tenure, She Wrote has been viewed nearly 400,000 times and received enthusiastic support. Our pseudonymity allows us to be an important resource to members of the academic community, and allows us a voice in a conversation that we are repeatedly told by people in power is not important. We recognize that we are each taking a personal risk in writing this letter, given the hostile climate for women who speak out against online bullying and sexism. However, the weak response on the part of the Nature editors has left us with no choice other than to do so.
Henry Gee’s actions are not only reprehensible in their own right, they reflect poorly on Nature. Perhaps most critically, they demonstrate a lack of professionalism that compromises the very peer-review process that is the foundation of scientific publishing. Gee publicly dismissed a prominent woman scientist as “nconsequential” and told those who voiced concerns that they are “on a list”.
In response to Dr. Isis’ valid criticism, which Nature itself has acknowledged, Gee replied that “Nature quakes in its boots.” In this statement, Gee presumes to speak for Nature, and the editorial board at Nature has only today responded with a tepid press release distancing itself from the public comments of “a Nature editor” who is not even named.
We request that Nature take Henry Gee’s actions seriously, and see them for what they are: a bullying and harassment campaign undertaken by one of its editors whose purpose can only be to harm a female scientist who has been a critical figure in the online discourse about diversity in science. This is unacceptable.
We are alarmed that Gee will continue to have editorial responsibility over the manuscripts of individuals who have publicly commented on his actions.Although he has since (pseudononymously) apologized for some of his actions, he fails to address the deeper issues behind his behavior, which were not a mere Twitter indiscretion in the heat of the moment, but constitute an abuse of power.
Gee also mischaracterizes Dr. Isis’ critiques of his behavior as cyber-bullying, which indicates that he continues to fail to understand why those criticisms were made in the first place. We do not ask that Gee be “philosophically” a feminist, as he states in his apology; rather, we want him to understand how his actions and attitudes do very real harm to others, and for him to actively work to rectify that harm. Unfortunately, much of the damage is irreversible.
Given his lack of professionalism, as well as a history of publishing Nature: Futures stories with problematic and offensive treatments of race and gender (e.g., Womanspace, Takeaway, Are We Not Men), we believe that Henry Gee’s continued position as an editor of Nature contributes to a hostile climate that is antithetical to the promotion of diversity in science, and we do not support it.
Perhaps even more critically, Henry Gee’s harassment campaign is only the most recent in a series of troubling incidents at Nature, which are in direct contrast to editorials claiming to support women in science and academia. Clearly, the gender problems at Nature neither begin nor end with Henry Gee.
It is our hope that the editorial board takes this opportunity to not only continue to work to improve the climate for women in general, but particularly with respect to the behavior of their own organization. This means going beyond the publication of Careers features or editorials highlighting the gender imbalance in STEM fields, and actively addressing the institutional problems within Nature that contribute directly to that imbalance.
We invite other members of the academic, scientific, and blogging communities to co-sign this open letter.
The Editors of Tenure, She Wrote
We recently received this response from Dr. Campbell, who has given us permission to post his response, which we have added below.
Dear Editors of ‘Tenure, She Wrote’,
I am writing in response to your e-mail of 24 January
My colleagues and I take the concerns you raise, and those raised by others, very seriously, and have now taken stock of them. We are embarking on a process of internal review of all of this – of the issues, the history of our content, and of actions and views expressed by us at Nature and by others. Most importantly, I feel strongly that we need to better understand and support diversity in the research community. I am considering with colleagues how Nature and Nature Publishing Group can best do that, and the variety of comments we have received from you and others will be reviewed in that forward-looking context too.
Philip Campbell PhD