Don’t Start None, Won’t Be None

[Final update: DNLee’s blog post has been reinstated at Scientific American. I’m therefore removing it from here; traffic should go to her.]

[Update: The original offender, “Ofek” at Biology Online, has now been fired, and the organization has apologized. Scientific American editor Mariette DiChristina has also offered a fuller explanation.]

Something that happens every day, to me and many other people who write things: you get asked to do something for free. There’s an idea that mere “writing” isn’t actually “work,” and besides which “exposure” should be more than enough recompense. (Can I eat exposure? Can I smoke it?)

You know, that’s okay. I’m constantly asking people to do things for less recompense than their time is worth; it’s worth a shot. For a young writer who is trying to build a career, exposure might actually be valuable. But most of the time the writer will politely say no and everyone will move on.

For example, just recently an editor named “Ofek” at asked DNLee to provide some free content for him. She responded with:

Thank you very much for your reply.
But I will have to decline your offer.
Have a great day.

Here’s what happens less often: the person asking for free content, rather than moving on, responds by saying

Because we don’t pay for blog entries?
Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?

Where I grew up, when people politely turn down your request for free stuff, it’s impolite to call them a “whore.” It’s especially bad when you take into account the fact that we live in a world where women are being pushed away from science, one where how often your papers get cited correlates strongly with your gender, and so on.

DNLee was a bit taken aback, with good reason. So she took to her blog to respond. It was a colorful, fun, finely-crafted retort — and also very important, because this is the kind of stuff that shouldn’t happen in this day and age. Especially because the offender isn’t just some kid with a website; Biology Online is a purportedly respectable site, part of the Scientific American “Partners Network.” One would hope that SciAm would demand an apology from Ofek, or consider cutting their ties with the organization.

Sadly that’s not what happened. If you click on the link in the previous paragraph, you’ll get an error. That’s because Scientific American, where DNLee’s blog is hosted, decided it wasn’t appropriate and took it down.

It’s true that this particular post was not primarily concerned with conveying substantive scientific content. Like, you know, countless other posts on the SciAm network, or most other blogs. But it wasn’t about gossip or what someone had for lunch, either; interactions between actual human beings engaged in the communication of scientific results actually is a crucial part of the science/culture/community ecosystem. DNLee’s post was written in a jocular style, but it wasn’t only on-topic, it was extremely important. Taking it down was exactly the wrong decision.

I have enormous respect for Scientific American as an institution, so I’m going to hope that this is a temporary mistake, and after contemplating a bit they decide to do the right thing, restoring DNLee’s post and censuring the guy who called her a whore. But meanwhile, I’m joining others by copying the original post here. Ultimately it’s going to get way more publicity than it would have otherwise. Maybe someday people will learn how the internet works.

Here is DNLee. (Words cannot express how much I love the final picture.)


(This is where I used to mirror the original blog post, which has now been restored.)

This entry was posted in Humanity, Science and Society, Science and the Media, Women in Science, Words. Bookmark the permalink.

84 Responses to Don’t Start None, Won’t Be None

  1. Ms Kate says:

    Just in case anyone’s wondering about “Brother Nihil” – he considers himself an Elite Troll on a Mission:

    “I was in a mundane mode today so I decided to troll the blog of a cosmologist named Sean Carroll (see The substance of the troll is relatively uninteresting – something about me playing devil’s advocate in a case involving an angry black female biologist who had been called a whore by someone in a position of authority, with all the usual ideological innuendo (and an impressive number of downvotes).”

    Then follows a bunch of blah blah he’s better than everyone blah blah he’s somehow saving the world from stoopid scientists…

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  3. Unfortunately, this is wrong on so many levels and I am not just talking about the horrible treatment of Dr. Lee. The Biology-Online website should not only take part of the blame for hiring this guy but for the practice of not paying bloggers. Not paying someone for their time and expertise sends a message that you don’t see value in their work. It doesn’t just disrespect Dr. Lee but all science writers and bloggers who are honestly trying to get fair pay for their time and efforts. It disrespects and diminishes us on so many levels. We can’t or shouldn’t say there is just one bad guy here.

    These barbs also are aimed at Scientific American. You should stand up for your own once it can be shown that what is being said is true. Taking down the post without contact or explanation to the blogger sends a bad message to everyone. It is disloyal and shows a lack of interest in standing up for what is right. I can understand contacting Dr. Lee that her post is temporarily being taken down while SciAm investigates. I don’t understand just taking it down with little to no communication. I get that Scientific American needs to protect themselves legally but there is the right and professional way of handling things on their end.

    This goes to the statements that Scientific American constantly make about supporting women. How can anyone trust them to do this when a woman is being disrespected and denigrated for being a professional?

    Kudos to Dr. Lee for standing up for herself first by saying that the no paying gig was not an opportunity she should be thankful for and for not posting on her blog about what happened. I also hope that Scientific American reverses their decision and reinstates the blog post.

  4. Cynthia says:

    I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of you, or him, and I only just got linked here by IFLS.
    But I’ve gotta say: THANK YOU. Thank you for sticking up for yourself about this because when you do, you are sticking up for me and my friends and every woman I know. Thank you.

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  6. James Gallagher says:


    SciAm need to be aware of the Striesand Effect

    and kudos to Dana Lee for being so effective at communicating that SciAm’s position just got demolished really easily all over the place

  7. Sheri Divers says:

    As a fellow black female professional myself, I just want to say, “You go, girl!” I love EVERYTHING about your measured and thoughtful response!

  8. Doc C says:

    Inexcusable behavior by Sci-Am, by, and of course by the idiot blog editor who has no morals. However, I would like to point out that “Don’t start none won’t be none” is nothing like the golden rule, which says “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself”. The difference in attitude and personal commitment between those two statements should be quite obvious, so I will not explain it. Having grown up as a street kid I can understand holding the former as a vision of how to conduct our lives, but I think that holding that it up as variant of the golden rule sheds some light on why our society has become so polarized. Until it’s not about staying on top, but about cooperating and connecting, we will make precious little progress.

  9. Sean Carroll says:

    Note to new visitors: I am a white dude. All kudos should go to Danielle Lee, whose post I’m merely mirroring here (at least until it might be restored).

  10. Good for you sticking to your guns, we also get asked to do lots of articles, seminars ect for free in our line of work, some of which we are happy to do, but like you we will not be coerced into providing a professional service for free just because some one else thinks it is a good idea often we are asked in the same vein, e.g. it will be good for you professionally. It is you right and ours to choose what and why we offer services without payment in some instances.

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  12. Stand firm.
    Stay clear of these fools’ lottery analogy. If you contribute for free, you may win a paying gig because I know someone who once did.

    Immediately recognizing your banner, I find it an honor to cite Ludwig’s memorial.

  13. Vanessa Mercer says:

    You go, girl!
    You make your point eloquently and with humour, and with a level of restraint I could only aspire to. Love your work.
    (For the record, photographers unfortunately get this treatment too.)

  14. sndsfnny says:

    Dr. Sheldon Cooper thinks Ofek has multiple issues 8P

  15. Pingback: On Science, Communication, Respect, and Coming Back from Mistakes | chesliedyq226

  16. Nate Thayer says:

    Thank you DNLee, for a principled and dignified and unequivocal response. Nate Thayer

  17. Pingback: He Called Her… What?? | Ma Vie En Rose

  18. greg says:

    I’m a graphic designer and I deal with this all too often.

    Now, I’ve never been called a whore, but the sheer idiocy and unprofessional demeanor of that ENTIRE email is astounding. Not on our heroin’s side, I mean.

    Want to know what that one key word is that tells me to hang up/break contact/dismiss a client? It’s the old “you’ll be compensated in other ways”. I’ve heard that a MILLION times in a million different forms. Usually it’s “we can’t pay you now, but we’re an upstart company and we’ll have many opportunities for you in the future” or some such nonsense.

    Any creative professional that makes a living doing what they do to feed themselves, their kids, and pay the bills knows this and has gone through something similar.

    But NEVER have I been called out on that in that manner. I’m DNLee’s newest fan.

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  21. meh says:

    I’m glad there are still people who “don’t know how the internet works”. It allows you to see who a person really is. It’s like I’ve seen again and again in life; just because a person is intelligent in some aspects does not mean they are not a complete idiot in others. And what is it with Australia? The website that Ofek works for is based out of Australia, so I’m only assuming that he too is Australian. Whenever I hear about a scientist who blows my mind with their ridiculous behavior, they always seem to be from Australia. Does Australia have some sort of cultural issue that causes people to be complete assholes upon rejection? I just don’t understand how it can be such a polarized country for science, producing amazing people like Brian Schmidt on the one hand, and lunatics like Ofek on the other.

  22. Pingback: Don't Start None, Won't be None | Random Musings from Bill Ryan

  23. Stephen Crowley says:

    thats why you should communicate with retroshare and not some shoddy ass corporate blog system which is vulnerable to censorship

  24. Pingback: Oklahoma State Post-Doc Called ‘Urban Whore’ For Politely Turning Down Offer … – University Herald | Everyday News Update

  25. Tom Weidig says:

    The choice of wording “whore” is not appropriate at all.

    But the practice of firing someone because they did one mistake is an over-reaction. We say or do stupid things out of the blue at times. The person should be given a second chance, if the person recognizes his or her mistake and apologizes.

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  28. ehuman says:

    “Words cannot express how much I love the final picture.”

    Allow me to try: “me too!”

  29. Pingback: “We’re girls,” we said, “we can’t do math.” | 3 lbs of Thought

  30. John Smith says:

    Science is not something in which you need to depend on other to get a result, if one has good skill then there should be no reason to say that only because of some biological difference one can’t do well good in a certain field.

  31. Pingback: The ongoing fight for equal rights and its heroes | Being A Better Scientist

  32. Dan says:

    They just misunderstand what a whore really is. Take a moment to read below and see what I mean.

    PeAcE of MiNd…

    We here at Horbegon believe that men and women alike equally share the esteemed opportunity to rid themselves of a whore in today’s society. This whore can be literal or figurative, and can be a person, place or thing. It can even be an idea or a bad habit. We honestly don’t care what your whore is; just as long as you want to get rid of it.

    WhY dID wE dO tHiS ?
    This idea, this concept, this action, this statement, this observation (hell, even this proper noun) started as a joke amongst friends. And hilarity ensued…

    First and foremost, we thought the whole concept was pretty damn funny. With the creation of Horbegon, you now have a legitimate reason to discuss all the creative ways to “get a whore to be gone”. For those who have a burning desire to never see or hear from someone, place, thing, or idea again, you now have a way to subtly express yourself with a stylish t-shirt, and without having to share a cell with a person of questionable motivation for the rest of your life.

    Secondly, we feel that dumping baggage, whether tangible or ideal, is an effective way to positively influence one’s well-being. Carrying a chip on your shoulder is not good for one’s constitution. It can lead a person to live a life of misery and self-pity, and prevent the necessary healing required for true happiness and serenity.

    want to see our shirts?

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  34. Gizelle Janine says:

    I’ve been thinking long and hard about this incident and what I should really say, because as a woman who has had the same thing happen, I should really have something to say.

    One of the reason I started to consistently write comments for this blog had a lot to do with knowing very little about physics and wanting to get answers for a lot of the questions I had (I immediately agreed with Sean about violations in quantum mechanics.) Giving out ideas scared me, one because of how little I know, and two, god forbid an idea that came about because of a good drinking night just so happens to be nobel peace prize stuff? And what’s the chance a good idea will get stolen? I much rather get paid for a good idea than have some retard that knows nothing about vectors get paid for an idea I came up with, it has nothing to do with being “Urban” it’s basic self respect.

    Now as far as being called a whore: Putting it out there (No pun intended…) was the best thing that girl could have did. Why treat a magazine with any kind of professional respect when it’s writers call women whores for not being able to steal an idea with permission? That guy pretty much said “Because you wont give me your idea for free you’re a whore.” And believe me, Scientific American is on my shit list to begin with.

    In my own experience with being called a whore, it’s been for the same reason. With the exception that the insult was said to make me feel stupid, not to use me or possibly an idea I have. Let’s put it this way: It was not I can’t have your idea you’re a whore, it was more to just call me a prostitute for coming up with a good idea. “Do you give head?” must be Columbia’s school motto or something. My love goes out to this girl for serious.