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. Elizabeth Landry says:


  2. Gary says:

    It’s the same for IT professionals, never tell anyone you work in IT! They all have ‘Stuff’ they need done & never want to pay for it. I tell them, “My car needs a service will you do that for me for free?” or “I have a pile of laundry needs done, can I bring that to you for you to do for me for free?”. That works for most of them 🙂
    Best to tell people you work in the mental health or infectious disease fields!

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  6. Jennifer Dunne says:

    I am emailing Biology Online right now to let them know how appalled I am by their conduct.

  7. Pete Langman says:

    Well, there are two issues here. The first is the use of the word ‘whore’. Obviously, and undeniably, this is offensive. There is, however, a similarity to the phrase ‘corporate whore’ which is non gender-specific. Use of this term to someone you don’t know is, I believe, also offensive. This means that the insult is both a) in terms of gender and b) in totally gender-neutral terms. This is quite an impressive feat.
    The second relates to this part of the response:

    After all, Dr. Important Person does it for free so what’s my problem? Listen, I ain’t him and he ain’t me. Folks have reasons – finances, time, energy, aligned missions, whatever – for doing or not doing things. Seriously, all anger aside…this rationalization of working for free and you’ll get exposure is wrong-headed. This is work. I am a professional. Professionals get paid. End of story. Even if I decide to do it pro bono (because I support your mission or I know you, whatevs) – it is still worth something. I’m simply choosing to waive that fee. But the fact is I told ol’ boy No; and he got all up in his feelings. So, go sit on a soft internet cushion, Ofek, ’cause you are obviously all butt-hurt over my rejection. And take heed of the advice on my khanga.

    This guy doesn’t do it for free. It’s basically his job. Which makes his attitude even more offensive, frankly. A similar thing happened recently over here, just to someone more famous, so it made the papers. See my blog for more exciting details.
    You’re absolutely right. Both of you. And your responses absolutely, if you’ll pardon the expression, ‘on the money’.

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  9. Getty says:

    Hi. I wonder if he is British. The reason I say this is because the British use that expression a lot, generally as humour. “I’m a words whore” meaning I’ll write for anyone, I’m not particular about which newspaper publishes me. But they generally use it with levity. They also use the word “scumbag” a lot, and it’s not nearly as offensive as it is in the United States. Surprisingly, they use the word “cu*t” a lot. An awful lot. But usually it’s used towards men, when they want to say that a man is a total and utter nasty, cretinous degenerate. It’s kind of like calling someone an asshole but more so. Sometimes we have to take culture into account because some words and idioms are highly offensive in America and less so in other English-speaking countries.

  10. Pete Langman says:

    I keep attempting to edit in order to sort the personal pronoun issue in my comment (I’d just woken up), but keep failing. Apologies …

  11. Bridie says:

    Go Girl, you did good! Loads of exploiters out there, armed with more cunning and subtle tactics than Ofek used. Be wary all!

  12. Tbrunt says:

    Here’s an idea – why not send your thoughts directly to Biology Online admins and tell them how disgusted you are by this BS? –

  13. No matter how much education some people subject themselves to, no matter how well mannered one grows up, no matter how important one thinks they are, grace to one’s fellow man in the face of the word “NO,” they lack. Dr. Lee is right on target with her reply, this human from bio online seems to think he is more important and is entitled to a, “YES,” reply from all. The question remains, how do you people plan to make this, this, person, feel due retribution? And as for calling Dr. Lee a whore, it should be noted that even whores get paid for their services.

  14. Rosa says:

    @Gary, Don’t tell people you work in Mental Health: you get a nervous laugh and a query about anxiety!

  15. GavBo says:

    I think this is rather fitting

  16. Barry Best says:

    Scientific who ??? do you mean they make money by exploiting bloggers for free ?
    sounds like a good business !! Very good business. Better than robbing the Bank

  17. William Drake says:

    Way to go! I`m not a scientist( just a flag printer)but my dad was a Geophyisist,( and a humble but brilliant man)so I grew up with a love for science. How the jerk treated you was completely unprofessional and just pig headed. God Bless you and you scientific work.

    Sorry this was supposted to go to DNL blog. but you get the point . Will write to her.

  18. Ron Murphy says:

    There is a forum thread on this, and one of the site’s main people honee_v has posted on planned action

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  22. Peter says:

    “Son, your mother and I are organizing movie nights with the neighbors and their kids. This is a huge opportunity for you to meet the girls of the neighborhood; there will be plenty of them. Will you join us?”

    “Gee Dad, I don’t know. Can you be more specific? How often do you plan to go to the movie? And will you pay for the theater?”

    “We plan to go once a month, son. There is a little caveat although; since it will be late at night you won’t be able to go out that late for the next two weeks after. Regarding payment, we won’t pay for it. It will be paid from your monthly pocket money. Do you know George? The popular kid of the neighborhood… Well he has already accepted these conditions without complaining. And son, don’t forget that it’s a huge opportunity for you to meet with the cute girls of the neighborhood.”

    “Thanks dad, but I’ll pass on this one.”

    “Because we won’t pay for the theater? Are you my son or are you a whore?”

    “Dad, did you just call me a whore?”

  23. Tonie Carl says:

    I think your responses are completely appropriate and I am glad you brought this to the public’s attention.

    I am a professional woman working as a corporate aviation pilot, and all too often I am asked to fly for less pay than I deserve. Aircraft owners (or other pilots) ask if I want to fly for (or for them) without pay or exchange of services, as if they are doing me a favor. New and young pilots often pressure themselves into “getting hours,” and they will fly for free or reduced pay just to get enough hours to sign on with a commercial airline. I know that when I decline to work for free, there are a dozen others willing to step in, and although I think this is wrong it does not deter me. I know what I am worth and it is a lot more than nothing. Once when I declined a request to fly for free, the guy said, “Come on, don’t be a bitch.” Calling someone names has no place among professionals.

    I agree with your comments on some people thinking that because of a person’s gender/race/socioeconomic status that person can be easily manipulated. I have experienced this first hand and have become more aware and hardened to it as I enter my 7th year in the industry. You inspire me and I only wish there were more women willing to stand up for themselves as you are.

  24. Kristofer Osterhout says:

    I’m disgusted by the treatment you received; so disgusted, in fact, that I had to send an e-mail to Ofek:
    Hi Ofek,

    I don’t actually have a blog contribution request. Instead, I’d like to let you know that you make me absolutely sick to the core of my being. How DARE you call someone a whore for not wanting to contribute to your two-bit shoddy online blog? You’re disgusting. I sincerely hope that your blog dies a slow, painful death and you see substantial monetary losses from it. Ultimately, I hope that you are NEVER in a position of power or authority again, because you’re incapable of being a proper member of society.

    In short, please remove yourself from the public. Move to a country that doesn’t have readily-available internet. Do us all a favor and make yourself unknown.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, thinking about you has made me physically ill so I must go vomit.

    Kristofer Osterhout


    You don’t deserve that treatment. We must let Ofek know how cantankerous and abhorrent he really is.

  25. Dave Hall says:

    Thanks for sharing a solid piece of work.

    As a retired professional communicator, I ran into this shit. I think being a woman of colour probably got you a bit of extra ignorance from this person, but you are right that it is not a unique problem. And that the lower down they see you on their bigoted little pecking order, the more arrogant they get.

    I read Scientific American, although I am not aware of this blog. I will send them a note saying how appalled I am that ‘Ofeck’ is still affiliated in any way with Scientific American and that they have not offered an apology for his behavior in general and insults in particular.

    Have a good day!