October 19, 2013

The sad fall of Bora Zivkovic

Science geeks know Zivkovic as the head of blogging at Scientific American, as well as being a good sciencce bloger there, and in previous stops, himself. Many know him as the "blogfather," a term of endearment, or more, that he apparently encouraged.

So, too, did many of his charges as young bloggers. Young bloggers who apparently forgot that he was also their boss, and who maybe didn't stop to consider that a "term of endearment" can also be a tool of manipulation. After all, he supposedly is charming, and tries to give that impression on his blog's about page.

And that leads us to the stunning (but not quite shocking) story of problems of the now-former SciAm blogging chief. As in "sexual harassment" problems. Problems alleged my multiple women, which has led to his resigning as the "blogfather."

Several issues here. 

First, though the drinking smartly didn't go too far, in a couple of instances, alcohol at least lowered inhibitions. Per what I blogged about on this issue earlier this week, fortunately, the women in this case recognized the potential peril before getting too much in their cups. (Per that link, and other things, there's a sidebar or two near the bottom of this post.)

Second, on his Twitter feed, Bora says ... he's learning. How much slack do we cut him for being from pre-implosion Yugoslavia? While noting that he's spent the great majority of his adult life in the U.S.?

Not a lot, I'd say. In fact, due to things like him allegedly using the "sexual problems at home" line as a play for sexual sympathy, the "I'm learning," while possibly genuine, possibly is not. I just don't know. Especially if we don't know what he's learning. What he thinks he should learn. Etc.

Third. Bora is a good science writer. I hope he gets a new position. He could be a good mentor of younger science writers. But, I don't know that. As one of his accusers noted, in essence: Did Bora take young women science writers under his wing because he saw their potential, or was he "grooming"?

Fourth, I'm not totally disinterested in at least tangential issues related to this. I think Bora is a good science writer, and a good scientist. As a journalist overall? He buys too blankly into claims of Gnu Media gurus about how traditional journalism is dead without doing his own critical thought. I know that's in part because of where his financial bread is buttered, even though SciAm's ultimate parent owner is one of the largest "old media" companies in the world. But still.

And, while the journalistic ethics problem was at Scientific American the magazine, and not his online blogging stable, he doesn't recognize journalistic ethics problems when they arise. Re teh publication as a whole, there's been journalistic ethics with  an advertorial special section not labeled as such, with him not seeing that as a problem, Or here, a lack of critical thinking on claiming agriculture was invented for beer, and also use of wrong data. (These things go back to my previous paragraph; SciAm as well as Discover seem to be getting more and more social media focused.) I've not seen this spill over into what passes by his blogging radar screen yet, but...

I hope that whatever writing world is in his future, he's "learning" in this area, too.

And, per what else I said, let's hope young female science bloggers, without getting cynical, learn to be more skeptical as needed.

Finally, as promised, sidebars.

Allegedly, that's Atheism Plus darling Rebecca Watson
at left. (Link of photo implies no consent to all content.)
First sidebar. Bora, on his own Facebook timeline, recently had a picture of him with notorious Atheism Pluser/nth-wave feminist or something Rebecca Watson. (It's my blog, and I get to say "notorious" instead of "relatively well known" or anything else.) Given that, per what I mentioned above about a blog post of mine, a blog post on women being careful about drinking situations, and other things, like allegations of Bora's hug-friendliness, this picture has massive new irony levels.

(Since Bora's FB feed is not set to "public," even though I downloaded the pic, I can't post it here, as I describe in another blog post of mine about my stance on online privacy issues. So far, a brief Google Images search hasn't turned it up on a public venue.) 

Anyway, back to the irony of said picture, which was at a public "con" of some sort, one of the movement skepticism conferences or something.

That includes the fact that Watson herself has been accused of Sarah Palin-type winks, of having her own problems with drinking and intimate behavior, per the photo, and more. (There's another graphic, a screen capture of Watson's comments over the years about drinking and manipulativeness, at the blog link. And more on Gnu Atheism and the Atheism Plus submovement within it's issues on drinking and manipulativeness here.

That leads to sidebar two. And here, it's even clearer there are other dynamics at play among the nth-wave feminist crowd et al. Zvan rightfully notes, in the motorboat wake of this, that harassment can be done by women, too (I'm shocked to hear that out of her mouth) but, then goes on to do what is arguably "slut shaming." She'd surely call it that if someone else did it. It's also possibly a form of online bullying to keep non nth-ers in line. 

And, that leads to another "sad" observation. What Bora did was sad. What certain people are doing to "appropriate" that issue is at least equally sad.

To sum up:
1. I want more women science writers;
2. I want sexual harassment, manipulation, etc. of women to stop;
3. I want women to accept responsibility for what they can do in the way of "harm reduction" or whatever;
4. I want Bora to learn from this, to help No. 1, to help fight No. 2, and also, to become a better science blogger in terms of promoting better science content;
5. And, I want nth-wave feminists to stop acting like they have the final word on these issues. 

I also want Bora's replacement at SciAm to become a better promoter of better science content. A good one-third of blogging there in the past year or two has seemed like little more than social media oriented clickbait.

No comments: