The women nobody wants to see: public virtues and private viciousness - blog by Gurdur


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The women nobody wants to see: public virtues and private viciousness
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Posted 04-Jul-2015 at 12:10 PM (12:10) by Gurdur

There are women who are very much in the news without being in the news. In an enforced black-hole of public memory and sanctimony, their presence is only obvious because of people refusing to admit their existence. Let's cover some examples here. A few years ago I supported a woman who had been accused of fortune-telling and of inciting a mob to destroy a crocodile sanctuary. Those who leaped upon the bandwagon to denounce her didn't even know she was a woman. Her being a person, let alone a woman, did not matter to them; they only wanted to use her as a symbol. Narcissism is where the narcissist sees himself or herself in the center at all times, while others are reduced to mere scripted symbols around them. In this case, it was a narcissistic flame-storm in the science-communication world about how superstitious peasants led by a fortune-teller burned down a conservation project. None of the claims were true. The person in question was a peasant woman who hadn't even been aware of the attack on the crocodile sanctuary, let alone done any mob-incitement of any kind about anything whatsoever. She was simply a convenient target and scapegoat. She faced prison for something she had no connection to; her children faced starvation and misuse. At that point I stepped in, to make sure she got a fair trial; she eventually did, and at the trial all charges were dropped.

Her name is Delfina Alvarez Cruz Selgado, and she was the mother of five children (the full story is here; I have never been to Belize, nor did I ever meet her or her children; my contacts with them and with authorities and journalists inside Belize were all done by phone and email). She died two years later of cervical cancer, and I stepped in again to send some financial assistance to her children (the oldest was 16 at that time). At no point whatsoever have any in the science-communication world ever acknowledged that their actions were the international pressure that caused the Belize police to wrongfully arrest and charge her, and to prejudice trial against her. There were many slurs, including openly racist slurs about Mayan peasants, from the science-communication people in the USA. All these and more have been extensively documented in my blog; yet you will find nobody else admitting that she was wrongly accused. None of those who saw her as a useful symbol of someone to be damned in the name of condemning superstition ever admitted their mistakes.

Professor Mary Collins, one of the foremost of immunologists in British science, was hounded because she is married to Prof. Tim Hunt. Leaving aside completely the controversy over Tim Hunt himself and the remarks he made, it's very clear Prof. Mary Collins was shabbily treated by University College London (@UCL), and hounded not just by media, but also many in the science establishment and in the science-communication world. That is partly documented here too. It's also very clear that many in all those spheres want Prof. Mary Collins to shut up and disappear, just as much as they refuse to acknowledge all the other women scientists who stood up to say the treatment of Tim Hunt was grossly disproportionate or even just simply wrong.

Catharine Zivkovic (@ccziv) is yet another woman whom many in the science-communication world ignore, and wish she would simply shut up and disappear. She is the wife of Bora Zivkovic, who was forced into resigning his positions. Bora was accused of preferment based on sexual grounds; while he was and is often accused of sexual harassment, it is very clear from the facts that no such legal definition of sexual harassment was ever met. Those accusing him, though, went overboard with more than that; they demanded Bora Zivkovic be barred in future from the science-communication conference of which he was a major co-founder. They shunned him ruthlessly in the area in which he lives (the academic community being very large in that area); they also shunned his wife Catharine, and slurred her viciously. The vilification was so bad, both online and in real-life in the small community in which they live, that all the family - Catharine, Bora and their two children - were scared to go outside of their house for a long while. Bora had lost his jobs, and as a result lost healthcare coverage; the whole family are dependent on Catharine's small income, and are correspondingly in great need. More of Catharine's own words on that can be found on the blog run by Amy Alkon (@amyalkon).

It is claimed by many that Bora did harm, to the science-communication (#scicomm) scene, and to the ScioX #scicomm conference which he together with two others founded. By the time those hounding him and his wife had finished, they - not he, they - had destroyed the ScioX conference, and they never built nor provided an alternative. The scientist @PsiWavefunction has blogged on how those critics thereby actively destroyed the #scicomm community. The critics used shunning and abuse against many more than just Bora or Catharine; anyone at all who defended those two in the slightest was lied about and shunned as well. The end-effect was that there once was a #scicomm community, and now there isn't, through malicious destruction and over-kill. Shunning and slurring have become a way of life for many.

Skep tickle (@Ellesun), a pseudonym, is a woman who is also a medical doctor and an atheist. She was doxed (her real-world name and position were revealed) several times; the first time was by Stephanie Zvan (@szvan) and Ophelia Benson (@opheliabenson), for no other reason than harassment. Stephanie Zvan tweeted to @Ellesun's boss, claiming the company @Ellesun kept (i.e., just other people on the same bulletin-board as which on @Ellesun posted) meant that @Ellesun deserved condemnation. It was a transparent attempt to get @Ellesun fired; fortunately, it did not succeed. It was only done for harassment; at that time, @Ellesun had made only a few very mild criticisms of stances pushed by Zvan and Benson. The blogger PZ Myers lied about the incident; he claimed @Ellesun had doxed herself; she had not. She had been doxed by Zvan and Benson; figuring that her personal details were already known, she allowed herself to post a little on herself (in a comment under one of my blog posts here), with no more and quite less than what had already been revealed about her. Others in the #scicomm scene also denied knowing anything about women being doxed, only to reveal later they were quite aware of this incident.

Stephanie Zvan (@szvan) has quite a history of such actions; again in connection with the ScioX conference, Zvan viciously attacked a young woman scientist, claiming that woman had sexually harassed someone else. To do that, Zvan betrayed the personal confidences of a friend of hers, without any prior request or notification. In fact, Zvan actively sought thereby to force the friend to speak against the young woman scientist Zvan was attacking (all this has been documented on this blog too). When Zvan's friend in question finally spoke out, it was to deny what Zvan had claimed about the young woman scientist, and to request everyone simply forget about the matter. Zvan was forced into deleting the blog post in which she had made her accusations.

@Ellesun later made a mild but ill-advised joke about the blogger PZ Myers; the response was that PZ Myers doxed her, and Zvan, Benson and Rebecca Watson (@rebeccawatson) doxed Ellesun yet again. The response was drastically out of proportion to the offence; and the intent was very clear. @Ellesun was doxed yet again a third time, by Rebecca Watson. The third time, quite a while after the second time, was utterly unprovoked; the whole intent seemed to be merely to harass @Ellesun into complete silence for no good reason whatsover, this time over nothing at all.

There are common elements to all these episodes, and to other such episodes as the use of the BlockBot against feminist women. Many of the offending actors, including many more not named here, are the same in almost all the episodes listed here (including in the whole ridiculous BlockBot story).
The actions to silence certain women and to shove them into background shadows are the same in each case.

The personal attacks on and shunning of anyone dissenting from that are the same tactics used over and over again.

There is always an excuse given; in the first case, the excuse was the defense of science and conservation from ignorant peasants. In the other cases, the excuse was - laughably -feminism and the need to eliminate sexism. That is, attacks on women meant to silence them were justified in the need to stop sexism. Here linked is the bizarre utterance of one of the people most responsible for the pressure put upon Mary Collins and Tim Hunt (in the name of diversity and anti-sexism). The hypocrisy is astounding.

In public, the actions of attack and shunning as always presented as being on the grounds of high-minded and necessary ideals (such as ending sexism); but in private, dissenters, not just the alleged original offenders, are viciously attacked themselves.

The original offence is grossly disproportionately punished; and all dissent, no matter how mild, is punished in its turn too, leading to the extinction of common meeting-grounds through terminal polarization and bullying tactics.

The end effect is to strengthen the power of certain cliques in the worlds of science and #scicomm, at the expense of the destruction of people's lives and of science communities.

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  1. Old Comment

    Thank you

    We appreciate your ongoing support since the beginning of this tragedy. However, I do want to clarify that Anton and Bora were the ONLY co-founders of Science Online. Together they had the idea, together they worked for thousans of hours (without ANY compensation for their work) to organize and execute the Science Online un-Conference which enjoyed an international reputation, and participation. And the conference was attended by an almost exactly equal number of women and men, something no other similar conference has ever achieved, to my knowledge. The gender equity that Science Online enjoyed was an unplanned but hoped for coincidence, that happened because so many women registered for the conference. Every year, the conference reached it's capacity in a manner of minutes after open registration began. The reason that Science Online had so many female participants is because the conference was totally inclusive, safe, valued women's voices, and was a hella fun. Karyn Traphagen only became involved in later years, first as a volunteer, and later as a paid employee and valued member of the board. She did amazing things to improve the conference experience, and traveled widely to consult and co-organize the spin-off conferences under the umbrella of the Science Online name. She worked incredibly hard and became a valued member of the team. But she was not a founder of Science Online, as people have come to believe.
    Bora voluntarily resigned from the board, and did not attend the last conference because he wanted the success of the conference to go on, and didn't want to make anybody uncomfortable with his presence. This was a(nother) totally unselfish act on his part, and I disagree with his decision to step down. By analogy, if two people co-author a book, and the book is a wild success loved by many people, and those "many people" later decide they don't fancy one of the authors, it does not make sense to go back and erase that author's name from the book that he took the time, energy, and did the actual work to write.

    There will be no more Science Online. The same people who were a part of the witch hunt that ruined Bora's career also ruined the awesome, unparalleled Science Online conference. Well done, shit brains!
    Posted 05-Jul-2015 at 01:30 PM (13:30) by ccziv
  2. Old Comment
    I have to take issue with the characterisation of Ellesun's joke as "ill advised" in any way other than with regard to the maliciousness of the subject of the joke. It was absolutely harmless and no sane person could read anything into it.

    The Bora affair disgusts me, frankly. The people who did this to him are absolutely beneath contempt, yet I doubt that any of them feel anything other than self-righteous about it. As I write this there will be tweeted comments mocking and taunting Catherine Zivkovic.
    Posted 06-Jul-2015 at 10:55 PM (22:55) by Driveby
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