I’m always interested in how reputational missteps are handled, especially when someone with some sort of authority (real or imagined) is smack dab in the centre. When I heard about the kerfuffle between Dr. Isis and Henry Gee, and his fauxpology, I was very curious as to how science’s latest tempest would play out.
Oh no he didn’t
Gee tweeted the real-world identity of Isis the Scientist, a pseudonymous and sometimes controversial science blogger. After hours of enduring online wrath, he shuttered his account (a redacted image of the offending tweet is in this post), and wrote his “reflections” in a blog post. Gee attempted to clarify events from his point of view, and announced his withdrawal from personal use of social media.
A bit of context
Dr. Isis (I won’t use her real name) is a young Latina exercise physiologist at a major research university. Gee is a senior editor at Nature, a columnist for The Guardian and a science fiction author. He was responsible for publishing the fictional Womanspace, in Nature, which Dr. Isis and others openly criticize him and the magazine for the piece’s inherent misogyny.
Why use a pseudonym?
Revealing someone’s real name (if they haven’t given you permission) is considered to be an online sin. Pseudonyms are commonly used to separate someone’s real life (personal, work) from their online life. Some people use false names to bully and spread socially unpopular messages such as hatespeech, but there are other reasons as well:
- Some, such as Malala Yousafzai, who blogged for the BBC under the name of “Gul Makai,” do so to protect personal safety.
- Some, as has been suggested of Dr. Isis, use assumed names to level the playing field where gender, age, race, religion or experience could be used to dismiss them.
- Some take on nom de plumes to work around rules to accomplish what they want (as Gee is suspected of, to edit his own Wikipedia page (username: “Cromercrox”)).
In setting forth his side of events, Gee seems to have taken a leaf from BP’s “I’d like my life back” Tony Hayward‘s and MM&A’s I’ve lost a fortune and is now someone “that’s just getting by” Ed Burkhardt‘s books. Here are my takeaways from his near 1000-word missive:
He references his role and more than a quarter-century at one of the world’s most prestigious science journals.
He’s the real victim
Dr. Isis is at fault because he feels worn down by her three-year “campaign of cyberbullying.”
His chequebook backs up his self-image
He feels his opinion about who and what he is should hold greater weight than evidence suggests. He also seems to think his monthly donations offsets his other actions and words.
If you don’t understand him, the issue is you’re foreign
He closes with a thought that those who have issues with what he writes/says/does, lack British sensibilities.
At the end of the day
This is a fauxpology
Its tone is similar to the sort of “I’m sorry note” an eight year old writes when he’s not sorry and is forced to write a note of contrition. Gee’s paragraph absolving Nature from what he said and how he used their name to give his tweet some heft (what he calls “blurring”), makes it easy to surmise that Nature demanded an apology (which this is not).
Someone who disagrees with you is not necessarily a cyberbully
Cyberbullying is a real problem faced by many people, but Gee mocks the issue by claiming he’s a victim when he was called out for abusing his position to denigrate others. NB: I’ve not read threats or intimidation in any of Dr. Isis’ posts about Gee. I’m not saying she hasn’t, only that I’ve not read them.
“Look at what she made me do” is not a defence
Gee doesn’t accept responsibility for his actions. While being on the receiving end of scorn can eat away at anyone, he is ultimately responsible for what he tweeted. Dr. Isis did not insert Nature into his tweet (twice), she did not force him to belittle her, nor was she responsible for wording that denigrated her field.
A clarification is only needed when there’s confusion
To the best of my reading there hasn’t been a misinterpretation of what Gee tweeted, so there’s no need to clarify.