The Elephant in the Room at #scio14

Feb 28 2014 Published by under Feminist Musings

Today began Science Online Together, the blogging, social media, and writing conference that occurs annually in Raleigh. This gathering now attracts an international crowd, despite its humble roots as a local gathering. Over the (now) 4 years I have attended, I have learned a lot about writing and related things I would not have likely learned elsewhere.

This is the first year that the conference has not had its primary founder, Bora Zivkovic, in attendance. Last year women began coming forward to report inappropriate behavior on the part of Bora, including a lot of information about his sex life. He admitted to a single episode of impropriety after the first shoe fell; unfortunately for him, more women then came forward including one who had saved the inappropriate emails he had sent. They mirrored the reports of the other women, making it clear that this was not merely poor judgment. This fell into the realm of recurrent predatory behavior.

This morning at the first session, the conduct and harassment policies were reviewed with the group because of “recent events.” One of the first scheduled sessions dealt with boundaries (scheduled simultaneously with another women in STEM conference; no conflict there), and one guy (@ScientificScott) asked a very good question: 

Is Bora actually Voldemort as there's a sense of "he who shall not be named" at

The live tweets have been Storified here to give you a sense of the discussion. Many women, both in attendance and online, felt that the decision to gloss over these issues was inadequate. It will be difficult to maintain trust in a group that is not willing to publicly call out harrassment such as documented in these events.

Another issue arises here. On January 1, 2014, Anton Zuiker, another of Science Online’s founders blogged over 5,000 words about his friendship with Bora

he said things to others that would have been better shared with a best friend or a therapist, women called him on it, he apologized, he disappeared in shame and regret.Likely most have moved on, or maybe some still have a lingering hint of bitterness for my friend. [This was a clumsy sentence that minimizes the depth of emotion and pain. I was trying to capture a range of possible views, but I shouldn’t have attempted to speak for others. Rather, I should own my own statements.] But I sincerely hope that with time and reflection, and a dash of forgiveness, there might be a recipe for moving forward, for Bora and his family, for the women who shared their stories, for our science-communication community, and maybe for women and men in general.

The post could be boiled down to “a guy made a mistake, but he has been offline for 3 months. No one filed charges. Let’s forgive him.” Anton is getting a lot of hard looks from women as he passes by at the meeting; this attitude makes us feel devalued.

Personally, Bora's repeated, almost identical behavior with several women made me feel squeamy. My daughter is a twenty-something communications major who discussed pitching some story ideas to Bora. At the time I said to do it; now, I would not let her near him. I don’t know if I can ever get back any degree of trust. When I read Anton’s defense of Bora, it makes me sad. Although, as he repeatedly points out, no crime has been alleged, he clearly values his collegial relationship with Bora over the damage done to the women directly hurt by his actions. Also, we women wonder how seriously our own accusations would be taken if another in our group acted out inappropriately.

Unless Science Online can directly address these issues, to paraphrase George Orwell (a dude writing under a pseudonym), all of us are equal; but some are more equal*. Science Online has work ahead to better address these issues. One hour of facilitated discussion is not enough.


*Yes, I know I have made heteronormative assumptions throughout this post; however, the circumstances under review involved a male in a position of relative power harrassing women. Certainly other gender and power dynamics can present in various combinations, and all can do irreversible harm to those targeted by offenders.

126 responses so far

  • Zuska says:

    I am unsurprised that SciO14 used the "recent events" version of "mistakes were made". As long as Anton is still on the board the org will be greatly hampered in directly confronting what happened and therefore greatly hampered in rebuilding any sense of community trust. How, for example, can people trust that Bora has no ongoing influence on the conference through his dear friend and supporter Anton? How can people trust that Anton isn't pushing for the "recent events" way of handling things, to help his friend?

    Three months - six months - a year is not enough time to change a lifetime's worth of behavior and developed attitudes, even for someone who is very motivated. I do not trust that Bora, or Anton for that matter, is even aware of the real nature of the problem, let alone on their way to a remedy.

    • Sam Juno says:

      Until the friends of Anton have been properly disposed of, then the friends of the friends of Anton. Nothing will be completely remedied.

  • KateClancy says:

    What disgusts me about this passage from Anton's post -- and knowing that he is at the conference, which I decided not to attend this year -- is that he ignores Raven's assertion of physical contact. Bora touched her without her consent, but Anton acts like the issue is just about Bora being an oversharer.

    I am not there, so I didn't see or here the comments you're referring to. I can only hope, as someone who admires and has great confidence in Karyn Traphagen, that she will be able to steer the ship to safety. If that means dumping a few duds, that's fine with me. And if that means creating an advisory committee, that would also be great.


    While I fully recognize that people were hurt (and have a right to be), I reject that any evidence has been presented of what can be called "sexual harassment". On the contrary - a man's career has effectively been destroyed, privacy grossly violated, and all over what is a difference in values at worst and a misunderstanding at best. As for the "scientific community" - it doesn't seem to have the intellectual integrity to analyze the issues in an honest and unbiased manner.

    My full take here:

    To me what is "disgusting" is the reaction of the community. And the consequence is ironic - the community has effectively, in what looks like a witch trial, has lost one of its biggest champions. I would love for an actual independent journalist from outside of the "scientific community" to investigate this story.

    • Zuska says:

      File this comment under "apologist for the oppressors" and "has not a single clue" plus bonus points for using "witch hunt" which historically was the persecution and killing of innocent women, to dismiss women's experiences today.

      Also, maybe introduce this person to some creationists. They've got that whole "rejection of evidence" thing in common.

      • So when women are hunted, it's a bad thing. But when men are hunted, it's justice. No double standard there.

        And if someone tries to present an argument, which they've invested several days to research and articulate out of respect for the community, for the women who have been offended, and for the readers - then they are an "apologist for the oppressor" who "has not a single clue".

        Stay classy, 21st century science!

  • @MTomasson says:

    Have been following #scio14 from afar. I've been surprised-but-maybe-not that Bora is the invisible man. I try to keep an open mind, but talking about boundaries and harassment and such without tackling "recent events" directly makes the proceedings seem hollow.

  • @MTomasson says:

    P.S. "..a difference in values at worst," Nikita? Really?? Wow. You are placing exactly zero value on the experiences of many people.

    • Not at all. If you read my post, I fully recognize that people have a right to be upset and I never fault Monica or any other women for it. I call them out on other things (like violating Bora's privacy), but, fundamentally, I will always support the right of individuals to their opinions and perceptions. However, being upset does NOT in itself validate something as a major transgression.

      • Isabel says:

        You recognize their right to be upset ONLY. How generous of you.

        The inappropriate sexual fantasy sharing must be kept secret, even though the women never agreed to be a confidant?

        If a man unloads his sexual history and fantasies on a young woman he is obviously attracted to, during their very first (business!) meeting, despite getting no encouragement from her, she must forever keep the details he divulged secret??

        This is the whole reason the issue persists.

        • Sam Juno says:

          I am going to become somebody's monster here, but I know more than I should to about the sexual history and fantasies of a mischievous woman from reading her public blogs than I will ever know about this man's from reading his blogs or the scandal history tweets to find fault here. I would have loved to have been the spider on the wall of this coffee shop meeting. Attraction or letting down his guard? We have a public taboo on seeing male sexuality that doesn't apply to women. I see Diana on the hunt and Daphne on the run. Poor Apollo. Only mirrors here, no reality. With apollogies to Diana.

          • Pascale says:

            I have no idea what public blog you are alluding to, but reading about someone's sex life and/or fantasies is completely different. She put that out for consumption and you chose to read it. In the real-life scenarios we are discussing, the "information" was stated even when the culprit was told it made the women uncomfortable; they could not "close the blog page" as it were. Also, there is a power differential in this situation; Bora was in a position to influence the careers of these women. This is not a dude giving it a shot with a peer. This is a guy subjecting a subordinate to unwanted attentions, in some cases physical as well as verbal.

          • Isabel says:

            "Attraction or letting down his guard? "

            his own best friend admits he was generally pretty close-lipped about these things. Why do you imagine he just "happened to let down his guard" on a first meeting with a potential mentee? And how can you explain that he did this repeatedly with others of a similar age and sex? If you are just letting down your guard, why choose a near stranger of the opposite sex from a completely different generation?

            I just interviewed a new assistant a couple of weeks ago. Male >20 years younger than me. How bizarre would it have been for me to have gone on and on telling him about my sexual history and fantasies? Would you have been so willing to give me the benefit of the doubt? Come on, get real man.

          • Anthea Brainhooke says:

            Doesn't matter. Neither was appropriate at a business meeting, no matter how informal.

        • Nikita Bernstein says:

          No, they (as is he) have the right to express their perception as whatever it is. If Bora overstepped his bounds, a prompt and sincere apology should remedy the situation. As I understand, this is exactly what happened until the witch hunt began.

          Look, I hate sexual harassment. I had more than one friend, who had to deal with it and worse and, for my part, I invested some time in trying to help one of my friends deal with it leading me to learn about EMDR (Eye Motion Desensitization and Reprogramming). I do not, and will never, negate the right of both men and women to live free of harassment. Harassment is wrong.

          That said, I do not see any harassment in this case. At all time that I have seen, Bora has been respectful (even if oblivious) and whenever alerted to otherwise, he seems to have responded in a manner that he felt was appropriate/justified.

          I respect every individual's fundamental rights. But what happened is absolutely abhorrent - the scientific community effectively ostracized Bora based on rumor without 1) there actually being anything that is clear harassment 2) ever confirming or seeking out his side of the story and 3) treating him with equal respect. And that's wrong on so many levels. It is wrong for the same reason witch hunts were wrong. It's wrong because it is intellectually dishonest. It's wrong because it is cowardly because people are afraid to speak their minds. It's wrong because the community has proactively gone viciously after someone who was their own biggest champion without giving it so much as a second thought. And that's shameful.

        • Nikita Bernstein says:

          Oh, and with respect to privacy - really? If you think that what they did is ok, then we just have very different perception of decency. This looks like an irreconcilable difference in fundamental values.

          • whizbang says:

            We have 3 women with nearly identical stories. One of them kept emails that confirm the events in question. Bora has admitted that the allegations of the first woman were true. I do not believe that what happened is under dispute. These were not peers; these were young women hoping to advance their writing careers through the help of this editor.

            This is the first I have directly written about this situation. When it first occurred, like many others, I found it hard to believe. Bora had been a champion of our community! As evidence accumulated, it became obviously true.

            Silence is the big problem with harassment. Until these women came forward, each thought she was the only victim. It's only when the behavior can be brought out in the open that patterns, such as the one we see here, can be recognized for what they are.

          • I completely disagree that situations with the three women are "nearly identical".

            The only thing that's "obviously true" is that women felt uncomfortable. I see nothing supporting claim of harassment.

            My perception of your comment is that it is incredibly biased. I really wish that some independent journalist investigated this story. What I think they will find is a lot of awkwardness, misunderstandings, and a witch hunt because people wanted a scapegoat because *cue evil music* sexual harassment.

            What's worse is that I suspect sooner or later this will happen. And when it has, the shrill attack that assumes guilt through accusation will actually HURT the issue of sexual harassment - an issue that will have been belittled by people who are ready to cry wolf and who claim that something as "obviously true" when anyone with even a modicum of rational thought would take a more level approach.

            I respect that you feel strongly about the issue, but I completely disagree with your interpretation. And I think that if anyone reached out to Bora to get his side of the story, they would find someone who a) meant well and b) feels the same way about sexual harassment they do. But, of course, it's easier to demonize and make an example of culprits than to attempt to understand people. Sad.

          • Isabel says:

            Attacking my values now are you, nice. OK, I just gave an example above:

            I just interviewed a new assistant a couple of weeks ago. Male >20 years younger than me. How bizarre would it have been for me to have gone on and on telling him about my sexual history and fantasies during the interview rather than focus on business, his skills, experience and so on? Would you have been so willing to give me the benefit of the doubt?

            You insist that yes, you would, and that your response to the situation would be:

            1. the young man should simply express his upset feelings to me and I should apologize sincerely, and there would be no harm done.

            2. He should do this discreetly, and it would be a grave offense if he were to, say, blog about it or tell other people the secrets I had divulged. Why?? He must keep my weird behavior secret?

            And if I do things like this repeatedly, I am just a confused person? Any attempt to remove me from my position as a grad student supervisor of undergrad researchers, TA etc would be considered a witch hunt, since I apologized?

  • Richard says:

    As a former therapist, I worked with a number of people, not all women, who'd suffered from *actual* sexual harassment (repeated bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or unwelcome/inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors) which had caused them significant emotional damage, stress and psychological trauma. Having carefully read the descriptions of Bora's alleged misconduct, that certainly doesn't appear to be the case here. Far from it.

    Bora suffers from Asberger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication. This would explain his inability to read body-language, and a tendency to talk volubly and endlessly about whatever's on his mind. Perhaps some people could have a little more compassion, and not be so quick to demonize and ostracize someone based on the resulting misunderstandings?

    • whizbang says:

      Gee, one woman reports that he grabbed her off of her feet and kissed her. Another reports him showing up at her hotel uninvited. This is not merely a bit of social awkwardness.

      Also, I find it hard to believe that anyone trained as a therapist would claim that these women had not suffered actual harassment without having personally interviewed them. These women have suffered emotional damage, stress, and psychological trauma, but then I have actually heard them tell their stories and seen their reactions.

      By the way, you misspelled Asperger syndrome.

      • Richard Jowsey says:

        Apologies for the inadvertent typo. You're right, it's Asperger's. Senior moment!

        I've heard harassment and rape stories that absolutely curled my toes, and a few that literally made me sick to the stomach. Mr Zivkovic's alleged "sexual harassing" behavior isn't even remotely close, nor does it meet the legal definition of harassment. Ask a lawyer.

        I'm curious whether anyone has solicited Bora's version of the awful "kissing" and "uninvited hotel visit" anecdotes you mentioned? Or doesn't it matter, now he's been accused, tried, judged and destroyed via twitter?

    • Anthea Brainhooke says:

      Asperger's is not a "get out of inappropriate behaviour free" card.

      For the record, NONE of the men with Asperger's who I know personally treat women like this. Not only that, it is possible for people with Asperger's to learn social rules by rote (ie, "this is a business meeting, it's not appropriate to talk about sex or how attractive I find this woman").

      • Richard Jowsey says:

        Anthea, you're right, Aspergers isn't a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. I grew up with an intellectually handicapped brother, whose "inappropriate sexual behavior" I had to constantly excuse or explain (because his brain had been damaged by prenatal hydrocephalus), my entire life. He couldn't learn anything by rote, including social rules. Masturbation at supermarket checkouts, 10x a day in the bathroom, at the dinner table, while watching TV with the family, etc. FFS, it was awful!

        • Anthea Brainhooke says:

          And your brother's case (while difficult) is a red herring.

          Unless you're really saying that Bora's "impairment" (not the right word but it's late, I'm tired, and I have a cold) is so severe that he really shouldn't be out in public?

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            I was attempting to illustrate that there are degrees of social/sexual impairment. Some are very severe, e.g. my brother, and result in appropriate sanctions, e.g. he was expelled from primary school, and eventually could only go out in public if accompanied by a caregiver. His disability actually did provide him a "get out of jail" card when he was charged with sexual molestation. He was "chemically castrated" to reduce his sex drive, arguably a more humane option than being institutionalized or imprisoned. My point is that the symptoms of pervasive development disorders (such as Asperger's) range from mild to severe. I'm neither condoning nor condemning Bora's (alleged) "sexual harassing" behaviors, just saying that his Asperger's is a significantly mitigating factor in my opinion.

          • Anthea Brainhooke says:

            Replying to my own post because I can't reply to Richard's for some reason...

            Richard, if that was the point you were making you did a really poor job of it.

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            Yes Anthea, I did a really poor job of it. The effects of mental illness and developmental disorders on friends and family are something of a "trigger issue" for me, due to painful personal experience, just like rape and sexual harassment can be very difficult topics for others.

  • FS says:

    Does this effect everyone the same? As a male this episode made me remember the times women have acted in appropriately to me. From women pinching my ass as a teenager working at a fast food restaraunt, to a co-worker 8 years older than I was who suduced me and used me for a short fling while she cut off her boyfriend of 4 years until he proposed. (She wanted him to go with out, but didn't want to suffer herself. ) I counted at least half a dozen such events that would have clearly been seen as harassment if our sexes were reversed. But the catch is that as a male I was certainly suprised by these actions, but not hurt by them. I enjoyed most of them and don't regret that they happened at all. I'm not really sure why I'm throughing this out there, other than to say it happens to men too, but most of the time we don't see ourselves as victims.

    I can imagine ways in which such events could theoretically make me uncomfortable or angry; but fortunately none of the actual events that have happen to me have done so.

    • whizbang says:

      Harassment implies unwanted advances; if you enjoyed them and do not feel hurt, good for you.

      What if the older co-worker had been your boss and you had not wanted to sleep with her but felt pressured to do so to keep your job? What if you refused her fling and she then fired you? Or, alternatively, what if you got a big promotion after your fling? You might wonder for the rest of your life if that promotion was because of your skills in your career or in bed. That sort of self-doubt can be crippling, and it haunts some of the women Bora targeted. They question their abilities because of this unwanted attention.

      • FS says:

        My thoughts on this came to mind not because of Bora's actions, but because of the way a female member of the #scio community was accused of being sexual predator. That really made me think about how we as individuals and society interpret these things.

        I'm not saying these things to be an "apologist for sexual harassers". I'm putting it out there to illustrate the different ways the two sexes interpret these actions and to broaden the perspective. I think the reason some men just don't get it, is that they lack empathy and interpret the actions completely differently.

        "Harassment implies unwanted advances; if you enjoyed them and do not feel hurt, good for you." -- Where is the line between "unsolicited" and "unwanted"? In each of the events I was referencing I was not interested in the other party. There had been no previous interaction to indicate interest. I can't say I wanted them, because they caught me totally by surprise and completely out of the blue. One of the events when I worked in fast food was when I was 17 years and was from a woman probably a little more than twice my age. A woman I was actually physically afraid of even though she was smaller than I was. She was not someone I would have ever been remotely interested in, but she was tough and someone I respected. My initial shock to her pinching my ass was one of shock, mostly because I had no idea women did that, in public, at work, etc. etc. My next reaction was to say out loud "But your engaged." To which she quipped "Doesn't mean I'm dead." There was so much for me to process there, women who were sexually aggressive, the complete lack of faithfulness to a fiancé, that I was left speechless. By most standards this would have clearly been a case of work place sexual harassment as it was, and certainly if I had been a 17 year old girl and she a 30-something man. But mentally my take away was women really do act on their sex drive, are not always faithful, and older women think I'm attractive, COOL! (Remember I was still in high school then.)

        From my point of view, the ONLY thing that makes that event not harassment was how I interpreted it, and reacted to it. The EXACT same actions would be harassment in a different context or even if I had reacted to them differently. In other worse the difference is all in MY mind. It has nothing to do with her intentions, but only my reaction to her actions. Until I wrote that last sentence I had never even wondered about her intentions.

        As for the co-worker, that got weird when she did get her ex-boyfriend to propose and she wanted all three of us to be friends and go to lunch together (he also worked in the same company). I had no real problems with the way she had treated me, up to that point. But I really didn't like her (now) fiancé and I didn't think I could sit through lunches with them and not eventually say something inappropriate. (She had even said she hate the idea of being near me and not able to touch me; strongly implying sexual contact, i.e. groping.)

        When I said no to lunches with them, she went to HR to complain about me. I don't think she wanted me fired, or maybe she did. If she did I don't know why I wasn't, maybe I was saved by male privilege. Maybe since I was fresh out of undergrad, 22 years old and she was 29, they decided a warning about dating in the office was good enough. Maybe it was that her complaint about me walking into her cube without knocking was seen as pretty mild. To this day I have no clue what I'm supposed to knock on before walking into a cubical.

        I could go on with more details about the other events. But if you have read this far, I think you get the picture.

        I understand how abuse can be crippling. I was married for almost a decade to a verbally abusive and occasionally physically abusive woman. Even if you aren't in fear for your life, and know what the abuser is doing, doesn't stop its physiological effects. And you might not realize that until you get out of the situation.

        Finally there is little I can say to help the women effected by Bora. But I have not read a blog in the #scio community and thought that person is incompetent. I also have, just in the past few months, realized that a job you are 100% qualified to do will probably bore you to death. To keep yourself challenged you have to seek out jobs where you aren't really qualified and work to become competent. So go be impostors working to become competent.

        PS. The whole apologists for Woody Allen thing I don't get. Not only can I not understand people defending him, I can't believe there are people who are surprised by it. I thought this was pretty well known about him.

        • Isabel says:

          I agree that women can be predators also. I even commented to that effect at some point- when men were apologizing on behalf of their sex and so on. I don't think it is as common, and perhaps not perceived the same way because we still live in a patriarchal society. Male predators are more normalized and institutionalized and receive more support. Female victims are blamed very harshly as a result.

          Just look at how Mia Farrow is depicted in the link I provided. It is unbelievable. She is unhinged, bitter because WA is not writing posts for her. She is Mommie Dearest and dictated her 28-yr-old daughter's latter. Even the repeated statement that she accused WA of abusing Dylan is wrong - a visiting friend's nanny reported it first, by all accounts MF didn't want to believe it either, took her to a pediatrician who is the one who reported it...but facts do not seem to matter.

  • Dr. SkySkull says:

    Wow. The apologists for sexual harassers commenting on this post have made such a convincing case that I went right away and made a donation to the National Organization for Women.

    In other words, you convinced me of jack shit.

    • Isabel says:

      It's very weird. I noticed the same thing happening on threads about Woody Allen's daughter's letter that was recently published in the NYT about being sexually assaulted by him. Dozens of these very persistent posters immediately came out of the woodwork. His daughter is looking for attention. Seven year olds don't know whats going on, Mia's brother probably did it and Mia twisted the girls mind. Mia Farrow is a scorned woman. Just look at that weird symbolic Valentine-only a crazy person would send something like that to a man who had just destroyed an entire family. Mia's symbolic gesture is equally as bad as Woody's multiple transgressions. The family should keep it private. It is not "real" child abuse. And taking nude spread eagled pics of his partner's learning disabled teenage daughter and leaving them around his apartment was fine because she was 19 and after all he and Mia were not officially married. Marrying this virtual step daughter was fine because it was perfectly legal. In fact, it is proof that he preferred older girls/daughters and so therefore he did not abuse the seven year old. It is an internet witch hunt! Incredible.

    • Richard Jowsey says:

      Dr Gbur, I strongly object to being referred to, however incidentally, as an "apologist for sexual harassers." I also object to your tweet referencing me as someone having "no GODDAMN FUCKING CLUE about sexual harassment" and maligning my credibility as a certified therapist (albeit long-retired from private practice). These sorts of comments are precisely the reason there's still an "elephant in the room", since the moment anyone is perceived to be "defending Bora" they are immediately attacked. I understand only too well how the issue of sexual harassment can be highly emotive for some people, often because it's happened to them or to a loved one. Perhaps this explains your vituperation. Irrespective, surely the scientific/academic community is capable of discussing such serious allegations in a respectful, reasoned and professional manner, without emotional over-reaction, slander and insults.

      • Isabel says:

        Well it is quite a stretch to compare your brother's case with that of a man who was able to secure a powerful position that relied on his social skills, and who promoted a number of feminist bloggers. And who apparently lied to several friends in order to manipulate them into defending him. Not the picture of a clueless sufferer of Asberger syndrome is it?

        • Richard Jowsey says:

          Isabel, when you say "apparently lied", this goes to the core of the issue. Apparently. Allegedly. Unsubstantiated. Hearsay. Have any of you actually asked Bora about his side of these stories? Done any fact-checking? Knowing lawyers, as I do, I suspect that given the slightest possibility of legal proceedings against SciAm, they would've immediately slapped an injunction on him, preventing him saying anything about these allegations in public. IMO, we've only heard half the story. Does "benefit of the doubt" mean anything anymore?

      • KateClancy says:

        When you try and differentiate between the cases being reported in our community and "real sexual harassment," you do a very good job on your own maligning your credibility as a therapist, not to worry. Are you going to tell us the difference between rape and "legitimate rape" next?

        • Richard Jowsey says:

          Disregarding the snarky sarcasm, you raise an interesting question. When exactly does "consensual sex" become "rape"? This is actually a rather complicated issue (as is sexual harassment), especially legally. The simple answer is "when she (or he) says no." But, reality is often significantly more nuanced, e.g. Julian Assange's prosecution in Sweden. Marital rape is an even more complex and difficult issue, particularly for certain "traditional" cultures and faiths. Indeed, sexual behavior seen as quite "legitimate" by one culture might be regarded as perverted, disgraceful, or even illegal, by another. Ask anyone who's immigrated to a foreign country how long it takes to navigate and decipher the subtleties of flirting, dating and sexual mores in a different society. Which, IMO, is yet another mitigating factor in the Bora debacle.

  • Another! says:

    Did I just read in the Storify of #scisafe that there is a new harasser on the prowl at #scio?
    Seriously? Talk about being clueless.

  • Isabel says:

    I just left a comment on Nikita Bernstein's blog saying that the women were all made uncomfortable by Bora even though they were likely all experienced at being the subject of male attention which says something, and adding what I wrote above to Richard, that Bora was a "man who was able to secure a powerful position that relied on his social skills, and who promoted a number of feminist bloggers. And who apparently lied to several friends in order to manipulate them into defending him. Not the picture of a clueless sufferer of Asberger syndrome is it?" and he just removed it because it was "disrespectful" LOL. This is a guy who is whining that his posts are removed from others blogs!

    • Isabel says:

      btw Nikita, you seem almost obsessed with violation of privacy. But don't you agree it is much worse to violate one's own spouse's privacy? He admitted to telling a young woman he had just met intimate sexual details about his wife.

      • Richard Jowsey says:

        If you're referring to Ms Byrne, she was discussing, over coffee with Bora, her story about sex at the Olympics.

        One presumes sex was a likely subject of conversation. They're adults. Big deal. Again, we've only heard Ms Byrne's version of what happened...

        Out of respect for her undoubted distress in all this, might I suggest that we leave Bora's wife out of this conversation?

        • Isabel says:

          He already acknowledged this. Again, just because sex is a topic of conversation it is not a signal that personal details are welcome. Some of my students are currently doing presentations on the subject of human sexuality. They are technically adults, yes. So according to you if I took this as an opportunity to ramble on and on about my own and partner's sexual histories complete with intimate details and my sexual fantasies when a young man mentions his topic of interest during office hours it would be perfectly normal and acceptable?

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            Perfectly normal and acceptable? Not during "office hours" if, by which, you mean in an educational or academic environment. This conversation wasn't in such a context, it was over coffee. In some parts of the world, yes, that's fairly normal, and acceptable.

            Talking about such "personal intimate issues" with Ms Byrne was definitely a lapse of good judgement on Bora's part (for which he's apologized), but we can only guess at what motivated the conversation. Bora said he was going through "personally difficult times." I've done some bloody awful things myself during periods of stress or depression, so I won't be casting any stones.

            Did his behavior in this incident meet the legal definition of "sexual harassment"? No, because that requires the offender continue the harassing behavior after being informed it's an unwelcome advance or proposition.

          • Isabel says:

            You keep moving goal posts. She was a young writer seeking advice and hoping for a connection to help her career, he was an established much older editor and they were not friends at all. It was their very first meeting. No this is not normal behavior. Stop implying the women were prudes or something- it was creepy, opportunistic behavior and he made a habit of it. You say "oh it would be totally different in an academic environment" but the exact same arguments are made when it does occur in an academic environment, eg the philosophy professor who sent his grad student emails that he was jerking off while thinking of her. They were adults, had discussed the topic of sex previously blah blah. No one is throwing these guys in jail, they are alive and well so calm down already.

            "I've done some bloody awful things myself during periods of stress or depression, so I won't be casting any stones."

            If these were acts perpetrated against much younger people in your field, well no wonder you are defending him.

        • KateClancy says:

          We didn't only hear Ms. Byrne's account. Bora wrote that it happened as she described it.

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            Bora wrote exactly what SciAm's legal advisor had told him to: that he and Ms Byrne's conversation was about sex, that he'd blurted out some intimate details regarding "personal sexual issues", that he was abjectly apologetic, and that it would never happen again. He was then legally muzzled from saying anything further in the way of clarification or explanation. Ms Byrne's "This Happened" blog constructed a narrative implying that a science editor and blogger had abused his "position of power" to engage in "sexual harassment" of her. Then the reveal: "this is far from the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of sexual harassment from an older man in a position of power" which serves to frame an interpretation of Bora's behavior as sinister and sexually predatory. Having promised not to identify Bora as the "alleged harasser" in return for his silence, she then reneged at the exact point a twitter firestorm exploded over the DNLee/SciAm blog-takedown incident. Prima facie, if Ms Byrne had (hypothetically) intended to destroy Bora's career and reputation, she couldn't have timed it better.

        • Richard Jowsey says:

          Here's a good example of how isolated "facts" about an incident, devoid of context, can be used to paint an entirely inaccurate picture:

          1. Monica got onboard a late-night train, after telling her boyfriend she was disappointed because after 5 months in NY, she'd never seen a subway masturbator.

          2. Monica said she became "excited" when she noticed the man sitting opposite her had exposed his erect penis.

          3. Monica recalled she wanted to touch the man, "shake his hand", because his penis was so large, "like a baguette". She fantasized him playing a role in a porn movie.

          4. Monica tried to photograph the man's penis, but he covered it, and left the train at the next stop.

          These facts are undisputed by Monica, and are public knowledge. Without the relevant context, they could easily be used to portray her as kinky and sex-obsessed, fascinated by "subway harassers", and pruriently stimulated by watching a stranger masturbating his enormous penis.

          Likewise, she deftly constructed a skewed narrative based on some carefully chosen "facts" pertaining to a conversation she'd had with Bora about sex, insinuating that some kind of "sexual harassment" had happened. It was also total bullshit.

      • Nikita Bernstein says:

        Isabel: no, I do not.

        There is a fundamental difference between a private discussion between two parties and public discourse. If Bora shared private information, I presume he (perhaps incorrectly) felt that he could trust the other party.

  • Anon says:

    No one is talking about what the sentence should be.

    Does Bora simply have to leave the Internet forever? Is there a point of reference for this? Had this all happened within a civil legal context, what sanctions would a judge impose? Is there proper remedy for those wronged and is the remedy properly due, ie is the standard of proof sufficient? (Ie, is the Internet definition of harassment understood and agreed on, and does this meet the appropriate tests?).

    Has bora received due process leading up to his apparent conviction and is there a known and defined punishment or imposition of required service or treatment or something? I feel like I am watching a trial that has gotten to the closing arguments phase, with those arguments passionately presented (primarily by the prosecution) and we are stuck there.

    • KateClancy says:

      See, this is the problem. There was no conviction, there was no sentence. Is Bora being shunned by his former community? I would say probably yes, that many of his friends (myself included) are no longer in contact with him. But that's not an appropriate comparison to the justice system. It's plain old shunning and it happens in many communities when someone does something horrible ***serially*** and seems unable to stop his bad behavior or fully apologize for it. Bora tried to come back after Anton's post and act like nothing had happened. He quickly learned that sidling back in isn't going to work. Yes, this is tricky. But there are appropriate moves one can make... like being truly repentant, like saying a genuine apology, like getting professional help, that maybe would make it possible for some people to one day believe Bora can be trusted again.

      Also, folks have definitely tried to present Bora's side -- initially, I was one of them, as he recruited me in private conversations and pulled on our friendship to try and support him. And some continue to do so, like Anton.

      • Anon says:

        I think bora had two jobs and lost them both. That is punishment. I am unaware of any comprehensive third party examination or defense. It could be argued that the "shunning" has resulted in a very severe punishment that resulted from a process that was more like mob justice than the kind of process we might like to see happen in a civilized society given the severity of the outcome. I am simply asking for the argument that ending a career is the appropriate outcome of mostly unexamined shunning. Or should there be more? Should Bora be excluded from any other job he tries to get? Should his unemployment be life long? You suggest that he must do certain specific things in hope of not being shunned further. This is important because the shunning is linked to his punishment, and his punishment is real and material. Does this list of things come from some accountable authority, or is it simply a summary of what some people say? Is it true? If Bora were to do these things, would he be forgiven, un shunned, and allowed to seek and gain employment again? How would that be guaranteed?

        The comparison to a civil or criminal system is not meant to claim that any of this is happening within such a system. It is a way of pointing out that such systems have elements designed to protect all parties. And that these protections are absent in this on line community. I wonder if this was discussed at science on line. I do not see that in the twitter feed. Societies have developed such systems because without them any justice that exists is not measured. Justice should not be a rhetorical process especially one when some voices are systematically silenced, as is the case here.

        "There is no sentence, he has been shunned" does not sound like "he lost his career" but the former is rhetorically soft and the latter is a cold hard reality. Is it a punishment. Is it the right punishment? Is it limited to just this? Is it not enough? Is it too much? Who decides? And, again, in the absence of an informed and I would say professional third party examination, are the accusations properly and fairly examined in a way that protects all parties, seeks truth, and results in a proper description of what happened? (Ie professionals have suggested that the term harassment is being used wrong here.)

        • Anthea Brainhooke says:

          If you honestly believe that the legal system has "elements designed to protect all parties" and that therefore all discussions of wrongdoing should be held up to courtroom standards I'd like to suggest that you take a closer look at the legal system.

          I'd also like to know who you think should have performed the "third party examination" -- what qualifications that person or those persons should have, how they are hired for the job, on whose dime and in whose time the examination is performed, the standards of reporting required for the examiner(s), and whether those finding should have the force of law.

          Lastly, I'd like to know if you have ever heard a friend talk about a woman's allegedly sexually-abusive behaviour and said "Oh hey man, ease up on the allegations, I'm not sure they'd stand up in court. You might wanna have an unbiased third party talk to you both about what happened."

          • Anon says:

            You have deflected every one of my questions very skillfully. Also, nice ad hom in there to boot. Turns out though, that this is not about me.

            I don't have answers to the questions I've raised or I would have made specific suggestions. But the questions are still valid. There is a discussion going on. You seem to be saying that certain questions, about the responsibilities of those involved, are off limits. You don't actually get to determine that, sorry.

            Those questions are not off limits, they are important, they are unresolved, and until they are admitted to the discussion and taken seriously, the current 'process' can't be thought of as fair. If you hold a certain position in this discussion, it might be very convenient to skip the fairness part. You can't really do that though.

            Regarding the actual legal system, I have no illusion as to its fairness. I was referring to the ideal of truth seeking and fairness. Under the ad hoc system many here are insisting is the only way, a person who declares themselves a victim can make a statement and we are required to take the statement as fact. People who claim to be science communicators are actually insisting on this. Ha. According to the current ad hoc system which can not be openly questioned except behind anonymity, an accused goes from accused to described as guilty of a number of specific things that are not even clearly demonstrated in the original accusations, and made into a pariah on that basis. Who could possibly think that is ok?

            I'll ask again. What is the sentence you have imposed exactly? Permanent ex communication from science communication? All science? All communication? All of the Internet? For one year? Ten? Life?

            It's been suggested that Bora apologize and get treatment or something. I think that is probably a good idea. But does he have to apologize for each and every accusation even if he could show some are incorrect? That would require a large number of people agreeing to that. Or even just to listen. What are the chances of that happening? Who decides what the treatment or remediation is? You? Someone else? Will every one agree?

            Yes, the questions you raise ... How would all this be done ... Those are my questions. These questions should be part of the discussion and not dismissed.

          • Anthea Brainhooke says:

            Anon, I have imposed no "sentence." As you say there has been no "trial" and therefore no "sentence."

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            Anthea: on he contrary, there most certainly has been a "trial", and a "sentence" has been imposed, but in the worst possible way. The remedies demanded by this twittering trial-by-innuendo were that Bora apologize, get some professional help, STFU online, quit SciO, etc, all of which he has done.

            I strongly object to this kind of lynch-mob vigilante version of "justice" because it's cruel, misinformed, vicious and unfair. There is a time-tested legal framework for resolving issues of sexual harassment for very good reason: so that serious allegations of sexual impropriety can be supported by substantiated evidence, before an impartial judge, in a court of law.

            I challenge any of you who claim to be "critical thinkers" to examine Ms Byrne's personal history, her obvious fascination with sex, and her reputation for attacking powerful people. Ask yourself what might conceivably have motivated her absurd allegations that Bora had in some way "sexually harassed" her, after a single incident involving conversation over coffee. Publicity, perhaps?

            Test your presumptions that Bora was sexually attracted to her in any way, made inappropriate advances, abused his "powerful position", or repeated any "predatory" behavior, against the evidence. There is none.

            Then test this hypothesis: the subsequent "revelations" from other young women, similarly framed using the language of "sexual harassment", were deliberately solicited by Ms Byrne, with apparently malicious intent. Knowing full well that Bora was legally muzzled from responding, she might well be feeling smugly pleased with the results.

            Smear campaign? Cui bono?

          • Anthea Brainhooke says:

            Richard, I was asked what "sentence" _I_ had imposed.

            The answer was, and still is, none.

          • Isabel says:

            Wow this is WORSE than the Woody defenders. I didn't think it was possible.

            I'll respond to one point:

            "Test your presumptions that Bora was sexually attracted to her in any way,"

            I answered this upthread. According to his best friend he never once brought up the topic of his sex life in all the time they were friends, nor did he with the more mature feminist bloggers he was buddies with who were closer to his age and life experience. Yet he went on and on about it with young women on multiple occasions.

            Why choose this particular demographic to open up to?

            You keep insisting this happens all the time over coffee, but Bora had no other history of doing so. How can you explain it?

          • Anthea Brainhooke says:

            Never mind that the "coffee" was informal meetings to discuss WORK.

            I still want to know if the same standard of evidence applies to allegations about women's inappropriate sexual behaviour.

        • Isabel says:

          "I think bora had two jobs and lost them both. That is punishment. "

          Jobs that involved mentorship of young talent, a relationship he abused.

          Nothing is stopping him from moving on, perhaps to a more suitable career.

          And whoever suggested that his (employers) lawyers insisted that he admit everything happened as his accuser said it did in his apology- why would they insist that he admit things that were not true if that is the case? That makes no sense. They would have him deny it, make a non-apology (I am sorry people were hurt by this unfortunate misunderstanding) and say he is stepping down for the good of the organization because of the publicity or whatever.

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            Bora admitted to "inappropriate remarks and emails", "acting unprofessionally", and that he felt ashamed because he'd "shared my personal issues with her." Precisely as instructed by a lawyer.

            Prior probability?

            Confirmation bias?

            Plausible hypothesis?

          • Isabel says:

            Yep that about sums it up. Hmm, why didn't you respond to my comment above? (March 5, 2014 at 7:19 am ) ...still waiting.

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            Ms Byrne did not assert that Bora displayed any romantic attraction nor sexual interest. Therefore there is no evidence, only supposition.

  • Richard Jowsey says:

    "Elephant in the Room" – three mutually-exclusive hypotheses:

    1. Mr Zivkovic committed "sexual harassment" of several women. He is a secretive, serial sexual predator, specializing in targeting young and vulnerable females, coercing sexual favors from them in return for professional advancement. Ms Byrnes, et al, are his victims.

    2. Both Mr Zivkovic and Ms Byrnes are innocent of any sexual impropriety, harassment, or vindictiveness. An awkward misunderstanding occurred during a conversation about sex, so apologies were made and accepted. Later, an unrelated incident involving DNLee and Scientific American caused widespread outrage. Following this, heated allegations of "sexual harassment" were made when 2-3 young women revealed that Mr Zivkovic, their friend and professional mentor, had occasionally spoken about sex with them. They had felt awkward and confused.

    3. Ms Byrnes committed "defamation of character with intent to malign." She is a professional psycho-dramatist, specializing in attacking powerful people, who felt her non-fiction writing efforts were unfairly rejected and was humiliated when her sexual advances were ignored. She initiated a character assassination of Mr Zivkovic, and co-opted other women into a smear campaign to discredit his moral reputation, and destroy his career.

    Have I missed any?

  • Cynric says:

    4. Mr Zivkovic was attracted to the women he was supposed to be mentoring and, lacking impulse control, decided to try and see how they would react to some suggestive conversation, probably figuring that if they react badly he could always just apologize and blame cultural misunderstandings and/or personal issues.

    When the community at large became aware of his behaviour it ostracized him, on the basis that he had transgressed several social boundaries and caused serious emotional harm to individuals he was supposed to be supporting.

    Then, other men became horrified by these extrajudicial consequences, recognizing that they have themselves flirted with the boundaries of appropriate behaviour, and so obsessively started to focus on due process, third parties, possible invasions of privacy on the part of the victims, in an attempt to feel they can maybe take back some measure of control and self-assuredness in the face of this terrifying "mob justice" that appears indifferent to their sense of being "good men" at heart.

    • Richard Jowsey says:

      That's a sub-class of my first hypothetical, but "suggestive conversation" a-priori does not meet the moral or legal criterion for "sexual harassment", unless it includes explicit suggestions of sexual acts being performed, or is accompanied by physical contact of an erotic or sexual nature. Otherwise, any flirtatious conversation could be construed as harassing. The improprieties being discussed at SciO and in this thread involve multiple charges of, specifically, "sexual harassment" (not flirtation) in a "professional" (not social) context.

      Science, especially STEM disciplines, requires us to very clearly define the precise meaning of fundamental terms and definitions. So does the law.

      • anon says:

        Flirtatious conversation could be construed as harassing. You're correct. It all depends on situation.

        Also, you're confusing the issue - though law and science rightly require rigor and definitions, this is not a trial and not a scientific finding. Multiple instances of women feeling degraded and taken advantage of is sufficient on its own to cause outrage.

        • Richard Jowsey says:

          The participants in SciO and this conversation are mainly scientists, academics and science writers. Therefore I propose using the "scientific method" to precisely determine the attributes, location, shape and behavior of the "elephant in the room". Otherwise, what we have here is a bunch of blind people, one holding the trunk, another the tail, someone else a leg, everyone screaming "your an idiot!1!" at each other.

          Point taken: hypothesis #2 should be amended to "They had felt awkward, confused, degraded, and taken advantage of."

        • Richard Jowsey says:

          Having consulted both a (female) lawyer and a senior HR expert, I can assure you that "flirtatious conversation" is only regarded as "harassment" when it is repeated or ongoing, *after* the victim has clearly declared his/her boundaries in regards to the content of conversation, or sexual suggestions being made or implied.

          The dictionary defines "harassment" as repeated, continuing, ongoing, or chronic annoying behavior. In other words, once a clear boundary-setting statement, e.g. "That behavior is not acceptable. Stop it." has been made, further incidents of the unwanted behavior or conversation can then, and only then, be construed as harassment.

          • anon says:

            I don't disagree. I was simply saying that flirtation can be construed as harassment, without all the qualifiers you added.

            I'm still not sure what the scientific method brings to the table here, but I will think about it.

          • Isabel says:

            If we took away the term "sexual harrassment" would everything be okay, and Bora fully "exonerated" in your view? And fully capable of resuming his job at SA mentoring early career writers etc? Is it just the term you are upset about?

            I'm not so sure it fits that definition of the term myself, but I do think he is a type of serial predator who targets young women. I also believe others who say he manipulated them into defending him through his lies. Sociopaths who are like this are very clever and manipulative.

          • @Isabel - I reject that Bora did anything wrong, so I think it would be entirely appropriate for him to resume his prior duties.

            As far as being manipulated - I've met Bora very briefly at a conference and that was effectively the extent of our interaction until after I analyzed this issue. I based my analysis only on public accounts and responded to what I saw as mob lynching. So I cannot speak regarding other participants in this discussion, but there was certainly no manipulation (or opportunity for any) with respect to me. I also see no evidence of "manipulation" anywhere else.

          • Correction: I reject that Bora did anything wrong GIVEN THE EVIDENCE PROVIDED.

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            Isabel, I'm not the person who accused Bora of "sexual harassment", that was Monica Byrne. It's also the exact-same accusation currently being used by those in ScienceOnline who are fiercely prosecuting him for alleged sexual impropriety. I'm suggesting he be neither condemned nor exonerated, until all the relevant facts and evidence are in the public domain, and Bora has had an opportunity to present information in self-defense. Judgement should be withheld until we've at least followed some semblence of "due process".

    • Anon says:

      Ah, I see now. If one asks questions about the process, one is then designated as guilty as well. Is that how it is?

  • anon says:

    @cynric - yes, yes, yes. This.

  • CarboHyde says:

    The one thing that I completely agree with after reading this long comment thread is that it would indeed be premature to draw conclusions without hearing Bora's side of the story. As it stands, all we have here are cherry-picked words from his purported victims including snippets of emails drawn from what must undoubtedly have been much more extensive email exchanges. I don't doubt that the descriptions that the three women are presenting are false, but I also don't doubt that they are only a part of reality. Without hearing Bora's side of the story and getting all the details, the narrative cannot help but look like a witch-hunt by a lynch mob.

    • Question: did you mean "I don't doubt that the descriptions that the three women are presenting are TRUE" or did you mean "are FALSE"? I think you meant that you don't doubt that the descriptions are true, correct?

    • Richard Jowsey says:

      The real problem is that lawyers are involved, and apparently they've gagged Bora from publically revealing any information. He can't say anything by way of self-defense nor explanation. Meanwhile, Ms Byrne's lawyer will be anticipating a civil lawsuit for "malicious defamation of character", so she can't retract her absurd "sexual harassment" allegations.

    • Anon says:

      There is a difference between taking a victim seriously, which should always happen, and assuming that any one person's unexamined account can never be incomplete, biased, misunderstood, arising from some part off misunderstanding, or in some way untruthful. It is shocking that a community of non fiction writers and journalists would be unaware of that. Do people really want to make a flamboyant showing of that way of thinking and still be taken seriously as professionals?

  • Richard Jowsey says:

    Elephant in the Room:

    The three hypotheses above establish a basic frame of reference. They span the plausible range of possible explanations for what actually happened vis-a-vis Bora, et al.

    The next step is to ascertain the "prior probabilities" using an evidence-based analysis, i.e. what's the a-priori likelihood of each hypothesis being true. [Bayesian]

    For example, hypothesis #1: Historically, did Bora often behave in a sleazy and creepy way, make unsolicited sexual innuendos, tell suggestive off-color jokes, hug/stroke/grope women inappropriately, was he disrespectful of personal space/boundaries, etc. Is there evidence to the contrary? Most women I know have an extremely discerning radar for this, so speak up, please...

    • Isabel says:

      One last time:
      "Test your presumptions that Bora was sexually attracted to her in any way,"

      I answered this upthread. According to his best friend he never once brought up the topic of his sex life in all the time they were friends, nor did he with the more mature feminist bloggers he was buddies with who were closer to his age and life experience. Yet he went on and on about it with young women on multiple occasions.

      Why choose this particular demographic to open up to?

      You keep insisting this happens all the time over coffee, but Bora had no other history of doing so. How can you explain it?

      • Richard Jowsey says:

        I responded upthread. Pay attention.

        • Isabel says:

          No, you responded "his accuser did not say he was attracted to her".

          That doesn't answer the question.

          Pay attention!

          Haha- we know you can't answer it.

          • Isabel says:

            A complete answer please not an insulting link. Doesn't answer why anyway. We have NO examples of him confiding sexual fantasies, proclivities, or histories at length with any other demographic. Do you? How does your link explain that?

            Admit it you can't explain it except by inferring predatory behavior. Even if he doesn't intend to hit on the women he gets his jollies by discussing sex with them. And taking advantage of the access provided by his job.

            Stop being so disrespectful. You are upsetting Nikita.

        • Richard Jowsey says:

          I suggested testing presumptions. For example, the assumption that Bora was attracted to, or sexually interested in, Monica Byrne. You've asserted that he must've been, because he'd admitted being attracted to some other young women. I've asserted that he wasn't, because Ms Byrne did not mention Bora displaying any romantic attraction nor sexual interest. I also emphasized "Therefore there is no evidence, only supposition." I've respectfully pointed you at the Wiki clarifying observer bias, because discussing this minor issue endlessly is counterproductive. So I will answer your question more fully: There is ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE (sorry for shouting) that Bora was attracted to Monica, nor that he flirted with her, touched her, stared at her breasts, hit on her, nor offered to help publish her writing in return for getting a blow job, or some humpy-fuck action, or any other sexual favor whatsoever! Therefore NO "sexual harassment" occurred. Can we please move on now?

          • Isabel says:

            OMG I give up. YOU are the one with the bizarre confirmation bias- you think I am asking something completely different from my actual words -no matter how often I repeat it you keep hearing what you apparently want me to be asking.

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            The elephant in the room question is: did Bora commit "sexual harassment", or not? In the incident related by Ms Byrne, the answer is clearly no.

            FYI, I've been privately contacted by an older, mature female friend of Bora's, who must remain totally anonymous, assuring me that Bora discussed such matters as the "personal sexual issues" in question with anyone he thought he could trust. I'm not at liberty to reveal any more than that. But, believe me, your "young sexy demographic" assumption is provably invalid.

    • Richard Jowsey says:

      A couple decades ago, one of my psychotherapy clients committed suicide. She was an attractive, vivaceous, empathic and intelligent woman, of 40-something years, and the mother of 3 lovely kids. She was also the victim of a "false accusation of sexual misconduct" in the workplace. Look that up on Google. It happens. A lot.

      Her story still haunts me. She presented for depression and suicidal thoughts. Her husband had left, with the children, and stopped payments on the family home. She had been "let go" from the job she loved, managing a creative team of young marketing people. No longer welcomed at her church, and shunned by many long-time friends, her entire life had imploded. Into a dark despair, from which there was no possible escape.

      After she died, the young author of the various anonymous "slut-shame" notes pinned up around the workplace, insinuating that she'd coerced sexual favors from subordinates, and was having intimate relations with a senior manager, confessed. He'd been passed over for a promotion, and subsequently sought revenge.

      Yes, she and he had flirted occasionally, they sometimes talked about sex, and she'd once playfully grabbed his butt at an office Christmas party. That was enough evidence for office politics: her enemies spread the gossip, and rumors reached management. The HR department's lawyer told her to say nothing, ever, unless a case went to court. Her resignation letter included an abject apology for any inappropriate behavior towards other employees.

      And that, boys and girls, is probably why I'm so deeply troubled about this Bora debacle.

      • Isabel says:

        And that anecdote, Daddy-know-it-all, has pretty much nothing in common with this situation.

        What's yer take on the Woody Allen pedophile situation?

        • 1. I find Isabel's comment ("Daddy") disrespectful.

          2. I strongly disagree that Richard's account has nothing in common: Bora has suffered significant consequences in his personal and professional life.

          3. In my opinion, Isabel's comment demonstrates an agenda/bias that precludes a rational discussion. I suggest that engaging her would not lead to a constructive outcome.

          • Cynric says:

            1. If Richard address us as children, he deserves to be mocked as a Daddy-know-it-all.

            2. Richard's account is less meaningful than all the many examples of casual sexual harrassment that women suffer from men like Bora daily, being as it involves malicious falsehood, which nobody (not even Bora) has suggested is involved in this case.

            3. Your condescending opinion is classic mansplaining.

          • Isabel says:

            Did you think it was disrespectful when Richard did not answer my question (still hasn't) and then ordered me to "pay attention"? I did not experience that as respect.

            Did you think it was respectful to the work environment when the church-going manager in his story grabbed employees asses during work functions? Or like Richard did you find it merely "playful"?

          • Richard shared a very serious story from his personal experience. I do not believe he was mocking you when he used the phrase "boys and girls". If you feel that that was so, you should say you are offended and, given Richard's previous posts, I am pretty sure you will receive an apology.

            Regarding your other comments, I believe my position on them is clear.

        • Richard Jowsey says:

          My apologies for any offense given by the (ironically affectionate) phrase "boys and girls". I've a habit of using it in lectures, possibly too frequently. I'm still deeply affected by the suicide story I related here. The grief (and irrational guilt) was profoundly shattering at the time, and caused me to give up on a vocation I loved, which I'd studied for 10+ years, including a 4-year postgrad qualification. In fact, I was so traumatized by my client's tragic suicide, I closed down a busy private practice, and went away for a long vacation. None of which has any relevance to the "elephant in the room" question, except that the consequences of someone perpetrating a "false accusation of sexual misconduct" can be so deeply devastating: for the victim, for families, for careers, for organizations, even entire communities. I seriously doubt that Monica Byrne comprehends the immense pain and suffering that's resulted from her absurd allegation. Nor cares.

      • Richard Jowsey says:

        I did, in fact, speculate that Monica Byrne falsely and mischieviously alleged that Zivkovic had "sexually harassed" her, and others (refer hypothesis #3). Consequently, Bora came very close to losing his wife, and suicide.

        • Richard Jowsey says:

          To the ScienceOnline Board and leadership:

          You have publicly charged Mr Zivkovic with committing "sexual harassment". You have provided him no opportunity to refute, nor defend himself against, these serious charges. He is legally constrained to remain silent. You have crowd-convicted him, shamed him, shunned him, banished him, and destroyed his professional reputation. You nearly wrecked his marriage, and pushed him to the brink of suicide.

          In fact, and in law, his behavior, however misguided, was NOT sexual harassment. Nor could it be classified as "sexual misdemeanor", or even "sexual impropriety". Because, no sexual activities occurred. Some adults discussed their "personal sexual issues", in private, is all.

          Therefore, I publicly counter-charge you, and Ms Byrne, with committing "malicious defamation of character".

          I challenge you, the ScienceOnline leadership and Board, and Ms Byrne (if her lawyer permits), to an online debate regarding these issues. In a publicly-accessible forum of your choosing. Any time.

          Substantiate your evidence. Verify your facts. Do your homework. Consult a lawyer or judge with expertise in sexual harassment and abuse. Consult a Human Resources expert with knowledge of organizational policy regarding sexual harassment. Consult with a psychologist, therapist or social worker regarding the emotional and cognitive aspects of sexual harassment. Then bring it on. Let the public decide.

          Let's agree on gentlemen's rules: a civil debate in a professional, respectful, polite, calm and thoughtful manner. No ad-hominen attacks, no strawman arguments, no hysterical ranting. Leave your prejudices, puritanism and personal animosities at the door.

          Disclosure: I undertake this debate entirely pro-bono. I have never met Bora Zivkovic, Monica Byrne, nor any of the other women involved in this debacle. I have no dog in the fight. I strongly object to injustice, because I hate seeing a good man shot down in flames, for no good reason.

    • Richard Jowsey says:


  • Tara says:

    There is a LOT of discussion here about Monica Byrne's situation. Have Nikita and Richard selectively chosen to ignore Hannah's and Kathleen's (!) situations? I said my husband a moment ago, "You heard my summaries of Monica's and Hannah's posts and you read the first half and skimmed the rest of Kathleen's post. Tell me, assuming all three accounts are true as written, is there ANY way possible an intellectually honest person could sincerely conclude that what happened was not sexual harassment?" He looked at me like I had asked if a bear shit in the woods and said "No, not unless they're willfully ignorant." If the definition of harassment, as Richard has tried to tout over and over, is requesting that the harasser stop doing something and yet the harasser persists, then there is absolutely no question that Bora's behavior constitutes harassment. If you don't believe me, reread Kathleen's post since she repeatedly asked him not to engage in behavior that he persisted in.

    The cognitive dissonance here with Richard (a therapist that I thank god is actually retired since I can't imagine you could have been any good at it based on what evidence you've presented here) and Nikita (whose cultural relativism argument is about as sickening as those involving honor killings and female circumcision if you want to carry them to their logical extremes) is mind-boggling. Both of you go beyond being apologists. It's almost as though you're justifying something for yourselves. It's bizarre. You are determined not to look at the facts of this issue.

    At the time all this occurred, I did not know any of the three women, had met Bora at one conference and had little invested in the broader community, yet I had stop reading Kathleen's post several times to avoid becoming overly nauseated because it was so disturbing. (And I am an independent journalist who assessed this situation on my own, Nikita, except that I'm a woman who has experienced my own harassment -- as just about any breathing woman has -- so perhaps you are simply hampered by your privilege in seeing the situation for what it is.)

    Also nauseating, btw, is the use of Asperger's as an excuse for anything, which I say as someone very familiar with the condition and those who have it. I realize that nothing I have said here will change the minds of Richard or Nikita -- you are far too lost down the rabbit holes of your own apologetic cluelessness -- and I probably won't bother responding if either of you reply to this thread because I'm not a fan of bloodying my head against a wall, but I had to say something because, my goodness, your level of comprehension of this situation is mind-bogglingly shallow and warped.

    • Richard Jowsey says:

      When I first read Kathleen's account, I was appalled. Sickened. Disgusted. Angry. Her story describes a heart-rending narrative of predatory harassment. Of course I believed that Bora had serially propositioned her, and others. He'd obviously repeatedly ignored their clearly-stated boundaries. He'd sexually abused them. He'd committed an abysmal breach of trust. What other conclusion could any sane person come to?

      Many years ago, I was deeply affected by a horrendously traumatic experience involving "false accusation of sexual misconduct". That's why, after reading Catharine Vivkovic's heartfelt defense of her husband, I requested an explanation from Bora (via email) of what Hannah and Kathleen had revealed. Cautious about being hoodwinked, or jumping to conclusions, I then carefully verified his side of the story, by fact-checking, and confirmation via other sources.

      I've promised not to reveal any details of the deeper backstory and context, since doing so would likely cause even greater distress to the young women involved. However, there are always two sides to every story, and then there's the truth.

      If you're actually an honest journalist, then do your job. At least interview Bora, and Catharine. Investigate thoroughly. Dig out the facts. Write with integrity.

    • Tara, first of all, thank you for coming forward and speaking your mind rather than being an anonymous voice hurling insults. I respect that. That said, I strongly object to your attempt at character assassinations while speaking in broad terms.

      I disagree with Richard. Using Kathleen Raven's own account (I re-read it just to be sure), I see nothing that can be interpreted as sexual harassment.

      I see that Raven is distraught, uncomfortable, and affected, but nothing even close to "sexual harassment". I see a complicated relationship with a lot of misunderstandings. And I see sharing of emails clearly intended as private - this I find immensely unethical.

      Q1: Do you think the sharing of such private emails was ethical?

      You speak of facts. OK, perhaps I am wrong and I do not understand something.

      Q2:Can you please cite what specifically you would categorize in Kathleen Raven's account as "sexual harassment"?

      Was it the kiss on the forehead? Was it the repeated emails? I am asking this sincerely - if this issue is as clear as you make it sound, I really would like to understand where your clarity comes from.

      • Richard Jowsey says:

        Your an idiot!!

      • Richard Jowsey says:

        Nikita: Apologies for the flip intended-as-ironic "idiot" response. Actually, I do disagree with you in regards to "nothing that can be interpreted as sexual harassment".

        These women's posts gathered a set of isolated facts, snippets of private/personal emails (out of context), plus their confused, unhappy emotions, and crafted these facts-and-feelings into a very coherent "sexual harassment" narrative. They're well-written, completely believable, and utterly shocking. As intended. Unless one investigates more deeply, and learns the actual context and history behind these stories, they're totally credible. But nobody's going to bother doing that. They've already made up their minds. Bora is obviously guilty, as charged. He deserves to be severely punished.

        You can't deny that, as presented, these aren't compelling stories about young women feeling "harassed" by the apparently erotic interests of an older man, because that was precisely the intention of the authors. They were expertly coached by a senior editor, who knew exactly how best to leverage and slant certain carefully-selected "facts and feelings" into a powerful and damning story. Cui bono?

        This goes to the heart of the "elephant in the room" issue. The information needed to understand Bora's behavior, whether any "sexual harassment" actually occurred, and the truth about these several relationships, will probably never see the light of day. Bora has been silenced and shunned. Anyone who investigates the incidents described in these and Monica's posts, and arrives at a stunningly different conclusion, is shouted down and discredited. Telling the truth gets people crucified. Ask Anton. The ScienceOnline leadership definitely don't want people discussing the Bora debacle, or knowing the full story, because their coup-d'état est un fait accompli.

        • Richard, I do not deny that the women "felt harassed". But feeling harassed and being harassed are not the same to me.

          Everyone has a right to their perception. Whether they were coached on writing is a separate issue. If they felt harassed, they were right to raise the issue. The problem is 1) how they raised the issue in disclosing private information and 2) how their narrative wrongly became the publicly accepted narrative with significant consequences.

          So I pose to you the same question that I posed to Tara: what specific action in their account is "sexual harassment"?

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            Kathleen and Hannah weren't hapless victims of sexual harassment at all. In reality, they were the unwitting victims of an insidious manipulation. They were used as pawns in a classic Machiavellian smear job, for political purposes, for power, status, privilege and prestige. They've been thrown under the bus too. Kathleen lost her job, and I doubt whether anyone will ever again trust her with their intimate and private confidences.

            If either woman had a shred of integrity, they'd retract their batshit stories, apologize profusely to Bora and Catharine for the immense suffering they've caused, and offer Bora a webpage to present his version of these incidents, and set the record straight.

            They'd also apologize to their fellow feminists, and to truly harassed women everywhere, because they've deeply damaged the very important conversation, about trust and boundaries, within the Science Online community.

          • Richard, "batshit"? That's not like you... Based on Kathleen and Hannah's responses, they seemed genuinely upset. I don't think this is something deserving of being called "batshit".

            Also, you are suggesting an interesting narrative that there is foul play. Would you mind explaining?

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            My apologies. I retract the intemperate "batshit", and replace it with "ill-advised" or "ethically-impaired". I spoke hastily, in considerable anger.

          • Thanks, I am glad we can maintain a respectful tone.

            That said, I am still curious to hear what you think is really going on.

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            Hannah and Kathleen know exactly who I'm referring to. And yes, I do have well-substantiated evidence, if there are any investigative journalists following this thread...

          • Richard Jowsey says:

            A few days before Kathleen published her "Two Stories" expose, @sci2mrow tweeted "I don't think this is an incongruous tweet: I support @BoraZ, @DNLee5, @mdichristina, the @sciamblogs community, & @sciam."

    • Richard Jowsey says:

      Tara, please read Catharine's heartbroken statement:

      • Richard Jowsey says:

        "To all you pitchfork yielding women, get over yourselves. If you are smart and strong enough to get to this level of accomplishment, you are bound to be tough enough to tell a pest to get lost. It so happens that I know exactly how it feels to have a man use his sexual power to bend me to his will in every conceivable and inconceivable way. And Monica Byrne, Hannah Waters and Kathleen Raven, all of the things that you have reported, well, that ain’t it, kids."

  • I believe I know what Richard Jowsey is talking about, in regards to Hannah and Kathleen being used as pawns. I knew things from the very beginning, but no one was prepared to listen to me. I have confided in a few people in higher positions, and I am leaving it at that for now.

    I only hope that this comes to light soon before any more people are damaged by this.

    Saddened by every single aspect of this incident/last year.

    • I am very curious what is going on. Looks like this is not a simple misunderstanding after all... If you can direct me to any relevant information, please do.

      • I will absolutely not be the first one to out anyone or anything else pertaining to this. I'm tired of being the target, and doing that would absolutely make me one.

        Hell no. Get the actual women to give the real, FULL, details, and then I might confirm what I know. But I won't be made into the bad guy here. And no amount of pressure will make me change my mind, either. Sorry.

    • Richard Jowsey says:

      Thank you, Andrea, for having the courage to speak out. You'll neither be censured nor attacked for telling your truth. I warmly encourage you to confirm, or to refute, my description of the real "elephant in the room". Either way, I'll listen...

    • Richard Jowsey says:

      Shit just got real.

Leave a Reply