Biology-Online Fires Editor Who Called Scientist 'Urban Whore'

PHOTO: An editor of Biology-Online responded to a scientist
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A female scientist who writes about biology online was called a "whore" by an editor at Biology-Online, a science website and message board.

Danielle N. Lee, a postdoctoral fellow in zoology at Oklahoma State University, published a series of emails between herself and an editor at Biology-Online identified only as "Ofek," after the exchange occurred Friday.

Lee blogs regularly at the website for Scientific American under the blog title "The Urban Scientist," in which she discusses her biology field work as well as issues of sexism in scientific fields. She used her column at the Scientific American to publish the email exchanges with "Ofek," Lee explained to ABC News today.

Ofek reached out in September and again last week to see whether Lee would consider blogging for Biology-Online as she does for Scientific American, Lee said. After Lee inquired about commitment time and payment details, Ofek said there was no compensation.

"Thank you very much for your reply. But I will have to decline your offer. Have a great day," Lee wrote to Ofek on Friday.

The conversation then turned nasty.

"Because we don't pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?" Ofek replied.

Biology-Online did not respond to requests for comment from ABC news, but it has posted on its website that editor "Ofek," a new hire, has since been fired.

Lee said, "My original reaction to Biology-Online was rage. Did you just? Did this just happen? It was immediate anger."

Lee said she fired off a response to Ofek, asking whether the editor had, indeed, just referred to as a "whore." No response came.

Lee said she took the rest of the day to process what had happened before deciding to write a blog-post for the Scientific American Friday afternoon.

"I didn't want to just rant. I focused on how to turn this into a learning moment or come up with a solution. It happened Friday morning and I wrote it at the end of Friday, after processing how to make sense of it. I thought I had made it relevant [to Scientific American]," she said.

But Scientific American officials pulled down the post Friday afternoon, and notified Lee Saturday morning that it was because they thought the post had too little connection to science to warrant a place on Scientific American's website.

Mariette DiChristina, editor in chief of Scientific American, Tweeted that "@sciam is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed."

DiChristina wrote a fuller explanation on the Scientific American's website today after an outcry on social media and other blogs.

"Unfortunately, we could not quickly verify the facts of the blog post and consequently for legal reasons we had to remove the post," DiChristina wrote. "We take very seriously the issues that are faced by women in science and women of color in science."

Lee, who is African-American, said she has spent much of her career focusing on outreach to minorities to get them involved in science, engineering, technology and math subjects, including women, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and people of low income. She felt her post fit in with those issues.

" It hurt, that was my initial reaction to it being taken down," Lee said. "I had written about personal things before, and I thought I had a good case for why it did apply to science, so my feelings were hurt. I'm still very shocked.

"We have always been a part of the STEM experience, so I've been about magnifying those voices and experiences to attract more people from those underrepresented communities," Lee said.

Lee said she was undecided about whether she will continue to write for Scientific American, adding that she didn't enjoy the controversy surrounding her exchange with Biology-Online. She does hope, however, that it sparks a wider conversation and more attention to the issues of minorities involved in science.

"What I hope folks get out of is an important conversation about whose voices are heard," she said.

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