Biology-Online And Marketeer Entitlement, Revisited

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43 Responses

  1. SarahW says:

    "I blamed her for the delay in our team's response"

    Huh? Didn't @sciam investigate at once?

  2. Chris Rhodes says:

    Yes, he seems like exactly the kind of person who would have taken her seriously had she gone to him first instead of writing her blog post. Clearly.

  3. Pierce Nichols says:

    I don't think I've ever met a marketeer who wasn't a whiny little shitstain at heart. Much like JackBean and Ofek.

  4. SarahW says:

    I can see why @sciam is partnering with these lovely people.

  5. Nate says:

    Am I right in thinking that under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Sci Am wouldn't have been legally responsible for what one of their bloggers wrote anyway? Or have I misunderstood the scope of the act? It seems someone had a very knee-jerk reaction if they're going with the legal angle because from what I can gather, if Biology-online didn't even know about it, they certainly hadn't made contact with Sci Am requesting the post be removed. This all just sounds like another excuse to me, much like the original 'it's not within the remit of SciAm' tweet. They seem to be just scrabbling for damage control with whatever they think they can get away with.

    As for the Biology-online moderator, he seems like a very reasonable guy, yup, I can safely say if I reported bad behaviour to (someone like) him I'd be confident he'd take it seriously and deal with it accordingly…not!

    I find it slightly odd that they're having to 'investigate' their affiliation with bio-online, as if no one actually knows why or how they came to be affiliated to start with.

    Some people seem obviously satisfied by these 'apologies' others, definitely aren't.

  6. RNilsson says:

    Someone informed me that Ofek is Hebrew for Horizon. Maybe JackBean is supposed to oversee the horizon?

    Has anyone seen them both in the same room at the same time?

  7. melK says:

    @SarahW:

    This is a problem faced by husbands, boyfriends, children, parents, school administrators, system admins, ….

    Q: "Why didn't you do (fill in the blank)?"
    A: "Because you didn't tell me anything about it until just now! What, I was supposed to guess that you'd (fill in the blank)? I'm not telepathic, you know!"

    So yes. JackBean has a point about blaming Dr Lee for delay in his response. Ofek wasn't going to report the encounter. Dr Lee didn't report the encounter. So JackBean's timeline on this issue is the same as that of the rest of us – hearing about it third or fourth hand.

    Who else had opportunity to inform him? Or do you expect the admins to read every message sent by every person under his authority, and presumably in real time?

    Or do you expect telepathy (or precognition)?

  8. mcinsand says:

    When a key part of an 'apology' is to place blame on the other party, the statement becomes an insult not only to the apologize-ee, but also to anyone else reading it.

  9. pillsy says:

    @melK:

    It was very crafty of Dr Lee to set up biology-online.com for failure by hiding her complaint in a public blog post.

    Wait, what?

  10. Somebody says:

    So yes. JackBean has a point about blaming Dr Lee for delay in his response. Ofek wasn't going to report the encounter. Dr Lee didn't report the encounter. So JackBean's timeline on this issue is the same as that of the rest of us – hearing about it third or fourth hand.

    An alternative, but just as insane, interpretation is that it's entirely JackBean's fault because his organization doesn't automatically include contact information for their marketeers' supervisors in every email their marketeers send.

    Seriously. In one paragraph, JackBean admitted that Dr. Lee had no other contact within his organization, but then blamed her for not contacting someone within his organization. What does he think she was supposed to do differently, exactly? How is it "her decicion [sic]" to not do something she had no way of doing?

    No, the proper interpretation is that it is entirely his organization's fault for not keeping closer tabs on the communications of their customer-facing agents. People who run legitimate companies know this, which is why "calls may be monitored for quality assurance." But it's so much easier to shoot the messenger than it is to fix your broken process.

  11. Ivraatiems says:

    @somebody Are you suggesting that it's right for companies to actively monitor the e-mail of their employees? That seems twisted to me.

    The right thing would have been for Dr. Lee to simultaneously publish the blog post AND attempt to seek a contact at Biology-Online – or perhaps to attempt to seek contact, and then post after failing to find one. But honestly, the distinction here is very, very small. Just because there was a "more right" action she could have taken doesn't mean what she did was wrong, or that Biology-Online has any excuse except "yeah, we hired a guy who was an asshole, we're sorry."

  12. pillsy says:

    I find the notion that it's somehow Dr Lee's responsibility to ensure that Biology-Online's employees behave with the merest modicum of professionalism to be rather mystifying.

  13. Dear Sir,

    I write to you on behalf of online-biology.org, a website whose chief claim to fame, in the hearts of its most ardent admirers, is its 25,000 visitors PER DAY, all of whom get to view the Google AdSense advertisements available NOWHERE ELSE except All-Over-The-Web (and possibly painted on the outhouse walls of exceptionally remote Outer Mongolian yurts.)

    This would be sufficient to convey to you a glimmer of the honor which is thus bestown upon you, but if you knew that scarcely three articles are accepted for publication each week–that some of our major categories have not deigned to accept a post since 2008 or 2010–this all despite the fact that every visitor is invited to submit posts!–you would come nearer to a true valuation of that honor.

    Now, after careful analysis of all possible motives for writing–that is, (1) for money, to be used in self-promotion, and (2) to promote one's self in order to obtain more money[*]–we have determined that you are most likely to need opportunities for self-promotion. After all, if you needed money, YOU'D have Google AdSense on YOUR blog. But you have a blog, ergo you deeply desire self-promotion.

    Therefore we offer what you want most, in exchange for writing a blog post. You may choose to write on any biological subject, whether or not dear to your heart. But might I suggest the pedagogical and eugenic effects of carnivorous micro-equids in hominid evolution–a subject sadly neglected in our own political thought?

    And surely, writing is easier than streetwalking,

    Condescendingly yours,
    The biology-online soliciting[**] team.

    [*]The sexual favors mentioned by some analysts are not a true motive, merely a commercial enterprise.

    [**]No, that's not what we meant.

  14. Somebody says:

    @Ivraatiems
    Yes, I am, to the extent that that email represents the company to a potential contractor or customer. In fact, I'd say that not only do they have the right to do such monitoring, they have an obligation to. If they're paying someone to make statements on their behalf, they own those statements, whatever they are. Not knowing what those statements are is just plain bad business.

    Private email is another thing entirely, but then most companies restrict or forbid private use of company email anyway.

  15. Virgil says:

    It's telling, but their "about" page is simply laughable… a series of avatars and pseudo identities, with no real job descriptions or any idea of who's actually in charge. As such, how in the hell was she supposed to know who to email? It's also quite funny that a bit of Google reverse image searching readily reveals the identities of these people. I checked the WayBack Archive on the about page, and Ofek appears to have never been listed, which fits with him (assuming its a him) being a recent hire. There are several people out there with Linked-In profiles that fit the individual, but it's hard to say who Ofek actually is. I'm sure someone could find out if they wanted. It seems biology-online does not use gmail, so there's a good chance the email headers from the original ofek@biology-online.org email will contain the originating IP address, which should narrow down the field a bit.

  16. Ivraatiems says:

    @Somebody

    I find it slightly Orwellian and entirely unacceptable for a company to assume bad intent on the behalf of its employees. I would argue that requiring communications to be approved in this way – or censoring them – would have an overall detrimental effect.

    Remember that issues like this one are undoubtedly a very, very small subset of the overall communication someone like Dr. Lee or an entity like Biology-Online convey in a day. These singular issues are not worth censoring or limiting vast swaths of communication – even if you ignore the speech effects because it's a private company, it's a massive undertaking that would be a huge, unacceptable expense for any organization of less-than-behemoth size.

    If you're willing to hire someone, you need to assume they are a decent person who is capable of the job you hired them for (this Olfek gentleman is clearly neither).

  17. AlanMorgan says:

    I know what the problem is. Dr. Lee should have asked for a pony instead of money. Everyone knows that ponies are cool.

    It amazes me the number of supposedly intelligent people who have, presumably, seen this thing happen before, to other people, and yet have not worked out that the correct response to something like this is "We fucked up completely and acted like complete assholes. Please accept our apologies". Seriously, guys. Next time you screw up, try saying that (pro-tip: you also have to mean it, which I agree is a little harder).

  18. Dear Sir,

    I write to you on behalf of online-biology.org, a website whose chief claim to fame, in the hearts of its most ardent admirers, is its 25,000 visitors PER DAY, all of whom get to view the Google AdSense advertisements available NOWHERE ELSE except All-Over-The-Web (and possibly painted on the outhouse walls of exceptionally remote Outer Mongolian yurts.)

    This would be sufficient to convey to you a glimmer of the honor which is thus bestown upon you, but if you knew that scarcely three articles are accepted for publication each week–that some of our major categories have not deigned to accept a post since 2008 or 2010–this all despite the fact that every visitor is invited to submit posts!–you would come nearer to a true valuation of that honor.

    Now, after careful analysis of all possible motives for writing–that is, (1) for money, to be used in self-promotion, and (2) to promote one's self in order to obtain more money[*]–we have determined that you are most likely to need opportunities for self-promotion. After all, if you needed money, YOU'D have Google AdSense on YOUR blog. But you have a blog, ergo you deeply desire self-promotion.

    Therefore we offer what you want most, in exchange for writing a blog post. You may choose to write on any biological subject, whether or not dear to your heart. But might I suggest the pedagogical and eugenic effects of carnivorous micro-equids in hominid evolution–a subject sadly neglected in our own political thought?

    And surely, writing is easier than streetwalking,

    Condescendingly yours,
    The biology-online soliciting[**] team.

    [*]Sexual favors, mistakenly cited as a motive by some analysts, exist solely for commercial purposes.

    [**]No, that's not what we meant.

  19. Ivraatiems says:

    @AlanMorgan

    No. Ponies are not cool.

    Ponies are sheer terror. They are pure, unbridled fear, in unusually cute mini-horse form.

    Do not confuse the two.

  20. Jon says:

    It's interesting that the "Partner Network" page at SciAm not only has removed Biology-Online (as others have previously reported); it now includes this headnote: "This 'partnership network' is no longer active."

  21. Trent says:

    I find it slightly Orwellian and entirely unacceptable for a company to assume bad intent on the behalf of its employees.

    In retail, shoplifting is many times more likely to be committed by employees than it is by customers. Loss prevention in fact focuses almost all their attention on employees. I don't remember the exact percentage but something like 80% of retail loss is employee theft rather than customer shoplifting.

    Employers are not only suggested, they are IMO obligated to monitor their employees. Particularly someone like a marketing agent, as they can get the company in a LOT of trouble. Most places that do stuff remotely actively monitor around 10% of all the traffic. To do otherwise results in just the bullshit that biology-online is dealing with.

  22. Sinij says:

    There is no winners in gender wars.

  23. jdh says:

    It would appear that Dr. Lee is a black lady with a fro, and her blog is presented in an urban hip-hop style and perspective.

    I wonder to what extent she would have been disrespected – by both Biology-Online and Sci Am, had she been a white middle aged professor with her hair drawn back in a bun?

  24. Resolute says:

    Given Sciam is not monitoring blog entries for being unscientific, the logical assumption is that they removed Dr. Lee's entry because someone complained. Gee, Biology-Online, I wonder who is was most likely to complain, eh? Perhaps a (former?) content partner? I find it hard to believe that Biology-Online's "team" was unaware of the incident given I find it very easy to believe that the same team is likely where the complaint about Dr. Lee's blog entry originated.

  25. Somebody says:

    @Ivraatiems

    I find it slightly Orwellian and entirely unacceptable for a company to assume bad intent on the behalf of its employees.

    You don't have to assume bad intent to want to exercise some control over your messaging. Even if your employees aren't actively being hostile, as this one was, they could just as easily be doing a poor job or presenting a message that contradicts your company's official position. Good management will want to get out in front of that kind of thing before it blows up (so the shrapnel hits them in the back; so much for analogies.)

  26. Alex says:

    Is it really a good idea to claim that all "marketeers" are entitled assholes? That seems a little broad-brush.

  27. Bethany West says:

    Well, every marketeer that solicits Popehat is, so that broad brush is about 100% accurate around these parts.

  28. Ken White says:

    @Alex:

    I use "marketeer" instead of "marketer" advisedly.

    "Marketeer" culture is characterized by things like spam and asking people to write free posts to put money in your pocket. Yes, if you are spamming people and asking for that, I think you're an entitled asshole.

  29. barry says:

    It would be very hard for anyone to tell if Biology-Online has really fired Ofek or just fired an email account.

  30. CJK Fossman says:

    @Everyone with an opinion on employer monitoring of emails

    A company should have a written policy on use of company email. Usually it says something like "the company email belongs to us and is for company use. We reserve the right to archive, destroy, read, examine the headers of and do any other darn thing we please with the company email."

    The policy will be part of the employee manual. You will sign a document stating you know what the manual says, understand it and agree to abide by it.

    Acceptance of the policy is a condition of employment. Don't like it? Don't let the door bang your backside on the way out.

  31. Mike_C says:

    The folks at Biology-Online need to read some Carl Hiaasen. Nature Girl would be a good place to start.

    Re: Ponies. Ewww.

  32. Ivraatiems says:

    @somebody @CJK fossman

    You both raise good points. While my opinion hasn't changed, I will offer some addenda:

    1) While I have worked for organizations that had clauses about the confidentiality of employee email, I've never worked for an organization that actively monitored my mail as far as I know

    2) I would not work for such an organization if I had the choice, because I think that the atmosphere such a policy would generate would be counterproductive to doing a good and honest job no matter how good an employee or polite/intelligent/capable a person you are

    3) We have no way to know if Biology-Online had any such policy, but I'm guessing they didn't.

  33. pillsy says:

    @CJK Fossman:

    Definitely. A good general policy is that if you wouldn't want to see it on the front page of the New York Times, you shouldn't put it in a professional email.

  34. Shane says:

    @Ivraatiems

    Are you suggesting that it's right for companies to actively monitor the e-mail of their employees?

    Right or wrong it is already done on a very large scale for this very reason.

    .. I've never worked for an organization that actively monitored my mail as far as I know

    Call centers are the jobs that this is most readily apparent.

  35. Shane says:

    @jdh

    I wonder to what extent she would have been disrespected – by both Biology-Online and Sci Am, had she been a white middle aged professor with her hair drawn back in a bun?

    Why is this even remotely relevant?

  36. jdh says:

    @Shane

    It was a response to the sub-premise assuming that the insult was primarily a sexist insult. It could be considered as a racist slur as well. Would Ofek have characterized a white woman scientist as a whore?

    I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for racial huckstering or the perpetually offended. But I have been married to a Mexican lady for over 20 years, and have acquired a certain amount of sensitivity toward how various ethnic groups are treated by ignorant people.

  37. James Pollock says:

    And now, a brief (I promise) lesson on information technology. If you wish to become aware of something on a regular basis, you have two general approaches, which are known as "polling" and "interrupt" models. Allow me to illustrate with a model before moving on to discuss how they apply to this situation.
    Suppose you are very interested in knowing whether or not the Publisher's Clearing House Prize Patrol are currently on your porch, preparing to hand you the Big Giant Check That Will Change Your Life Forever. (After all, you wouldn't want them to give up trying to give it to you, and move on to whichever name's next on their Big Giant List.)
    One possible solution would be to drop whatever you're doing, walk over to the front door, and open it up to see if they're out there, every five minutes or so. This wouild be the "polling" approach: Every time interval, you put aside whatever you were doing and go check to see if there's anything that needs your attention. If there is, you deal with it, and if there isn't, you go back to whatever it was you were doing. In contrast, you could set up some kind of signaling device the Prize Patrol People could use to signal that they are at your door, allowing you to stay focused on whatever you were doing without needing to divert your attention until it was actually required. Now, in this example, it's pretty clear that the interrupt model provides the more efficient approach, but that's not always the case. Polling can be more efficient depending on the frequency with which things that require your attention arise… if it's once a day, interrupt is better, if it's 50 times a second, polling is probably better*.
    So, let's apply these models to the problem that one of your employees may do or say something in the course of their job that reflects poorly on the employer. One possible way to become aware of that is to review all of their messages. This is the approach taken, for example, with fast-food employees their first couple of days on drive through duty. Less universally, with fast-food workers their first couple of days on counter duty. Most jobs involving grownups, however, use an interrupt model… the employer becomes aware of offensive things said or done by employee(s) when the offended customer complains. Why is that? Because it has to do with the frequency at which things that need to come to your attention occur. Just as most of the time you open your front door the Prize Patrol is NOT outside waiting to give you the Big Giant Check, most of the time employees contact the public they do not refer to them as "whores"… even marketeers.

    In other news, the job of listening to customer-service calls to ensure quality control must be one of the loneliest, soul-crushingest, brain-meltingly-boring jobs there is.

  38. James Pollock says:

    "1) While I have worked for organizations that had clauses about the confidentiality of employee email, I've never worked for an organization that actively monitored my mail as far as I know"

    Depends on what you mean by "actively". If you mean "A person actually sits down and reads the contents of other people's mailboxes", or "The IT department sets up an automated system that looks for specific things and sends a notification to IT staff when specific things are detected."

    Because that second one is nearly universal.

  39. Richard says:

    Okay. Since people (and especially corporations) seem to have forgotten, I am going to provide a template for an actual apology. I've had enough of this "apologizing without really apologizing" bullshit.
    A real apology should:

    • admit that all wrongdoing is on the side of the person apologizing, offering no excuses
    • explain, exactly, why this was the wrong thing to do
    • explain, exactly, how harm was done to the person being aplogized to
    • express remorse for the harm listed above
    • promise to avoid both the specific behaviour which caused the person harm, and the mindset which led to the person apologizing to do this behaviour
    • offer reparations for the damage that was caused, and finally
    • beg forgiveness for the actions, making it clear that you do not expect to obtain it

    Here's an example:
    [Name of person/group that I have wronged],
    I know that, after what I did, I should have no expectation that you would want anything to do with me, but I wish to apologize, and am asking you to hear me out.
    I apologize, with no caveats or disclaimers, for [what I did wrong]. I was wrong to do so, acting out of a callous disregard for you (optional: and [group to which you belong]).
    By [doing what I did], I mindlessly and thoughtlessly injured you by [insert why what I did was harmful]. I did not see that I was doing this at the time, but now I understand that this was exactly what I did. You did not deserve this treatment, and I regret the pain which I know that I have caused you.
    If there is anything that I can reasonably do to lessen the injury that my [words/actions] have done to you, let me know, and I will do so immediately. It will not erase what I have [said/done], but I hope it will be a good first step in helping you heal.
    I promise to be more careful and mindful of [why what I did was harmful] in the future, and to specifically not to [do what I did wrong] again.
    I do not expect or deserve forgiveness for [what I did wrong], but I beg you for forgiveness anyway.
    Thank you for allowing me the time to apologize. Once again, let me know if there is anything I can do to offset the wrong I have caused you.
    Sincerely,
    [My name]

  40. htom says:

    Richard — excellent illustration of a proper apology. Don't hold your breath waiting to see one in the wild — although it does happen.

    I really suspect that the marketeer was watching her blog, and reported her post to SciAm. It would be interesting to know who did report it, and how long the post was up.

    If SciAm hadn't taken it down, creating the consequential uproar, I probably wouldn't have heard about that post. Perhaps the uproar was hoped for, an intentional invocation of the Streisand Effect?

  41. Name (required) says:

    Up until JackBean's comment, my take on the affair was that:

    Ofek acted horribly
    DLee acted appropriately and swiftly
    SciAM acted like a dunce asleep at the wheel
    Biology-online actually responded reasonably by swiftly apologizing and firing Ofek when it was brought to their attention.

    Anyway, there's a new SciAm controversy you can read here http://2020science.org/2013/10/15/when-to-name-and-shame-on-social-media-and-when-to-show-compassion/ (which will take you to more source links)

    In this latter case the question is:

    If an incident has been brought up once, without names, and the behavior apologized for by person and company, is it right and justified to bring it up again a year later naming names.

    When does naming and shaming become revenge porn?

  42. Christophe says:

    I understand that since she didn't have any other contact than him, but it's her decicion.

    Allowing for typos, I know all the words there, but I do not understand them strung together in that particular order.

  43. SarahW says:

    melK • Oct 15, 2013 @9:55 am

    I don't know what step the blogger did or didn't take – but @Sciam was on notice the second it saw, was worried about the post. They took it down, they were on notice.

    If @Sciam has sensibility enough to notice a problem requiring "investigation" they should have investigated – at once.

    So Biology online would obviously have heard of this before any of us, right? Or did @sciam just sit on the problem and indeed let Bio Online find out about it when there was public pushback?

    I don't know who Ofek is, or where he came from, or even if "he" is really gone from the employ of Bio Online. Maybe I don't have a need to know – let alone a right. Because Bio Online is slimy overall. And whatever @sciam is up to offering it's bloggers up to their predations, I think it's a mistake and it makes a person wonder if promotion of scientific discovery is not taking second seat to other considerations.

    And this observation should not be lost on you:

    "Resolute • Oct 15, 2013 @1:00 pm

    Given Sciam is not monitoring blog entries for being unscientific, the logical assumption is that they removed Dr. Lee's entry because someone complained. Gee, Biology-Online, I wonder who is was most likely to complain, eh? Perhaps a (former?) content partner? I find it hard to believe that Biology-Online's "team" was unaware of the incident given I find it very easy to believe that the same team is likely where the complaint about Dr. Lee's blog entry originated."

    I don't like their "team" – I don't like their familiar first-name only address in business correspondence. YMMV. I think it borrows trouble.