When Marilou Auer sent me the link to a story about Dr. Danielle N. Lee being called a whore by someone named Ofek at Biology-Online, I shrugged it off. It struck me as a mundane tiff between a website I cared nothing about and a writer who properly refused to provide it with free content. Unpleasant interactions happen every day on the internet.
What distinguished the story was Ofek’s response to Dr. Lee’s refusal to provide her work for free:
Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?
Whore! Oh my god! Did he just say that! Oh! Oh! Oh! I’m not quite sure what the phrase “urban whore” means (yes, I know I could look it up in the urban dictionary, but I prefer not to), but the implication was that it carried offensive misogynistic sexual overtones. To my mind, that’s only if you choose to read it that way, and I didn’t. Bennett explained that the word only carries power if you let it, and we are all whores in the exchange of services for money.
I’ve used the word whore in contexts that involved no sexual implication. One Texas lawyer called me to complain about my use of the word “slut” in reference to her willingness to go on TV to talk about things she knew nothing about. She was a media whore, but it turned out her kids read SJ and thought it meant something else. “What about the children?” she screamed at me. I shrugged then too.
So Dr. Danielle N. Lee was called the “w” word for refusing to give her favors away for free and she was pissed. So she wrote about it and Ofek came off looking horrible. Good for Dr. Lee. That’s how it’s all supposed to work, and Dr. Lee is entitled to express her ire, and Ofek is “entitled” to get his ass kicked for being an ass. That’s the beauty of how expression fits together, and how you lay it out there and let the chips fall where they may.
But there was some attempt to shut Dr. Lee down by Scientific American in the interim by removing her complaint post in the hope of protecting Biology-Online from the embarrassment cause by Ofek, which backfired badly. After being shamed into restoring the post, and spinning an unconvincing yarn about why it was removed and republished, Dr. Lee’s post reappeared.
But none of this did much to explain why Biology-Online had some guy named Ofek who spammed scientists to write free stuff so it could earn low-rent advertising revenue and who, when a scientist responded in the only intelligent way possible, replied by writing “Are you urban scientist or an urban whore?”
In its apology Biology-Online says that “Ofek was hired to grow biology-online’s relationships with bloggers and scientists.” In other words, as I said, a marketeer. How should we react to rude marketeers? Well, rather than Biology-Online’s apology to Dr. Lee, consider what Biology-Online forum moderator “JackBean” said in a forum thread there about the situation
Please, stop acting like crazy, people. Yeah, he did what he definitely shouldn’t. However, we couldn’t act earlier since we didn’t know about it and DNLee decided to rather write a blog about that instead of handling it with someone above Ofek. I understand that since she didn’t have any other contact than him, but it’s her decicion [sic].
In other words, upon being called a whore by a marketeer, rather than writing about the experience of a marketeer calling her a whore because she refused to provide free content to improve Biology-Online’s traffic and advertising revenue, Dr. Lee should have sought to speak to the marketeer’s supervisor.
Not that there isn’t already a long laundry list of stupids done by Biology-Online, and its protector, Scientific American, but that the ultimate blame for this “unfortunate chapter” in Biology-Online could have been avoided if Dr. Lee just did what the people who employ marketeers would have preferred she do. Why couldn’t Dr. Lee just handle it privately, quietly, without raining disgrace down on those who sold their integrity to a scumbag marketeer to scare up some free content?
This is something seen all the time as well, from those who try to get people like me to let them guest post for the face time and backlink to those who try to get people like me to write posts for them, do CLEs for them, give presentations for them, all so they can make a profit off the backs of people like me. Unbeknownst to dumb bloggers like me, the “public relations social media professionals” that spew this crap believe that we owe them. And pathetically, lawyers usually oblige.
When I get the request, which happens regularly, I respond with “are you a not-for-profit? If not, why would I provide you with my work for free when you use it for profit?” The response is usually that I will gain great internet fame by basking in their reflected glory. I have never been called a whore, urban or otherwise, for asking, however.
It was not Dr. Lee’s job to save Biology-Online from disgrace for having hired someone like Ofek (whose identity remains unknown and protected by Biology-Online) to scam scientists into providing free content so Biology-Online could make money off them.
The public square aspect of the internet is what keeps the schemers, the scammers, the frauds, the liars, the deceivers in line. Everyone can see what happened, which is why those who are ashamed of their conduct desperately want it to be done offline, privately, DM’d, whatever.
While I may not have cared very much about Ofek calling Dr. Lee an “urban whore,” I care a whole lot about Biology-Online complaining that she didn’t conceal what happened to save it from public humiliation. If they didn’t want to be humiliated, they shouldn’t have gone down the path with Ofek, with scheming to get free content, with hiring someone who is a pathologically entitled narcissist, and whining publicly about how Dr. Lee did wrong by speaking truth in the sunlight.
We may all be whores, but some are bigger whores than others.