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Friday, October 18, 2013

The fall of Pittsboro scientist and Scientific American blog editor Bora Zivkovic

Posted by on Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 1:24 PM

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Editor's note: I've been following this story all week, and as someone who has also endured sexual harassment, found it troubling, disappointing and disturbing. And, candidly, as a science geek, I was a big fan of Zivkovic's blog. I will post subjective, personal thoughts about this issue later on For What It's Worth, the INDY editor's blog.

Bora Zivkovic, blogs editor for Scientific American and Pittsboro resident, is known, and until recently was widely respected, for promoting women in science—and science writing in general. But now he is notorious for something else: Sexual harassment.

This week he resigned from one science organization, and his job at Scientific American is in jeopardy, if not over. He also sits on the board of the nonprofit Friends of the Museum of Natural Sciences, which raises money for the institution in Raleigh. His status on the board is uncertain; we have a call into the museum’s external affairs office. Update, 4:42 pm: The Friends Board of Directors will officially address his role with the organization at its upcoming executive committee meeting on Nov. 6.

The saga unfolded earlier this week—and continues to take ugly turns—when Durham playwright, novelist and MIT graduate Monica Byrne reported the details on her blog of Zivkovic's inappropriate and unwanted advances.

Byrne's post was in the context of a blog by SciAm writer Danielle Lee, who reported Scientific American had removed her post chronicling her own battles against sexual harassment in the science community.

Zivkovic subsequently admitted to Byrne's charges and apologized on his blog. And on his Twitter account, @BoraZ he posted: "To friends I let down and perhaps lost today: I understand why. I am sorry. I will miss you."

While Zivkovic claimed his inappropriateness with Byrne was an isolated incident, it turns out this is not the case of a socially tone-deaf scientist from Serbia who made a one-time mistake. Other women have come forward in the last week, saying they endured the same treatment from him. Some have posted anonymously in the comment section on Byrne's blog, and on a PLOS blog written by Seth Mnookin. Mnookin tackles the issue of women, who are rarely in positions of authority in the sciences, sexual harassment and power disparities within the scientific community.

But the final nail in the coffin came today: Kathleen Raven, a SciAm blogger and contributor to @Reuters_Health, published a long account, that by any measure is frightening, of her interactions with Zivkovic.

He resigned from the board of ScienceOnline, a nonprofit that connects scientists at conferences and in cyberspace. The board issued a statement about the incident.

Full disclosures: Byrne appeared on the INDY cover of the Sept. 11, 2013, edition for the national premiere of her play, What Every Girl Should Know.

And the INDY included Zivkovic, who lives between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill, in the FINDER, a guide to the Triangle published Oct. 16 by the paper. He is listed under Z in the Encyclopedia of the Triangle, which I wrote in July, well before any of this broke. I’ve never met Zivkovic, and have only read his blog, which until now, I enjoyed.

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