27 June 2017

Being scared: academics getting death threats for having an opinion

Kate Clancy is someone who I admire. She is someone who says stuff the needed saying. Like pointing out the high incidence of sexual harassment in field work.

For the second time today, I am compiling a Twitter thread about something important. Lightly edited.

My local paper, the News-Gazette, ran an editorial yesterday. That editorial, written by their staff, was half about me. I am the “ideologue” who got a James Watson talk cancelled. The thing is, date hadn’t been set yet, and Watson has a history of being implored to give science-focused talks then just saying racist shit. Perhaps I was the only one who publicly denounced the Woese Institute for Genomic Biology talk. But I wasn’t the only one who spoke against it.

Here’s what happened next: Julie Wurth of the News-Gazette called and asked to interview me about my tweets, and I said yes. So the News-Gazette was the first, and for a while only, story about the Watson cancellation. After that, the story got picked up by conservative websites and blogs. This is when I started getting hate mail. It turns out the smartest thing most conservative trolls can zing at me is that I’m a “fucking cunt.”

Unfortunately days went by and the story didn’t go away. For this reason, I eventually started getting more serious hate mail, threats. I involved campus police. One officer has been sympathetic. But the most I got was a form to fill out for a domestic violence safety plan.

So far, neither the University of Illinois nor Institute for Genomic Biology have corrected the record on my being the sole person against the Watson talk. Nor have they done anything to defend my academic freedom, nor support my personal safety. I’m 36 weeks pregnant by the way.

Today, the day after that editorial, I found a sticky note on the front door of my home asking me to check my email.

I want to say, very clearly, that I hold News-Gazette, the University of Illinois, and the Woese Institute for Genomic Biology responsible for this loss of my personal safety.

In response to another thread about science blogging and activism, Kate wrote:

Honestly, with the experience I’ve recently had and how the conservative trolls are getting worse, I’d advocate against speaking up.

This is how a lot of people lose. Kate loses, for obvious reasons. Academics lose, because they see someone who was a strong voice saying that it’s a mistake to be outspoken. News organizations and universities lose, because people lose trust in those institutions.

Intimidation is how fascism wins.

Update: Kate has asked for the following:

For those of you offering to help: first steps are to write News-Gazette and Institute for Genomic Biology for their lack of control/protection. Contact info for News-Gazette: http://www.news-gazette.com/contact. For head of Institute for Genomic Biology: generobi@illinois.edu.

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