The Bora Zivkovic Controversy and American Values

image Recently, a controversy arose over Bora Zivkovic’s behavior.  Summary:

  • Bora engaged in personal adult interaction with some women, with whom he also interacts in a professional context.
  • These women felt uncomfortable and claimed that he has sexually harassed them.
  • The internet exploded.

Why I am Speaking Out

Because I feel very strongly that Bora is being wronged and that he is suffering damage as a result of what is fundamentally against the core values we should share as a society, and because I feel I cannot remain silent while such injustice is taking place.

Who Am I?

I am not a scientist.  My connection to the academic community comes from co-founding JoVE (,  PubMed: J.Viz.Exp.) in 2006.  While I met Bora a few times, we don’t really know each other. I am not involved with any of the organizations or people involved in the conflict. So I don’t really have much to gain or lose from taking (or not taking) a side except for exposure… and my sleep.  And I like my sleep.

The Shared American Values

I am from an immigrant family.  The ideas of freedom, respect, justice and the responsibility that we share for our world is something that I’ve recently stopped taking for granted (It’s All Our Fault).

We are all different.  We have different values.  In living in the US, we share an ideological foundation, which is that we all have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (Source).  That means two things: 1) everyone has a right to live as they see fit and 2) nobody has a right to hurt another person.  This much is solid.  Everything else is negotiable.

Conflict Resolution

Effectively, our shared values are about mutual respect and rapport.  Assuming X and Y respect each other, if Y is offended by X, then Y lets X know, and then X apologizes/clarifies or there is escalation.  Escalation can happen to the level of public discourse or the judicial system.  Most adults resolve differences on a personal basis.  Resolution through public discourse is what we are observing.  The judicial system is better than nothing, but let’s just say it’s a work in progress and doesn’t always function as intended (from Personal Experience).

Sexual Harassment in Professional Environments

A lot of women are rightly frustrated over sexism and harassment in professional environments.  When approached, some women are good at vocalizing their objections, some are not.  Point being: sexual harassment is a sensitive and important subject and one that rightly deserves attention.

That said, adult relations, conversations on adult matters, and consensual mixing of private and professional lives is common and is not automatically sexual harassment or exploitation of power differential.  To allow people to suffer as a consequence of disagreements over differences in values goes against the very foundation of our shared values.

My understanding of the Bora Story

Bora, an adult, engaged several women, also adults, in a manner that made them feel uncomfortable – he admits as much in at least one case (Bora’s post).  At least four people talk about Bora’s behavior: Monica  Byrne (alleges sexual harassment), Kathleen Raven (alleges sexual harassment), Hannah Waters (alleges sexual harassment), Christie Wilcox (pernicious discussion).  Christie was then herself accused of sexual harassment, which only goes to show that this is a mess.

At the end of the day, after reading the accounts and being shocked at how uncomfortable people felt (never pleasant to observe), discussing with some friends (many of whom are female) and then thinking and writing and rewriting quite a bit, my conclusion is that Bora didn’t do anything wrong and that those who have chosen to persecute him need to take a step back and reconsider their position.

In Monica’s case, there was a misunderstanding over rapport and nature of interaction.  Once Monica made her discomfort known, Bora apologized, so why she pursued further is unclear.  In Kathleen’s case, it looks like a case of a private relationship and interaction that is complex, but is not sexual harassment or exploitation.  Hannah’s account is effectively dissatisfaction with Bora’s mixing of private and professional life – no indication of lack of respect.  Christie’s account is about her being “uncomfortable” without taking any corrective measures.

Men engage in romantic advances all the time.  To feel uncomfortable and seek resolution is everyone’s right.  To interpret Bora’s behavior as sexual harassment is incorrect.  For Bora to suffer consequence as a result of misinterpretation of his actions and differences in values is wrong.


Bora’s worst offense seems to be that he didn’t pick up on social queues.  One individual who is familiar with Bora wrote:

I know Bora quite well, and have interacted with him over 10+ years. He is indeed a bit socially awkward and not the best at reading cues–he is the sort that stands chatting for 15 minutes as you try to move on to the next person, is over-enthusiastic in his gestures, and laughs at the wrong moments sometimes. He is also extremely smart, a great synthesizer of ideas, and one of my favorite people to talk science with. He has always been all these things. In the realm of online science journalism, he seemed to have found the perfect way to use his undoubted skills, and he did so in a way that helped other people far more than it helped him. It’s only recently that he’s even had a salary for his blog-related stuff, and the spin from his accusers that his massive powerfulness was sooo scary that they dare not speak up is an utter joke.

Source: Comment Thread

Having briefly met Bora, I can see this.

So let’s start from the gravest.

  • Did Bora engage in sexual harassment?
    In all cases, it seems that Bora was never disrespectful or malicious, so no.
  • Did he engage in inappropriate behavior in flirting with people with whom he could/did have a professional relationship?
    Office romance isn’t new and we are all humans with our own sense of what’s appropriate.  Bora has as much a right to his opinion on these matters as anyone else.  If his values differ from the women who felt uncomfortable, so long as everyone is respectful, this is a private matter and so is none of our collective business.
  • Did he engage in inappropriate behavior in taking advantage of a power differential?
    Again, this is an allegation that, thus far, seems completely meritless.  Engaging in adult behavior is not the same thing as exploiting power differential.

So I don’t see anything that would indicate that he was not, at all times, completely respectful of all people involved. Given lack of any reasonable evidence to the contrary, given our value system that is supposed to respect our differences, we must respect his choices as his and his only.  Amy Alkon summed it up really nicely (About The Bora Controversy: If There’s Anything That Makes Women Unequal To Men, It’s The Need To Be Treated Like Fragile Pieces Of China).

I should note: this shouldn’t preclude a discussion on how men and women behave in professional environments, but given the gravity of ongoing transgressions against Bora, that seems largely irrelevant.

Transgressions Against Bora

Before I talk about transgressions against Bora, I want to be very clear: what we observed is differences in values and perceptions between Bora and several women with whom he interacted.  These differences are real and, while Bora didn’t do anything wrong, the women in question also had every right to not accept Bora’s system of values and seek an apology for/adjustment to his behavior.

That said, there have been four major transgressions against Bora:

  • Violation of Privacy: the women who accused Bora of sexual harassment shared extremely private information that Bora shared with them.  This completely violated his privacy in a manner that I consider grossly unethical.  On this, I believe they should be called out and they should apologize to Bora.  I want to stress, none of these women had any moral right to disclose private information about Bora.  What they did was vicious and uncivilized.
  • Libel/Defamation: Monica Byrne effectively is engaging in creation of libel.  She blogged about Bora here (Monica’s Post) and then precluded discussion from taking place on her blog.  For example, I posted what I believe to be a reasonable response (My Comment on Seth Mnookin’s Post), which she did not allow to go through.  Another commenter shared his experience (Throwaway’s Comment).  Such censorship effectively resulted in creation of a page on the web, which gives a future unaware observer the impression that there is complete support for the claim of sexual harassment, which is false – I do not support her interpretation on this matter. Using censorship to create content that creates an impression of an allegation as true when it is only an allegation is defamation.  For this, Monica should be called out and should issue an apology to Bora and, if she chooses to maintain the same moderation policy (as is her right), she should state this clearly in the post.
  • Community and Intellectual Integrity: the community writers, like Seth Mnookin (PLOS Blogs) and Maryn McKenna (Wired Science Blogs), have wronged Bora in judging him without applying a sufficiently rigorous standard, engaging in proper fact-finding and analysis, or respecting our fundamental values.  They should reconsider their position, apologize to Bora, and either withdraw from the court of public opinion or perform solid and honest analysis to justify their position.
  • Scientific American et al: Bora effectively lost his job and other positions thereby sustaining significant damage.  To this end, I am calling out Scientific American and Science Online and everyone else who has allowed this controversy to affect their relationship with Bora.  Specifically, Scientific American issued the following Press Release and Science Online posted this Board statement, which perniciously acknowledge that they see what Bora did as sexual harassment.  This is wrong.  These entities should apologize to Bora and rethink their decisions.

At the end of the day, what I find most upsetting is not that people leveled accusations against Bora in a public forum, as is their fundamental right.  It is the response of the scientific community, general public, and of the companies involved.

Academia and Ethics

The big story here, in my opinion, is that academia is a vicious environment full of politics and hypocrisy that is ignoring fundamental American values.  Why are people afraid to speak their mind? (comment by Anonymous)  Why is Scientific American taking the “safe” way out?  Why are the attacks by these women on Bora so vicious, so uncivilized, and so tolerated despite all of us seemingly being “adults”?  To me this is all symptomatic of a bigger problem with the academic environment, although perhaps that isn’t news.

There are certainly problems of sexism, harassment, and other issues that deserve attention, discussion, action, etc.  But Bora has unjustly been made a sacrificial lamb. Bora, a man who has been a huge positive force in the scientific blogging community (as everyone seems to acknowledge) and who’s only transgression was that he engaged in adult behavior with other adults, who felt uncomfortable as a result.  Frankly, all this reminds me of Oleanna.


An adult doing adult things is not sexual harassment, until they intentionally do something in bad faith.  Until then, misunderstandings happen and are generally resolved by way of personal and respectful conversations.  Companies and the community are wrong in how they have treated Bora – wrong in a very fundamental way.

As for me: Bora, my opinion of you has not changed as a result of these events – so long as you are genuine and respectful to those around you (as you have always been to my knowledge), what you do in your private life is none of my business.

Moderation Policy: I intend to maintain a respectful tone on this thread.  Disrespectful comments will be moderated out.  However, if you feel that you’ve been moderated unfairly, feel free to blog about it and post a comment with a link to your blog.

Update 12/28/2013: I realized that I didn’t refer to Bora Zivkovic by his full name, thereby limiting discoverability of this post.  Corrected in title and first paragraph.

Update 3/7/2014: relevant reading: NextFullStop, Gurdur, Discussion on WhizBang: Elephant in the Room (especially this comment by a former therapist)


Filed under Politics

25 responses to “The Bora Zivkovic Controversy and American Values

  1. throwaway

    I agree that there has to be a balance between punishment and a crime.

    We can debate whether what Bora did was wrong (I think it was), however, I think the one week public shaming, especially the graphic email by Kathleen was so over the top that I think many people have a lot to be ashamed of.

    • Thanks for the comment. I do not see any crime that should result in punishment. There is difference in values/perception, where both sides have a right to be respected.

  2. s.k.graham

    So glad you wrote this. I’ve recently tuned into this latest drama, and agree with you completely. I don’t know any of the people involved, but even going by only the “victims” descriptions of events was guilty of at worst awkwardness and failure to pick up on nonverbal queues. There is no sign of any disrespect or “harassment”, and the fact that Bora so quickly apologized publicly after such a publicly humiliating betrayal demonstrates just how much he respects these women and wishes them no ill will.

    Yes, Bora was very likely attracted to each of these women. His way of indirectly expressing his interest and checking the boundaries of his relationship with each of them were perhaps awkward and unorthodox. But there is no indication of any threat, nor any implied suggestion of any expected reciprocation for whatever enhancement his influence gave to each of their careers. There is nothing predatory or abusive about his behavior in any of their descriptions.

    In the mildest case, the woman was left wondering if she was any good at science writing, or was all Bora’s help just due to him being attracted to her. Well, yes, if it seems he was a bit attracted to her, by all means wonder if that might have biased him favorably toward you. That is something all of us deal with all the time. When we become attracted to someone, we tend to trust them more and we tend to view everything they do in a favorable light. Should Zora accuse them of leading him on to further their careers? NO. Just as Zora may lack some social skills, so did they. They did not know how to politely set their boundaries and also maintain a friendly professional relationship with him, as many, many adult coworkers and colleagues do every day.

    Just because you become upset in response to another person’s behavior, does not mean that that person has done something wrong. And that is what each of these women do not seem to understand.

  3. Huh.

    Is this the story that Monica Byrne, who wasn’t and isn’t a science blogger or science writer, sent Bora a link to when she invited him to have coffee?
    The timing and lack of other stories by her in the Independent suggest it is.

  4. Deep Thought

    Nothing personal, but I must disagree. I corresponded with Bora for many years and broke off our interactions because of his attitude toward women as well as his general bigotry. If you go waaaaay back to his original blog (still on the internet archive) this was much more obvious.

  5. Dan

    Read this with some interest, as I always try to approach these issues from the back side first, before I read the evidence or writing that brought the issue to light. So I’m reading your piece alone, without having seen the accusations, and I find it wrong in many respects.
    1) Harassment doesn’t have to be “disrespectful or malicious.” A simple definition would be “involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.” A more complex definition would center around the creation of an unwelcoming or uncomfortable professional environment. These are EXTREMELY simple things that everybody working in the US should know in 2014 regardless of cultural background.
    2) I am not sure what adult or child status has to do with the issue. Certainly, adults can harass adults; the power differential we’re talking about is gender, not age.
    3) Violation of privacy is impossible when one person has shared communication with another person. You have no expectation of privacy when you’re sending mail to another recipient (I’d add that this is an especially crazy position to take when the recipients don’t want to receive the mail in the first place).
    4) You also have a fairly idiosyncratic understanding of libel. Turning comments off doesn’t have any impact on whether or not something is libel — the statement has to be false in fact, and the author has to know that’s the case. Are the accuser’s statements false in fact? If they’re not, it’s not libel no matter how uneven or unfair their rhetoric might be.

    In general, I don’t find this defense convincing. I suspect from reading it that after I look at his accusers’ accounts, and his admissions and apologies, that I’ll end up even more convinced that you’re not coming from an objective or thoughtful place when you involve yourself in this issue.

    • Re: Message
      Re: 1) I strongly disagree.
      Re: 2) The differential suggested was of professional nature.
      Re: 3) I strongly disagree.
      Re: 4) I strongly disagree.

      Re: Messanger
      Re: your claim of being an unbiased observer – given the substance of your post and that you chose to post anonymously, I do not believe you.

  6. Richard Jowsey

    Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger disorder (AD) or simply Asperger’s, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication.

    • Richard, I am assuming you to be the same Richard who posted this comment:

      I am going to quote what you wrote:

      “As a former therapist, I worked with a number of people, not all women, who’d suffered from *actual* sexual harassment (repeated bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or unwelcome/inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors) which had caused them significant emotional damage, stress and psychological trauma. Having carefully read the descriptions of Bora’s alleged misconduct, that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case here. Far from it.

      Bora suffers from Asberger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication. This would explain his inability to read body-language, and a tendency to talk volubly and endlessly about whatever’s on his mind. Perhaps some people could have a little more compassion, and not be so quick to demonize and ostracize someone based on the resulting misunderstandings?”

      Thank you very much for chiming in.

  7. I removed a comment posted by a user “Isabel” due to it being disrespectful. As per policy stated, “Isabel” may post a response elsewhere and provide a link. However, as I stated previously, I will not accept behavior that I consider disrespectful on my blog. Doesn’t matter which side you are on.

  8. Isabel

    How specifically was it disrespectful??

  9. gross

    One of the challenges women face time and time and time again is that no one ‘believes’ they have experienced sexual harassment. However, it’s not your decision. Your ‘belief’ or not does not influence whether they were sexually harassed. Bora’s intentions (for good or bad) do not influence whether they were sexually harassed. They decide. It’s their experience. Subtleties, history, and context can all influence whether something that could seem quite innocuous when written down on paper or in another context might cause a strongly negative experience for someone in that moment. Unless you were there, in their brain, you cannot know what they experienced. Similarly, your text suggests this can all be wiped away as ‘consensual’ behavior; the mere fact that these women are speaking up indicates that the acts were not consensual.

    I’m glad for you that you have a blog where you get to air your views. However, just because you are able to do that does not make those views correct. And shouting them more loudly and dismissing the concerns raised by others more rudely does not make your views more correct.

    • If I am reading what you wrote correctly, you are suggesting that it is sufficient for an individual to believe that they were harassed for the event to be accepted as harassment with subsequent consequences. I strongly disagree.

      I feel very strongly that sexual harassment is wrong. But it is even more wrong if we, as a society, lose our ability to deal with situations when this issue is discussed destroying people’s lives in the process.

      • gross

        Yes. If someone believes they were harassed, they were harassed. It is logical for the extent of subsequent consequences to depend on the severity/pattern/etc. of that harassment, but it must be accepted as such.

        One major challenge in discussing the issue is that it seems we must go through this same question over and over – was it harassment or not? rather than trying to think about what are systematic and productive ways we can address the issue. That is probably why you are encountering such negative reactions to your blog – I would be delighted to discuss how we can move beyond these problems, but I have no interest in debating whether or not it’s harassment and indeed it is offensive to have to return to this question yet again.

      • s.k.graham

        @gross You have a very strange concept of justice. Certainly, a person gets to decide if whether they *feel* upset or offended, but that does not mean they get to assign blame.

        If you expect society as a whole to take action against “harassers” then society as a whole must define what is and is not “harassment”, and that definition must be objective. This blog and these comments are simply part of the larger discussion on how we define “harassment”, with the specific case of Bora in mind.

        The question is not whether these women *felt* harassed. Obviously (now) they did.

        The question here is whether Bora engaged in behavior for which he deserves to be instructed, scolded, condemned, shunned, publicly shamed, lose his job, civilly sued, and/or criminally prosecuted & punished.

        What’ll it be?

      • In Russia, after the Soviet revolution, people were jailed, tortured, or killed when their neighbors, often anonymously, claimed that they were anti-Soviet. To me, this is an example of the system you propose.

        If that is so, it seems that we have an irreconcilable difference in values. You believe that an accusation is sufficient to decide what had happened. I believe that it is not. I don’t think we will find a resolution.

        As for negative feedback – the feedback I received mostly falls into two categories: rude and dismissive OR people saying thank you.

  10. thanks for your strong and lucid voice of reason.
    boraz has been lynched, quartered and burned by an angry mob over allegations pitched by one side. the allegations themselves seem shaky and fraught with issues (egs selective publishing of private emails, omission of the journalistic piece that was sent to him prior to the meeting which dealt with sex in the Olympic village, etc). but what strikes me as being at the root of this gross injustice is that the three people who have claimed offence to Bora’s overtures neglect to take into account that Bora is European, and effusive, talkative, and touchy feely. If Americans are to insist upon being PC, they must respect that different cultures have different social boundaries. to me, Bora’s only fault in this whole mess seems to be that he grew up in near the Mediterranean Sea, and happens to be talkative and trusting.
    aside from the shock of seeing how callously a member of the community – the founder and champion, no less – has been ruined over un-vetted accusations, i am also saddened by the disservice this sort of witch-hunt does to the real issue of sexual exploitation.
    glad that you are in the right corner, mr B.

  11. Pingback: The “Cult Of Credulity” In The Wake Of Rape Or Sexual Harassment Accusations) | Bydio

  12. @gross I feel harassed by your comment. When shall we schedule the burning?

    Clearer now?

  13. I think now that feminism is jumping the shark, things look different. Men have a strong libido and women are shrinking violets (like our oh so harassed snowflakes prove). Get over it. No harassment happened.

  14. Thank you so much for writing this post. You are the only one I have seen accurately represent the events and the subsequent destruction of Bora’s career. There are a few things that I would like to add, if you don’t mind: the standard greeting in Bora’s home country is to kiss each other on alrernate cheeks three times upon meeting and parting, this is deeply ingrained in him, and to fail to do so is considered rude. Bora continues to greet people in this manner, but observed that Americans tend to hug. He tried this (awkwardly, as that degree of physical contact is and will always be somewhat uncomfortable for him) and was later relentlessly mocked for it. Bora is on the Aspie spectrum, and does not read social cues well, but tries to adapt by observing and imitating the behavior of others. Most were perfectly happy to be (awkwardly) hugged by Bora, men and women, which led to the even more awkward #IhuggedBora hashtag one year at Science Online. This seemed to be acceptable to his friends at the time, although he was always moderately uncomfortable with it, but, as always, he wanted to please others.

    Monica Byrne is well known in the community for using her sexuality to entrap men. She messaged him for at least three months, repeatedly, insisting that they meet for coffee, although he kept telling her to attend ScienceOnline or ScienceWriters in order to network (he had no interest in hiring another sex blogger). We have heard stories from three different men in the community, who do not know each other, about her efforts to entrap them. One even suggested that she falsely accused him because he showed NO interest in her sexually. SHE started the conversation about sex. Bora was uncomfortable but went along in an effort to appear sophisticated (he isn’t.) One has to only read the reviews on Amazon of her novel, or read any article she has written, or look at the nearly 100 ‘sexy selfies’ she has posted on Facebook, or listen to her Monti story about hunting for flashers to persecute in NYC subways, to begin to get an idea how obsessed, perhaps disturbed, she is, and how she often uses sex as a weapon. She has also tried to use her pen as a weapon when Wired decided not to hire her recently, and she made an effort to shame them for this (wise) decision. (Although it worked well enough against Bora.) It is puzzling why such a well educated (she has a BS and two MS degrees from three of the best schools in the country), articulate, and outspoken woman would not have the ability or guts to simply end an “uncomfortable” conversation. All she needed to say is that she didn’t like the direction of the conversation and simply say, “I don’t want to go there” or “let’s talk about X.” The issue was never about getting a spot on the guest blog, as Bora understood she was completely uninterested in writing for free (Guest Blog does not pay). And getting a blog on the network was never even a remote possibility, which she also knew. It is impossible to understand given what she writes about (sex, all the time) and also that every conversation she has with any man reportedly and repeatedly turns to the topic of sex at some point, again, *impossible* to understand given her own behavior how this short, ill conceived conversation with Bora could traumatize her in ANY WAY. It did traumatize Bora, however, and he felt too disgusted to respond to her email right away, which angered her enough to write the “unnamed” post and to complain about him. BTW, she flatly lies when she claims that Bora “began talking about his own experiences in strip clubs,” as Bora has never in his life set foot in a strip club. He is actually a rather shy and extremely modest person, and has never had the slightest interest in entering a strip club. National Geographic still makes him blush. Monica Byrne is not honest, and anybody who would have taken the trouble to investigate would be able to establish that fact. Not one single person did their homework or a simple fact check, but plenty of people decided they had sufficient evidence to condem Bora. And for what?

    The situation with Kathleen Raven was quite different. They had what I would call an “emotional” affair. They were in constant contact and flirted with each other right in front of me. There was the possibility that it would turn physical, and it was even discussed, but they mutually decided to remain “special” friends, and be faithful to their respective spouses. In fact, it was Kathleen (not Bora) who coyly asked, “are you attracted to me?” And it is not a secret that he did find her attractive. I remember having a conversation with him one time in which, after being prodded by me and much to my displeasure, he called her “objectively beautiful.” (Which he meant clinically, not as an objectification.) However, I did not feel threatened by his assessment as so many of his close friends can be fairly called “objectively beautiful” (Sheril ! Arikia!) and at least as many are as ugly as toads. Unless you force him, Bora simply does not register people as “attractive” or “unattractive.” A person could be sea green, have two heads, have random brillo patches attached to her or his face and scalp, have one big red eye, have black velociraptor teeth, and be wearing an orange clown suit with red polka dots. And he would stare into that one eye with rapture and delight if ideas, particularly ideas related to science, were being discussed. One should not need further proof than to know that he married this particular toad in order to establish that he is indifferent to a person’s phenotype, as long as something interesting is going on between the ears. I have tested his ‘awareness of others’ once by wearing pyjamas out to breakfast, and another time (accidentally) by wearing one brown sneaker and one white one. He never noticed a thing.

    For YEARS I watched women try to snag him (yes, everybody knew he was/is married. And I hate to disappoint people like Kelly Hills who stuck to him like velcro her one and only year at Science Online, but when you thought he was captivated by your beauty, he was probably fantasizing about how wonderful Open Access would be for Serbia. (And, yes, I heard the whispers “Seriously? Is *that* his wife?!?” “What? A nurrrse?!?”)

    Bora honestly believed that Kathleen was his BFF and they did have intimate conversations about personal issues. Kathleen’s experience with a domestic partner whom she granted permission to “act out his rape fantasies,” which he did, left her understandably traumatized. She failed to mention this experience in her “Bookends” post, choosing instead to narrow the focus to being embarrassed about ‘missing a spot’ when she shaved her legs in high school. I continue to be puzzled about the relevance of this fact to her larger “victim” narrative. Perhaps psychologists who study lying would refer to this as a “diversion” technique. In film we would call it a McGuffin. I have been hesitant to repeat this story she told me long ago over coffee in DC (Bora was constantly encouraging us to become friends), because, like Bora, I do not believe in exploiting the pain of others. However, Kathleen was trusted (by Bora) with some very personal information about me. Everybody now knows (thanks, feminist sister), so I will openly say that I was a victim of sexual and physical abuse as a child. This was something Bora talked about with Kathleen, under the promise of the strictest confidence, at a time when our marriage was going through a rough patch. And it is true (and deeply hurtful to me) that Bora discussed our sex life wuth Kathleen, and Kathleen went on to exaggerate and repeat this personal information to the world, posing as a “victim” of the conversation. If Kathleen felt so victimized by Bora, then why was he invited to come and stay in her home as a house guest? The plans were made, the date was set, then Boragate happened.

    Kathleen seems to follow her own special brand of logic: consent to and participate in an adult relationship, regret that decision, claim she has been “victimized.”

    I completely accept Bora’s need for a friendship outside of our marriage. Even if they had been having a sexual relationship (they never did), it wouldn’t have been anyone else’s business. It certainly would not have been valid grounds for being forced to resign from the career that he loved. It is unreasonable to assume that a spouse can meet all the needs of the other spouse. That’s why we have friends, family, colleagues, pets, wine, books, and bong hits. (No, Bora has NEVER smoked pot, I’m just sayin’…..) But it seems that very few people are willing to make the loyal commitment friendship requires.

    Months earlier, I saw trouble coming, and tried to warn Bora he couldn’t trust her, and he had the nerve to say to me, “she’s my best friend, and she should be yours, too, because she saved our marriage!” Fuck. That. Shit.

    Regardless of her beef with Bora, what gave her the right to publically out me? This is not knowledge I ever wanted my children (and some other family members) to have. It may have even put me in danger. Thanks to Kathleen Raven, my own children, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, even the guy who cleaned our house, read about it on the internet. People who have *actually* been victims of violence already live with a huge amount of shame. The amount of shame that she heaped upon me and my family is between her and G-d now. I forgive her.

    The snippets from an email from Bora that Kathleen published (notice she did not publish what *she* said in those emails), she very skillfully arranged to make Bora look like a total perv, when actually the discussion was about the difficulties adolescents faced in exploring their sexuality in a culture that affords young people no real privacy. There are sexually explicit words used such as “ass” and “erection” which led to a great deal of puritanical excitement and revulsion, but a more careful (less judgemental) reading of the text reveals that Bora is not using the word “erection” to bully Kathleen, but uses it in the context of him being laughed at for what was an entirely developmentally appropriate response to seeing a peer, a real, live girl, in her underwear for the first time. It is true that he mentions that his underwear could not contain his erection. Folks, I am a nurse and I can vouch for the fact that Bora’s penis is larger than average. It’s a fact. Deal with it. Yet in the email, he is neither boasting nor trying to proposition Kathleen, rather he is speaking about this adolescent experience with a mixture of awkwardness and shame. I don’t know any man who has spoken of having his erection laughed at in the context of trying to seduce or sexually bully another person. There is an effort to normalize this awkward situation, but remember we are talking about Europe, not the US, and Europe doesn’t pathologize normal human sexuality as we do here in the US. This post of Kathleen’s, this utterly cherry-picked (no pun intended) sexually explicit language was COMPLETELY effective in it’s effort to ruin Bora. Not one single person even made an effort to get beyond the shock of the explicit language and make an effort to understand the context and/or content. I can’t help but wonder what kind of heartless animal would use her skill of manipulating language to make a friend who trusted her implicitly look like some kind of sick freak? She knows Bora better than that. You all do.

    And to strengthen her case against him, she correctly accuses Bora of paying for dinner for three students. It is true. Bora is criminally generous. He always has been. In fact, he is so generous that all of the work he and Anton did to make Science Online happen, they did for free, in spite of it being a second full-time job. In fact, he is so generous that hundreds, if not thousands, of people owe their careers, book deals, success as bloggers, sitting on panels, speaking at conferences, making connections with others both professionally and personally, even at least one marriage, jobs, internships, peer review boards, emergence from obscurity to fame…..he has done so much for so many that it is impossible to make a list that long. And did he EVER ask for anything in return, either appropriate or inappropriate? NEVER. NOT ONCE. Everything he has ever done has been motivated ONLY by his desire to see people happy and successful, and out of a very pure love for science and the desire to see the world delight in the miracles and the mysteries of the natural world.

    Bora was, is, and will always be one of the rare men who is a feminist, and lover of all people not for the sake of appearance, but for the sake of goodness, justice, and insatiable curiosity. EVERYTHING with Bora’s name on it achieved gender equity and great diversity. He always welcomes the discussion and debate of ideas, having grown up under communism, he knows the value of intellectual freedom. He refused many invitations to conferences in interesting places because women were excluded from speaking or panels. He made a place at the table for everyone. He was a staunch defender of outsiders, as long as the basic tenets of science were respected. And after these utterly false and unsubstantiated allegations ruined his career, we can count on one hand the number of people who have loyally stood by him.

    One of his loyal friends was the person in charge of his teaching at Wesleyan College (NC). He has taught freshman biology part-time for nearly fifteen years, even when his career was at it’s peak. He continued to teach partly as a public service and partly because he absolutely loves teaching. Interestingly enough, in all of these years, in a situation in which there is a *real* power imbalance, there has never been a single complaint against him. On the contrary, he consistently receives the highest student evaluations in the department. What an odd discrepancy for a “serial sexual harasser.”

    I am writing these final words to say goodbye and good riddance to a community nearly single-handedly built by Bora who has proven itself unworthy of his tremendous efforts. You, that in a very purposeful and calculated manner set out to destroy him may have succeeded, but you have ultimately hurt only yourselves. Bora is so much bigger, so much better, so much smarter, so much more creative, and so much more decent that all of you combined. May each and every one of you experience enough loss, pain, and grief until your evil hearts split open with love, compassion, empathy, and Truth. It appears that the only hope for any of you is that you learn the hard way, that you suffer your way to the Truth.

    Think hard about the family you have destroyed. May you remember what you have done in your greatest times of pain, thus compounding your misery. You have successfully destroyed an innocent man, his innocent children, and you have come very close to costing my children their mother, my partner his wife, and me my own life.

    I hope you enjoy the rest of your miserable little lives, because I know of one movie you will never see again.

    • Richard Jowsey

      The perpetrators of this vile character assassination should be publicly named and shamed. Such vigilante lynch-mob “social justice” must be eradicated from social media and from science journalism. The Tim Hunt debacle clearly illustrates the spiteful, envious, self-aggrandising, sanctimonious and self-righteous motivations of this clique of so-called “feminist” advocates. They have over-reached, and must pay the price for heartlessly destroying good people’s lives, and their careers, lest it happen again. And again…

    • Catharine, thanks for posting a response.

      All this reminds me of Al Pacino’s speech in “Scent of a Woman”: IMHO, the focus on the women is misplaced. There are people who have integrity and soul, and then there are others. The women, through their actions, have shown where they belong on the spectrum. As did numerous others. These individuals deserve pity – forfeiting integrity is a bit of crossing the Rubicon.

      Per Pacino’s speech, I really hope is that all this does not lead to an “amputated spirit” or a destruction you, Bora, or your family. I have never met you and I do not know Bora except for the few brief interactions, but your actions and history speak for themselves. If you allow this to destroy you, it will be your doing, not theirs. Your strength in face of adversity is incredible – I doubt any of those who attacked Bora would stand by their partner so if faced with the same pressures. Bora’s achievements seem impressive to say the least. The both of you, given your talents and abilities, should have no problem rising higher and being better every time you are knocked down. Especially when you have each other as partners.

      I hope that you both treat the pettiness, lack of integrity, and spinelessness you encountered in this imperfect world as a doctor would a patient: without emotion, and perhaps with a little empathy. Continue to be unafraid to call a spade a spade; to be above it. Recognize that this has been an extreme test that you and Bora have survived, which showed you who is who and allowed you to manifest your strength – if you were able to get through this, you can get through anything and are capable of feats that none of those who compromised will ever be able to achieve.

      The world needs more people like you. Please catalog this event under “trials and tribulations” and do something amazing.

  15. Richard Jowsey

    Maryn McKenna, Janet Stemwedel, Emily Willingham, Arikia Millikan, Melissa Bates (Dr Isis), Kelly Hills, and Monica Byrne: you picked the wrong fall-guy to slime. Bora is the least-likely man on earth to perpetrate “serial sexual harassment”, just as Sir Tim Hunt is the least-likely “sexist”. Some of you have fairly major skeletons in the closet, according to my investigations, so it’d be damn smart if you’d just retract, apologise, and STFU. Help Bora get a decent job, for his family’s sake if nothing else. And get some ethics, FFS. Also, compassion.

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