Shub Niggurath
Sep 13, 2015 · 3 min read

Hilda Bastian has written voluminously on the Tim Hunt incident. After her editing of the Tim Hunt Wikipedia page came to light, Bastian has claimed she had no conflicts, and was only peripherally connected to the people involved in the incident. In her writing she presents herself as a distant, neutral observer, wearily taking stock of the actions of biased trolls.

Is this correct?

Bastian works for the NIH on their Pubmed Health and Pubmed Commons initiatives. Pubmed Commons is an NLM attempt at promoting ‘post-publication peer review’ where her fellow MedPage Today employee and boss Ivan Oransky was/is an active participant.

In mid 2013, Bastian joined the Scientific American blog stable with her offering ‘Absolutely Maybe’. The blogs were run by science communicator and editor Bora Zivkovic. Bastian says it was Zivkovic who brought her to Scientific American and his wife Catherine Zivkovic provided encouragement and even ‘ help[ed] with brainstorming the name’ of the blog.

In October, Zivkovic faced accusations of sexual harassment from three women. One of them was journalist Kathleen Raven who is presently with Reuters Health. Of the three, Raven knew him the longest. The incident caused a furore in the science blogging ‘community’ and precipitated Zivkovic’s resignation from Scientific American and the subsequent dissolution of ScienceOnline a popular conference he founded.

Available evidence indicates Bastian was a close participant in the controversy. Her barely coherent comments here show much passion and engagement with the issue. Bastian moderated sessions for ScienceOnline earlier in January. Bastian is listed as a moderator in ScienceOnlineTeen as well though the provenance of the event is unclear.

In November, Bastian was invited to speak at the National Association of Science Writers ‘NASW’ -hosted ScienceWriters 2013 conference. Panel organizer and fellow speaker? Kathleen Raven. The conference became the venue for a remarkable plenary session on sexual harassment in science writing that was moderated by Deborah Blum and hosted Raven as one of the panelists. Bora Zivkovic’s actions were publicly denounced (in his absence) and ‘plans’ to ‘move forward’ were made.

Early 2014, Bastian was invited to speak at the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2014 conference. Her fellow speaker was again Kathleen Raven. It is not clear whether who the organizers of the conference were.

Later in the year in June, Blum and others hosted a follow-up NASW-sponsored conference to the first one on sexual harassment. MIT’s Tom Levenson provided the venue. Hilda Bastian was in attendance.

A number of people cross worlds between the many similarly-named associations and conferences. For e.g, freelance journalist Maryn McKenna was an active participant of the ScienceOnline conferences, and currently on the board of directors of the Association of Health Care Journalists. She was a fellow at the Knight Science Journalism program before Deborah Blum assumed its leadership. She was a panelist at the ScienceWriters 2013 ‘XX Question’ panel and continued in that role for one more conference.

Sum up the above. First, there is a single continuum of sentiment on sexism and sexual harassment in the NASW/WCSJ/SciO ‘sci comm’ world that stretches from the Bora Zivkovic resignation to the Tim Hunt incident, involving many of the same actors. This is a cadre of people traumatized, sensitized and set on a trigger by revelations of sexism in a golden, innocent era in science communication. Hilda Bastian was right in the middle, though clearly she was not one of the vocal denouncers of Bora Zivkovic.

Second, it is likely Bastian had more than a passing familiarity with Deborah Blum vis a vis the topic of sexism/sexual harassment. The science comm/journalism ‘community’ was near-unanimous in severing its ties with Zivkovic. As with Hunt, some of the media condemnations occurred without obtaining his side on the record.

Bastian’s claim to independence in her reporting of the Tim Hunt incident is questionable.

Shub Niggurath

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Writer, Shub Niggurath Climate

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