Readers of Healthy Policies will know that inequities in health are very much rooted in inequities of power. Recent posts by Ted Schrecker have outlined how political trajectories shape landscapes of health disparities. A defining feature of these trajectories is that in addition to being determined by unequal distributions of power, they also perpetuate the social structures responsible for these distributions. Because shifts in power have hugely increased social inequalities, including health inequities, power politics are health politics.
In this post I want to draw attention to a recent event in the scientific community. Its links to population health are by no means immediate, but it is a recent and striking example of how power dynamics can play out even in the context of a reputable scientific outlet.
Here is the short version of the story:
Danielle N. Lee, PhD is a postdoctoral research associate at Oklahoma State University. She is an African-American biologist who writes on her Scientific American blog, ‘The Urban Scientist’, about diversity issues in the scientific community. Dr. Lee was asked if she’d be willing to write for free for biology-online.org, a partner of Scientific American. She politely declined with the following:
Thank you very much for your reply.
But I will have to decline your offer.
Have a great day.
The editor of Biology Online came back with this:
“Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”
Dr. Lee posted a thoughtful response to the Biology Online editor on her blog, which was then removed without warning by Scientific American. Mariette DiChristina, editor-in-chief for Scientific American, said in a Twitter post that“@sciam [Scientific American] is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed”.
It is worth noting that other Scientific American bloggers have protested that standards about what they can write have never been made explicit by the organization. Indeed many have pointed at examples of their own writing which are unlikely to fall under the remit of ‘discovering science’.
Bloggers in the scientific community have been rallying to Dr. Lee’s defence. I encourage those of us in the social sciences and concerned with the public’s health to do the same.
To stay up-to-date with this story, follow the Twitter hashtag #standingwithdnlee.