Something is funny at Science Magazine

Since many of you are AAAS members, as am I, I think you might be interested in an open letter blogged by Michael Balter, who identifies himself as "a Contributing Correspondent for Science and Adjunct Professor of Journalism at New York University".

I have been writing continuously for Science for the past 24 years. I have been on the masthead of the journal for the past 21 years, serving in a variety of capacities ranging from staff writer to Contributing Correspondent (my current title.) I also spent 10 years as Science’s de facto Paris bureau chief. Thus it is particularly painful and sad for me to tell you that I will be taking a three-month leave of absence in protest of recent events at Science and within its publishing organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

sounds serious.

What's up?

Yet in the case of the four women dismissed last month, no such explanation was made, nor even a formal announcement that they were gone. Instead, on September 25, Covey wrote a short email to Science staff telling us who the new contacts were for magazine makeup and magazine layout. No mention whatsoever was made of our terminated colleagues. As one fellow colleague expressed it to me: “Brr.”

Four staff dismissals that he blames on a newcomer to the organization.


I think that this collegial atmosphere continued to dominate until earlier this year, when the changes that we are currently living through began in earnest. Rob Covey came on board at AAAS in September 2013, and at first many of us thought that he was serving mostly in an advisory capacity; after all, he had a reputation for helping media outlets achieve their design and digital goals, a role he had played at National Geographic, Discovery Communications, and elsewhere. I count myself among those who were happy about many of the changes he brought about, including the redesign of the magazine, the ramping up of our multimedia presence, etc. But somewhere along the way Covey began to take on more power and more authority for personnel decisions, an evolution that has generated increasing consternation among the staff in all of Science’s departments.

New broom sweeps?

(In addition, according to all the information I have been able to gather about it, Covey was responsible for one of the most embarrassing recent episodes at Science, the July 11, 2014 cover of the special AIDS issue. This cover, for which Science has been widely excoriated, featured the bare legs [and no faces] of transgender sex workers in Jakarta, which many saw as a crass objectification and exploitation of these vulnerable individuals. Marcia McNutt was forced to publicly apologize for this cover, although she partly defended it as the result of “discussion by a large group.” In fact, my understanding, based on sources I consider reliable, is that a number of members of Science’s staff urged Covey not to use the cover, to no avail.)

Remember this little oopsie?

This will be interesting to watch, particularly if we hear more about the July 11 cover and any possible role that the individuals Balter references in this statement, "The recent dismissal of four women in our art and production departments", had in the opposition or approval argument.

4 responses so far

  • Yet in the case of the four women dismissed last month, no such explanation was made, nor even a formal announcement that they were gone

    Welcome to modern American employment. On at least two separate occasions I learned that people (both scientists and support staff) at been let go when my email to them bounced. The modern American employment culture is a bit like Stalinist Russia -- people disappear and you are supposed to pretend they never existed.

  • becca says:

    If Covey wasn't getting sued before, maybe he should be now.

  • maria says:

    just saw this on Twitter - having gone through rounds of corporate layoffs (and also having been directly impacted), the treatment he describes is completely normal though I can see it'd be shocking to witness the first time. Of course, I don't know what "normal" means for a non-profit (which this ostensibly is..). That being said, 4 women, mostly older - looks bad (e.g. could there be legal implications ?).
    Completely agree with above commenter about finding out folks were let go because e-mail bounced - this is exactly how we tested whether colleagues from remote offices were still around or not ..

  • Ola says:

    Is this because they left you off teh list of 50 science twitterers?

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