Let's start by acknowledging that I was not at SciO14, so obviously I was not at the impromptu/spontaneous #ScioSafe session. Had I been at SciO14, I am sure I would have been at #ScioSafe. I hope that I would have done a good job of listening and doing my part to help create an environment where people felt safe to speak up and share.
I have the greatest admiration and respect for EVERYONE who participated in that session. And I have great sympathy for those who might have wanted to be there, but didn't find out in time. It's too bad they couldn't have had access to such a session on the regular conference agenda, as many have noted. I do think it's entirely possible that what occurred in #ScioSafe could only have taken place outside the official boundaries of SciO14. Okay, in an ideal universe, the board of ScienceOnline spent the past year dealing head-on with their Boron-issues, got a lot of professional advice, and brought in some top-notch facilitators to help the heal the community. They had a plenary session in which they reviewed what happened, explained exactly what steps will be taken to change the culture, and outlined concrete plans for improved communication.
Roseanne Connor once said "I'm still waiting for chocolate air!" in response to sister Jackie's statement that she was waiting for Roseanne to say she was right. Organizations will be direct, effective, and rapid in their response to Boron-like disasters sometime shortly after we have chocolate air. They have to be pushed, nagged, prodded, dragged, "incentivized", and sometimes, reinvented, to make things better. Oh, you think you are hoping to just slide by this year with the "recent events" euphemism and some hand-waving in the direction of "boundaries" and then whoosh! back to "real" scicomm and on to 2015! Well, maybe. Except, no. ScienceOnline as an organization should be thanking its lucky stars that it has dedicated and passionate members who want to make it into what it should be - a welcoming space for everyone who wants to talk about science online.
It's easy-peasy to be just one more unwelcoming, non-inclusive, harmful kinda conference. Nobody needs to attend a Scio conference. They aren't part of professional organizations, universities don't necessarily support attendance costs, the eclectic mix of professionals, students, and academics thus far drawn to SciO have to be choosey with their conference dollars. Why go someplace where you know there are serious issues that are festering and unlikely to be fixed, especially if it's an informal sort of get-together? Might as well go to the usual unwelcoming places that are official career-builders. So kudos to the people trying to do SciO a favor and make it better.
If you haven't already, read the summary of the #ScioSafe session here at Doc Freeride's blog and give some serious consideration to the seven items listed in the document session attendees produced. As far as I'm concerned it's all pretty much a no-brainer, except for part of #5. I think the SciO org desperately needs to clarify what, if any, relationship they still have with Bora Zivkovic, and what, if any, they currently plan to have with him going forward. Then let the community
descend with pitchforks and torches decide how they feel about that. In my dream world, Boron is invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference on using social media for science communication but when he shows up, he is put on a rocket ship and sent to Neptune. I will admit that the rocket ship to Neptune is my preferred, albeit impractical, solution for dealing with all harassers. If SciO does its job right in creating a community that is truly welcoming and inclusive and safe, and that does not support or reward bad behavior, there will be no need to ban the Borons of the world. The community will make their existence so difficult they'll seek easier places to do their dirty work.
That's what I would like to see, beyond creating a community where people feel safe to report bad things that happen to them, knowing the perpetrators will be dealt with: I would like to see a community that makes bad actors less likely. I would like to see a community that plays a role in building better communities. Not just the stick, and punishment after the fact, but something like a carrot. Actions to prevent occurrences are a start, and then it would be wonderful to be part of growing a crop of folks who create inclusive environments wherever they go, because they have the tools to do so.
I think this is part of science communication, and part of what science online can and should try to accomplish. The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) offers a rotating series of mini-courses that can be taken for accreditation, to develop skills that medical writers need. There are skills that science writers need, and of course there are places you can go to take such courses. But ScienceOnline could offer something no one else does. I would like to see development of a set of courses that are offered on a rotating basis, maybe for some sort of accreditation, if SciO becomes a member organization. Participants would learn how to foster inclusivity through communication. Here are some topic ideas:
1. What is inclusive language - and will it ruin my beautiful prose? (Subtopics to be covered include: his/her is so awkward!; you people can't take a joke; lame is just an expression!; what's wrong with talking about hard & soft skills?; we just want "the best and brightest")
2. What is an inclusive lab group and what communication skills does it need?
3. How do I write about a scientist who is a woman without mentioning her knitting?
4. Is it ever okay to mention the knitting of a scientist who is a woman?
5. There's more to February and March than George Washington Carver and Marie Curie
6. Got privilege? Leverage it as an ally online!
Those are just some off the top of my head ideas, I'm sure you people working out there in real science communication can think of better ones, but you get the idea. Now go forth, my friends, and get to work. ScienceOnline isn't going to invent chocolate air without your help.