A retraction, stepping back, and looking forward

Mar 5, 2014

For a decade, I worked passionately to build a conference, a community and an organization called ScienceOnline. This was in partnership with Bora Zivkovic, a partnership that became a friendship. Last fall, I was blindsided by the revelations of his behavior toward women. In October, November and December, I offered Bora my ear, my help and my compassion, in the hopes that he would make amends and changes. In writing my Jan. 1 blog essay, Roots and Bitters, I was attempting to juggle that compassion with my bitterness for how Bora treated women, how he had treated the community — including Karyn and me — and how our partnership was being pulled apart.

Posting my essay was wrong for many reasons, most especially because I have come to a very different understanding of sexual harassment, professional responsibility and Bora’s actions, which I do believe were wrong. I am sorry for posting my essay, but grateful for the lessons that I’ve learned since. 

I deeply regret that my blog post, published without the knowledge of my fellow ScienceOnline board members, shook their trust in me. Scott Rosenberg, Meg Lowman and Mark Benerofe stepped up to assist ScienceOnline at a very difficult time, putting their reputations on the line in a show of support for the community and mission of ScienceOnline.

I wanted to remove the post from my blog in January, but understood that anything I did or said would only distract everyone from the planning of the ScienceOnline Together 2014 conference. The board requested that I keep the post online, so that production of the conference and the interactions of the attendees who had committed their valuable dollars and time were the focus — and not Bora. (Bora had no role or part in ScienceOnline or the planning of the conference after October 16, and from January 1 on, I severely limited my interactions with him; I continue to distance myself from him as I work through my bitterness and anger.) We needed to keep our focus so that ScienceOnline could survive in 2014 and move forward beyond that. I am sorry if this silence further confused you.

Under the direction of executive director Karyn Traphagen and with the guidance and assistance from board members Mark and Scott and Meg, we acted promptly to clarify the goals of the conference (especially that Bora would not be in attendance), review the community’s responses, seek third-party advice, strengthen the ScienceOnline code of conduct and harassment policies, and put in place focused programming on women in science at the start of the conference. We also added the opportunity for attendee-selected topic-driven conversations at the 90-minute Saturday lunch break. We knew that this was only a beginning.

In addition to the serious human issues facing this community, the organization was now at financial risk. Compounding the normal stress of organizing a major event, the timing of the revelations in October happened just after we completed major contractual commitments but conference registration process and sponsor relations were still being finalized. We had intense worries about the financial viability of the organization. My January post, I fully admit, set us back. The stress was palpable, and required us to have a laser focus on making sure the conference was a success.

Thankfully, hundreds of individuals came together last week to enjoy the conference, and confirmed that there’s important work yet to be done to advance the mission of ScienceOnline — to cultivate the ways we (organization AND community) conduct, share and communicate science on the Web. As in each of the past seven years, ScienceOnline Together 2014 was a success because of the many attendees, longstanding sponsors and new supporters, speakers, discussion moderators and volunteers who committed their time, resources, experiences, expertise, talents and willingness to learn. I am grateful to all who helped to make ScienceOnline Together 2014 a success.

Karyn’s efforts were herculean. I want to thank her for her support as a co-founder, a board member and a friend. Her wisdom and leadership skills, combined with everyone who participated and collaborated at the conference, give me optimism for what ScienceOnline can accomplish in the decade to come.

And now it is time for me to remove Roots and Bitters, because I can no longer stand behind those words.  

Furthermore, I know this: I am burned out, and I need a break. The stress of the last six months has made it painfully clear that it’s time for me to step back. This includes taking a social media sabbatical, and focusing more intently on my family, my health and my job.

Several months ago, I concluded that it is time for me to make room for others to lead the organization. Prior to the conference, I informed the board of my plan to step away from ScienceOnline at the end of this month. Effective March 28, 2014, I will be resigning my position as chairman of the ScienceOnline Board of Directors, and transitioning to a new (non-voting) role — details still to be worked out — that will allow me to stay involved in an advisory role, and as a founder and champion of the ScienceOnline story.

When I look back on the history of ScienceOnline, I am immensely proud. At the outset, I wanted to believe that individuals who connected online could come together for meaningful face-to-face conversations, and that our interactions about science would further strengthen online connections, civility, conversations and collaborations. And we have done that. Nurturing a community and building ScienceOnline over the last decade has been hard work, but I am glad to have dedicated these years to ScienceOnline.

Thanks to all of you who have been so supportive in pushing ScienceOnline forward and helping us in this difficult year. I hope you will continue to do that as ScienceOnline goes on the road — to southern California this summer with ScienceOnline Brain, and then to Atlanta next February for ScienceOnline Together 2015 — and on into the future.

I’ll be off the social web for awhile. If you wish to reach me sooner, please send a message to zuiker@gmail.com.

Anton Zuiker

© 2000 Zuiker Chronicles Publishing, LLC