"Are you an urban scientist? Or an urban whore?"
That was the question posed to Danielle Lee, a zoologist at Oklahoma State University (OKU) and a Memphis native, by an editor from Biology-online.org, a website aimed at promoting biological sciences.
The editor simply known as Ofek has since been fired according to an ABC News report. He called Lee an "urban whore" after she turned down an email request to guest-blog for Biology Online for free. Lee already maintains a blog called "The Urban Scientist" on the Scientific American website, and she works in the lab studying bomb-sniffing African pouched rats as a post-doctoral associate in biology at OKU.
Lee credited her South Memphis roots when she took to the web with a takedown blog post and YouTube video aimed at Ofek and Biology Online. In the video, she urges fellow professionals to value their own work and not take on guest-blogging opportunities without compensation unless they really need the exposure. The post and video went viral with follow-ups on Huffington Post, Slate, and Jezebel. — Bianca Phillips
Flyer: So you're from South Memphis?
Danielle Lee: I was born and raised. I grew up around Third and Belz by the Southgate Shopping Center. I left for undergrad and came back [to the University of Memphis] for my master's.
Biology Online asked you in an email if you wanted to guest blog for them. What was your first response?
I wasn't sure if he wanted a one-time post or if he wanted someone to be a guest blogger for a month or a year. Compensation was one of my questions, but I care as much about the expectations and frequency.
You politely declined and Ofek responded by calling you an "urban whore" because you wouldn't blog for free. How did you initially react to that email?
I was in bed reading my email, and I sat up. I sent a response in capital letters, asking him if he just said what I thought he said. Did you just really call me a whore? I have yet to receive a response from him clarifying that, of course.
At what point did you decide to go public?
I tweeted about it a couple hours later, saying, "Hey, I just got called a whore by this biology blog." I thought, you know what, I am going to respond [on my blog]. I thought it was a good lesson for anyone who shares their creative output, whether it's blogging or art or anything. It's not okay for random people to poach your good work and your creativity.
Did Biology Online issue an apology to you?
The partner of the company who owns Biology Online called me to apologize. In the apology, they acknowledged that, in hindsight, they saw the red flags. One of the red flags was that [Ofek] was guarded with his own name, even to them. They said even they had a hard time finding anything on him online.
On your blog "The Urban Scientist," you have a mission to diversify the science field.
I would like to see more kids who have this natural curiosity, who come from the hood, like me, or the barrios or the trailer parks. There are a lot of bright people who live in those communities. But we happen to be poor. That doesn't mean there isn't promise there or genius or excitement or curiosity. I care about amplifying the voices of people who have been overlooked, particularly when it comes to science.