Open Thread, 10/13/2013

By Razib Khan | October 13, 2013 2:08 am

Six months back there was a lot of discussion of Y haplogroup A00, An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree. Now there’s an attempt by some of the researchers on that paper to raise money to collect more samples. Which of Cameroon’s peoples have members of haplogroup A00?:

This is Round Two of our fundraising for our groundbreaking research on the world’s earliest-branching Y-chromosome lineage, A00. Its origins lie in the earliest days of humanity’s emergence, the exact time very much in debate, but almost surely over 200,000 years ago. We first discovered it in early 2012, when the results of the Perrys’ Y-DNA tests were unlike anything seen before. We learned that they have matches among some of the diverse peoples of Southwest Cameroon. The new samples to be collected by Matthew in his homeland will allow us to learn much more about A00.

In other news, there has been a recent flare up over what has transpired over DNLee’s response to what looks like to be a content farm. To make a long story short what happened is that one of the administrators floated the idea of her guest blogging on their website. She asked if there was any compensation. This prompted invective on the part of the administrator. I get asked to guest blog for free, or be a participant in interviews, frequently. I don’t have time, and at this point I ignore most emails. A few times I’ve responded, and the posts/interview were never posted. There are a lot of shady operators out there.

But the bigger issue with “WhoreGate” is that Scientific American (at least its blog arm) removed the post DNLee put up which outlined why she was angry and offended without consultation. Honestly I didn’t see her post as particularly impolite or unhinged considering the rudeness that she was trying to call out; I’d probably have reacted more vociferously. I also left a few comments in broad support of DNLee on Twitter. But perhaps it might be useful that I clarify some issues here. My reaction was not much triggered by the racial or sexual angle (at least toward Scientific American). Unlike most science bloggers I don’t much care about diversity in science communication or among science bloggers.*

Rather, my issue is that it disrespects what it means for someone like DNLee to write on the internet as a ‘blogger.’ Mainstream media, blogging, etc., are all merging together. But there are still distinctions. Scientific American is a venerable publication which happens to be part of Nature Publishing Group. You can be pretty sure that bloggers are not paid at the same rate as staff writers or even freelancers. But, as a form of compensation bloggers are given freedom to write about what they want, how they want, within limits. For a place like Scientific American (or frankly Discover) that is essential non-monetary compensation. Before I joined Discover I had several long conversations with the web editor of the time about the amount of freedom and latitude I was going to be given. I spent probably 2-3 hours talking about this issue, and perhaps 15 minutes mulling over compensation. If I was a staff writer the ratio would be different, and perhaps inverted even.

This is why the behavior of Scientific American is offensive to me. There isn’t anything I can see that is libelous in DNLee’s post. Scientific American put a lame explanation up that posts are supposed to be about ‘discovering science.’ This just isn’t convincing in light of a vast range of posting topics on the network. By removing her post without giving her any warning or heads up Scientific American treated her like they would treat any employee. That’s how the corporate machine roles. But they aren’t paying her like they pay any employee. They’re paying her far less. This is where I might state “this is very problematic.” But more plainly it is wrong in a normative sense, and not very smart in a pragmatic one. It is wrong because even if it is not explicit, there is often an implicit understanding between institutions which sponsor blog networks and individuals that authors are given generous latitude, and changes to rules of the game will be transparent. Because in most cases purely financial incentives are modest, at best, the institutions really don’t have leverage in that domain. This is why several bloggers on DNLee’s network are rumbling so loudly. What exactly is going to keep them there? And would being kicked off be so much of a problem? If you can’t write what you want to write, at least without threat of it being yanked without warning, what’s the point?

Finally, you might consider that there are more warm bodies out there they could find who would be willing to follow the same rules of being creatively constrained as regular writers,** and at far less pay. But that’s already around, they’re called content farms. How’s that worked out? Scientific American has a great roster. For now.

* Diversity as in the standard Left-liberal concerns of race, class, sex, and gender.

** I’m probably being somewhat unfair to non-bloggers in terms of how little freedom they have. Compared to a ‘regular job’ they have quite a bit of liberty. But not so much compared to bloggers.

MORE ABOUT: Open Thread
  • Sandgroper

    I can’t help feeling that Dr Lee has done something important. I hope so.


  • Sandgroper

    I thought this was moderately interesting, as it is somewhat counterintuitive.

    Foetus gender selection is illegal in Mainland China and Hong Kong (genetic screening of foetuses is obviously not illegal but gender selection is), but apparently not in America (at least somewhere).

    It also confirms what you hear anecdotally – that the majority (about 80-20) of the Mainland parents concerned prefer males, but the majority of the Hong Kong parents prefer females.

    • Sandgroper

      Sorry, that should be embryos, not foetuses. I’m a civil engineer – what do I know?


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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