Dr Henry Gee, Nature Futures Editor

ETA. 29 Jan – got some hostile feedback indicating I’d glossed over the content of the original tweet. Fair point: have edited the first para to include more detail.

ETA. 24 Jan – the invective surrounding Dr Gee from the scientific community has now reached the point of being beyond ridiculous. Since his one comment on his ill-judged tweet, he has been compared to Ike Turner, wife-beaters in general and terrorists. I fully expect an upgrade to “axe-murderer” the following morning, for God’s sake. This is unedifying, and I want to post my support for Dr Gee, whom I found warm, supportive and charming.

There is a lot of buzz going around the internet at present about one of the editors in the worldwide science magazine Nature, Dr Henry Gee. He is getting a lot of stick for issuing an angry tweet about a person critical of him, using his official account. This tweet mentioned the critic by name: while that is not a total secret, she generally blogs pseudonymously. It also slighted the status of her work by saying it was of no consequence. Before we go any further, I want to say that I don’t condone that tweet. Neither, on reflection, does Henry Gee himself.

But then – Seeing references on my twitter feed, and looking through the archives that this person had written, I saw her refer to Dr Gee in 2011 as a “feminist antichrist”.

And that stopped me short.

Because I have had dealings with Henry Gee, when I sent him those two relentlessly feminist short stories he published in 2010 and 2011, and which – gasp! surprise! – he was happy to publish. Apart from being uncomfortable with referring to a Jewish man as “the antichrist”, such a term was not my personal experience of him at all and she might imagine that she speaks for quite a few people – but she does not speak for me.

Please be aware that in what follows I am not speaking as a scientist, nor is this a “free pass” for Henry Gee or anyone else to go rampaging around the internet or treating anyone badly. I am every bit as scientific as Sarah Palin. (On a good day, when Russia is visible from my house.) And I have spoken to people in the biz who disagree with me. That’s fine. I’m sure the man is no saint: few of us are.

I am speaking only as a writer of short stories, who found Henry Gee a pleasure to work with and prompt and charming in his responses. I had submitted many stories to far more right-on, “acceptable”, leftish fantasy and sci-fi magazines, and had had them all rejected while some friends of the editors appeared there on a depressingly regular basis. That’s not to say he didn’t reject me either – he did on my third submission, probably because it didn’t have enough hard science. But at least I knew that there was a valid reason behind his decisions. In short, I trusted him – and like many Irishwomen I don’t trust easily. And I would not hesitate to recommend Nature Futures subbing to my writer friends. I can see from looking through the archives that women and minorities are properly represented. I’ve no fear whatsoever on that front.

Again – I’m speaking as a fiction writer. I cannot speak for any other discipline.

Part  of the long-running animosity between Dr Gee and others comes from a story Dr Gee published in Nature Futures in 2011 called “Womanspace”, which many feminists condemned for being sexist. I wanted to specifically mention my own stories which he published prior to that simply to balance the record. (Incidentally, I thought “Womanspace” was rubbish. Sorry.)

Perhaps Dr Gee needs to review his conduct in light of what has happened. I will not defend him for any occasions where I was not present. And he is like everyone else, answerable for any inappropriate actions on his part and should answer for them.

But he has not been, in my experience, a “feminist antichrist”. Quite the opposite. He opened the door for me to publish and write feminist fiction and I think that needs to be said too.

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9 Comments

  1. Well said, Susan. I’m a woman, a feminist, and have also had some dealings with Henry. While he can be grouchy, abrupt and impatient, he’s also good hearted and far from the monster that he’s being portrayed as.

    1. Like most twitter debates/rows, things are spiralling out of control. There is a rather nasty online petition to get the poor man fired, and the woman he originally bitched about, for whom I wouldn’t initially have had much sympathy, is apparently getting abusive emails with violent threats that are simply unrepeatable.

      Sometimes I think everyone should really just get off the internet for a while, or have a bucket of cold water emptied over their heads, or something 😦

      1. The internet certainly seems to bring out the worst in a lot of people then when something like this happens every troll for miles around pitches in :/

  2. I can’t seem to reply to your comment, WordPress does not allow the thread to indent that far. But I don’t think anyone deserves to lose their job, or receive foul and vile abuse, as a result of this discussion. I’m almost worried that keeping this post up is allowing the forest fire to keep going and perhaps it would be better to close or remove it, given it’s suddenly getting a lot of hits. But HG did open a door for me – “and that’s true, too.”

  3. I just wanted to say thanks everyone for dropping by. Thank you for reading! Should you be interested, I have a “To Everyone Who Has Come From the Henry Gee Post” sort-of intro up as my latest post. I’m taking the opportunity to promote a cause that I feel strongly about, as it still scandalises me three years on. Feel free to skip and go about your business!

  4. For the record, I am one who is very critical of Henry Gee for his actions and also am not calling for him to be fired. Conflating those two things as you do here is a minimizing strategy- intentional or not. I think calling for his career head is misplaced.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Drugmonkey. I acknowledge that there is not a 1:1 relationship between those who are angry with Gee and those who are calling for his head on a plate.

      A question for you, and it’s an honest one because I am genuinely interested, I will not argue against whatever response you might have – what from your point of view would be the best possible outcome from this whole affair?

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