There are times when it is okay to be angry.
When you see someone threatening people with sexual violence, you should be angry. When that threat is protected, rather than removed, you should be angry. That threat exists today, it is being supported by Kickstarter, and you should be angry. And the science communication community should channel that anger into action.
At issue is a project seeking funding on Kickstarter that bills itself as a seduction guide, but is actually a manual for how to physically intimidate and sexually assault women. The details are fairly repulsive, but here’s an example. The author of the “seduction guide” says that a man should get physically close to a woman, then pull out his penis, grab the woman’s hand and force her to touch his penis. That is not seduction, it is sexual assault, and it is completely unacceptable. [UPDATE: Kickstarter has now posted an open apology, admitting they were wrong. I give them credit for their honesty.]
The author of the guide defends this advice, saying that a man should stop if the woman asks him to. By that logic, it would be perfectly acceptable for someone to punch the author in the throat, as long as the assailant stopped when asked. But that rationale is clearly not acceptable – because the crime has already been committed. You can read about the relevant project here and here.
And let’s tackle the Freedom of Speech issue now: it’s not relevant. Kickstarter is in the business of supporting creative enterprise. I get that. But art stops being acceptable when it becomes an express threat to public safety – which is why the law incorporates limits to the First Amendment. This is why you are not allowed to phone bomb threats in to a school, threaten to kill someone, etc. Kickstarter is choosing to support this project, and that’s not acceptable.
So, what does this have to do with science communication?
Science communication is a creative enterprise, and getting creative enterprises off the ground takes money. Some great scicomm projects (e.g., ScienceStudio) are the result of funding via Kickstarter. I’ve supported some of them.
And if you were to search for the term “science” on Kickstarter today, you’d find a variety of interesting science communication initiatives. But no matter how good they are, I won’t be funding them. I won’t be funding anything on Kickstarter again, and I’m hoping you won’t either.
Crowdfunding is still an important tool for launching science communication projects, but Kickstarter has a lot of competition – there are more than 150 crowdfunding sites (that I know of). Here’s a list (and brief description) of the ten most prominent crowdfunding sites (nine, since one of them is Kickstarter), and here’s 20 more.
You have options other than Kickstarter. Use them. Kickstarter may not care whether it is linked to violence against women, but maybe they’ll care if there is any appreciable impact on their business.
[UPDATE: While Kickstarter has now posted an open apology for supporting the project (as mentioned above), I’m not sure I can take a forgive and forget stance. It’s something each of us will have to consider, and reach our own conclusions.]
And tell your creative friends. This shouldn’t be limited to the scicomm community. Violence against women is everyone’s problem, and everyone should take a hand in trying to prevent it.
Matt Shipman is a science writer and public information officer at North Carolina State University, where he writes about everything from forensic anthropology to computer malware. He previously worked as a reporter and editor in the Washington, D.C. area for Inside EPA, Water Policy Report and Risk Policy Report, covering the nexus of science, politics and policy.
In his free time, Shipman runs a non-profit organization called the First Step Project that has nothing to do with science, plays guitar badly (but with enthusiasm) and keeps track of the juvenile humans who live in his house. You can follow him on Twitter: @ShipLives.