No, I don’t write for the Genetic Literacy Project (and I never will)

So yesterday I got a notification on Twitter that the Genetic Literacy Project had posted about my pushback on an account of scientific racism published by NPR. Well, nifty, I guess. I’d encountered the GLP before — it’s a news site covering “the intersection of DNA research and real world applications of genetics with the media and policy worlds in order to disentangle science from ideology”. So, great, they wrote something about my post? When I clicked through, though, it turned out to be a ham-fisted edit of my post extracting the gist … annoying, but bog-standard blog-aggregation, no value added. But something about the layout of page caught my attention.

Screenshot from the GLP page. (Google cached version)

That’s my name under the GLP post title, where any respectable news site puts a byline. There’s no other authorial or editorial name on the GLP post page. The date, July 11, is the date of the GLP post, not my original. It does say “Molecular Ecologist”, but there’s no explanation what that indicates from the page layout. If you click on my name, you get an “author” page explaining that GLP posts may be original writing for the GLP, or aggregation-posts. And at the end of the GLP post, there’s a disclaimer to the effect that GLP aggregated the post from The Molecular Ecologist, with a link to the original — but it still doesn’t clarify who did the aggregation. There is no indication, on the post page or elsewhere, as to what human being or algorithm is responsible for the bowdlerized “excerpt” of my TME post … except me.

Call me crazy, but I happen to think my byline has some value, and that it means something — specifically, that when it appears on a post on a website, I had some authorial or editorial role in the creation of that post. (For a post about scientific racism, in particular, I want to be in control of what’s attached to my name!) GLP’s site design obscures that — and after an extended e-mail exchange with the site’s editor, I’m inclined to think that’s deliberate. GLP appears to be quite happy to make it look as though writers all over the web are contributing material for them, without any prior consultation with those writers or the sites where their work is posted.

I’ve lodged my complaints on Twitter and on the comments on the GLP post and in that e-mail back-and-forth, and I will not go on at further length. There’s not a lot more I can do, anyway. A DMCA takedown notice is not really appropriate because, as I noted above, the excerpting of my post itself is pretty standard practice, and probably not a violation of fair use — and some sort of injunction against the use of my name in connection with material I didn’t create seems like overkill, and is beyond both my legal ken and budget. So I’ll simply close out by saying: The Genetic Literacy Project doesn’t understand how authorship and web design works, and any post you see there with my name on it was created without my authorization and against my express wishes.

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About Jeremy Yoder

Jeremy Yoder is an Assistant Professor of Biology at California State University, Northridge. He also blogs at Denim and Tweed, and tweets under the handle @jbyoder.

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  • Michael Finfer, MD

    I read stuff at the Genetic Literacy Project all the time. They are good at aggregating lots of material in the field in one place.

    I was NOT aware that they are presenting articles as if they are written for that site that are taken from elsewhere without permission.

    This is a problem and definitely unethical in by opinion.

  • Patrick Beach

    GLP does good work but I always see them pushing folks to original sources. They are a little “click-bait” with headlines, but in this day & age, that’s not unusual. Seems fair use to me.

  • I’m the editor of the GLP, and yes we did communicate about this issue. I think if anyone reviews our site, you’d be hard pressed to think that Jeremy wrote anything for the GLP. It’s quite clear in multiple places that we excerpted his article… The front page lists his article from “Around the Web.” Each article has the author’s name and the original source, such as Molecular Ecologist or New York Times. To believe that an average reader can’t figure out that that’s the source of the article stretches reality. At NO POINT…on Facebook, on our site or on the original article do we even hint that the article was written for the GLP. At the end of every excerpted article we very transparently state this:

    The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: THEN THE POST.

    I’m hard pressed to imagine we could be any more transparent that the GLP is not the source of the article. This is literally the first complaint we’ve had from an author that he/she believes that our listings our misleading (let alone deliberately misleading which Jeremy, you assert–that’s pretty low) in a year an a half, when we moved to the current format — to prevent the misunderstandings that might have then existed. We are a non profit. We make zero money from clicks. We get no industry funding. We are an idealistic organization, hoping to increase science literacy. Our goal is to drive traffic to the original authors to increase their visibility and promote a balanced discussion about biotechnology and genetics. I’m disappointed that we are being taken to the woodshed for promoting science and science communication, but I’m not going to apologize for our public service work. As for our headlines, we deliberately do not use the same headlines as the original piece so we don’t cannibalize the traffic. We do our best in headlines…writing 14-16 day. Invariably we write some clunkers, and some may be more sensational than others. That happens. Check out the NY Times or New Scientist or STAT or Discover. I’ll match our ‘quality and reasonable’ headline rate against any of their efforts…and we do it with a skeletal staff. Why? Because we care about science.