Tamsin Edwards was stunned. And hurt.
On the afternoon of Friday, April 5, Edwards had just learned that her blog, “All Models Are Wrong,” had disappeared from the PLOS Blogs Network, where it was hosted. No warning. No communication from PLOS.
So Edwards, a climate scientist at King’s College, London, tweeted:
— Dr Tamsin Edwards (@flimsin) April 5, 2019
The PLOS Blogs Twitter account responded about 90 minutes later:
We have revamped the PLOS Blogs Network to focus on our staff blogs and those that are more author-centric. Please DM us if you have further questions. https://t.co/9018iGfW2U
— PLOS Blogs (@PLOSBlogs) April 5, 2019
Things didn’t go well for PLOS after that.
Utterly shocking, even in this day and age of devaluing scientists who commit themselves to public engagement. I urge you to reinstate her blog, if only in archive mode. Broken links = broken promises and broken hearts.
— Kim Cobb (@coralsncaves) April 6, 2019
Oh my God, what a shitty thing to do to an author! Especially your cancer blog – that was wonderful, and so many people found it helpful. I'm horrified!
— Kate Bevan 🙄🙄 (@katebevan) April 6, 2019
Tweets in that vein continued through the weekend. At one point, PLOS CEO Alison Mudditt asked for some patience:
Actually I’m on vacation and the office is closed – perhaps Twitter can give us until Monday?!
— Alison Mudditt (@alison_mudditt) April 7, 2019
So what had happened?
‘A confluence of weird events’
It turns out that David Knutson, who is typically our press contact for PLOS, had found himself in the nightmare situation no media relations pro wants to be in: He became the story.
Knutson tells Retraction Watch that the PLOS Blogs revamp had happened over the last few months. The publisher launched the blog nine years ago, in an attempt to give space to new voices and, Knutson said candidly, to raise the profile of PLOS. That was their “infant stage,” but as a more mature organization, they had decided to focus on blogs that were of interest for general public, and make them more author-focused.
That meant cutting and merging some blogs that overlapped, or whose authors had posted only rarely. Last month, PLOS reached out to those bloggers who would be affected.
Somehow, however, Edwards’ blog had flown under the radar. Perhaps it was because she did not post very often — although she had posted in February of this year. But Polar Thinking wasn’t on a sunset list, nor was it on a continued list. No one had contacted her.
So when Knutson saw Edwards’ tweet — while at a children’s birthday party, at the start of a weekend — he said:
I fully misunderstood the situation. I handled it badly.
Ignorance may not be bliss, but Knutson didn’t see the tweetstorm until much later, thanks to poor phone reception. On Sunday night, the PLOS Blogs Twitter account tweeted an apology, and promised to look into the situation today (Monday) morning:
We’re really sorry for the stress and anxiety this has caused! Please know this was an honest mistake, not an intentional disregard for your work or your concerns.
— PLOS Blogs (@PLOSBlogs) April 8, 2019
Earlier today, PLOS reactivated Edwards’ blog, but Knutson said PLOS still has no idea how it was deleted in the first place. It was, Knutson tells Retraction Watch, “a confluence of weird events.”
I just didn’t recognize the name. I thought, ‘let’s just give her astock answer,’ which in hindsight, wasn’t the right choice. I should have said a mea culpa right away. I take full responsibility for the mishandling on that.
Tamsin, for her part, acknowledged Knutson’s apology, which he made in an email earlier today, and said the two would speak tomorrow:
After that would be the discussion of whether the blogs can live on in some form.
–> Ah, @PLOS senior comms Dave Knutson has just extended his apology to include the poor tweet. That's good. We will also talk tomorrow.
— Dr Tamsin Edwards (@flimsin) April 8, 2019