The OpenCon saga, 5 month update

As I am sure many of you are aware, the last 5 months of my life got kinda transformed by a public statement from Opencon. Thousands of people were engaged in the ‘mobbing’ that surrounded it, sharing unfounded accusations and harsh judgements, and generally adding noise and confusion to the mess. This post is an attempt to summarise the key parts of what I know has happened so far.

Key points

  • On October 31 2019, OpenCon made a public statement about me. This concerned banning me from their events due to an isolated incident of dancing with a friend/colleague while at a party, and running my hands down their side, at OpenCon 2016. No formal complaints or reports were filed due to this.

  • This incident was resolved between me and those involved more than 3 years ago. OpenCon decided to intervene 2 years later (November 2018), and make the public statement a year after that.

  • I have been forced to send several “Cease and Desist” letters to key members of the OpenCon community. These letters document, in no uncertain terms and with substantial evidence, that their public accusations of “rape”, “sexual assault”, and “abuse” surrounding this incident are completely false and totally unsubstantiated. I notified OpenCon about these accusations, and they refused to act. It is likely that these incidents will have to be resolved in court, due to the immense damage of these deceptive accusations.

  • I have also asked them some simple questions about the timing of their statement, what it was based on, whether they understood the huge negative impact of their actions, and whether they are going to act upon the behaviours of members of their community surrounding this event. These remain unanswered.

  • On November 28, 2019, I sent a formal notice to OpenCon asking them to provide whatever information they had one me, under official data protection regulations (i.e., freedom of information).

  • OpenCon have failed to respond to this request within the one month recommended time limit (which can be extended to 3 months under certain exceptional circumstances); that is, beyond providing me with information about my own OpenCon applications. I have filed a complaint to appropriate authorities in the UK about this handling of my personal data.

For now, I understand that much of this information is still unverified. While OpenCon have been completely opaque on their half, I hope it is clear that my behaviour represents the opposite. I have nothing to hide, and a clear conscience. The thing about openness and ethical standards around honesty, trust, and reliability, is that you don’t pick and choose when and where to practice them; you either live by them, or you don’t.

I have also used this situation to write about how men can help to make [academic] conferences safer spaces, and how to promote a healthier online culture on social media. I see this as part of my responsibility while reflecting upon this episode.

Associated losses

Here’s also a quick summary of the personal direct and indirect damage that OpenCon has caused over this period, in no particular order:

  • Loss of a job as Community Editor at PLOS Paleo Community;

  • Loss of a future Research Fellowship position in Paris, and of a deposit for the associated accommodation;

  • Withdrawal of an offer to become Editor in Chief at an important journal;

  • Severe damage to a number of personal relationships and friendships;

  • Withdrawal of my invitation to speak at 8 events, including often as a keynote speaker, in France, Germany, Sweden, Ukraine, Mexico, and Australia;

  • An incredible amount of personal stress, personal poor mental health, and psychological damage;

  • Severe damage to a number of ongoing projects, all of which were put on hold, and which many people have withdrawn participation from;

  • Being forced to step down as the founder of two major projects, paleorXiv and the Open Science MOOC, causing major damage to their daily functioning. It is likely that both projects will not survive;

  • My latest book is now printed but sitting in boxes in a warehouse, with shipping delayed indefinitely by the publisher until this is resolved;

  • Loss of thousands of Twitter followers;

  • Almost total reputational destruction.

So far, OpenCon have not acknowledged their role in this, or even indicated that they care. I first notified them of these losses several months ago.

Summing up

I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to take the last 4 months of my life off to begin recovering from this incident. Yesterday, here in Bali where I am currently recovering, it was a national festival known as Nyepi. This is a time of introspection, togetherness, and importantly, forgiveness. I am going to use this opportunity to state quite clearly: everyone who was involved in bringing hostility to my life these last 6 months, you are forgiven. Without question, and unconditionally.

This is not for those people; it is for me. Many of them have not taken responsibility for them actions, and have not been held accountable. Their behaviour reflects more on them than they do on me. They can take responsibility for being hostile, or they can refuse to. The choice is theirs, I do not particularly mind either way. Now, more than ever, it is time for each of us to reflect deeply on our past behaviours, and ask how we can be better in the future.

I feel like at the present, the entire world together, and each of us as individuals, are having our moral fiber tested. I am actually thankful to OpenCon, and their actions and the actions of those of their community, in showing us firstly how not to behave in the future, but also to give us the opportunity to practice virtues like patience and forgiveness. All of the available evidence suggests OpenCon acted with malicious intent to cause me harm. However, I choose no to take the emotional position of a victim. Justice will find people in different ways. Indeed, many of those who led the mobbing efforts against me have continued their hostile, divisive behaviours. It seems to me that their behaviours will become increasingly unacceptable in the future. Their downfall will be their own doing, unless they choose a path of emotional growth.

A small part of me feels let down, disappointed, and a bit betrayed by OpenCon. But right now, I feel energised by this. Now is not the time for selfishness, moral grandstanding, and hostility. Now is the time for compassion, action, and unity.