Scientific American has removed an op-ed that blasted high-profile gynecologist Dr. Jennifer Gunter, after a top editor determined it read like a “hit piece” on the popular Vagina Bible author.
The article, titled “Doctors Are Not Gods,” was removed from the website Saturday, four days after it was published. In an editor’s note, the publication said it had “determined that [the article] doesn't meet our editorial standards.” Scientific American did not respond to a request for comment.
Gunter rose to prominence through pro-science blog posts that skewered Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness brand Goop and now has hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and a column in The New York Times.
But while Gunter has legions of fans, she’s also rankled some. The piece in Scientific American by Jennifer Block slammed Gunter for dismissing “anything that undermines her authority as a physician.”
Block pointed to recent criticism from Dr. Jennifer Lang, an OB-GYN who wrote an open letter to Gunter on Facebook, accusing her of driving women away from modern medicine with her “condescending tone and overall arrogance.”
The Scientific American article was met with widespread backlash on social media from readers who felt it dinged Gunter for asserting her expertise. “This is yet another example of how well respected professional women with hard earned credentials and DECADES of professional experience are demonized,” tweeted one reader.
The OB-GYN announced the removal of the piece to her more than 269,000 Twitter followers on Saturday, saying it was “important not just for me, but for health care.”
“Naturopaths, anti-vaccine doctors, and people who claim they can ‘balance hormones’ with food etc were celebrating my ‘take down’ in @sciam seeing it as proof that they are right,” she wrote.
Gunter told The Daily Beast she felt the piece deliberately mischaracterized her work. She pointed to several posts she had written about how medicine had failed women—including one about obstetric violence, a subject Block accused her of ignoring. She also noted that one study Block had used to discredit her was “scientifically invalid,” and was published by a journal that some experts deemed predatory.
Gunter also contended that Block had taken her tweets about being the “fucking expert” out of context, making her seem dismissive of patients and other women when she was, in fact, responding to anti-abortion Twitter trolls. This “tone-policing,” she added, was the definition of misogyny.
“She implied based on these tweets that that’s how I talk to people. I don’t,” Gunter said, pointing to her numerous radio interviews and glowing magazine profiles. “If I was a horrible, arrogant authoritative person, don't you think someone would have written that about me when they spent the day with me?”
She added, “I don’t understand how you could say that about me based on everything that’s out there.”
Block, however, stood by the piece, saying Gunter had “bullied” the magazine into taking it down.
“It’s opinion, it’s critique, and if you’re going to have a public presence like she has in a big way, you should be able to take that,” Block said.
In an email to Block reviewed by The Daily Beast, Scientific American editor Michael Lemonick said they took down the article for numerous reasons. Most importantly, he wrote, the publication had “failed in our responsibility to you to do a thorough fact check,” leading the essay to read like a “hit piece” on Gunter.
“It’s clear that you feel strongly about the importance of valuing women’s lived experience in giving health advice, and that medical doctors can be arrogant and dismissive,” he wrote. “But you focus it on her, and you make the case in some ways that are not up to our standards—and which we would have insisted you change if we’d worked through it carefully.”
Lemonick also pointed to his conversation with Sarah Parcak, a historian whom Block interviewed for her piece because she had collaborated with Gunter in the past. The editor said Parcak also viewed the article as a hit piece and was “embarrassed to be quoted in such a thing.” Emails reviewed by The Daily Beast show Block approached Parcak about her research on jade eggs—the subject on which she is quoted in the story—but did not mention Gunter.
Both Lemonick and Gunter also took issue with the quotes from Lang, the OB-GYN who criticized Gunter on Facebook, because she was listed as an advisory board member of the anti-vaxx organization Alliance for Human Research Protection.
Lang, however, told The Daily Beast she had no such association with the group and that they had stolen her photo and bio from another website. The group took down the listing shortly after Lang contacted them. She called the removal of Block’s piece “unfortunate.”
Block, too, said she was upset that the piece was removed.
“The point is that science and lived experience are two separate things and they don’t necessarily negate each other,” she said. She said she believes Gunter is “shaming people and judging people and invalidating their lived experience in the name of science. I don’t think she’s doing a service for science or medicine or women.”