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3D printing, Ada Lovelace and controversial bloggers

By James Dacey

One of the more inspiring stories we have come across this week was the tale of a resourceful inventor in the West African nation of Togo. Kodjo Afate Gnikou has managed to build a 3D printer at the meagre cost of $100 by mainly using parts he found in a scrap yard in the capital city Lomé. The story is described on, which says the machine has been constructed from broken scanners, computers, printers and other e-waste.

On the subject of 3D printing, Wired magazine ran a story about how the UK supermarket chain Asda is planning to trial a 3D printing service at its store in York. They will be offering customers the chance to take a break from their shopping to have a full body scan, which will be used to create miniature dolls of themselves. Prices apparently start at £40 and Asda boasts about how lifelike these dolls can be: “The technology produces highly realistic ‘mini me’ figurines at whatever scale you like!”

Portrait of Ada Lovelace

Portrait of Ada Lovelace (1838)

From a shop in York to the next story that involved celebrations all round the world. Tuesday was Ada Lovelace Day 2013. The annual celebrations, which are now in their fifth year, are held to recognize the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The annual event was founded in 2009 by the social technologist and writer Suw Charman-Anderson “as a response to online discussions about the lack of women on stage at tech conferences”.

This year events included a mass Wikipedia “editathon” at the University of Oxford in an attempt to raise the profile of women’s contributions to science, as described in this article in the Guardian.

But in a week that was supposed to be a celebration of achievements and diversity in science, two other stories have left a sour taste in the mouth. The first was the revelation that the biologist and blogger Danielle Lee had been called a “whore” by the blog editor of Biology Online for declining the offer of writing for the site without payment. Lee was understandably shocked by the incident – which occurred during e-mail correspondence – so described what occurred in an article on her blog The Urban Scientist, hosted on the Scientific American blog network.

Initially very few people knew about Lee’s article. That’s because it had been taken down within the hour by the editorial team of the Scientific American blog network. Taken aback by the censorship, several bloggers republished versions of the article on their blogs, including cosmologist Sean Carroll. Scientific American then reinstated Lee’s post, with the following explanation of why it was taken down initially: “We could not quickly verify the facts of the blog post and consequently for legal reasons we had to remove it.”

At the time of writing this, another rapidly evolving story is starting to dominate the blogosphere. Several allegations have emerged about the behaviour of Bora Zivkovic, blog editor for Scientific American, including one by writer and playwright Monica Byrne that she was the victim of sexual harassment involving Zivkovic. Writing on his personal blog, Zivkovic confirmed that more than a year ago he was spoken to by staff at Scientific American about the incident.

For a response to these two final stories see this blog entry from physicist Chad Orzel with the title Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.

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