My background isn't in science or in science communication, it's in politics and PR. I may come at this issue from a different perspective. But since my profession is concerned with transparency in communication, let me be clear: I have no financial interests to disclose in this matter.
Arguably I gain professional standing when I speak at conferences like ScienceOnline because it strengthens my position as a leader in my field and suggests expertise in a "niche" not commonly seen in PR. Further, it's clearly in my interest to build relationships with science writers because I may want to pitch them or collaborate at some point in the future. I also love doing it.
My advice and opinions on all this - whether given publicly, written on this blog, or given privately by request - has been blunt, perhaps to a fault. (It has all been free and worth every penny.) However, as it pertains to the list on Dr. Stemwedel's post, I hope people realize the following opinions are sincere and given in the same good faith and spirit of constructive engagement spelled out there.
The first four items on the list are basically no-brainers. They include commitments to more transparency and diversity, more regular communication, and professional and technical support to better implement their policies on harassment. If the leadership of ScienceOnline isn't already working on these items, I'm fairly certain they will soon. If they don't, I won't be back. Neither will a lot of people.
I think the fifth item, which involves a specific person, requires legal counsel and presents challenges from a PR perspective. If I were asked a question about a specific person who has no affiliation with the organization, I would say that people who follow our rules are welcome, and people who don't follow our rules aren't. I would want the rules to be the standard, and not a specific person. When we start talking about people and specific situations, it's easy to start nibbling away at our standards. It's also easy for critics to say there's now a semi-official blacklist. Don't get trapped. Make really tough rules. Let the rules speak for themselves and enforce them.
The sixth item, reincorporating ScienceOnline to make it a "membership organization," is the hardest one for me for a few reasons. First, there already is a membership organization called the National Association of Science Writers that could fit many (though probably not all) of the needs of this group. Many #scio attendees are also NASW members.
Second, there are several examples of organizations that serve their communities effectively without being membership organizations. BlogHer and evo have held great conferences with outstanding speakers and content. They have been relentless about meeting the needs of their community. SXSW has a "panel picker" process to help build their annual program. All of these groups build value for participants and attract a lot of sponsors, defraying the costs for attendees.
Third, I'd want to know what criteria for membership there are beyond a simple entry fee and the selection process for presentations. Without thinking this through, the organization and conferences could easily be hijacked by an organized and well-funded group of climate deniers or anti-vaxxers who pay their membership fees. Of course, if the standards are too strict, it's easy to exclude people who currently feel welcome at ScienceOnline. People without science backgrounds. People who don't write about science very much. People like me.
Finally, there's nothing that prevents the #sciosafe group from forming a new organization with the appropriate standards. That would very likely take less time and effort than re-organizing ScienceOnline. The people in the #sciosafe group aren't simply "customers," though I think that's a pretty damn powerful thing - they are also entrepreneurs. To me, entrepreneurship has always been a profoundly powerful form of advocacy.
As for the seventh item, asking for elections of board members if the organization reincorporates, it's basically an adjunct to the sixth item. I don't know how you have a membership organization without giving those members a say in who leads them. My concern still stands, however - science isn't subject to a popular vote, and neither is science communication. Vaccines are safe and effective. Climate change is a thing. The world isn't 6,000 years old. I'm not paying dues to a group that could be hijacked by those who want to "teach the controversy" or whatever, and I've seen nothing yet about safeguards for that.
ScienceOnline does a great job delivering content about science communication and they do a great job serving their customers. That's not opinion, it's analysis - last month's annual conference sold out in 28 minutes. I can't think of a reason they won't sell out again. A large number of very influential customers have come to them with concerns, and I share their sentiments if not their precise requests. I have every reason to believe they will be heard.
I don't think Dr. Stemwedel's post represents a "take it or leave it" list of demands, and I don't think anyone believes all the details are done. I don't want my hesitation to co-sign suggest I have anything other than zero-tolerance for harassment, and I also want to think this through. I'm as interested as anyone in how this evolves.