Michael Eisen, former editor-in-chief of the prestigious life science journal eLife, has been fired after sharing a satirical article from The Onion that criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the weeks since the Oct. 7 Israel massacre at the hands of Hamas.
Eisen took to X — the platform formerly known as Twitter — on Monday to share that eLife had terminated him, writing, “I have been informed that I am being replaced at the Editor in Chief of @eLife for retweeting a @TheOnion piece that calls out indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians.”
— Michael Eisen (@mbeisen) October 23, 2023
Eisen’s firing is shining a light on the delicate nature of discussing sensitive geopolitical issues and the side effects that social media can have on one’s career track.
Eisen’s dismissal stemmed from him sharing an article from The Onion titled “Dying Gazans Criticized For Not Using Last Words To Condemn Hamas.” He captioned his retweet saying, “The Onion speaks with more courage, insight, and moral clarity than the leaders of every academic institution put together. I wish there were a @TheOnion university.”
— Michael Eisen (@mbeisen) October 13, 2023
Eisen’s tweets — particularly his apparent lack of support for Israeli researchers affected by the conflict — drew harsh criticism from fellow scientists. Among them was Yaniv Erlich, an Israeli-American scientist and CEO of Eleven Therapeutics. Erlich accused Eisen of providing “military advice” from a position of privilege and criticized his moral stance.
Others joined Erlich in calling for Eisen’s resignation from eLife.
Eisen noted that he condemned Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, but he was also deeply concerned about the punishment being inflicted on Gaza citizens. He alleged that The Onion’s satirical piece was aimed at making a serious point about the tragic situation.
Every sane person on Earth is horrified and traumatized by what Hamas did and wants it to never happen again. All the more so as a Jew with Israeli family. But I am also horrified by the collective punishment already being meted out on Gazans, and the worse that is about to come. https://t.co/Lzl2jc5hiP
— Michael Eisen (@mbeisen) October 14, 2023
Eisen later shared, “The Onion is not making light of the situation. And nor am I. These articles are using satire to make a deadly serious point about this horrific tragedy.”
The Onion is not making light of the situation. And nor am I. These articles are using satire to make a deadly serious point about this horrific tragedy.
— Michael Eisen (@mbeisen) October 14, 2023
eLife, in response to the mounting pressure, decided to terminate Eisen as editor-in-chief. The journal cited Eisen’s approach to leadership, communication, and social media as detrimental to the community and its mission.
eLife stated, “Mike has been given clear feedback from the board that his approach to leadership, communication, and social media has at key times been detrimental to the cohesion of the community we are trying to build and hence to eLife’s mission. It is against this background that a further incidence of this behavior has contributed to the board’s decision.”
This decision sparked outrage from the scientific community, with some questioning Eisen’s right to freedom of speech and academic expression.
I support Eisen 💯. I also think that The Onion has turned into a z-grade leftist rag. They have numerous unfunny pieces mocking JK Rowling for her "anti-trans" (i.e. pro-woman) views. They're crap. But if they're your crap, you're welcome to them. pic.twitter.com/YUF5fkgGzI
— Diana Murray (@DEMurray8) October 23, 2023
Lara Urban, a reviewing editor at eLife, stood with Eisen and announced her resignation from the journal. She criticized the journal for firing Eisen, noting the potential danger of cyber-bullying and the suppression of controversial opinions.
It is with great sadness that I have to resign as @eLife editor and early-career advisor after @mbeisen was fired as editor-in-chief for making use of his freedom of speech to stand up – once again – for the people who were silenced. A brief statement here: https://t.co/VN1H5wJZO1 pic.twitter.com/BV17wLId2f
— Lara Urban (@LaraUrban42) October 23, 2023
A petition was also launched urging the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the journal’s publisher, not to penalize Eisen for his public comments.
Michael Eisen is apparently being ousted from his role as @eLife Editor-in-Chief due to his tweet referencing a satirical article conveying the tragedy of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Concerned about this form of censure? Sign this open letter: https://t.co/V7SGV5A9My https://t.co/IalfXiGlpI
— Roger Levy (@roger_p_levy) October 23, 2023
Is this cancel culture at work, or justified? Should Eisen — an editor for a publication — be held accountable for what he personally publishes? Would eLife have let him go if the public outcry hadn’t called for it? Who will be next?