How AAAS and Science magazine really feel about sexual harassment cases in science

Michael Balter wrote a piece about sexual harassment accusations against paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond, the curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History that was published in Science magazine.

This story has been part of what I hope is a critical mass of stories publicizing sexual harassment in academia. Critical, that is, to stimulating real improvement in workplaces and a decrease in tolerance for sexual harassing behavior on the part of established scientists toward their underlings.

There have been a very disturbing series of tweets from Balter today.

Holy....surely it isn't connected to....

Oh Christ, of course it is....

but they published it so...?

Well THAT should have a nicely suppressing effect on journalists who may think about writing up any future cases of sexual harassment in academia.

UPDATE: Blog entry from Balter.
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ETA: I am particularly exercised about this after completing, just this week, a survey from AAAS about what the membership expects from them. The survey did not seem to have a check box item for "Fight against scientific and workplace misconduct".

36 responses so far

  • DNAdrinker says:

    About the critical mass. Big protests at UCLA over the punishment of that UCLA History professor for sexual harassment. He got a $3000 fine, suspension for one quarter (which coincides with his sabbatical leave), and some guidelines to act normal (only meet students in his office from 9am to 5 pm with the door open.)

    This LA Times article includes a link to a letter signed by most of the History faculty saying the settlement is ridiculous
    http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ucla-sex-harass-20160302-story.html

    Here's a page with some quotes from the original lawsuits
    http://blog.ebosswatch.com/2015/06/the-ucla-professor-gabriel-piterberg-sexual-harassment-lawsuit-allegations/

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    What the hell is going on? Why would any editor water down an article like this (assuming facts are verified)? External legal pressure? Has Science no sense of the overall situation with sexual harassment? What message do they think this sends to readers/members of AAAS?

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    Organizations like AAAS are meant to protect their journalists so they have the cover to report on stories that are uncomfortable to those with influence and deep pockets. This is an abdication of that fundamental protective role.

  • GM says:

    This looks like a load of BS to me.

    Why would they fire him for being too vocal about sexual harassment? That makes zero sense.

    It is the fashionable thing to do to whine about sexual harassment at each and every opportunity. Science and Nature have every incentive to follow that trend.

    So why fire him for his position on it? Again, this absolutely does not make sense.

    However, on the other hand, if I am a reasonable employer and I have an employee who is clearly a crazy SJW, and is causing trouble because of it, I am fully in my right to fire him, and it would in fact be the right thing to do -- you don't want to poison your working environment with lunatics

    So maybe it was because he was causing trouble that we has fired, not because of the subject at hand?

  • drugmonkey says:

    It is the fashionable thing to do....crazy SJW

    HAHAHA. Nice try nutjob.

  • Grumble says:

    "Why would any editor water down an article like this (assuming facts are verified)? External legal pressure?"

    Balter seems to think so. He tweeted that "Science was just too scared of being sued for the Richmond story."

  • Grumble says:

    But that explanation doesn't actually make sense. The time to do something as a reaction to being scared of being sued is before the article is published - by preventing it from being published. They weren't scared before they published it, but now they are, so they fire the writer? It doesn't add up. I think something else must be going on.

  • Ola says:

    Just throwing this out there...

    (1) Balter's Twitter page lists him as a journalism professor at NYU.

    (2) The young assistant professor in the AMNH case was from NYU and returned to New York after the key event in the case.

    Is it possible that Balter has a connection to this case that was not revealed during the research process? For example is he personal friends with the victim? An connection such as this could be construed as a conflict-of-interest, and if not disclosed would be considered journalistic misconduct and grounds for firing.

  • drugmonkey says:

    https://twitter.com/mbalter/status/708028552927641600

    This tweet makes it look more like "dude, not again. You are really not getting us here. we did you a solid on that last one but that was it."

  • Ola says:

    Compare and contrast...

    https://twitter.com/marcia4science/status/619071072873230336

    https://twitter.com/mbalter/status/644956469306257408

    Balter seems to be sympathetic toward the Palestinian cause. McNutt clearly leans in a pro-Israel direction. His Tweets might be considered inflammatory, especially since his Twitter page does not contain an "opinions are my own" disclaimer.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why are you trying to bring up smokescreen distractions?

  • Ola says:

    I'm not. I figured there might be more to this than the knee jerk "Science mag is stuck in the 19th century" however, I have to say, that's looking like the most logical explanation.

  • Zuska says:

    In the past quarter-century of working/writing in the field of gender and STEM careers, I have seen nothing that would convince me that AAAS/Science are serious about diversity, discrimination, sexual harassment etc. in science. Plenty of lip service. Once a year "special section on women in science" type bla bla and so on. But in the end, they ARE (part of) the institution that needs institutional transformation. They are not the agents of transformation. They are defenders of the status quo. They are all for diversity and anti-sexual harassment...as long as it means that nothing they are doing now has to change in any substantive way, and none of the personnel involved have to change.

    In this they are not unique. Every segment of the official scientific enterprise is like this. In my experience, some of the ones who proclaim most loudly that they are all for diversity, are the most resistant when you actually sit down with them and say "here's what you have to change about what you have been doing." Change? We didn't mean that we wanted to CHANGE anything! We just want to say we are FOR diversity! Let us suffer all the diverse peoples to come unto us! So that they may be as we are!

  • GM says:

    HAHAHA. Nice try nutjob.

    What a substantial post...

  • GM says:

    Zuska March 10, 2016 at 6:29 pm
    They are defenders of the status quo

    The status quo I know is whole departments in every university dedicated to gender, race, queer, etc. "studies" (in reality consisting of mostly pseudointellectual mental masturbations), everyone at every opportunity talking about how concerned they are about gender equality, and people facing the very real threat of having their careers ruined if they happen to say the wrong thing.

    They are all for diversity and anti-sexual harassment...as long as it means that nothing they are doing now has to change in any substantive way, and none of the personnel involved have to change.

    A few questions:

    1) Why are we doing this (research)? To advance knowledge or to fill out diversity quotas? I have yet to see anyone demonstrate that better science will be produced if the gender ratio is 50/50. In fact, one can argue that all the time wasted in focusing on gender is hurting research because that is, of course, time not spent doing actual useful work. In my department there is a weekly "women in science" club. That means an hour and a half sitting in a room, talking to each other about how oppressed they are plus who knows how much time spent in preparation for those meetings (someone has to organize the catering, the venue, who will speak, etc.). Guess what does not happen in that time...

    2) I have also yet to see anyone even mention that the ratio is pretty much 100-0 in favor of females in the aforementioned gender studies departments and that it is skewed in favor of females in many other fields in the humanities. So why is it a problem that it is not 50-50 in STEM fields, but it is perfectly fine if it is greatly skewed in favor of females in other areas?

    3) What exactly does "change" mean? As in, what rules should be introduced to bring that "change"? Because as far as I am aware, there is nothing on the books that privileges males over females. So if "change" is to happen, one cannot help but be suspicious that it can only happen through official reverse discrimination....

  • namnezia says:

    @GM:

    "Why are we doing this (research)? To advance knowledge or to fill out diversity quotas? I have yet to see anyone demonstrate that better science will be produced if the gender ratio is 50/50. In fact, one can argue that all the time wasted in focusing on gender is hurting research because that is, of course, time not spent doing actual useful work."

    You can't be serious here. I don't see the two things as being mutually exclusive. Having a more diverse set of voices always will result in better problem solving by introducing a diversity of approaches that reflect the different life experiences of the individual. Not actively seeking diversity will result in loss of talented folk, by keeping many capable individuals in the shadows and away from productive STEM careers, not because they are not capable scientists, but because they are prevented from doing so by a series of social and economic reasons stemming from economic inequalities, lack of access, racism and sexism among other reasons. So I don't understand how you can be so close minded to say that this isn't "useful work".

    "In my department there is a weekly "women in science" club. That means an hour and a half sitting in a room, talking to each other about how oppressed they are..."

    Now you're just being a troll. It's not like anyone is making you go to these meetings. Although it sounds like you could benefit from it.

  • jmz4 says:

    "I have yet to see anyone demonstrate that better science will be produced if the gender ratio is 50/50."
    -It's common sense, unless you believe talent is unequally distributed between the genders. Lets say you have a population of 100 and 50 are men and 50 are women. Further, lets say you want the top 10% of that population, based on "talent"*, to progress to faculty jobs. So 5 men and 5 women would be your ideal outcome.

    Anything that skews this distribution in a way that doesn't align with talent means you have the chance to drop one of those top 5 from the curve and that your total population will be, as a whole, less talented. Which is bad for science. Sexual harassment, which disproportionately afflicts and influences women, has prompted the exit of people from science, or forced them to compromise their careers (by switching labs, for instance) for reasons that have nothing to do with ability.

    The flip is also true and an argument you might find more persuasive is the following. Regulations which restrict intimate relationships between faculty and trainees will (in addition to heading off most harassment) also cut off a (mostly) female-specific form of nepotism where a return on romantic interest unfairly facilitates the career of the trainee. I have no idea if this is a common practice, though I often hear it avowed.

    *an admittedly amorphous term, feel free to insert your own criteria.

  • GM says:

    When people confuse the concept of "talent" at birth with "talent" at 35, there is no point in arguing.

  • Krzysztof Sakrejda says:

    @GM: "people facing the very real threat of having their careers ruined if they happen to say the wrong thing."

    Oh no! If you proposition a student at work (and then pursue them over email, threaten to essentially blacklist them from science) you might get fired! ...or you know, told to go to sensitivity training! The horror! Somebody rescue the dudebros!

  • Zuska says:

    GM, you're a hoot.
    It's so cute when the unapologetic defenders of the status quo come along to tell us how oppressed they are by discussions of sexual harassment, and how women meeting to talk with one another are Ruining Science! For Real!!
    It's so cute because they imagine that their solipsistic rants are fresh, original, and insightful, rather than the tired rehashed refuted-a-thousand-times-over sloppy thinking bullshit I've heard for the last 25 years.
    But do go on! Show us just how threatened you feel by the notion that decent scientists are opposed to having their colleagues subjected to sexual assault.

  • GM says:

    Ah, yes, so we are once again where this usually ends -- "misogynist pig" screams and nothing of substance.

  • jmz4 says:

    @gm
    "When people confuse the concept of "talent" at birth with "talent" at 35, there is no point in arguing."
    -So you think women, as a gender, at 35 are generally less talented than their male colleagues at 35?

  • Krzysztof Sakrejda says:

    @jmz4: Apparently that counts as "something of substance", especially if you look dully concerned about science while you say it.

  • Newbie(ish) says:

    @GM

    "Researchers discovered that shifting from an all-male or all-female office to one split evenly along gender lines could increase revenue by roughly 41 percent."

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/07/gender-diversity-business-study_n_5945312.html

    This subject has been studied. A lot. Try pubmed.

  • GM says:

    Since when is revenue the same as scientific productivity?

  • Newbie(ish) says:

    Why on earth would you expect them to be unrelated?

  • GM says:

    I have commented here on numerous occasions how poorly people working in science understand what science actually is.

    Because they are just scientific workers, not actual scientists (what "PhD" stands for has long been forgotten).

    You just provided another example of why I have come to that conclusion.

  • Newbie(ish) says:

    Clearly, innovation, creativity, work ethic and effective team mentality have nothing to do with both. Educate yourself - this took ten seconds to find: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11192-014-1311-x

    With this kind of rock solid logic, you must really win over grant review panels...

  • blatnoi says:

    I still don't get it. Why would they publish the story as is and fire him and not refuse to publish it in the first place or water it down since it is their journal? It seems like that invites a bigger scandal, hence the two things are probably unrelated. He probably got fired for something else like previous serious arguments with others, with this being the last one after which everyone said they can't work with him anymore.

    Unless that's what they planned on me thinking so that they thought they could get away with firing him because I would think it's unrelated. Hmmm... it's that old, one-level removed conspiracy theory thing. Well, if it's only one level, then I wouldn't it put it past Science and it's well played. Two levels gets us back to the start and that's usually reserved for aliens and shadow governments. I'm not going to go that far because we're all serious scientists here.

  • GM says:

    Just give up, there is no place for logical reasoning on these topics, it's all about predefined narratives of victimhood

  • blatnoi says:

    Don't get me wrong, I think the story was very good and I'm on the side of GWU faculty on this that tried to get this guy away from students. And I'm also not very happy with Science firing a whole bunch of its news staff a year ago. That said, I haven't noticed much change in the stories I'm interested in (on employment of scientists; overproduction of PhDs in academia; conditions for H1Bs being bad and favoring abuse of guest workers) so I'm not sure an atmosphere of fear exists there that kills journalist independence.

    Balter is pretty outspoken and has consistently clashed with the editors over the last year over the firings and the moves in the newsroom, so I very much doubt this was because of this particular news story. His bosses probably had enough. I wouldn't ascribe any shadowy motives of trying to keep sexual harassment in science under the rug to this. In fact, they probably wanted this story published and waited for him to finish it before they could finally fire him because McNutt can't stand him being there.

    Well, he's a victim because he got fired. Not as big a martyr for women's rights in science as he thinks though.

  • Disgusted in Denopia says:

    I have known Michael Balter in academia for many years, and there is no question that he's an utterly serious, professional, and dedicated writer who has written hundreds of highly respected pieces for Science magazine, not only in my area of research, but in many others as well. There is absolutely no way that he has any more sinister or hidden connections to the Richmond story. He simply uncovered too much, or Science magazine has some ulterior motives, or someone higher up gave the order to fire him.

    I, for one, am going to boycott Science magazine for the rest of my life, and will tell all of my colleagues to do the same.

    Has anyone already started a petition against Science?

  • I assume people realize that I see many of these posts and occasionally choose to respond to them. I appreciate blatnoi's kind words about the Brian Richmond story, but he or she (because blatnoi appears to be anonymous I don't know which) is merely speculating when they say they don' think my termination had to do with this particular story. Although it is true that I have a long history of protesting unfair practices by the AAAS (such as the abrupt and brutal firing of four colleagues in fall 2014) I was not fired for the actions I took then, and did a number of feature stories and many news stories over the more than a year since. The reasons for the termination on March 10 were directly related to the tensions that arose during the preparation of the Brian Richmond story, which reached a crisis on January 15. I have spared my editors, in respect for my long relationship with them, from public revelations about what triggered that crisis, but I can assure you that it was very serious and very specifically related to the preparation of the Richmond story. If AAAS/Science continues to deny this relationship, I will say more about it.

    I am not claiming to be a martyr to women's rights in science, I have just tried to explain what happened. It was complicated, but the basic issues were not.

    btw, hate to have to say this, but when I blog and comment on social media I use my real name and everyone knows who I am and what I am saying. I recommend that to others for the honesty of the discourse.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Btw, hate to have to say this but.....you came to the wrong place to be an asshole about pseudonymous online behavior. I recommend you not go down the very tired road of real namer sniffery.

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