Leadership

Following Sexual Harassment Scandal, Science Moves Forward

In the weeks after a high-profile scandal led to the resignation of a prominent astronomer at the the University of California-Berkeley, scientific groups have reinforced their approach to fighting sexual harassment.

In the weeks after a high-profile scandal led to the resignation of a prominent astronomer at the the University of California-Berkeley, scientific groups have reinforced their approach to fighting sexual harassment.

Last month’s revelation that a famous astronomer had violated sexual harassment policies at his university continues to reverberate throughout the scientific world.

Since a Buzzfeed story drew attention to the University of California-Berkeley’s investigation of Geoff Marcy, a tenured professor whose work in discovering exoplanets was overshadowed by claims of sexual harassment, associations within the scientific community have redoubled their focus on sexual harassment policies.

(Marcy has since resigned from UC-Berkeley.)

Although the American Astronomical Society (AAS), a group from which Marcy once received a prestigious award, has been out front on this issue, other groups also have taken the opportunity to prove that they’re taking it seriously.

Among them is the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, which last week endorsed a statement that offered its members best practices on how to handle sexual harassment within the scope of AAPA’s leadership structure.

“The AAPA believes that it is the responsibility of each member of our organization to create safe spaces free of discrimination or harassment,” the document states [PDF]. “There are clear steps that we can take to help to foster a supportive and safe professional community, in person, in the field, at meetings and online.”

(AAS, meanwhile, launched an anti-harassment policy of its own back in 2008, according to Nature.)

But the challenges that the scientific world faces on this issue are said to be widespread. Earlier this month, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) criticized the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for its treatment of sexism issues in its magazine Science. In particular, she brought up a widely criticized career-advice column in which biologist Dr. Alice S. Huang recommended to a young scientist that she “put up with” leering looks from an older superior.

“At the beginning of the 21st century, while we are exploring the solar system, unlocking the human genome and creating ever more advanced technology, the demographics and attitudes of scientists and engineers must not be trapped in the 19th century,” Speier wrote in her San Francisco Chronicle op-ed. “Women and minorities in science should be able to concentrate on discovery, not on avoiding harassment and defending their very existence in their fields.”

Earlier this month, AAAS President Geraldine Richmond responded to the congresswoman’s ongoing criticism, noting that the organization had created a code-of-conduct policy for its annual meeting and had done a deeper analysis of the gender representation shown in Science. But Richmond admitted that AAAS has much work to do to improve the situation throughout the scientific community.

“We remain committed to building upon our lengthy history of inclusiveness by providing broader leadership to empower women in STEM fields,” Richmond wrote in her letter [PDF].

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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