National Academies: Policies Must Change to Curb Sexual Harassment

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that despite increased attention on inappropriate behavior, efforts to reduce misconduct have not worked.

By Ashley Yeager | June 12, 2018

ISTOCK, BACKYARD PRODUCTIONUp to half of women in science experience sexual harassment, and the policies to prevent it aren’t working, according to a report released today (June 12) by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

“Despite significant attention in recent years, there is no evidence to suggest that current policies, procedures, and approaches have resulted in a significant reduction in sexual harassment,” the 311-page report states. It offers several detailed recommendations, some focused on changing funding and mentoring in academia, including a shift in advising so that students and less-experienced researchers don’t rely on a single senior scientist for grants and career coaching. Another recommendation was to develop laws so that suits could be filed directly against harassers rather than their employers, and so that those who settle cases cannot keep them confidential from future university employers, The New York Times reports.

The report is a “spectacular and encyclopedic piece of research and writing, and will no doubt serve as the touchstone for research, policy and advocacy in this area for years to come,” Southern Connecticut State University philosophy professor Heidi Lockwood, who advocates for victims of sexual harassment in academia, tells The Washington Post.

There’s a touch of irony with the issuing of the report. The National Academies are among the institutions that have not taken action against their members found guilty of misconduct at their home colleges and universities. Among them is University of California, Berkeley, astronomer Geoff Marcy, who resigned from the school but is still a member of the National Academy of Science, and Columbia University neuroscientist Thomas Jessel, who was fired in March but also still remains and Academy member.

See “Prominent Neuroscientist Fired by Columbia, HHMI

In May, Vanderbilt neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin launched a petition asking the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to revoke the memberships of anyone found guilty of sexual harassment. The Scientist reported at the time that NAS’s response to the petition was that its bylaws do not allow for revocation. For the president of NAS “not to have cleaned house is offensive to me as a woman,” McLaughlin tells The Washington Post. “And it certainly undermines the credibility of the National Academy to implement meaningful change.”

See “Petition Asks National Academy of Sciences to Boot Sexual Harassers

According to Buzzfeed, McNutt says the NAS governing council plans to vote on a proposal to expel members found guilty of sexual harassment at a meeting in August. On the council, 11 of the 17 members are women. If it passes the proposal, the academy’s 2,400 members—mostly men—would then vote on it.

“I feel confident that the NAS will appropriately address the very real problems of sexual harassment, guided by this report. This was our intent all along,” McNutt tells Buzzfeed in an email.

The report found that women of color or LBTQ women suffer more harassment than white, straight women. Women who experience harassment are prone to health issues, including depression and, over time, increased risk for coronary heart disease.

“What victims are really looking for is to get back to work and to have the behavior stop,” University of Illinois anthropologist Kathryn Clancy, who helped write the new report, tells The Washington Post.

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Posts: 6

June 14, 2018

As I wrote in another post:


In the recent months the problem of sexual harassment is starting to become a huge organizational problem too!

Many people (mainly men) that reached high level positions in organizations were accused of sexual harassment and the fact that it is happening in research facilities and organizations too should trigger a small hint in the minds of scientists too (implicit: not only in mine!): if all those experiments that are done on rats and mice and generally on dominant mammals are so well documented, how can those experiments be related with human behavior and mostly with hierarchical structures and personal power in the widest sense in those organizations too?

When I objectively observe from outside the behavior of scientists in my lab (my mind!), I noticed: the first thing is that that they are not aware of being essentially social mammals therefore to have a firmware that needs to structure their relationship in form of hierarchy; second thing I observe is that their environment is really competitive and so just for those with higher levels of testosterone or other forms of implicit ruler pulsions it permits to some individuals not only to dominate but to bring the organization has chosen them, to success; third I observe that they are perfectly aware that testosterone is related to the dominance and in the same time to sexual desire and to the need of satisfying it; fourth I guess that they are aware that in all other social mammals, males consider females surrounding/interacting-with their strict social/familiar environment are a belonging to them and so they feel (note: "feel", not "think") the duty/right of having a fecundation action that in a male is simply expressed with the sexual act! Last not the least: are scientists social mammals? Mammals maybe, social, I have no idea!

They all know all that, yet they do not relate the things together: scientist think they can dominate - being not participant to the reality - brute matter with their minds and experiments! If I could I'll fire them mainly for that insane believing, showing the lack of scientific observation!

I have no answer on how to solve the question but I was in the same time asking myself: firing them for something that is not related with their skills in managing and ruling the scientific competition - mostly considering that competition Vs worldwide competitors located maybe in country where all those problems are for sure set down as marginal - doesn't weaken the general capacity of competing hardly, pushing ahead all those structures? Rationalism is a fantastic lie that scientists tell themselves to think that they can dominate the reality which in turn shows how powerful is, menacing everyday what we think is our capacity to dominate our future; and they remained astonished when that menace becomes act! Finally I guess that testosterone is strongly related to the exploration and tendency to move forward toward unknown areas! Is that for any reason related to scientific research and possible qualities? That is the reality folks! Not an insane rational and conventional model!

Never heard about today's solutions will be our tomorrow's problems (Systems thinking: fifth discipline)?

I guess that all you have to get out of it but in a very different way than to fire those peoples or such research structures will become marginal very soon!

My comment is just a hint/provocation/paradox to open an important discussion on how to solve and prevent the risk of misleading/dysfunctional fast solutions of firing in sexual involvement in hierarchies in research institutions: is not at all a defense of sexual harassment and I do not forget victims of it!

Waiting for strong yet useless reactions: it is not possible to cancel a problem because it should not exit/be like that!

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