NAS Considers Expulsion of Two Scientists for Sexual Harassment
NAS Considers Expulsion of Two Scientists for Sexual Harassment

NAS Considers Expulsion of Two Scientists for Sexual Harassment

The National Academy of Sciences is reviewing complaints about astronomer Geoffrey Marcy and geneticist Francisco Ayala, who left their academic positions following investigations at their institutions.

Catherine Offord
Catherine Offord
Apr 14, 2021

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The US National Academy of Sciences is reviewing complaints about two members as part of a process that could ultimately lead to their expulsion, Science reports. 

Astronomer Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, and geneticist Francisco Ayala of UC Irvine had been accused of sexual harassment and left their jobs following investigations into their conduct. Complaints made to the NAS last fall are now being adjudicated, and could lead to the first expulsions under new academy rules designed to handle such complaints.

“We are watching social change happening in front of our eyes,” NAS member Nancy Hopkins, an emeritus biologist at MIT, tells Science. “It has been a long time coming.”

Membership of the NAS used to be lifelong, but the academy changed its bylaws in 2019 to allow people to be expelled for sexual harassment or other forms of misconduct, provided the decision was supported by a two-thirds majority vote by the academy’s Council.

See “National Academy of Sciences Votes To Change Its Bylaws

The complaints to the NAS about Marcy’s and Ayala’s behavior were made last September by François-Xavier Coudert, a computer scientist at CNRS in France who does not know the two personally, according to Science

Marcy was forced to leave UC Berkeley in 2015 after BuzzFeed News published details of the university’s investigation into his conduct. Marcy did not respond to Science’s requests for comment on the NAS review, but has previously apologized for being a “source of distress,” although he contested some of the allegations, according to BuzzFeed

Ayala resigned in 2018 after UC Irvine concluded that he had sexually harassed colleagues and a student. According to the Los Angeles Times, he said in a statement at the time that he regretted that “what I have always thought of as the good manners of a European gentleman—to greet women colleagues warmly, with a kiss to both cheeks, to compliment them on their beauty—made colleagues I respect uncomfortable.” He tells Science this month that he “absolutely” denies the sexual harassment allegations.

See “Geneticist Francisco Ayala Quits After Sexual Harassment Accusations

Coudert also filed complaints about two other NAS members accused of sexual harassment: Sergio Verdú, a researcher in electrical engineering who was terminated from Princeton University in 2018; and cancer researcher Inder Verma, who was placed on leave and subsequently resigned in 2018 from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Both have previously denied the allegations against them.

See “Prominent Salk Institute Scientist Inder Verma Resigns

Reviews of these two cases may have been hindered by the lack of conclusions or documentation, Science reports. Salk kept its investigation about Verma private, for example, while Verdú has filed a lawsuit against Princeton—legal action that has yet to be settled.

NAS president Marcia McNutt tells Science that the new rules and proceedings may also influence who is elected to be a member of the academy in the first place. “The biggest change I have witnessed is how much the members are taking into account the conduct of colleagues before putting them forward for membership,” she says.

Correction (April 16): This story has been updated to note that it’s the Council, not all members, that vote on ejecting individuals from the Academy. The Scientist regrets the error.