NIH Vows to Do Better in Countering Sexual Harassment
NIH Vows to Do Better in Countering Sexual Harassment

NIH Vows to Do Better in Countering Sexual Harassment

The agency gives an accounting of grantees and staffers penalized for their behavior last year.

Feb 28, 2019
Shawna Williams

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Leaders of the National Institutes of Health are “concerned that NIH has been part of the problem” of sexual harassment in science, and are “determined to become part of the solution,” they write in a statement released today (February 28). While the document does not detail any policy changes on the part of the US’s largest funder of biomedical research, it lays out steps the NIH is taking to counter harassment, and makes public the numbers of grantees and NIH staff members who were investigated and penalized in 2018.

“To all those who have endured these experiences, we are sorry that it has taken so long to acknowledge and address the climate and culture that has caused such harm,” writes NIH Director Francis Collins on Twitter.

According to the statement, in 2018 NIH replaced 14 principal investigators on grants due to “sexual harassment-related concerns,” and removed the same number of people from its peer-review groups for grant proposals. It also investigated 35 NIH staff members for “allegations of a sexual nature,” and took formal or informal disciplinary measures against 20 of them (some cases are still under review).

NIH has also convened a working group to make recommendations, due in June, toward ending sexual harassment. It expects to clarify guidance to institutions about reporting when NIH grantees are unable to conduct research because they are under investigation or are being disciplined for sexual harassment, and to create confidential channels for reporting “concerns that sexual harassment is affecting NIH-funded research.” 

“This is a good day for so many women and men in science. But mostly its a great day for our trainees to see truth to power works,” tweets BethAnn McLaughlin, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University who has pressured NIH and other institutions to act decisively against sexual harassers.