Why Are So Many Scientists Harassing Their Students?
In the past few months, there have been four separate cases of high-profile scientists accused of harassment, a first-person account of harassment published in the science journal Nature, and multiple cries for greater awareness and reform. There have also been a handful of alarming studies and surveys published in the last few months and years, outlining the extent of the problem.
Late last year, preliminary results from a survey by the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy found 82 percent of respondents (men and women) had heard sexist comments on the job, while 57 percent said they had been personally harassed—9 percent physically so. A survey published in PLOS One in 2014 found 64 percent of science researcher respondents (77 percent of whom were female) said they had experienced sexual harassment during field research and more than 20 percent said they had experienced sexual assault. And all you have to do is talk to women who have worked in the field for some time to collect more evidence of a systemic problem.
Doubtless a problem, but a bit of caution goes a long way here: The distance between sexist comments (= oops, yer trotters is showin’ again, bud) and physical assault is—and should always be seen as—vast.
I (O’Leary for News) speak here as a woman who has dealt with both, so watching this “climate of concern” unfold is not academic for me.
There is a risk that productive research facilities will be bogged down in trivia about people feeling “offended” or worse, witch hunts. In the real global world, there is no single standard for “offense,” but assault is the same everywhere one goes. Either the activists focus on the serious issues, or it will all degenerate into a poisonous farce, of benefit only to people who make a living off such things.
So why are more cases starting to come to light now? Williams offered a few suggestions. For starters, the fields are growing more diverse, which naturally will start to shake up the culture. There has also been more focus paid to the issue of sexual harassment and assault at post-secondary institutions in general at a national level and at the campus level, Williams said. The Clery Act amendments in 2014, for example, tightened federal requirements for universities to report and prevent sexual assault on students, while students themselves have been raising greater awareness to rape culture on campus. More.
Ah yes, a case in point: Many claims about the rape culture on campus were just that, claims. As Rolling Stone learned to its cost recently. Apart from any other damage done, the fact remains that women are at greatest risk of abuse if they are poor uneducated, and live under oppressive regimes, not if they are middle class, educated, and live in free societies that support women’s rights and research facilities. Let’s go for justice and equality, but keep things in perspective.
See also: Landmark: Nonreplicated research openly identified