Sexual harassment as research misconduct

Scientific American has issued an editorial bringing attention to the new policy by the American Geophysical Union that redefines scientific research misconduct to include sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct in scientific research: “Science Suffers from Harassment”.

A number of scientific societies have recently issued statements condemning sexual harassment and assault, along with guidelines for ethical behavior among their members. The AGU’s approach is stronger and more direct. It argues that harassment is as egregious as the big scientific sins of data fabrication, falsification and plagiarism. Members found guilty of sexual harassment may thus be banned from presenting at conferences or publishing their research in AGU-run scientific journals, among other consequences that would limit their participation in the field.

Some more perspective on this can be found in a recent post in which I link to the AGU in a broader story: “Link: How scientific societies are moving to combat sexual harassment”.

It seems to me that this kind of redefinition puts much more pressure on coauthors and research collaborators of those who have carried out sexual harassment and assault.

When scientists are found to have been plagiarists, or fabricated data, there are very few circumstances in which they are rehabilitated as valuable coauthors and collaborators to other scientists. In the past, when instances of sexual misconduct have been treated internally and quietly by institutions, those individuals have continued in collaborations and coauthorship, and have continued to present and publish research without any connection between the two.

The AGU has forged a connection, and that has to change the way people operate in collaborations. This will have far-reaching effects.