Yesterday, the U.S. Congress conducted a hearing on the topic of sexual harassment in science. Anthropologist Kate Clancy provided testimony at the hearing, and she has now shared her spoken remarks on her blog: “Transcript of my oral testimony from February 27th Congressional hearing on sexual misconduct in the sciences”.
Everyone should read her full remarks. I will quote a section that resonates with me:
We say that asking a nasty question at a colloquium is how we push people to be better scientists. We say when we see an all-male research team that it must just be that the best scientists for the job were all men....
Too often I’ve heard that harassment and bad behavior are the price we must pay for star scientists. But are they really doing star science? When I’m writing my papers or analyzing my data on sexual harassment in the sciences, I’m thinking of the victims and the science we’ve lost. We lost their ideas, we lost their perspectives. We scientists do this work because we want to give the best of ourselves to the advancement of science. Women keep trying to give us their best, and we blow ash in their faces and push them down mountains.
The last sentence is a reference to alleged behavior by Antarctic researcher David Marchant.
Wired magazine also has coverage of the congressional hearing: “Congress takes on sexual harassment in the sciences”.
STAT news has a very good interview with Clancy from the lead-up to the hearing: “Sexual harassment pervades science. This scientist is talking to Congress about how to change that”. One of the most powerful points she makes is that employers, including universities, select online training programs which they know are ineffective, because Title IX requires training but does not rely upon data about effectiveness.
Sexual harassment training itself is a great example. There are so many papers that show that the type of sexual harassment training that most universities offer, which is often online with really extreme examples, can backfire. That they reinforce gendered beliefs, that they develop resentment, that they increase the risk of retaliation. At best, what they do is increase the knowledge base of the people taking them so they know what the worst types of sexual harassment are. But it doesn’t ever seem to change the climate.
My perception is that the climate is changing. Many researchers have committed to be inclusive when they build scientific projects, and use their leadership to create healthy workplaces and field situations.