Tag Archives | Kathy Barker

Censorship and denial in the March for Science

The March for Science may herald a new activism on the part of scientists, and that is tremendous. People are marching for a variety of reasons (for science, for funding and their jobs, against Trump, for more inclusion of scientists in the political process, to demonstrate a love for science, to change the culture of science away from sexism and racism, etc), and are not marching for a smaller variety of reasons (science shouldn’t be political, marching will send the wrong message and alienate people, scientists are partnering with the wrong people), all of which is typical of the beginning of a movement.

(Some of the many articles about the March for Science are curated at the end of the article, in categories according to approval or disapproval of the march and of activism among scientists.)

One of the most encouraging aspects of the march is that many of the organizers and participants are non-scientists who cherish the wonders of science. A world in which science is integrated with the humanities, social sciences, and other creative pursuits sounds pretty wonderful, and the partnerships being made through the march can bring new understanding and potential into all our endeavors.

But somehow, what the march isn’t is troubling. It isn’t honest. It rebrands itself constantly, to retain the good graces of…hard to say what- the public?

Shouldn’t scientists be more honest about their culture and enterprise to be sure the trust they are requesting from the public is earned? Shouldn’t discussions of the march be deep and provocative and brutally honest?

Instead, there is quiet, disapproval, censorship, in contradiction to the march motto, “Science, not silence.”

The D.C. March organizers deleted tweets about the massive bomb in Afghanistan, chemical weapons, and scientist involvement in weapons. Mention of that disappeared everywhere but in the right- wing press, where it was heralded as a typical anti- patriot left-wing statement, and is still getting air time a week later  (Here is a link to a April 19 National Review article.). This deletion is straight-forward censorship. Diversity may, shamefully, be controversial as a topic, but war is forbidden.

March organizers are deciding what is political, and what isn’t. We mustn’t offend anyone! Don’t mention conflicts of interest, weapons research, the harsh penalties for environmental activism or whistleblowing, the pervasive influence of sexism and racism on individuals and kind of science done…. Instead, the march is a pep rally, a Super Bowl extravaganza, an orchestrated national political convention. A look at the National Review article linked in the above paragraph suggests how effective tip-toeing around is in trying to change minds.

Nature just published a quick summary of the march, attributing the initial enthusiasm to post-Trump anger and fear, and then describing the insistence of organizers and supporters that the march is not political.

This decision to placate Republican politicians may be more than inexperience, or cowardice.

It might also be that scientists have great power in the United States, and they don’t want to perturb that power. While individuals are disposable, science in integrally associated with the military, with the government and regulatory agencies, with academia and with corporations. Perhaps they don’t want to challenge the status quo too much. A good summary of the funding for science that influences research can be found in the SGR statement for the March of Science issued by the UK Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), which supports the march but calls for scientists to stand up for society.

Perhaps the majority make-up of the march -white, educated, perhaps mostly liberal- is not yet ready to be straightforward or to make sacrifices needed for real change in science and for science, for all (if, indeed, that is what they even want). A reminder from friend Jesse White pointed me to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham jail”  which King addressed to clergyman who objected to his activist stance.

It seems the March for Science is accepting a negative peace, not yet ready to spend their social capital. But individuals will march for what they believe, and may be able to leverage this opportunity to use science to better the world.

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Support the march.

The Editors of a Major Scientific Publication Are Urging Readers to Attend the March for Science.” April 12, 2017. Time magazine write Charlotte Alter slightly implies it is okay to march as Nature says it is okay.

What Exactly are People Marching for When They March for Science? March 7, 2017. Science writer Ed Long for The Atlantic. There is confusion because of multiple goals of the march, but that’s okay.

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse. April 11, 2017. Applied sociologist and blogger Zuleyka Zevallos. People either approved or disapproved of discussion of diversity in science- interesting discussion why! March will be good to develop these issues.

I’m going to #sciencemarch in Washington. Here’s why. January 30, 2017. Scientist Sara Whitlock in STAT. Straightforward reasons for herself- marching against Trump-targetted scientists and policies, marching for open access to science and data.

Is #ScienceMarch Really Against Science? January 30, 2017. Medical and academic book editor Laurie Endicott Thomas, on her blog Not Trivial. As opposed to Steven Pinker, she emphasizes the use of science for bad purposes (each as war and genocide), and that scientists have often been complicit in racial and gender-bases oppression, and believes the march is a great way to stand against Trump, bad science, sexism and racism.

Q&Q: Marching for Science in Memphis: A conversation with activist and undergraduate student Sydney Bryant. March 22, 2017. Marine Biology student Sydney Bryant wants to bridge the gap between scientists, activists, and non-scientists. Celebrates connection of science with social justice.

Marchers around the World Tell Us Why They Are Taking to The Streets for science. April 13, 2017. By the Science News Staff. Scientists have a variety of reasons why they are marching: Egage public opinion, agitate vs Trump’s policies, protecting science from attack.

Putting Science into Practice: Why We Need To Play Our Part. March 8, 2017. Environmental sociologist Angie Carter for Union of Concerned Scientists.

Reasons to march for science in Seattle. Or not. April 17, 2017. David Hyde for KUOW, Seattle. Though several scientists give their reservations, more coverage is given to those who don’t mind that the march may appear to be political.

Science March: Above Politics? or Partisan for Humanity? April 18, 2017. Refuse Racism website. Defense of science should be non-partisan but should be political, and that is fine.

Scientists and Activists Look Beyond the March for Science. April 17, 2017. Nicholas St. Fleur for the New York Times. In looking toward the time post march, and how activism will continue, the article is very pro-march. Politics and diversity are worthwhile issues for science, and the march is likely to encourage more scientists to enter politics.

Should Scientists Engage in Activism? March 26, 2017. Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, for  theConversation.com. The answer is yes. Pinker and Young are the unbelievable antagonists in this story: Many other scientists give good reasons to mix politics and science.

The March for Science is Political, and That’s a Good Thing. February 25, 2017. Miriam Kramer for Mashable. Science is and always was political. And to save it, you gotta be political now.

We Are the Scientists Against a Fascist Government. February 2, 2017. Scientists Chanda Pressed-Weinstein, Sarah Tuttle, and Joseph Osmundson in The Establishment. Very strong statement about failures of scientists to stand up against oppression, and the need to do so now.

When I March for Science, I’ll March for Equity, Inclusion, and Access. March 22, 2017. Gretchen Goldman, Center for Science and Democracy at Union of Concerned Scientists. Science is driven by values and politics, and hasn’t always been used for good. March for diversity and inclusion.

Why are Scientists So Averse to Public Engagement? It’s time to confront our demons. March 8, 2017. March 8, 2017. Climate science ph.D. student Ply Achakulwisut on the Scientific American blog. Anti-science forces were in play before Trump, and scientists feared losing their credibility by speaking up. March for Science is one of the hopeful signs that scientists are finally pushing themselves.

Support the march with qualifications

To March for Science, D.C. Satellite Marches in US and Around the World. April 18, 2017. Indigenous Scientists support the march, but urges acknowledgement of the contributions of indigenous scientists, and acceptance of multiple kinds of science and ways of knowing.

An Open Letter to the Center for Biological Diversity-re: March for Science. March 17, 2017. Stephan Neidenbach, middle school teacher posted to The Medium. Neidenback was worried when anti-GMO group Center for Biological Diversity was announced as a partner in March, but feels better because Cornell Alliance for Science partnership with the march was also announced.

March shouldn’t be political

Science march planners, here’s some unsolicited advice. January 27, 2017.  Science writer Jeffrey Mervis relies heavily on opinion of physics professor Michael Lobell, who was also head of the D.C. office of the American Physical Society until he pledged to work with Trump and society members objected and says to make it a march about science, not scientists.

The Science of Science Advocacy: Should researchers advocate for the inclusion of science in public policymaking? March 5, 2017. Joshua A. Krisch editor at The Scientist.  No, they shouldn’t = the bottom line.

Opinion: Let’s march to stress the value of science for the public good, not to engage in partisan politics. March 24, 2017. Catherine Rudder for Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.  Scientific method minimizes intrusion of politics and partisanship?!

Will a March Hurt Science?  As scientists and science advocates plan demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and around the world, some question the ability of such activism to enact change.  February 2, 2017. Diana Kwon for The Scientist. February 2, 2017.

Do not support the march.

A Scientists’ March on Washington is a Bad Idea. January 31, 2017. Scientist Robert Young said march would trivialize and politicize the science.

Why I Won’t Be Participating in the March for Science. March 19, 2017.  The Mad Virologist blog. The march is disorganized, co-opted by believers in pseudo-science, and I don’t want to give them any credibility. I believe in speaking out, but I won’t go.

March for Science: How Democracy Kills Expertise. March 20, 2017. Alex Berezow for American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Corporate ACSH pats itself on the back for being an early hater of the march and lover of privately -funded research  and repeats idea that the march is political and unscientific with its support of social issues.

March for Science: Why scientists say this isn’t a political protest. February 3, 2017.  The Christian Science Monitor staff writer Ellen Powell. Federal scientists don’t support, others do.

March for ‘Science’ Say We Shouldn’t Bomb Isis…Because They’re “Marginalized”!? April 14, 2017, in response to March for Science tweet about bombing Afghanistan. Proud white idiot male Steven Crowder’s blog, anti-muslim, anti-feminist, etc etc.

March for Science blows it again: defends ISIS as “marginalized people.” 4/14, 2017 Scientist Jerry Coyne’s website Evolution is True. (for records of those tweets. See also Jerry Coyne’s “about” Coyne seems to dislike any mixing of social interests and science.

Do not support the march, with qualifications

Scientists’ march on Washington is a bad idea- here’s why. March 8, 2017.  Andrea Saltelli from the Centro for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities in The Conversation uses logic of scientist and philosopher Micheal Polanyi to say in presenting a united front, scientists are being dishonest and should clean up its own house .” Trump is not science’s main problem today- science is.”

NPR style of false equivalence.

Is the March for Science Bad for Scientists? March 1, 2017. Emily Atkin, staff writer at New Republic. Quotes scientist Jerry Coyne “Science cannot adjudicate issues of morality” and science writer Miriam Kramer, who “called ‘bullshit on the notion that scientists should avoid political action.”’

March for Science: Why scientists say this isn’t a political protest. February 3, 2017.  The Christian Science Monitor staff writer Ellen Powell. Federal scientists don’t support, others do.

The March for Science: Why Some Are Going, and Some Will Sit Out. April 17, 2017.  NY Times writer Michael Roston. Some like politics, some don’t. Some what to address diversity issues, some don’t. Some want to debate the public role of science. Others don’t.

Marching for Science: Effort gains backers and appears to build momentum, but some scientists worry that political fallout may not be what organizers want. March 8, 2017. Andrew Kreighbaum, federal policy reporter for Inside Higher Ed. Scientists should communicate with politicians, but not too much. Coyne and Young vs Rush Holt.

Don’t think scientists should be activists

Crossing the Imaginary Line. September 2, 2016. David Sediak, Chemist and Editor-in-chief of Environmental Science and Technology. Bottom line: could lose social support and financial backing.

Thinks scientists should be activists

Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public- but not if it threatens our funding?  October 10, 2016. Marc A. Edwards, Amy Pruden, Siddhartha Roy, and William J. Rhoads in Flint Water Study Updates. Unapologetic argument for engineers to speak out when people’s lives are threatened. Response to Sediak.

We Need Decolonial Scientists. November 10, 2016  Sociologist and Biological Anthropologist, Shay Akil Mclean. Scientists have been silent too long. Speak out on out structural and political problems!

Beyond the march

Opinion: Scientists Must Think Beyond Science: If we are to defend science, we must stand together with the other truth-tellers, including our non-scientist colleagues.  March 23, 2017. Evolutionary biologist Jon F. Wilkins, in The Scientist. Our defense of science should extend beyond ourselves.

 

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Scientists: Stay Quiet or Speak Up? post by Allison Lee

Scientists: Stay Quiet or Speak Up?

Scientists should not be ‘advocates’ or ‘activists’.

I’ve heard this argument over and over in the last couple of years, and more strongly since the elections and recent organization of the March for Science scheduled for April 22, 2017.

The discussion first came to my awareness back in January 2015, when I attended an Association for Women in Science (AWIS) panel called “Social Media and Activism in Science”.  The general feeling was that if you wanted to speak up, be careful about what you say. I was particularly inspired by Kathy Barker, author of At the Bench and At the Helm. She is an advocate for scientists being advocates.

During my 2016 summer graduate ethics course, we discussed that scientists, if they advocate or speak outside their scientific field, should make sure they explicitly state they are wearing different hats and sharing their opinions as “informed citizens”.

The conversation came up again in October during a panel at the inaugural celebration of California Leatherback Day hosted by NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. One speaker adamantly stated that  scientists should not be advocates in any way to which one audience member publicly disagreed bringing up the point that scientists are the most informed and should be able to speak about what they know.

Then again, as tensions continued to stir amongst the scientific community with the new presidential administration disregard for science  (TimeThe Washington Post, The New York TimesThe GuardianScientific AmericanSnopes), scientists banded together to organize a march much like the Women’s March on Washington.

“The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.” ~March for Science 

I watched as my science friends circulated news of the march over Facebook.  Some shared confidently, others apprehensively. The reactions ranged, airing a plethora of concerns: from “A march will mischaracterize science”, “It will make science a political protest”, “A march will undermine [scientists] credibility”, to “Its a great thing”, “Shows solidarity”, “This will encourage the scientific community to publicly rally together”, “Science cannot be silenced”. Robert Young of the New York Times even wrote a widely circulated piece on why the march is a bad idea voicing his concerns and alternate suggestions for what scientists can do in the community.  In a Science article, Jeffrey Mervis shared Some Unsolicited Advice to the science march planners.

The whole time, I kept wondering: Why not? Why shouldn’t scientists speak up? And more importantly, I thought: WHO wants us to be silent? Our colleagues, the public, policy makers?

As a young researcher, with no credibility yet gained, figuring out how best to proceed on this facet of my career is a high priority for me.

In my reading of the freely available document On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, I hadn’t come across any mention to keep quiet. On the contrary, the guide addresses this issue in the section titled, The Researcher in Society (see page 48; for copyright reasons I cannot reprint any text without charge, and since I’m a poor grad student, I’ll just paraphrase.).  Scientists have a responsibility to share their knowledge with society. Researchers CAN assume different roles in public discussions and provide expert opinion and advice; they have a right to express their views and to work for social change. The guide even acknowledges the concern that colleagues and members of the public may perceive scientists-gone-advocate as a biased individual, but this perception should not come at the expense of objectivity in the scientist’s work.

In my opinion, scientists have devoted their lives to studying certain issues in their field. Their ideas are scrutinized by peer-review and the scientific collective. As professionals and the most “informed citizens” on the issue, aren’t they the bestgroup of people TO be speaking up about what they know?

This might also strike a chord with me personally because I am a naturally shy person. Speaking up has been something I’ve worked on since the awkward stage of middle school.  It’s also reminiscent of the time when I was learning to speak French and we were told the French are very particular about their language and do not like it butchered. The first time I ever traveled to France I was so paranoid I would mess up the accent that I didn’t speak for the first couple of days. Then I realized, many travelers were visiting France doing their best to communicate, botching the language left and right, and guess what? No one died, no one got beat up, people were talking! So I started talking too.  I had fun interacting with Francophones, and I got better at it over time. As an adult, the idea of “someone” now saying I should be quiet on certain issues, to not ruffle feathers, for fear of being misinterpreted, actually feels like a threat to my own growth as a communicative human. The more we take opportunitites to practice sharing our ideas with a general audience, the better we will get at it over time.

Going back to the issue of scientists being ‘advocates’ if they speak up, I finally gained clarity on where I stand on the matter after hearing speakers at two public events:

On February 18th 2017, the Union of Concerned Scientists held a panel at the AAAS – The American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting titled Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of TrumpThe general consensus was that we should come together, stand up and speak up.

And most recently, I attended a very insightful public lecture by Naomi Oreskes on March 14th, 2017. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography Master of Advanced Studies in Climate Science and Policy (MAS-CSP) program  invited her to speak on “The Scientist as a Sentinel”.

Dr. Oreskes speaking at TED (Image credit: TED)

Naomi Oreskes is a historian of science, a Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. She is also well known for co-authoring Merchants of Doubt,  a book that was required reading during our summer course.

I was excited to hear in person her elaboration of the invitation teaser:

“Scientists are often reluctant to speak in public on contested issues, for fear that this will “politicize” their science and have a negative impact on their credibility. During the lecture, Dr. Oreskes will examine these concerns by exploring historical examples of scientists who have spoken up on scientific issues of broad importance, including nuclear weaponry, ozone depletion, and climate change.”

The talk was solidifying for me. The biggest take-away I jotted down addressed the following:

“Scientists will lose credibility. If we speak up we’ll be viewed as activists or advocates.” 

She reminded us that this is not a modern issue.

Scientists throughout history have dealt with their work being silenced and the need to speak out. Traditional thought has held that ‘facts speak for themselves’. If scientists just put the facts out there, all will be good.

But the catch is, they don’t. #AlternativeFacts

As a historian, Dr. Oreskes looked at many individuals who were well respected in science, and who became strong public figures.  In no historical cases did speaking out undermine their credibility, and no nobel prizes were revoked. In fact, she deduced that scientists weren’t targets because they spoke out. They became targets because of the great implications of the work they were doing (theory of evolution, nuclear weaponry, ozone hole depletion, atmospheric CO2, etc.), which then drew them to speak publicly exactly because their work was being attacked.

Instead of two extremes: keeping quiet, or being so outspoken you get arrested, she argued for a Responsible Scientists Ideal, urging that we as knowledgable professionals have an obligation to speak up and advocate for specific policies that control matters which threaten human health and life on this planet.

And while we cannot specifically answer questions outside of our field of expertise, we can forge collaborations with experts who are able to address policy, economic, and social questions.  She encouraged us that it is OK to do some extra homework and look into what experts of those fields are saying; to offer some potential solutions to our human-caused problems. If we come across situations where facts are totally disregarded, like with the denial of climate change, we can flip the argument and instead talk about values. About losing freedoms, fairness, accountability, realism, leadership in advanced technology, and good ole hard work.

I want to echo what Naomi shared with us:

The facts don’t speak for themselves. Someone has to speak up for them…and that is us, [the scientific community].

I would love to know what discussions you’ve had about this topic and how you’ve approached the argument ‘To speak, or not to speak’.

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Communication with community activists: class matters

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Whether applying to a foundation for a grant, or working with local environmental activists on a gas leak, you will need to be able to speak with a variety of people- and they won’t all appreciate your emphasis on data and agendas. And if your work outside the lab involves solidarity with people from a variety of walks of life, you will need to be aware of class differences in your behavior and communication if you want to be effective.

With a deep belief in the meritocracy of academia, and perhaps a belief in the commonly taught narrative of the USA is that there are no class divisions and that the founders came to avoid such class divisions, many scientists feel that a consideration of class (or race) is not necessary, that everyone regardless of background is on equal footing with everyone else. In a community setting, you may feel completely comfortable with everyone there- but that doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable with you.

For those who want to understand class issues, “Class Matters: Cross-class Alliance Building for Middle-class Activists” authored by sociologist and economic justice activist Betsy Leondar-Wright (2nd edition in 2014) is an amazing resource.

The Table of Contents (below) shows the comprehensiveness and detail of the book. From vocabulary to the race/class intersection to meeting behavior and on, “Class Matters” will help not just with your communication, but with your understanding of the world beyond the bench.

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Scientists may find immediately relatable  insights in “An Interview with Barbara Ehrenreich” in the “Obstacles to Alliances” chapter. Barbara Ehrenreich is an author and political activist, and her books have been instrumental in understanding the impact of poverty in the USA. She has a Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Immunology from Rockefeller University , where she was Zan Cohn’s first student.

Ehrenreich discusses the effect of the professional middle class (and scientists would fit right in there) ethos, and the deferred gratification and workaholism that is common among academics. Not everyone, though, has the luxury of believing in delayed gratification, and may look upon those struggling as undisciplined. Most truly believe that because they struggled through school, everyone could do the same thing, not realizing the advantages and privileges that gave them this ethic.

The academic mindset will even influence scientists’ expectations of meetings. Agendas, plenary speakers, and break-out sessions are not always the venue of choice, and and often not useful for a meeting designed to instill camaraderie, for example. There will be meetings without experts, which may seem rudderless to those used to academic conferences.

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Last tips- Don’t assume people are different than you, don’t assume they are the same. Don’t hide your class or be ashamed of it. Remember that you aren’t in charge and that there are many, many kinds of expertise. Don’t take hostility personally.

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Tim Hunt and Alice Huang: Power, sex, and business as usual.

 

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So a Nobel Prize winner goes to the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, and says at lunch:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.” 

and added that he was “in favour of single-sex labs” but “doesn’t want to stand in the way of women.” He also described himself as a chauvinist pig .

Tim Hunt was forced to resign from his honorary post at University College London after a world-wide storm of publicity.

8 Nobel Prize winners and the mayor of London  came to his defense, several saying that the firing of Hunt was a blow against academic freedom. Sir Andre Geim, who shared the Nobel with Hunt, said that Hunt had been crucified by ideological fanatics.

Idealogical fanatics? Right, that equality issue is so far out there that only a fanatic would defend it.

Hunt’s self-serving defense suggested he knew was trying in his way to be honest but spoke too lightly, felt badly, but he gave no indication that he understood why people were bothered.

“I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that people – I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.”

It is true that people fall in love in the lab. Hunt met his wife, Mary Collins, when he supervised her at Cambridge. Scientists meet scientists in labs, but when one is the boss, and male, there is not likely to be a level playing field.

The Hunt debacle followed by only a few weeks another media firestorm, centered around Alice Huang. Huang, who served in many scientific and administrative positions, writes a column for Science Careers. A postdoc wrote to ask advice about her advisor, who continually tried to look down her shirt. Huang answered with a little riff about how good it is that there are people of the opposite sex in labs, and that the behavior of the advisor was common but did not rise to the definition of sexual harassment.

Huang then advised the postdoc to take it with good humor, to be sure her advisor listened to her ideas and her science, and ended by saying, “His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on on your science and his best advice.”

Yes, she does, but this sounds a lot like “put up and shut up,” a real disappointment in view of Huang’s usual strong positions in favor of gender equality in the lab. And while there was a fuss and so many complaints that Science removed the article , the level of discontent came nowhere reaching the magnitude of the reaction that Hunt’s remarks did. Much of the anger seemed to be directed against AAAS and Science for removing the article.

Huang apologized for putting AAAS and Science in the firing line, and said she was trying, in view of all the harassment she had seen, to give a realistic response. She said she intends to take reader’s comments and write another column.

What were Hunt and Huang thinking, to say what they said? Did they think it was okay?

Perhaps Hunt was thinking…Look, love in the lab is tough on everyone. I myself didn’t deal well with it, and didn’t always deal well with women. They caused me inconvenience. It may have cost them more than that, and that isn’t fair. (But he didn’t say that.)

Maybe Huang was thinking….Look, it is absolutely wrong that your advisor is staring at your chest. But frankly, there isn’t much you can do that isn’t going to put you in a worse position if you complain. It isn’t right, and we need to find a way to deal with situations that seem petty but could change someone’s career. (But she didn’t say that.)

Huang’s and Hunt’s remarks show the still-present sexism and the penalty women pay to be in the lab. But I think Huang’s remark, though better-intentioned and less-selfish, caused much more harm. It seems to be an admission of hopelessness.

That postdoc should be able to say- with the humor Huang recommends- Hey, please stop looking at my breasts. And the advisor should be able to say- Gosh, I am sorry, that is so rude! It won’t happen again! So, let’s look at those results…..and he would never mention it again, or act resentful, or withdraw, or be passive-aggressive. Or look at her chest.

The most likely thing that would happen if the postdoc speaks up is that the advisor makes the atmosphere so uncomfortable that the postdoc must seek another work situation. If she wants to remain in the lab and wants a good recommendation, she has to keep her mouth shut.

There are no structures in academia that do not bow to power, usually male. That is what Huang should have mentioned. This needs to be changed. Lab heads in power probably could use some emotional and social counseling. 

Huang also met her husband, Nobel-prize winning David Baltimore, through research, and he was her supervisor at the Salk and at MIT. Did this make for an even playing field for others in the lab? If not, would there be a way to quietly seek justice? Will it remain that the person with the lesser power will always have to move labs or projects or universities?

Both Hunt’s and Huang’s remarks indicate the reality of what many lab heads  feel about their female lab members. But Huang’s remarks, with her advice that will keep the good old boy system in place, is much more harmful. I hope she dedicates a column to heads of labs.

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So, what can one do, for oneself, and to change the culture so people can talk more openly about sexism and power and the sometimes abuse of human and always present sexual attraction?

Know who you are and what your boundaries are. Know the implications of breaking those boundaries, no matter what your position. To those in creative careers, even the concept of boundaries is anathema, but without universal self-awareness and openness, boundary-breaking ends up getting handled by policy and regulation. Human Resource (HR) representatives are the usual mediators. But don’t substitute mediation for being thoughtful and clear about your own actions.

If you are in theposition of the postdoc who wrote to Huang, go talk to your Human Resources rep. Abuse of power, as all abuse, thrives in secrecy. It could be that the particular chest-gazer has already generated complaints, and you will be validated, and won’t be questioning your sanity for being troubled by what everyone is telling you is a minor issue.

It is also good to get another opinion, see what another person’s reaction would be, and to find whether  HR and your institution will back you up.

Your goal, presumably, is to have a solid professional relationship with your advisor. HR can help guide you through a conversation that is direct, calm, and still non-confrontational.

(Of course, if there is blatant harassment and you have reason to worry that your position in that lab is in jeopardy, document even before you go to HR.)

Keeping silent about something that is wrong will sap your confidence in science as well as the rest of your personal life.

If you are the advisor, and a postdoc comes to you with a complaint, listen. Really listen. Avoid an emotional reaction- you might not even have known you did/do anything. Apologize. You might not be ready to apologize for something you don’t think you did, yet an apology with reservations is no apology at all: try something such as “I am shocked to hear that, and I will make sure I am always careful not to compromise our professional relationship.”

You, too, as a lab head, should go to HR and report on that conversation, and whether or not you feel it is justified.

Sexual attraction is part of life and lab, but you are abusing your position when you mix that with the power advantage you have.

As the person in power, you can simply not engage if one of your advisees crosses a boundary. Speak to HR for advice before a conversation.

And if you are the HR rep, or chairperson, or dean, who is handed the problem, face it as you would face a charge of racism. There are various cultural reasons why someone might be sensitized to even a look from a supervisor: there are certainly embedded cultural reasons why some folks will not believe it matters. Even small happenings deserve your input- and don’t let someone’s Nobel Prize get in the way of having a difficult conversation.

Update: A Buzzfeed article reported on a letter to Science and AAAS, written by Aradhna Tripoli and Jennifer Glass, and signed by 600 academics. The letter detailed 4 issues with Science: Huang’s column, above; a Science cover and its implied assumptions of HIV transmission among transgendered people, prostitutes, and people of color; ScienceCareer editor Jim Austin’s dismissive tweet about scientists upset about the Science cover, and an article by a scientist at the University of Toronto and his casual mention that he did well because his wife assumed domestic duties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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