Christie Aschwandenaug, in today’s NYT, wrote an article entitled “Harassment In Science: Replicated.”   She wrote about a new study published last month in the online journal PLOS ONE, which found that two thirds of all female scientists face sexual harassment at their workplace, especially in field work, “often the most dangerous place where female scientists have encountered sexual abuse and harassment.”

Female Trainees Disproportionately Targeted For Abuse

Aschwandenaug wrote that “As an undergraduate student in biology, I spent several weeks in Costa Rica one summer with an older graduate student on a research project deep in the cloud forest.   It was just the two of us, and upon arriving at our site, I discovered that he had arranged a single room for us, one bed.   Mortified but afraid of being labeled prudish or difficult, I made no fuss. I took the lodge owner aside the next day and requested my own bed.   The problem ended there, and my graduate student boss never made any physical advances.  Reflecting back, I’m struck by how ill equipped I was to deal with this kind of situation, especially at 19.”

Tech Times quoted Kate Clancy, an anthropology professor at the University of Illinois who conducted the study:  “Our main findings – that women trainees were disproportionately targeted for abuse and felt they had few avenues to report or resolve these problems – suggest that at least some field sites are not safe, nor inclusive.”

scientists : Young researcher analyzes with a microscope

We worry this is at least one mechanism driving women from science,” said Clancy.


Seemingly Harmless Joking Spiraled Out Of Control

As the Washington Post noted, two years ago a young woman confided in Clancy and told her “about her experience of sexual harassment in the field and her professor who joked that only ‘pretty women’ were allowed work for him.   ‘There were jokes about selling me as a prostitute on the local market,’ the young woman wrote.  The size of her breasts and her sexual history were openly discussed by her professor and her male peers, and daily pornographic photos appeared in her private workspace.   What started out as seemingly harmless joking spiraled out of control, I felt marginalized and under attack, and my work performance suffered as a result.”   See blog post in Scientific American.

“The findings are depressingly similar to the data some colleagues and I collected this year from an online questionnaire sent to science writers. We received responses from 502 writers, mostly women, and presented our results at M.I.T. in June during Solutions Summit 2014: Women in Science Writing, a conference funded by the National Association of Science Writers,”  wrote Aschwandenaug.  “More than half of the female respondents said they weren’t taken seriously because of their gender, one in three had experienced delayed career advancement, and nearly half said they had not received credit for their ideas. Almost half said they had encountered flirtatious or sexual remarks, and one in five had experienced uninvited physical contact.”

Depressing news, but perhaps the beginning of academia taking appropriate compliance and remedial measures, and meting out punishment where due.