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UMD Professor Among 6 to Sign Letter in Magazine
Illustration by Jason Keisling
A University of Maryland researcher is one of the authors of a high-profile plea for stronger policies in the research community to fight sexual, gender and other forms of harassment published today in Science, the journal of the world’s largest scientific organization.
Melissa Kenney, associate research professor with the Earth Science Systems Interdisciplinary Center, joined with six colleagues from other universities to call on the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which has 120,000 members worldwide, to strip honors from scientists found to have engaged in harassment, calling such activity “scientific misconduct.”
“Honoring harassers sends a message to the entire scientific community that a harasser’s individual scientific achievements are considered more valuable than their victims as well as more valuable than the severe, widespread effects of a culture of harassment on the careers, livelihoods, and scientific potential of a much broader population,” the letter says.
The research community has seen a number of high-ranking scientists accused of sexual harassment in recent years, even as the #MeToo scandal has rocked the broader culture with revelations of powerful abusers in the worlds of entertainment, journalism and elsewhere running amok for years.
In the world of science, harassment blocks discovery and learning even as it hurts individuals, Kenney said in an interview yesterday.
“Those who’ve been victims are oftentimes pushed out of scientific careers, and we lose all their potential,” she said. “If I weren’t as stubborn as I am, maybe I would have been one of those people pushed out. But you shouldn’t have to have a certain personality type to be able to participate in science.”
The letter’s first author, Noelle Selin, an associate professor studying atmospheric chemistry modeling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says a broad shift in attitudes is needed.
“There’s this misperception that this is about a few bad apples we can just get rid of, but it’s a broader thing … we’re all implicated to some degree,” she said in an interview. “Maybe we’ve just turned a blind eye when we think harassment might be occurring.”
Kenney and the other authors are fellows of the AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement with Science, charged with leading change within their institutions. The issue of harassment is ripe for leadership that the association can provide, Kenney said. (AAAS has said it’s reviewing revised policies on harassment.)
“We each have our relationship to this issue that is probably unique, whether we’ve helped out students navigating the whisper network, or we’ve been the victim of harassing behavior,” Kenney said. “I find it no longer acceptable for other scientists to have to navigate a climate that doesn’t have all the doors open.”
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