Does the Field of Science Have a Sexual Misconduct Problem?

Several prominent scientists, many affiliated with universities, have faced accusations of sexual assault or misconduct in recent months.

A prominent scientist has reportedly been the subject of multiple sexual misconduct investigations, the latest revelation in a disturbing trend in the field of science.

Brian Richmond, the principal investigator on grants for the National Science Foundation, was investigated on three occasions for sexual misconduct by the American Museum of Natural History, according to theverge.com.

The initial investigation into Richmond’s behavior was sparked by a research assistant’s claim that Richmond had sexually assaulted her as a supervisor at a meeting for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Although the investigation found that Richmond had violated museum policy, it does not appear Richmond was punished. Natural History Museum Title IX Coordinator Daniel Scheiner headed that investigation.

After the research assistant made a second, more public allegation of misconduct, a second investigation into Richmond’s behavior began. The second investigation, led by an attorney for the museum, uncovered allegations that Richmond had groped three undergraduate students at a field school in addition to asking one of them for sex. Now, as the allegations have attracted more scrutiny, a third investigation is underway by an outside firm.

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Richmond is just the latest in a series of prominent scientists who have recently faced allegations of sexual assault or misconduct. Most of the scientists have direct involvement with universities. Richmond’s position with the National Science Foundation meant he was responsible for making funding decisions for research conducted by colleges and universities.

In October, Campus Safety reported on the resignation of an astronomer and professor at the University of California Berkeley following allegations of sexual assault. In that case, undergraduate students alleged Professor Geoffrey Marcy groped and kissed them.

University of Chicago Molecular Biologist Jason Lieb resigned following reports of unwanted sexual advances on several graduate students. Lieb also had sexual contact with a student incapacitated due to alcohol, according to the New York Times.

Christian Ott, an astronomer with California Institute of Technology, was suspended for gender-based harassment in January. Ott, like Richmond, is a principal investigator for the National Science Foundation.

Perhaps more concerning about the spate of misconduct allegations, however, has been the institutional responses. The Museum of Natural History has been criticized for not immediately punishing Richmond. In fact, Richmond was given a positive job evaluation and a raise in June 2015 following the museum’s initial investigation.

Similarly, Ott has been suspended by Caltech but his research activities have not been curtailed in any way, according to sciencemag.org. And on Oct. 12, 2015, members of the University of California Berkeley astronomy department asked the school to “reevaluate” its punishment of Marcy and dismiss him to reflect his violation of the school’s sexual harassment policy, according to Business Insider. The request has thus far not been granted.

About the Author

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Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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