When it comes to exploring the Universe, many young people get literally starry-eyed at the prospect. The cosmic story of what the Universe is, how it works, where it came from, what its fate is, and how it got to be this way, is a story we all have in common. Millions of children grow up wanting to be scientists; millions still pursue this dream in college and beyond. While some choose other fields or avenues for a variety of reasons, a great many people — particularly women and people of color — leave the field directly due to bullying and harassment. Enduring abuse shouldn’t be a required skill for a successful scientific career, and many people and organizations are working tirelessly to root out this systemic injustice.
Many have claimed that this is a complex problem with no easy solutions. But there is a simple solution right in front of us, for every field. If the publishers of scientific journals everywhere enforced a universal code of ethics — if you violate the code, you cannot publish your scientific work — systematic bullies and harassers would be eliminated from their fields. It’s a proposal that demands consideration.
In 2017, scientists conducted the largest, most comprehensive study ever of gendered and racial harassment in the fields of astronomy and planetary science. From the women who responded, 85% reported encountering sexist remarks, with 79% reporting sexist remarks from their peers and 44% reporting sexist remarks from their supervisors. Among all people of color, 68% experienced racist remarks, with 58% reporting racist remarks from their peers and 10% reporting it from their own supervisors. When the #astroSH hashtag trended on Twitter back in 2016, hundreds of stories emerged from people who were bullied and harassed, often to the point where they wound up leaving the field.