Last fall, as the horrific allegations of sexual misconduct and assault against entertainment titan Harvey Weinstein started to emerge, details of another alleged case came to light, not from a Hollywood casting couch but from remote scientific research stations in Antarctica. Two former graduate students of prominent Boston University geologist David Marchant lodged formal complaints against their onetime mentor, saying that he had sexually harassed them during research expeditions nearly 20 years ago. One complainant alleged that Marchant called her a “slut” and a “whore,” threw rocks at her when she went to the bathroom in the field and goaded her to have sex with his brother, who was also on the expedition. After a 13-month investigation, the university concluded that Marchant had indeed engaged in sexual harassment. Marchant has appealed the finding.
Most national research integrity codes and international guidance don’t include harassment as research misconduct but they should. Research institutions need to take more seriously the risk of sexual abuse during fieldwork because there’s a Weinstein-level problem brewing
Science, like all human endeavors, benefits from diversity. Yet women hold just 24 percent of jobs in science, technology, engineering and medicine. If factors such as sexual misconduct are driving women out of science, then the scientific community must act. To that end, last September the nearly 60,000-member American Geophysical Union (AGU) took the bold step of revising its ethics policy to treat harassment (including sexual harassment), discrimination and bullying as scientific misconduct, with the same types of penalties for offenders. Other scientific organizations have not adopted that standard, and we think they should.