People of science are just like other people. Horrible.

September 19, 2014

Go read comments from Professor Isis-the-scientist today:

Science Has A Thomas Jefferson Problem…

Still, this doesn’t change the fact that the notion that “Science Has a Sexual Assault Problem” makes me salty. Life has a sexual assault problem. 26% of women scientists are assaulted in the field, but about that many women in general report sexual assault. A large portion of the attacks against scientists are perpetrated by someone the victim knew, but many women in general know their attackers. So, at the crux of the stunning and shocking and eye opening is something that I find more insidious – it is the belief that science is somehow different than society at large.

After all, surely rape and assault and violence are acts committed by poor people, and brown folks, NFL players and the occasional misguided frat boy. Certainly our logical, skeptical, professional and enlightened scientific brethren aren’t capable of the type of violence that Hope describes. Surely, tenured white women aren’t at risk for that type of violence.

Pretending that any type of person is “different”, in the good way, is a suboptimal way to go through life.

People are horrible.

Given half a chance:

-Doods will try to rape women
-White cops will shoot innocent teen browns
-Dewds will try to cop a feel.
-Grant and manuscript and career/job reviewers will support candidates that seem most like themselves
-Guys will leer and objectify.
-Postdocs will slack and blame their PI
-Old wrinkly profs will delusionally think one of the young sweet grad student things will come back to their shitty hotel room at scientific meetings if their clumsy overtures are made to enough of them.
-PIs will exploit the hell out of their “trainees”
-Men will rape women.
-Institutions, meaning deanlets, will screw over their Golden Goose Faculty

People are horrible.

Act accordingly.

20 Responses to “People of science are just like other people. Horrible.”

  1. jojo Says:

    I totally agree that scientists are no different from the rest of society int he proportion of horribleness but will believe to my dying day that that proportion is fairly small. We just need to continue sticking together and ostracizing that proportion whenever possible.


  2. rxnm Says:

    Optimistic corollary is that human horribleness is highly malleable and context dependent. Institutions, communities, and tribes can create conditions where humans, on average, behave less horribly.


  3. Jim Woodgett Says:

    Seconded @rxnm but also requires others to stand up and point out bad behaviour whenever they see it. Silence/avoidance/tolerance is acceptance. Setting a good personal example is not enough.


  4. What you choose to believe in direct opposition to the data is certainly your prerogative. I’m still going to be salty as fuck at your unwillingness to appreciate the data though.


  5. drugmonkey Says:

    Institutions, communities, and tribes can create conditions where humans, on average, behave less horribly.

    absolutely. it is necessary to do so. Because people are horrible.


  6. Busy Says:

    Agreed. It happens. Stop denying it or making excuses such as “he/she must have been joking”. Follow up each instance, without turning it into a lynch mob, make a record of it and let the perpetrator know that such behavior will not be tolerated.

    Then deal harshly with repeat offenders. This filters honest-to-god misunderstandings and false reports, which occasionally do happen.


  7. mytchondria Says:

    I get this sentiment even though I’m stoopidly optimistic IRL. There are many times I wish I had been prepared for the worst in people rather than surprised by it.

    This outlook is a tough way to go thru life. But so is getting assaulted/killed/unfunded/fill in others….


  8. toto Says:

    You said “rape” twice.

    I guess anyone who’s been on the Internet long enough will make the logical conclusion…


  9. e-rock Says:

    Toto – I’m shivering with anticipation over here.


  10. sel Says:

    I’ve lived for 4 decades and been to tons of conferences and have absolutely never been sexually harassed. What’s wrong with me?


  11. anonymous postdoc (shrewshrew) Says:

    @sel –

    Just lucky, I guess. I certainly have. In fact, I know that “old wrinkly prof” scenario DM describes very well.

    I would say harassers are pretty indiscriminate with who they harass, but in my experience they tend to only move on to the next woman when the current one can manage to end the interaction. And in my experience harassers are probably only ~15% of the men I have interacted with at conferences. And they target the young and vulnerable, relative to their position.

    Thus, you have an 85% chance with every encounter of it being someone who won’t actively letch on you, and if they do, the probability that their letch attack will be directed at you specifically decreases with the number of other women around who are at or below his rank and will speak to him. [/dungeons and dragons]

    Don’t assume it hasn’t been happening to someone else you know, by someone else you know, just out of earshot.


  12. Isabel Says:

    ” Surely, tenured white women aren’t at risk for that type of violence. ”

    She made it clear that most of the women scientists were assaulted in the field as trainees. Who is talking about tenured white women?

    I cannot for the life of me see why Isis is getting all “salty as fuck” complaining about this. Hope is talking about a specific barrier in an early stage of a number of scientific fields, where 26% of women are assaulted specifically while doing things necessary to get a foothold in that field (field work in this case). There is a similar situation in the military for example, and we’ve all seen articles titled “The military’s sexual assault problem” right?

    Are 26% of young women in all fields assaulted on the job? I don’t think so. Who is even discussing whether or not the young women assaulted in the field, or those who managed to stay safe in the field, were never assaulted before or after those experiences? No doubt many were. The percentage is actually very high, especially considering that it is often a relatively brief period in the person’s life (few months) and even though they are young trainees, most victims are past the age when a majority of rapes occur. So yes it is a startling number and an important discussion.


  13. FFS Says:

    Oh, when the weed smoke spears and Isabel appears…


  14. Isabel Says:

    lots of clueless (and many downright mean) comments over at the NYT as well. What the hell is wrong with people??

    Typical comment:
    26%? I would think that was the percentage of women sexually assaulted anywhere. Sexual demands were so much a part of my corporate career beginning in the 1970’s, that I was no longer shocked by it. The only real difference is that it did not include a stairwell or bloody fingernails.

    Again, people, it’s 26% are assaulted during relatively brief, specific periods for a specific set reasons. It does happen in other fields, and articles like HJ’s can raise awareness. And 26% is not typical across all fields that’s just ridiculous to assert.


  15. E-roock Says:

    Everything that I have read about predators is that they target a vulnerable person or profile, when they assume that they will either not get caught or the individual won’t fight back (generalizing). The nature of grad school / PD is that the trainee is in an inherently vulnerable or insecure position (in general), so I could see that the proportion of victims in academic research are higher than in other domains because the number of potential victims fitting the profile is high (nearly every person between the ages of say 24-30 is in a professional tenuous or vulnerable position). If the interaction is longer term, then victims are “groomed.” What programs and advisors can do (possibly) is to empower people on day 1. Make this a natural course of the orientation, and repeat the message often … and that is to make it clear that the program/school/advisor has the trainees’ back when it comes to dealing with this behavior. It’s not a burden for the institution to handle it, victims’ careers won’t be in jeopardy if they rebuff an advance, they can safely inform supervisor of every incident and the supervisor has a duty to act. Our policy here is the supervisor has a duty to act if informed of an incident, and in my opinion this extends to poster sessions and conference cocktails because the trainee should expect to carry out professional advancement free from harassment. I am not sure how this would look, in practice, like an investigation of behavior at a conference but I don’t think we (supervisors) or trainees should be afraid to raise hell when something within our spheres of influence happens.


  16. theLaplaceDemon Says:

    @ E-roock “and that is to make it clear that the program/school/advisor has the trainees’ back when it comes to dealing with this behavior”

    That is key. Power structure & culture of the department/program has to be such that the student has an advocate, not just in name, but in practice.


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