Tag Archives: Naomi Oreskes

Science Discovers Sexual Harassment and Abuse


American Museum of Natural History in NYC

New Orleans   Reading a couple of fascinating books last summer on my wor-cation in Montana by geologist and history of science author, Naomi Oreskes, I was struck by her indirect arguments far from the main theses of her books that to keep up with science I had to treat it like “news” with its own shifting bulletins and controversies. I had tried to keep up as much as the average-bear through the daily papers and news magazines, but, what the heck, I thought, it’s time to shift to a another gear, so I figured that I would try something different this year, and I started subscribing to the weekly magazine, Science, and the monthly, Scientific American, just like all of them do. I can report so far, so good. Some of it is way, way over my head of course, but other pieces are more accessible and have enriched my understanding and yours, since some I’ve shared.

The biggest surprise in my months of reading Science has been the editorials and steady reporting on a huge culture shift around how women scientists are viewed and advanced. Of course there was the famous controversy that undid the former president of Harvard University and controversial economists and government official, Lawrence Summers, when he was busted for claiming that men were more apt as scientists than women. At the least those that thought it, learned from Summers to shut their pie hole, but the cultural shift being documented in issue after issue of Science now is one of those “welcome to the 21st century, better late than never” moments as they take on sexual misconduct and abuse of women scientists in field after field, some of which has also broken big in the mainstream press as well.

The latest scandal involves a renowned paleoanthropologist who was the curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History. The Museum, as I have shared in the past, is one of my personal favorites because I am a huge fan of its amazing dioramas, but it is also one of the world’s largest, ensconced on a privileged location abutting Central Park in New York City. Seems a research assistant made no bones about the fact that her boss had invited her to attend a conference in Florence, Italy with him and after a party where there was much drinking, she woke to find him manhandling her inappropriately. It’s all he-say-she-say now of course, but it launched an investigation, more charges, and is roiling the field with demands for change in how women, especially less senior and subordinate women both in field assignments and advancement are too often potentially sexual prey.

This incident follows the suspension of an astronomer at Cal Tech for allegedly harassing graduate students and the forced resignation of another astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley for harassing women over a decade until other astronomers in a rage forced him to resign. An anonymous survey of anthropologists and other field scientists called the SAFE study reported that 64% of 666 respondents had experienced some sort of sexual harassment, either verbal or physical, while doing fieldwork. Of the 139 who experienced physical contact only 37 reported it for fear of permanent career damage because of the disproportionate power relationships between men and women scientists. In a separate matter but undoubtedly related to the lack of clear and firm policies in this area of sexual misconduct, Harvard and several other universities are finally creating policies that would ban sexual relationships between professors and students making only exceptions for graduate students outside of the field of the professor.

All of this may seem little and late, but hats off to the young women standing up and the senior women scientists who are now using these cases as platforms for change and their professional journals and some of their colleagues who are coming down hard on the miscreants, admitting that they may be numerous, and demanding change. Welcoming scientists finally to the real world, will allow women to flourish and the real work to be done, helping all of us in the future.


Please enjoy Fantastic Negrito’s Working Poor.  Thanks to KABF.


Unlearning to Face Facts and Find Truth

9780195117332Rock Creek, Montana    Off-the-grid is a mixed bag. The isolation and lack of interruption provides an inescapable opportunity for serious conversations with my son, which might not be his favorite part of these excursions for example. Sure, I still wake up at 4 AM in the morning processing the list of things that have to be done at work, sorting out problems, real and imagined, and processing deadlines and timelines, but I also get to read, and while the sun is shining, write a bit and do the tedious and endless editing on the book I’ve been working on for more than a decade, including several summers on Rock Creek. Many followers of the Chief Organizers’ Report on the blog, radio, or wherever, are probably ready for me to get back on-the-grid so that they aren’t burdened with too-much-information that is seeping through from my reading, but…what can I say, but I’m sorry, this is some powerful stuff to mull and ponder. Welcome aboard or get off at the next stop!

A book that seemed perfect for Rock Creek, running through Granite County on the Columbia River drainage on the west side of the continental divide powered by the giant Rocky Mountain uplift, was Naomi Oreskes’ The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Sciences. Heck, in my brief and frequently interrupted stint in higher education, the one science course I took, propelled by my Western roots, had been Geology, so this book I had figured for a pleasant diversion in the right place and with the time to study it fully. Well, it was all of that, and a whole lot more.

Here’s the upshot on the book: pretty much all of the British and European scientists understood that the configuration of the earth and the movement of the continents had been caused by drift caused by magmatic changes in the substrata of the earth’s crust, but the establishment of American earth science resisted for almost forty years. Heat rising, causing folds and uplifts at the rims of oceans, tectonic plates crashing, mountains rising, and you get the picture which all scientists accept as a given now based on the physics, their observations, magnets, and mountains of data. Her many questions were rooted in figuring out why it took the slow learners in the USA so long, when the science in many ways was so clear.

Oreskes is no liberal. She has read it all, admires the scientists, and believes in science like others believe in God. She also has little patience for rationalizations, crawfishing, or career saving for those she has found fiddling with the facts. She calls ‘em, like she sees ‘em, which is rare and refreshing.

But, as you might imagine with all of this, it is hard not to always wonder how often this kind of thing happens, not just in science, where there is at least the pretense of a process, but out in the world where the rest of us are trying to put one foot down after another every day. I know people who are still having folks print their emails because they are not so sure how to handle this internet thing. Are they ready to unlearn what they have done over and over again for years, if they are not even able to get comfy learning something new, or at this point, new-ish? Look at the declining ranks of the labor movement – can new voices and new methods break through, and how would that happen? I could go on, but you get my drift no doubt.

Oreskes draws the line on continental drift. Makes me kind of yearn for similar folks with similar chutzpah who could draw a line in some other areas of work. But, if they did, would we be able to get right and walk a new line? If the answer isn’t, “yes!” then we already know we have work to do, and the people that depend on us, deserve it