The Old Guard at Science is quelling modernization, I fear

Last month, Michael Balter published a story in Science about sexual misconduct in anthropology (I also mentioned it). A research assistant reported that Brian Richmond had assaulted her at a conference.

In late September 2014, less than 2 months after Richmond had begun at AMNH, he and the research assistant attended a meeting of the European Society for the study of Human Evolution (ESHE) in Florence. The research assistant says that on the last night of the meeting, she, Richmond, and several young European researchers were out on the town, visiting bars and drinking red wine and shots of limoncello, an Italian liqueur. She recalls “walking around Florence and realizing that I was way too drunk.” The next thing she remembers, she says, is waking up on the bed in Richmond’s hotel room in the wee hours of the morning with him on top of her, kissing her and groping under her skirt.

This incident led to an investigation that found multiple women had been the target of Richmond's advances. It's the usual story: big name has a history of inappropriate behavior that is ignored for years, until it can't be ignored any more…usually after some number of women have had their careers derailed.

Now there's another twist: the reporter who broke the story has been abruptly fired. He admits to fighting hard to get the story published, and apparently annoyed some of the higher level management to the point that someone on high decided to just get rid of him.

Some commentators have pointed out in the past, and reminded social media followers yesterday, that Science and the AAAS have had a poor track record on sexual harassment issues. The Brian Richmond story was a chance for the magazine to redeem itself, and indeed it was already on the way to doing so with fine stories by my colleague Jeff Mervis, who broke the Christian Ott Caltech story. My own perception is that the magazine was caught between its desire to take credit for the Richmond story and its fear of a lawsuit. In prior comments to people about this, and on discussion lists, I have tried to give my editors credit for doing the right thing and publishing a hard-hitting story despite their fears; but in the end they have decided to shoot the messenger.

I've already talked above about the culture at AAAS that allowed four colleagues to be fired precipitously in 2014, and will not elaborate on that here--except to say that just as I was beginning the Brian Richmond investigation, one of my editors asked me to delete a key blog post about that episode in which I criticized our Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt for parroting the party line put out by former AAAS CEO Alan Leshner. I declined to engage in this sanitizing of the historical record, not least because I consider that episode to be one of the proudest moments of my life. It's not often that one gets to put one's career on the line for something one believes in, and I have no regrets.

He's been a troublemaker before, when he publicly criticized AAAS management for their abrupt firing of four women on the staff. Apparently, Science is making it a habit to treat women employed there rather shabbily, and to swiftly terminate anyone who complains about it.

But what about McNutt, you might ask? I've never been particularly impressed with her -- she seems to be a lackey to the powers-that-be.


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So, this individual seems to have a problem, either no sober women will have him, he's got a dominance kink, or both.

I think this Mr. Richmond's problem is a little simpler- he's a goddamn rapist. He should be in prison- thereby freeing up a faculty position for someone who wouldn't misbehave.

By John Peloquin (not verified) on 16 Mar 2016 #permalink