Harassment charges: Enough himpathy

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Science  17 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6403, pp. 655
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau6858

UCI decided to remove Francisco Ayala's name from the science library after he resigned amid sexual harassment allegations.


We are well into the #Metoo era, yet journalists and editors are still fixated on the harasser's fall from grace rather than the detrimental effect of sexual harassment on the victims and our society as a whole. The News story “Prominent geneticist out at UC Irvine after harassment finding” (M. Wadman, 29 June, https://scim.ag/AyalaResignation) reinforces a familiar toxic narrative: The accomplishments of the harasser hold more value to science than women's right to a safe workplace. This is now so commonplace that it has been dubbed “himpathy” (1).

In the News story, Wadman tells us all about the “eminent” professor, from his scientific accomplishments to his personal hobbies. He did “pioneering” and “groundbreaking” work, he donated money to the university, and he was president of AAAS (the publisher of Science). However, we do not hear about the pioneering work of the women he harassed at University of California, Irvine (UCI). From a graduate student to a tenured professor to an assistant dean, the News story reduced the women who demanded an end to his misconduct to complainers. We are told that Ayala was just being “European” and his actions were misunderstood; instead, the narrative should focus on the many women and careers that suffered from Ayala's actions. Wadman then chose to end the article by quoting an Ayala supporter who diminished the investigation.

The same himpathy sentiments return in the follow-up News In Depth story “Report details harassment by famed biologist” (M. Wadman, 27 July, p. 316). Words matter, and Science should wield its words and influence carefully. It is time to recognize that harassers have taken a substantial toll on the advancement of science. It is time to acknowledge that sexual harassment in all its nefarious forms puts an unquantifiable burden on the victims (many of whom are our colleagues). It's time to believe women.


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