Harassment charges: Injustice done?

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Science  17 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6403, pp. 655-656
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau7088

Editor's note: Harassment policy

We have heard from readers with concerns about the publication of the Letter “Harassment charges: Injustice done?” (A. Moya et al., 17 August, p. 655). At Science, we take harassment issues very seriously. We are working to develop policies that adhere to our editorial principle of airing a wide range of perspectives and that also prevent causing further harm to the targets of harassment.

Publication of a Letter does not represent an endorsement by the editorial staff at Science. Past practice has been based on the understanding that reader-submitted Letters are intended to reflect conversations taking place in the scientific community. The published Letter in question did that by raising concerns about the transparency of the investigatory process. This point touched on the challenges institutions face when determining how the processes and outcomes of harassment investigations should be shared, decisions that must weigh the benefits of transparency against important privacy concerns. However, the Letter also discussed the personal conduct and scientific accomplishments of the individual found guilty of harassment.

In the future, we will not publish Letters in which authors argue that an individual accused or found guilty of harassment is likely innocent because others have interacted with that person without incident; this argument is logically flawed. In addition, although some information about a person's scientific achievements is at times necessary to establish context, we will not publish Letters in which authors argue that professional achievements have any bearing at all on the likelihood that the individual engaged in harassment. Such arguments not only lack relevance to harassment behavior but also may result in further harm to the targets of harassment and exacerbate the already daunting process that targets face in coming forward publicly.

We are striving to increase our understanding of all facets of the issue of harassment and to review and modify our editorial processes accordingly.

Jeremy Berg


Published 12 October 2018

We are deeply concerned by the way in which our friend and colleague Professor Francisco Ayala has been forced to resign from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), after being accused of sexual harassment (“Prominent geneticist out at UC Irvine after harassment finding,” M. Wadman, News, 29 June, https://scim.ag/AyalaResignation). The charges that have been raised against him have had appalling consequences.

Those of us who are well acquainted with Professor Ayala know that he is an honorable person, who throughout his career has treated his friends, co-workers, and students in a respectful, egalitarian way. His lifelong commitment to teaching, research, and outreach on biological evolution has won him worldwide recognition. He has been a generous benefactor to the University of California and throughout his fruitful career has opened new fields of biological research, promoted mutual respect and independence between evolutionary studies and religious perspectives, played a key role in several major scientific organizations, and helped many Spanish-speaking female scholars and Hispanic students, in particular, both in the United States and throughout the world.

From the available information, it appears that the inquiry conducted by UCI lacked genuine due process, fairness, and full transparency. We urge UCI to acknowledge the possibility that its sanctions against Professor Ayala were enacted in haste and to reopen the case and investigate the matter more thoroughly. We understand the wish of both the institution and Professor Ayala not to unduly prolong this whole unhappy episode. It is equally important, however, that justice be done and be seen to be done. If carried out properly, UCI could help devise a more successful model for how institutions should deal with such situations in the future. Devising an improved procedure for these cases would earn everyone's gratitude.

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