Defending harassers harms victims

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Science  25 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6425, pp. 355
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav7283

The Letter “Harassment charges: Injustice done?” by A. Moya et al. (17 August, p. 655) defends Francisco Ayala, recasting him as the victim of an unfair investigation where he was found guilty of repeated sexual harassment against multiple colleagues, leading to his resignation from the University of California Irvine (UCI). In publishing this Letter, the content of which is considered retaliatory under U.S. education law (1), Science legitimizes attempts to discredit Ayala's accusers by reinforcing the narrative that consequences are the “fault” of the harassed rather than those engaging in harassment.

Moya et al. do not substantiate their claims that the UCI investigation was “enacted in haste” and that it lacked “fairness” and “due process.” Instead, they propose that Ayala's status and research accomplishments should shield him from the consequences of his actions. As addressed in the Letter “Editor's note: Harassment policy” (12 October, p. 165) by Science's Editor-in-Chief, Jeremy Berg, “[s]uch 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.” Moya et al. also decry the “appalling consequences” of the charges against Ayala, deflecting attention from the consequences of his proven misconduct and impugning the motives of those who testified.

Approximately 50% of women face sexual harassment in academic workplaces—more so for women of color and sexual and gender minorities (2). Many who report also face retaliation (2). Ayala's targets were courageous in coming forward. They deserve support, not public criticism enabled by a prestigious scientific organization. Science would not publish such a letter defending a data fabricator on the basis of their accomplishments and making unsupported claims against the investigation. Although Science has since changed its policy, the scientific community should reflect on why the standard was different for sexual misconduct and act accordingly to mitigate damages.

Sexual harassment undermines core values of research integrity. It not only harms targets and bystanders; harassment damages science itself by discouraging and driving out talented people. In our opinion, Science committed an injustice and a serious error in judgment by publishing this Letter. We request that Science retract the Moya et al. letter or remove it from the online archive, and publicly apologize to both Ayala's victims and the scientific community at large (3).

Editor's note

We thank Barolo et al. for continuing the dialogue about best practices for addressing harassment. Barolo et al. call for the retraction or removal of the Letter by Moya et al. Science originally published the Letter to fulfill the Letters section's mission of representing diverse views within the community. Since publication, Science has acknowledged that some of the points in the Moya et al. Letter were flawed. However, because Letters represent the opinions of the authors and not editorial positions of Science, we will not retract previously published Letters. Furthermore, in line with current best practice, Science policy precludes removing text once it is published. Rather, before the Letter itself, we have prominently placed the text of the 12 October 2018 Editor's Note, which alerts readers to concerns about the Letter and explains new policies put in place since its publication.

Jeremy Berg


Published 25 January 2019

References and Notes

  1. A petition preceding this Letter and 316 online signatories are available at www.gopetition.com/petitions/the-evidence-does-not-support-amplifying-sympathy-for-harassers.html.

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