Jun 12, 2018

The big picture: Title IX’s limits exposed by major study of sexual harassment in sciences

Astronomer Geoff Marcy was accused of harassment at Cal-Berkley in 2015. Photo: Niklas Halle'n/AFP via Getty Images

Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in science and academia, and it's going to take a cultural shift to stop it, according to a new study released from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

Between the lines: The study paints a bleak picture of scientific institutions' culture and treatment of women. It affirms the longstanding argument that Title IX regulations don't go far enough to protect women and prevent harassment, and shows that a cultural shift needs to take place to solve the issue.

The methodology

The study surveyed women in sciences across multiple college campuses to nail down just how many women have experienced some form of harassment while working.

  • Georgia State researcher Kevin M. Swartout compiled data from the University of Texas system as well as the Pennsylvania state system, which combined represents more than 10,000 graduate and undergraduate female students enrolled in science programs, as well as some female faculty, the Washington Post notes.

The backdrop: The report comes out in the midst of the #MeToo movement which is rocking major industries such as entertainment and media, but science has long had a problem with sexual misconduct. The Twitter hashtag #ScienceToo sprang up around the report on Tuesday. Several prominent examples of sexual harassment in the sciences during the past few years helped create demand for this study. For example, Geoff Marcy, a world famous astronomer and a professor at Cal-Berkley, was found to have repeatedly violated campus sexual harassment policies without receiving proportionate discipline from the university, BuzzFeed reported in 2015.

Julie Libarkin, an environmental scientist at Michigan State, has compiled a database of 659 cases stretching back to the early 1980's. This isn't new.

The results
  • The study found that 58% of women in all of academia, not limited to science, engineering and medicine experienced some form of sexual harassment.
  • In the University of Texas system, 20% of female science students, more than 25% of female engineering students and 40% of female medical students experienced sexual harassment in some form from faculty or staff.
  • In the Pennsylvania State University system a similar survey found that 50% of female medical students have experienced some form of harassment.

The study also found that women don't typically report these instances because they correctly assume that, if they do, they'd be held back in progressing their careers.

It also found that Title IX, the mechanism used to report sexual harassment on campuses, hasn't worked. Institutions are complying with Title IX in a way that avoids liability, but it isn't going far enough to significantly punish abusers and prevent harassment in the first place.


The report says institutions should reduce the power faculty members hold over students through mechanisms such as group advising. Currently, a single advisor can make or break a graduate student's career.

Organizations should treat harassment accusations with heavy punishment, the study says, like what is currently done for research misconduct allegations, per the Post. It also calls upon institutions to be more proactive in creating an inclusive and diverse culture for women — most notably women of color, who experience harassment more often.

Yes, but: The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine must be held accountable as well. It still lists Marcy as a member despite his accusations and resignation.

The bottom line: In addition to new policies and procedures, a far-reaching culture change is needed in the sciences to prevent harassment moving forward.

Go deeper

In photos: India says "Namaste Trump" as president arrives for visit

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi embraces President Trump upon his arrival at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad on Monday. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump arrived with members of the U.S. first family at Sardar Vallabhbhai International Airport in Ahmedabad, India, Monday for a two-day visit, local media footage shows.

Why it matters: The countries are forging deeper ties as India’s location, size and economic growth making it the "obvious counterweight to China" for American policymakers, per Axios' Dave Lawler and Zachary Basu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is demonstrating the importance of the visit by holding a massive "Namaste Trump Rally" at the world's largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, northwest India.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 16 mins ago - World

Concern over coronavirus spread: Italy, South Korea and Iran report more cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The number of novel coronavirus cases in South Korea, Italy and Iran jumped on Sunday as infections in mainland China continued to grow, the latest figures show.

The big picture: As South Korea and Italy stepped up emergency measures amid rising case numbers, World Health Organization officials expressed concern about infections with no clear link to China. COVID-19 has killed at least 2,619 people and infected almost 80,000 others, with all but 27 deaths occurring in mainland China.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Health

Sanders reveals free childcare plan for preschoolers

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally on Saturday in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Cengiz Yar/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders announced on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday a new plan to guarantee free child care and pre-kindergarten to all American children from infancy to age four.

Details: In the wide-ranging interview, Sanders told Anderson Cooper he planned to pay for universal childcare with a wealth tax. "It's taxes on billionaires," he said.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy