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I’m not a linguist, but I think the theory that swearing and other “taboo” words came about to express extreme emotion.  Regular readers of The Lab & Field will know that I rarely (never?) use such words.  Similarly, in scientific writing, we couch emotion in verbose syntactical constructions, often devoid of feeling.

Such will not be the case with this post because today I had to, quite literally and without hyperbole, suppress the urge to wretch, and I feel my writing on this topic should reflect that reaction.

Buckle up, because we have work to do.

No, really. I’m assigning homework.  Or more accurately, work-work, because today we (as individuals, and as “the scientific community”) need to stop what we’re doing, and think about what we’ve done.  I’m not fucking kidding, either.


1. Read Clancy KBH, Nelson RG, Rutherford JN, Hinde K (2014) Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102172. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102172

Not just the abstract, and not a news outlet’s coverage.  The actual article.  It contains things like: “A majority (64%, N = 423/658) of all survey respondents, stated that they had personally experienced sexual harassment”.  That’s two out of three.

“Over 20% of respondents reported that they had personally experienced sexual assault”.  That’s 1 in 5.  ONE IN FIVE!

“women respondents [were] 3.5 times more likely to report having experienced sexual harassment than men (70% of women (N = 361/512) and 40% of men (N = 56/138)”

“Women were significantly more likely to have experienced sexual assault: 26% of women (N = 131/504) vs. 6% of men (N = 8/133)”

Again, that’s a quarter of women who engage in field work reported being sexually assaulted.  By whom? I’m glad you asked: “Harassment aimed at men primarily originated from peers at the field site (horizontal dynamics) whereas they originated from superiors when directed toward women (vertical dynamics)”

This is not OK. It’s so far away from OK that it’s enraging.


2. Find your organizations sexual harassment & assault policy

Go ahead. I’ll wait. Mine was section 4.12 of my employee handbook issued in March 2011.




Got it? Good. Now read it.




Now make sure the people you supervise, mentor, and train read it, and know what to do when they are harassed.


3. Stop objectifying women, and using transfolk as jokes

The cover story of Science this week was about HIV/AIDS, and featured the mid-torso and below of three women sex workers. Again, let that sink in.  One of the leading scientific publications in the world used a graphic of women’s bodies to depict HIV/AIDS.  That’s pretty awful.

Cue the editor of Science Careers, Jim Austin, to chime in via Twitter:

Ah yes, because that makes it so much better.  I mean, transwomen sex workers make it so much better! </sarcasm>  Now, as for why such a publication though it befitting to use headless transwomen sex workers for a cover story about HIV/AIDS (read that again for full effect: SCIENCE THOUGHT USING HEADLESS TRANWSOMEN SEX WORKERS AS THEIR COVER FOR A STORY ABOUT HIV/AIDS WAS OK) , Austin had this to say (WARNING: this is what caused me to wretch):

In case Austin later deletes the tweet, here it is again: “Interesting to consider how those gazey males will feel when they find out.”

For fuck’s sake. Trolling straight cismen?  Jesus fucking christ.


There’s been lots of other reaction to the paper by Clancy et al, and the Science cover around the interwebs, and I won’t try to pull them all together here.  But we each have to look at how what we do (again as individuals and as a scientific community), and how we treat women, people of colour, queer & transfolk, because it ain’t pretty, and it ain’t right.  Here’s a wee reminder:

The Journal of Proteomics sexism case

Dynamic Ecology’s Women in Science series

The Queer in STEM study

Female Conference Speaker Bingo

Being gay in academia (and here)

Coming out as a trans scientist


And in my post on the lack of women awardees of major Canadian science prizes, let’s not forget this paragraph:

Women are also underrepresented at conferences, on editorial boardsface biases when submitting to journals (PDF) and receive smaller grants.  In terms of “big awards”, one hurdle is that fewer women tend to be nominated (PDF – $$).


If you want to play along at home, you can also calculate #MyGenderGap


The current state of affairs is fucking embarrassing, and it’s time to change.