Science Magazine needs to rectify a critical lapse of judgment

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Science recently published a letter to the editor that that amplified the harm done to targets of sexual harassment. This letter needs to be retracted by the editor, though so far he has not apologized to the victims or issued a retraction.

What happened? In short, a famous scientist was shown to be a serial sexual harasser for an extended period of time. Science published a letter denying the facts of the harassment as reported in the journal, without any supporting evidence. This action validates attacks on victims of harassment, by giving credence to unsupported claims that the sexual harasser did not harass.

This summer, Science ran a story explaining that a powerful scientist at UC Irvine resigned after the university released a report with the details of his misconduct. If you want to know more about his disgusting behavior, it is outlined briefly in a subsequent Science piece, based on the 97-page university report involving the results of 61 interviews. Anybody who reads what he did can only conclude: case closed.

It turns out that this scientist, despite being a serial sexual harasser still has some friends in his professional circle who wanted to go to bat for him. They wrote a letter to the editor to Science, and Science printed it.

There is no valid reason for Science to publish such a letter that denied the incidents of harassment, if that letter lacks any evidence to support the claim. A comprehensive report with quotes from many targets of harassment including many precise details is robust evidence. Any claim that this report was not factual, or that the process was improper, must have substantial evidence if it is to be treated with credence, yet there was no such evidence.

In 2016, the New York Times ran a story describing how hundreds of people fell ill with Norovirus after eating at a Chipotle restaurant. Would the NYT subsequently publish a letter to the editor from friends of Chipotle, claiming that the illness was not spread by Chipotle because they knew the restaurant to be honorable? Of course not! That wouldn’t make any sense.

It is equally nonsensical for Science to publish a content-empty claim that a finding of sexual harassment did not occur. Our scientific community deserves better, and the Editor-in-Chief of Science can start by formally retracting the publication of this harassment-denying letter. This choice is actively creating harm for the victims of this harasser. That choice cannot be undone, but a retraction and an apology to the victims is the only reasonable step to be taken at this point.

This twitter thread, from one of the named complainants in this case, is important reading. Please consider clicking on one of these tweets to see the whole thread:

 

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