WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) sent a letter to Dr. Rush Holt, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and publisher of Science magazine, criticizing the numerous, highly public cases of sexism in science that have unfolded over the past year, and calling on AAAS to take a leadership role in addressing this serious problem.
“Women who speak out about these incidents have been subjected to torrents of online abuse, including rape and death threats,” Speier wrote. “Female scientists from underrepresented minorities, already a small group, have been subjected to even more vociferous abuse and have received limited support from scientific institutions. … Women and minorities in science should be able to concentrate on discovery, not on avoiding harassment and defending their very existence in their fields.”
The incidents included a UC Berkeley astronomer kissing, groping, and harassing his female students only to receive a light reprimand; a Nobel Laureate explaining to the World Conference of Science Journalists, “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry”; and a prominent paleontologist defending the demographic composition of his team by saying, “I mean, do you want me also to have a black person on the team for ethnicity reasons, and a cripple and a woman, and maybe a homosexual too just for a bit of all round balance?”
Speier called on AAAS to prioritize combating the factors that make science a hostile work environment, and asked AAAS to follow up on its commitment to consider studying the gender breakdown of the Science peer-reviewed article triage process.
Research shows that women earn about half the doctorates
in the science and engineering fields in the United States, but only comprise 21 percent of full science professors, 5 percent of full engineering professors, and 28 percent of the overall workforce. Female resumes
are viewed more negatively, male scientists train fewer female students
, and female scientists
acquire 37 percent less grant funding. In addition, a disturbing study
published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that men, particularly male STEM faculty, evaluated the quality of research documenting gender bias in STEM more harshly than research that did not show bias.