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Another Scientist Under Investigation for Sexual Misconduct, When Will It All Just End?

[sighing intensifies]

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Woo! The list of gross people working in science grows yet again. Brian Richmond, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, is under investigation for sexual misconduct. This isn’t the first time Richmond’s been under investigation for this, and somehow, I don’t think it will be his last.

According to the statement from the unnamed research assistant accusing Richmond of sexually assaulting her, Richmond forced himself onto her after they had been out drinking in Italy after a meeting. She remembers “walking around Florence and realizing that I was way too drunk.” After that, the next thing she can remember was waking up on Richmond’s bed in his hotel room with him on top of her, kissing her and groping under her skirt. Ugh.

Richmond continues to deny that’s what happened, telling Science Magazine that what happened “did not progress beyond kissing and embracing. [We] ceased the instant my colleague said, ‘This isn’t a good idea.’” He also says, “While we were both drinking, neither of us was incapacitated.”

After reporting Richmond, a Title IX investigation was launched, resulting in the research assistant being reassigned to a new supervisor. Richmond? He got a warning about AMNH’s Zero Tolerance policy, then went right back to his old job. Once the story of Richmond’s alleged assault made the rounds on campus and at other meetings like the one he attended in Italy with the research assistant, people began to ask questions. One of his colleagues began digging, and found that nobody was surprised by the story, and said that they themselves have been targeted by Richmond before.

As is so often the case with situations like these, once the research assistant began sharing her story, many other stories came to light. Plenty of other women began to share their experiences in dealing with Richmond’s harassment and unwanted advances. This kicked off another Title IX investigation, which turned up two more students who say they were groped, one of whom said she was propositioned by Richmond afterwards.

The resulting punishment of this investigation? Nothing. Not one thing happened to Richmond. After receiving the results of the investigation, AMNH didn’t do a single thing. I take that back–he was given a positive job evaluation and a raise.

As of now, The Verge reports that there is a third investigation being conducted. Elizabeth Lopatto writes:

“It’s not that we believe the [Gordon] investigation was inadequate,” says AMNH spokeswoman Anne Canty. “If there is more information out there, we want to know.” When The Verge asked if any new information had come to light to prompt the third investigation, Canty replied because allegations “continued to circulate,” creating “growing consternation in the anthropology community,” another investigation was warranted.

An outside firm was brought on board to investigate because “much of the alleged conduct concerns activity prior to his employment at the Museum — on other campuses and locations where no complaints were filed.

You’ll remember that just last month Christian Ott, an astrophysics professor at Caltech, found himself in hot water after more than a few of his former students accused him of sexual misconduct. Same goes for Geoff Marcy, another astrophysicist who resigned from his position at Berkeley following another Title IX investigation.

As of right now there is legislation being put through Congress by Congresswoman Jackie Speier that would make the results of Title IX investigations public, thus bringing professors’ illegal behavior to light. The hope is that this would curb harassment attempts, because with the knowledge that their work and their name would be tarnished forever, it might get them to stop. That’s great and all, but it sure would be nice to get them to stop harassing their students because you really just shouldn’t do that I’m just saying.

Anyway.

The shitty thing about all of this is that institutes are often dissuaded from doling out punishments for these professors. On the one hand, they have their reputations to uphold (*eyeroll*), and on the other, they stand to lose funding. Even a tangential awareness of the state of education in this country would tell you that funding is lifeblood. Without it, the important work these places are doing would never get done. In a lot of ways, these places are forced to be in bed with “the enemy” in order to stay alive, and that’s a grim truth that is fucked up in every way, shape, and form.

No matter how you cut it, the solution is simple: get professors to stop being fucking skeezy. Stop harassing those working underneath you. Understand the power dynamics (again) that are at play here and do your field a solid by just not being a disgusting human being. Science has enough very real problems to deal with without you getting in trouble for your insatiable need to get your fucking rocks off. Knock it off. Be a human being and respect one another.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not the lack of funding that’ll kill the work you’re doing. It’s your behavior.

(image PathDoc via Shutterstock)

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