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The Sexual Misconduct Case That Has Rocked Anthropology (sciencemag.org) 264

sciencehabit writes: An investigative report in Science describes allegations of sexual misconduct against noted paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond, as well as the field's response. The story highlights a major shift in how academic communities deal with sexual misconduct, going beyond delineating rules on paper to striving to change the culture of the field at the institutional level. This shift – "a long time coming," according to many researchers – was spurred in part by recent high-profile cases in astronomy and biology. Now, as Balter notes, "paleoanthropology is responding to its own complex case." The first public allegation against Richmond, the curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, inspired a cascade of other allegations about him. This in turn motivated several senior paleoanthropologists, including one of Richmond's key mentors, Bernard Wood, to explore the allegations with peers. "As I talked to more and more current and former students at [George Washington University]," Wood said, "I became more concerned and alarmed about what I heard." In light of their findings, Wood and others in the field of anthropology are now tackling sexual misconduct head-on. The article details additional institutional efforts to stop sexual misconduct in science while trying to balance the rights of victims and accused, and provides the latest update on investigations into Richmond.
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The Sexual Misconduct Case That Has Rocked Anthropology

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  • What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by softnewsit ( 4396945 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @07:17PM (#51474467) Homepage
    This is one of the most vague summaries I ever read here... #wtf
    • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

      One for the reeducation camps.

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

      by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @07:25PM (#51474539)

      Your're forgetting this is another fluff piece by timothy.

      Nothing to see. Move along.

  • If only... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Harold Halloway ( 1047486 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @07:22PM (#51474507)

    ...it had been paleontology or geology that had been 'rocked' by this case. But I'm struggling to understand why such a story is relevant to a science/technology news website?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tailhook ( 98486 )
      What science/technology website? This is a place for cubicle trolls to air their political and cultural grievances.
      • Well yeah, the Internet Outrage Machine generates clicks and income. An article about an obscure Linux kernel? Not so much.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by quantaman ( 517394 )

      ...it had been paleontology or geology that had been 'rocked' by this case. But I'm struggling to understand why such a story is relevant to a science/technology news website?

      Because one of the big questions about the science and technology fields are why women are so under-represented.

      Stories like this contain at least part of the answer.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        But only if you believe there is such a thing as sexual misconduct. It's pretty clear that on /. the number of posters that think such a thing as "inappropriate behavior" below the level of "unwanted penis insertion" even exists.

      • Re:If only... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @07:59PM (#51474779)

        Do women flood into the medical industry because of the overwhelming respect and lack of inappropriate male behavior in those industries? What about all the women in marketing - did all of the sexists vanish? Women don't need the insult of being treated as an economically protected class because you think they're too stupid to choose the right careers - they're happier in their career choices than men.

      • by Sklivvz ( 167003 )

        Stories like this contain at least part of the answer.

        Only if stories like these happen in the science and technology fields and not elsewhere. It seems banal enough, albeit tragic, that it could have happened in any field.

        A person in senior position trying to get their subordinates to bed? Shocking! I would never have imagined such a thing!</sarcasm>

        • Re:If only... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @09:36PM (#51475421)

          Perhaps it is a matter of degree? Consider:

          People who dedicate themselves to the science and technology fields tend to be somewhat lacking in social graces, prone to "blunt instrument" conversational skills. Contrast that with other fields, especially in management, where "people skills" tend to be some of the most valuable assets to acquiring positions of authority.

          I would imagine that the inappropriate socialite boss is more likely to be skilled at "not crossing the line", gauging their victims tolerance for their unwanted advances and backing off before things escalate to the point that might drive them away or invite repercussions. Contrast that with a geek attempting the same thing - for the same level of inappropriate intent, most will be far less graceful about pursuing their goal, which is likely to make things more unpleasant for the victim. Up to and including the issuing of ultimatums where a more skilled predator might bide their time or seek less recalcitrant prey. I know which predator *I* would prefer to have to tolerate every day.

          And then of course there's positive feedback aspect which doesn't create the problem, but does intensify it: sci/tech are currently abnormally male-dominated fields, which means there's likely a higher ratio of predators per woman. That would tend to make the fields less appealing for women even if predators were no more numerous or unpleasant among geeks than in the general population.

        • Re:If only... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @10:22PM (#51475715)
          The way the tenure system works you really, really don't want to make an enemy out of the powerful people above you. From what I can see it's much worse than getting hit on by your boss at a job - you can always quit an office job and get another. But in academia if you just up and leave a tenure track position or don't get tenure because you've alienated someone important, your career is pretty much over.
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          It's rather sad that you aren't shocked, and shows we still have some way to go.

      • Because one of the big questions about the science and technology fields are why women are so under-represented.

        That question has largely been answered, it's just that feminists don't like the answers: women statistically are less concerned with status and high income, and women have babies and biological clocks.

      • by Kythe ( 4779 )

        ...it had been paleontology or geology that had been 'rocked' by this case. But I'm struggling to understand why such a story is relevant to a science/technology news website?

        Because one of the big questions about the science and technology fields are why women are so under-represented.

        Stories like this contain at least part of the answer.

        Perhaps, but I suspect that's a significant oversimplification. Gender interests in various topics are generally "dialed in" by mid-high-school age or before -- college major gender preferences reflect high school preferences. I strongly suspect high schoolers aren't choosing topics of interests based upon expectations of future harassment in related careers.

        A much more viable theory revolves around "caste effects" -- we tend to internalize the perceived characteristics of groups with which we identify.

  • TL;DR (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Male, therefore guilty.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by quantaman ( 517394 )

      Male, therefore guilty.

      Yeah I'm sure it's just a bunch of women with no obvious connections engaging in a giant conspiracy for no apparent reason like they did to Bill Cosby.

      Most importantly your automatic assumption that the man innocent and is only being persecuted for his gender, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, is in no way evidence that you might be sexist.

    • No. Supervisor, therefore guilty.
  • by Ormy ( 1430821 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @07:37PM (#51474625)
    Why does the area of academic research matter? Including it in the headline implies there's some causation when there is very likely none at all. Should be more like "academic research/educator sexual misconduct etc etc". Giving his profession, gender, nationality, all possibly (if remotely) relevant; if he was an electrician would we care if he was freelance or worked for a national company? If he was a doctor would it matter if he was a neurosurgeon or an obstetrician?. If there is some causation, maybe explain a little? If not, irrelevant at best, inflammatory at worst.
    • by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @07:46PM (#51474695) Journal

      Anthropology covers human behavior; maybe some relevance in mis/applying domain knowledge?

    • It's inflammatory by the second paragraph. Woman in bar shouts she was raped. If she hasn't called the police first, this is base character assassination. A woman's allegations should not automatically be believed despite all the PC rhetoric to the contrary.

      • by tsotha ( 720379 )
        After all the high profile rape hoaxes we've had in recent years, in general I'm willing to say "Hey, if you didn't think it was rape enough to go to the cops, you probably weren't raped." But if his old students and colleagues are coming out of the woodwork making similar accusations it does lend some credibility to her story.
    • Why does the area of academic research matter?

      Humans love patterns and "big things" more than insular and isolated cases.

      Article quotes heavily the Survey of Academic Field Experiences [plos.org] which was featured here at Slashdot at least twice.
      http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org]
      http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org]

      Both times it was presented as a science-wide issue - though the survey only covered anthropological fields.

      Nearly half of the study participants self-identified as anthropologists from several subfields (applied, biological, linguistic, medical, physical, psychological, and socio-cultural) (N=319/666, 47.9%).
      Nearly a quarter of the sample self-identified as archaeologists (N=159, 23.9%).
      The rest of the sample comprised biologists (N=68, 10.2%); zoologists (N=31, 4.7%); geologists (N=29, 4.4%); other life, environmental, and agricultural scientists (N=22, 3.3%); and other social scientists (N=12, 1.8%).

      This time on the other hand, that survey actually CAN be used to show that this particular case is a part of a PATTERN of sexual harassment in anthr

    • Why does the area of academic research matter? ... if he was an electrician would we care

      Electricians tend not to behave inappropriately towards their customers because they lose business and because people will report any illegal conduct to the police. That is why politicians have to be extra nice to their customers.

      The fact that it is academia matters because academics are exempted from such mechanisms. Merely being elevated to the position of a tenured professor gives people massive power and influe

  • by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson@gmai l . c om> on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @07:50PM (#51474715) Journal

    When I read "The Sexual Misconduct Case That Has Rocked Anthropology" I was thinking that it would be something about neanderthals and apes having sex or whatever. Sexual misconduct among modern humans in positions of authority is still shocking?

    To the tune of "when the moon's in your eye, like a big pizza, pie, thats's a-mor-e

    When the local priest does it
    And then the pope hides it
    That's a-mor-e [youtube.com]

    When the cellmate you call Bubba
    Says "on your knees, sucka"
    That's a-mor-e [youtube.com]

    When the guy at the bar
    Slips you ludes, goes to far,
    That's a-mor-e [youtube.com]

    When the cop says "Let's say"
    "We can make this go away."
    That's a-mor-e [youtube.com]

    Humans are really, really f*cked up
    Say it's not rape, you're a slut
    And claim its a-mor-e [youtube.com]

    Burma shave

  • He probably just wanted to show her his large fossil pelvic specimen.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @08:06PM (#51474841) Journal
    Sexual assault is a horrible, horrible thing when it happens. However and to whomever it happens. If a man (or woman) in a senior position forces himself on an underling in a way that is uncomfortable and disturbing, he should be run out of town on a rail.


    I think it is ultimately likely that if we persecute every reported affront before due diligence has its day in the courts, we are increasing the probability someone will exploit the system.

  • Remember People (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @08:20PM (#51474923)

    Sexual misconduct is a TERRIBLE crime, and we must confront it vigorously wherever it appears.

    Unless you're running for President as a Democrat. Then it's OK and Gloria Steinem will endorse you anyways.

  • by Jesse Enjaian ( 4417953 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @08:45PM (#51475119) Homepage
    This is so flamebaity. I think men and women tend to conflate sexuality and amorous intent because the latter includes the former for most. It becomes sexual misconduct (under Title IX and VII which governs most school/university claims) when it's physical (rape, touching, etc.) or talking about doing those things to someone. There's absolutely no facts in the article beyond describing they were both drunk, she is married, and she claims she blacked out while he claims she was awake. I find it a little suspect that she claims he was kissing her incapacitated mouth -- that seems pretty boring even when drunk. One plausible explanation is that, like most, she got a little horny when drunk, felt guilty about it, told her husband, they fought, then she claimed she was incapacitated to him. If you're blackout drunk, you aren't waking up several hours after you passout, dude. But there's no facts just troll bait and arriving at the legal conclusion of "sexual harassment" happened.
  • In late September 2014, less than 2 months after Richmond had begun at AMNH, he and the research assistant attended a meeting of the European Society for the study of Human Evolution (ESHE) in Florence. The research assistant says that on the last night of the meeting, she, Richmond, and several young European researchers were out on the town, visiting bars and drinking red wine and shots of limoncello, an Italian liqueur. She recalls âoewalking around Florence and realizing that I was way too drunk.

    • Relationships between boss and underling are always problematic, (gender notwithstanding), even if both parties seem willing, because the power gradient isn't equal: the underling might feel pressure of losing the job if she/he doesn't relent. So if you're a boss, don't hit on your underlings. Find somewhere else to hit on women, you don't need to mess up your work environment (and the consequences of messing up are heavier).

      According to the survey, 73% of women had no unwanted physical contact, so it's m
      • Except standards are different in Europe. When I worked in the Netherlands, everyone was screwing everyone else at work. Well known but no one talked about it. One manager who was high up ended up leaving his wife for his secretary. He was promoted along with his secretary.

        • Wow, you make Europe sound like such a liberal paradise :/
    • A drunk woman in the presence of men gives tacit permission to sexual intercourse in the same manner as a guy flashing cash in a public venue gives tacit permission to an armed robbery.


      If she should wind up drunkenly in the room of an equally intoxicated senior colleague, his ability to misunderstand intent must be considered as an extenuating circumstance.

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday February 10, 2016 @12:06AM (#51476339)

      Why can't she say she was drunk, going to his apartment seemed like a good idea and they became intimate until she had second thoughts?

      The story has too many holes in its timeline for this not to be a plausible explanation. You can create worse scenarios from the same facts, but it seems questionable that Richmond carried her passed out to through the streets of Florence to his hotel. She most likely agreed to it and was self-ambulatory even if she was intoxicated.

      The sexual contact was probably ill desired, but it sounds like it stopped when she wanted to stop and again, we have no good explanation what put her on the bed in that situation to believe in unless you're subscribed to the idea he brought her home in a passed out state and put her on her bed.

      The worst you could say that Richmond was opportunistic and a cad.

      My belief is you can't call buyer's remorse sexual assault and you don't get a pass for getting intoxicated and making bad decisions that result in unwanted circumstances. It doesn't justify forcible assault, but it doesn't condemn sexual advances when you've willingly gotten into bed with them or agreeing to have sex for that matter.

      Too many women are making bad decisions and having cognitive dissonance about it afterward and then seeking absolution through blame because they can't live with their mistakes.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        Why can't she say she was drunk, going to his apartment seemed like a good idea and they became intimate until she had second thoughts?

        Because she's married.

  • by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Wednesday February 10, 2016 @01:22AM (#51476633) Homepage Journal

    It's important to be clear on the difference between anthropologists and paleoanthropologists. Anthropologists get real live humans to anthropologise on. Paleoanthropologists do the same thing, but they avoid grains, legumes and sugar.

  • 'Research assistant' is happy to exchange sexual favours for a free all expediences paid holiday in Florence, Italy. Months later after the expected favours dry up, she decides to trash the mans' reputation.

    'a research assistant .. charged that her boss .. had “sexually assaulted” her in.. She requested that her name not appear in this story to protect her privacy.) '

    Sexually assault is a criminal matter, why not make a formal complaint on the night instead of months later in a roof top ba
    • by nbauman ( 624611 )

      Sexually assault is a criminal matter, why not make a formal complaint on the night instead of months later in a roof top bar.

      Because if anyone made a criminal complaint that started out with her getting so drunk she doesn't know what happened next, the prosecutors would realize that it would be impossible to prove a case like that in court, file it away and forget it.

      And because if the crime consisted of his lying on top of her and groping her under her skirt, the prosecutors would realize that this isn't

  • Maybe it's because I went to school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but I'm remembering a lot of women who made their career by having an affair with their professors.

    In one case, a friend of mine was the first woman to major in a male-dominated field at a big university. All the guys in my circle of friends really looked up to her for that.

    Then she once casually mentioned that she was having an affair with her (married) professor.

    People have a right to have sex with anybody they want, but I hated it because it confirmed a stereotype that I hated - - "Women will use sex to advance their career."

    Last I heard, she didn't go into the field at all, but got a job as a programmer.

    I wonder if anybody else here has seen things like that.

  • Did anybody else think that in the illustration accompanying that story, Rebecca Ackermann had a pretty low neckline?

    I know there have been studies of cleavage in women's photos on dating sites, but this seems to be somewhat revealing for a professional setting. Especially for someone who wants to de-emphasize sexuality in academia.

    • Did anybody else think that in the illustration accompanying that story, Rebecca Ackermann had a pretty low neckline?

      do you mean the photograph? Maybe it's just my ad blocker, but I'm not seeing any illustrations. If you mean the photograph, the answer is no. She's barely showing any boob. Build a bridge and get over it.

  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Wednesday February 10, 2016 @05:40AM (#51477321) Homepage Journal

    From TFA:

    Evolving interpretations of Title IX have also played a part, in particular a 2011 letter released by the Office for Civil Rights reminding educational institutions of their obligations to both prevent and respond to sexual misconduct, including sexual violence. "Title IX makes it very clear that a beautiful 19-year-old female wearing a halter top and a miniskirt can go check on her fruit flies at night without being touched or made uncomfortable by her professor," Harvard's Johnson says.

    If you're the kind of person who will be psychologically traumatized by having your professor acknowledge your sexual attractiveness, I would think that you would be better off wearing something more professional than a halter top and miniskirt to the lab at night. Maybe you should learn something from those fruit flies.

    If this is a problem, then you should have a dress code for female employees.

    Actually, I used to work at the American Foundation for [deleted], and we had a temp employee come in wearing a halter top and a bare midriff. She made quite an impression, some of it favorable (on her boss) and some of it unfavorable (on the other women in the office). Somebody talked to her about it, and she covered it up, to some disappointment by the men in the office.

    If anybody claims that women never dress in revealing clothes to be sexually attractive, they're denying reality.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The problem is people will always assume the absolute worst, so you have to be incredibly careful with your language and fully enumerate all possible behaviours you are referring to. Or don't, and just rely on the people actually dealing with this stuff to use their judgement.

      When it says "without being touched or made uncomfortable by her professor", it means "no touching, no leering, no standing uncomfortably close and breathing down her neck, no overtly sexual comments etc."

      By constantly mis-interpreting

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Orgasmatron ( 8103 )

        We don't trust your judgment, and you did it to yourself.

        SJWs routinely define the existence of the patriarchy as harassment, and males as being part of the patriarchy.

        When we hear vague accusations, we understand that there is a non-zero chance that it is bullshit, because you've been trying to feed us an ever increasing stream of bullshit for the last few decades. We don't trust you any more. We want to know exactly what happened, so that we can use our own judgment.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          So what you are saying is that instead of making the most minimal effort to understand what I'm saying, you prefer to just live in your own little world where you don't have to worry about me calling your bullshit.

          Case in point, the patriarchy is a system. Every member of a society us part of it by definition, but that's irrelevant because it's an institutional problem.

    • If anybody claims that women never dress in revealing clothes to be sexually attractive, they're denying reality.

      Oh yes, but they have certain people in mind who they want to acknowledge that. Or at least a class of people. If you're not in it, they want you forbidden by law and custom from acknowledging it.

Fear is the greatest salesman. -- Robert Klein