NIH, NAS dole out punishments for abusive members
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have announced disciplinary actions against individuals accused of creating a toxic workplace environment.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have announced disciplinary actions against individuals accused of creating a toxic workplace environment, Inside Higher Ed reports.
At the NIH, 75 principal investigators (PIs) have been removed from grants following reports of sexual harassment, with allegations dating back to 2018. It’s the first time PIs have been removed for this reason, the NIH says.
About 125 NIH scientists have been banned from acting as peer reviewers for grants in an effort to avoid bias, which is a whole other issue the agency has had to confront (more on that below).The organization’s Office of Extramural Research Deputy Director Michael Lauer said at a June 10 meeting of the NIH’s Advisory Committee to the Director it’s not unusual for the NIH to remove a reviewer if they are under investigation for harassment claims. “If it turns out that everything is fine, then we can restore the ability to invite them for peer review,” Lauer added.
At the meeting, Lauer presented findings on 314 complaints, noting some cases involved overlapping concerns.
NAS has expelled two members following an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct, a first in the organization’s 158-year history. One of those members was astronomer Geoff Macy, who was booted in April for violating Section IV of its Code of Conduct, which prohibits “sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.”
According to the code, members can also be expelled for “other types of harassment,” which include “any verbal or physical conduct directed at individuals or groups of people because of their race, ethnicity, colour, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, disability, veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by applicable laws, that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.”
While the developments signify a move in the right direction, survivors of sexual harassment in the sciences said that while they welcome the actions taken by NIH and NAS, some found the reporting process to be physically and emotionally draining.
“What’s really clear at this point is that it takes overwhelming evidence and many victims coming forward to get any of these other organizations to act,” Kathleen Treseder, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Irvine and an accuser, told Insider Higher Ed.
“Things are so entrenched that it just takes a mountain to move these people.”
Back in March, NIH director Francis Collins publicly apologized for systemic racism embedded in the agency’s federal funding process for biomedical research. Disparities were first reported in 2011 and then again in 2019, coming to light once more in January 2021 with the publication of a report by Michael A Taffe and Nicholas W Gilpin.
Analysis found white scientists are 1.7 times more likely to receive federal research grants than Black scientists, “even when controlling for a long list of potential mediating variables,” Dr. Gilpin said.
In a statement, Dr. Collins acknowledged NIH’s efforts to increase diversity “have not been sufficient.”
“To those individuals in the biomedical research enterprise who have endured disadvantages due to structural racism, I am truly sorry,” he continued.
Dr. Collins announced a new initiative called UNITE, tasked with identifying “short-term and long-term actions” that will eliminate bias.