The Old Guard at Science is quelling modernization, I fear

Last month, Michael Balter published a story in Science about sexual misconduct in anthropology (I also mentioned it). A research assistant reported that Brian Richmond had assaulted her at a conference.

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 “walking around Florence and realizing that I was way too drunk.” The next thing she remembers, she says, is waking up on the bed in Richmond’s hotel room in the wee hours of the morning with him on top of her, kissing her and groping under her skirt.

This incident led to an investigation that found multiple women had been the target of Richmond’s advances. It’s the usual story: big name has a history of inappropriate behavior that is ignored for years, until it can’t be ignored any more…usually after some number of women have had their careers derailed.

Now there’s another twist: the reporter who broke the story has been abruptly fired. He admits to fighting hard to get the story published, and apparently annoyed some of the higher level management to the point that someone on high decided to just get rid of him.

Some commentators have pointed out in the past, and reminded social media followers yesterday, that Science and the AAAS have had a poor track record on sexual harassment issues. The Brian Richmond story was a chance for the magazine to redeem itself, and indeed it was already on the way to doing so with fine stories by my colleague Jeff Mervis, who broke the Christian Ott Caltech story. My own perception is that the magazine was caught between its desire to take credit for the Richmond story and its fear of a lawsuit. In prior comments to people about this, and on discussion lists, I have tried to give my editors credit for doing the right thing and publishing a hard-hitting story despite their fears; but in the end they have decided to shoot the messenger.

I’ve already talked above about the culture at AAAS that allowed four colleagues to be fired precipitously in 2014, and will not elaborate on that here–except to say that just as I was beginning the Brian Richmond investigation, one of my editors asked me to delete a key blog post about that episode in which I criticized our Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt for parroting the party line put out by former AAAS CEO Alan Leshner. I declined to engage in this sanitizing of the historical record, not least because I consider that episode to be one of the proudest moments of my life. It’s not often that one gets to put one’s career on the line for something one believes in, and I have no regrets.

He’s been a troublemaker before, when he publicly criticized AAAS management for their abrupt firing of four women on the staff. Apparently, Science is making it a habit to treat women employed there rather shabbily, and to swiftly terminate anyone who complains about it.

But what about McNutt, you might ask? I’ve never been particularly impressed with her — she seems to be a lackey to the powers-that-be.


  1. screechymonkey says

    Let’s try to keep a little perspective here. Sure, this guy got fired for pushing hard for an important story, but TWITTER TOOK MILO’S LITTLE BLUE CHECKMARK!

  2. watry says

    Harassment and assault in anthropology is pretty common, especially in field schools. In fact, my upper-level class professors would do a lecture about various grad school topics, including “Hey, sexual assault is really common, and reporting it may not do any good. Listen to the rumors about who to avoid.*” The one professor who did an out-of-country field school paid very good attention and had a talk about what harassment could look like. It’s a bit disconcerting to know that it’s such a problem that it deserves its own lecture.

    *Yes, I know, I know. That puts the onus on the hypothetical victim.

  3. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Marcus @ 5: It can be both there and not there at the same time.

  4. says


    *Yes, I know, I know. That puts the onus on the hypothetical victim.

    It’s still good advice, especially as young women may not yet be clued in when it comes to the missing stair, and how much that’s depended on to keep people from being victimized.

  5. watry says

    I thought so too, Caine, but I once mentioned this somewhere else (not here) and got chewed out over that. I’m still not sure exactly where the line between good practical advice and the victim-blaming kind is, but I thought that landed solidly on one side.

  6. says


    I thought so too, Caine, but I once mentioned this somewhere else (not here) and got chewed out over that. I’m still not sure exactly where the line between good practical advice and the victim-blaming kind is, but I thought that landed solidly on one side.

    I think you can hold your ground on that one. Of course it isn’t ideal, in an ideal world such a thing wouldn’t be necessary. It’s not victim blaming, at least not from my perspective. For all the years I spent as an [rape/assault] advocate, the missing stair always came up for discussion, unless it was a stranger rape. It’s better that a person know about the missing stair than not, and it’s better to pay attention than not. It’s a matter of practicality, and it does save people from being raped or assaulted.

  7. wzrd1 says

    We raised two girls to adulthood. It wasn’t easy and we had some interesting experiences along the way.
    One thing I drilled into both of them was, if someone sexually assaults you, beat him down and keep kicking until either the ambulance arrives or three cops pull you off of him. That lesson started at junior high school.
    In high school, our eldest was sexually assaulted by one of the boys in her class. She beat him down, but refrained from kicking him. Even when reporting the assault, she was suspended and he was returned to class.
    On day one of the suspension, I popped by the school. I had a conversation with the principal of the school, my former guidance counselor from junior high school and we caught up on subsequent events.
    He grew nervous when he learned that I was in the military and his eyes popped when he saw my special forces insignia on my beret, a nice green one. I then explained that his safety was directly proportional to the safety of both of my daughters, if something happens to one, it happens to him. I further explained that there is no place in this country that he could hide and my team would likely accompany me to administer summary justice, as justice is denied the young man’s victims (his father is wealthy and used his influence to get him out of the same trouble in the past).
    I bid the principal good day and took my leave. I was pleasantly surprised that he didn’t attempt to involve the authorities and he did indeed see to the safety of all of the students from that day on.

    If a peer or coworker raped one of my daughters, I’d find a way for him to win an all expense paid vacation here.
    In alligator country.

    When the justice system cannot be trusted to deliver justice, there remains primordial justice.
    And we do indeed have an alligator in the water out back, the white ibis and other birds haven’t been about and that’s the only time they avoid that area.