Another science conference, another old white man getting honored

Unpleasant stuff is trickling out of the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.

Just because you study scaleys and slimies doesn’t mean you have to be slimy yourself.

The story has already made the news.

Adam Summers, an ichthyologist in attendance, wrote on Twitter: “Herp League decided the most distinguished herpetologist they could find was Dick Vogt. His talk included scantily clad female students. Blue box cover ups were added without Vogt’s knowledge.”

Showing scandalous slides, she said, “is something he’s been doing for 20 years. … There’s a big difference between what he does and just (pictures of) students in normal field garb.”

So the guy is notorious for doing this, he’s been doing it for decades, and women have been avoiding him…and yet the society still goes ahead and gives him an award.

Latest word: the award has been rescinded.


  1. doubter says

    I guess I’ll make the obligatory joke about this guy putting the “Ick” in Icthyology”.

    All these revelations about academics put me in mind of a philosophy of science class I took almost 25 years ago. The prof asked us what we thought of the idea that having advanced knowledge or doing great and morally positive acts was inherently ennobling. He was disturbed by the fact that scientists and other figures he admired had feet of clay (Richard Feynman was brought up as an example).

    Those of us in the class who responded were confused. Of course awful people can have great ideas! I jokingly accused the prof of conferring a kind of secular sainthood on these figures.

    Was this once a common belief?

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Something wrong with the headline here: Vogt’s problem does not derive from his age or pigmentation.

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    Yep. It was once a common belief.


    No, his problem doesn’t derive from that, but an association that chooses white guys disproportionately, to the extent that they would honor Vogt when, presumably, they run out of any white guys more worthy of the honor, is an association that has a problem. I think that PZ is probably stating two things: First, in the headline, he’s asserting doubt that there was no one more worthy of honor among the membership fo the HL and that bestowing the honor likely has something to do with his sex, gender & race, since he’s so obviously *un*worthy in some significant ways, and Second, in the body, he’s detailing what makes Vogt, specifically, unworthy (and thus adding evidence to the claim that it wasn’t his professional value alone that won him the “honor”)

    I visited the HL’s comment page and sent them a piece of my mind. You can contact them too, if you want.

    As an aside, I’ve known a very few herpetologists in my time, and the one that I knew best (a co-worker one place I taught who was close to other co-workers of mine and thus ended up working on committees and doing projects with me) was a complete jerkface who thought that his martial arts skills, hard drinking, and sexism made him great fun at parties. I so regret that I ever ended up at even one party with that man.

  4. Johnny Vector says

    Pierce R. Butler @#2:

    Vogt’s problem does not derive from his age or pigmentation.

    No, but JMIH’s problem almost certainly does. Also you forgot “gender”.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Crip Dyke… @ # 3 – Quite so.

    Johnny Vector @ # 4: Also you forgot “gender”.

    No, I considered it explicitly, and could not see a way it does not pertain to the problem.

  6. says

    You know for a guy who is in a field that studies snakes and whose first name is ‘dick’ he could have at least made the effort to come up with a more clever version of harassment.

  7. Bruce Fuentes says

    #7 he has never had to worry about whether it s appropriate. I am sure no one ever told him to stop. He is just exercising the privilege that society gives to OWM’s. This is a very disgusting display of the privilege guys like this get every day.

  8. tacitus says

    Another response forthcoming:

    #JMIH18 In light of the events regarding the Distinguished Herpetologists Award, the board of Herpetologists League will be making a statement on this at the business meeting today at 6pm EST in Highland A. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend.— HerpetologistsLeague (@HerpLeague) July 13, 2018

  9. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    What on earth do risque photos have to do with turtle herpetology? Why the hell would he think that was in any way appropriate?

    Your first question is on point: they have nothing to do with turtle herpetology (unless the “risqué photos” are ones of bare naked turtles).

    But I think your second question misses the point: I’m of the opinion that Vogt consciously thought the photos were inappropriate, and that getting away with doing something inappropriate was part of what Vogt valued about giving lectures like this. I don’t think for a minute that he’s never noticed his behavior makes others uncomfortable. I think that many people delight in making others uncomfortable. If they did it violently, we would have no problem calling them bullies. If they did it through a consistent pattern of non-violent behavior as 5th graders towards other elementary school students we would have no problem calling them bullies. I expect that many people will disagree with my assessment, but I believe that there are a great many bullies who don’t grow out of their bullying behavior, but choose to bully in ways that cost them only what they are willing to pay for their entertainment. If they aren’t willing to go to jail, then as adults they may not be violent bullies. But learning to stay out of jail doesn’t make them something other than a bully.

    Sexual harassment is bullying behavior that’s targeted at people on the basis of sex or gender, and one of the reasons it’s so damn common is that sexism permits men bullies to victimize women and then insinuate that men taking the side of the victim are joining the women and are becoming womanly by implication.

    Sexism invites men bullies who like getting away with bullying to choose women as their victims … and their choice to take advantage of the power differentials created by gender oppression is sexist. But lots and lots of the men who treat women like crap also treat other men like crap when they can get away with it or when they don’t care about the consequences.

    This explains why so many mass shooters have a history of violence against women. Fundamentally, they have a history of acting violently when they can get away with it and/or when they don’t care about the consequences. Once such people become suicidal or even just stop giving a shit about society and other people in general, even the consequences of being convicted for murder or terrorism no longer seem to matter to them. Presto: you have the makings of a mass murderer.

    It also explains why feminists who feel the need to convince selfish men that feminism is in their interest don’t just hand them a copy of Colonize This!, but instead talk about how violence against women is a “canary in the coal mine” signaling likelihood of future violence that might even, gasp!, target men! This argument is frequently used when advocating for, e.g., laws that revoke concealed weapons permits upon conviction for a DV-related battery or that authorize the removal of guns from the possession of someone subject to a permanent/long-term restraining order for stalking or DV.

    I would love to live in a world where we simply didn’t have any guns, anywhere, owned by anyone. But if self-centered men asshats are going to be convinced by that argument when they aren’t convinced that, hey, we should make it harder to kill even women who, obviously, aren’t the asshats themselves, I won’t criticize the people making the argument.

    None of this is to say that Vogt is a murderer or is about to become one. I’m merely attempting to draw the connection between “sexist jerk” and “bully” which is too often invisible and is in this case necessary to explain why I believe Vogt never thought that what he was doing with the pictures was “appropriate”.

  10. chrislawson says

    Why would he even have photos of scantily clad students? The only reason I can think of is that they were doing field work in a hot and wet environment where light clothing or even swimsuits might be appropriate to the conditions. But even if that were the case, I find it strange that he would feel the need to take photos of his students in enough detail to count as risqué, let alone show them to an audience. And why would the conference organisers feel the need to censor the pictures? If the pictures were appropriate they should not have needed obscuring, and if they were inappropriate then his talk should have been cancelled.

  11. chrislawson says

    On an unrelated matter: why do ichthyologists and herpetologists have an umbrella group? I would have thought the two disciplines were too far apart to make this synergistic.

  12. chrislawson says

    As Crip Dyke says @11–

    There’s little doubt in my mind that the inappropriateness is part of what Vogt enjoys. It’s the same with secret up-skirt photographers. It’s not that weird a kink that they couldn’t find a willing partner; it’s the violation that motivates them.

  13. says

    @chrislawson Bill Cosby would be the ultimate example, a man with easily enough resources to find willing partners to fulfill his fantasies. Instead he victimised who knows how many generations of women.

  14. Ichthyic says

    On an unrelated matter: why do ichthyologists and herpetologists have an umbrella group?

    it’s quite old. Copeia (the journal that goes with) dates back to the early 1900s.

    the umbrella is because when it was formed, the commonality was working on cold blooded vertebrates. And no, the two groups share as much as they differ, at least.

  15. says

    Regarding the inappropriate/risqué photos. The professor works in Brazil, and what is considered inappropriate in some countries is the norm in others. In Germany, men and women regularly use the sauna together naked without towels, with would not fly in my native Sweden. On the other hand, we parents take 1-4-year-olds to the beach, swimwear is optional for the kids and the younger the child the likelier it is undressed. I understand such behaviour have gotten parents in trouble with social services in the States. And as I have been to Brazil on a few occasions I can understand that Brazilian swimwear fashion in some instances will be considered inappropriate/ risqué by European or especially American standards.

    Dick is probably a creep anyway, but not having seen the pictures, it is conceivable that he has assimilated into Brazilian norms and don’t consider them being inappropriate. Despite him being originally from the States.

  16. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    Did you read the part in the original post where he is quoted asking an admirer of his scientific work,

    have you ever fucked a herpetologist?

    I sincerely doubt that that’s perfectly appropriate given cultural norms in Brazil.

    Also, the fact that the people who had responsibility for preparing his photos recognized them as inappropriate is clear from the fact that they added blue boxes. If they thought this was a simple cross-cultural snafu, a few words about the photos would have been enough and they would not have been shown.

    I’ve never been to Brazil, but I think that there’s more than enough evidence to conclude that we’re not dealing with simple cultural differences.

  17. Bruce Fuentes says

    Response from the Herpetologist’s League. Sounds like they need a new President.

    Thank you for contacting the Herpetologists’ League with your concerns. Here is the statement that we prepared today:

    The Board of Trustees of the Herpetologists’ League (HL) recognizes the scope of the controversy stemming from the designation of the 2018 Distinguished Herpetologist. This selection was, and has been, the sole responsibility of the HL President, and is made in recognition of the sustained scientific contributions of the awardee to the field of herpetology.
    HL seeks to promote a vibrant and inclusive society. In response to this situation, HL holds the following objectives to be true:
    •HL does not condone harassment or discrimination in any of its forms.
    •The HL Board of Trustees has rescinded the awarding of the 2018 Distinguished Herpetologist.
    •HL regrets and apologizes for offensive content presented in the 2018 Distinguished Herpetologist lecture.
    •HL Board of Trustees is not responsible for the content of the presentation delivered by the Distinguished Herpetologist awardee.
    •The HL Board of Trustees welcomes current and future members to become actively involved in HL activities that promote diversity and inclusivity among its ranks.
    •The HL Board of Trustees is taking concrete steps to assure that all individuals are welcomed, included, and valued. These steps include, but are not limited to the following:
    •Revision of the HL By Laws to codify the Distinguished Herpetologist Lecture Series
    •HL will sign on to the JMIH Code of Conduct.
    •HL is forming a committee to address issues associated with professional conduct.
    •HL is forming a committee to increase diversity and inclusivity within the field of herpetology.

    Please let me know if you have any further concerns regarding this matter.

  18. chrislawson says


    Yes different countries have different cultural norms, but it’s not like Brazil is Mardi Gras all year round in all places. Plus, Vogt earned his PhD in the US for studying turtle populations in the Mississippi and is a senior scientist and works at an institution that would have compulsory sexual boundary training sessions for staff and has an “avoid at all costs” reputation among women in his field. The idea that he didn’t know this was inappropriate because he does a lot of field work in Brazil is unsustainable.

  19. Bruce Fuentes says

    All hail Crip Dyke. A wonderful summation of the issue at hand and a brilliant explanation.

  20. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Bruce Fuentes:

    Thanks for your #19: I was waiting to see what their response might be.

  21. evilrooster says

    I’m of the opinion that Vogt consciously thought the photos were inappropriate, and that getting away with doing something inappropriate was part of what Vogt valued about giving lectures like this.

    Agreed. Many people find transgression exciting, and some of them use harassment to get their transgression fix. And many people simply don’t think the rules apply to them, and just give in to their baser instincts.

    In both cases, that means they’ve probably broken other rules too. So one way to approach the matter is to take the harassment accusation as a red flag. Look for other places they may have violated more rules: audit their expenses, double-check their resume. If they have broken other rules than just harassment, that also gives one grounds for discipline that don’t put an accuser in the cross-hairs.

    This isn’t my observation; it comes from an excellent article on the subject by Valerie Aurora and Leigh Honeywell: the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment.

  22. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    And why would the conference organisers feel the need to censor the pictures? If the pictures were appropriate they should not have needed obscuring, and if they were inappropriate then his talk should have been cancelled.

    this * 1000

    I wonder if the organizers have any understanding at all that all obscuring does is show consciousness of guilt. Objecting, “I felt guilty but I did it anyway,” is no more than articulating, “Okay, yeah I did it, but I’m not a sociopath.”

    Great. At the toll-booth access point to Good Intentions Road, just tell them you’ve been faintly praised & there will be no charge.


    Great find on that article!


    I replied at 22 to your 19 without having read your 21. Let me add a thank you for your kind words in addition to the thanks for your follow up on HL’s board’s actions.

  23. anxionnat says

    I was an undergrad in the early 1970s in Physical Anthropology. Female students and faculty were pretty thin on the ground. One of the faculty members, a primatologist, did the same thing in *all* his lectures. At first it was shocking, then it became boring. Around the department (esp among students) he was known as Dr Baboon. He looked like one, except the baboons were better-behaved.

  24. says

    @chrislawson and @Crip Dyke

    I assume you both missed my line beginning with
    “Dick is probably a creep anyway,…”, but in hindsight, I should have written most likely or something similar.
    But I must remark on two things in general. Firstly expats that have lived abroad for a long time and/or are older tend to have assimilated into the culture and tend to clash with their former culture when they return home. Secondly “compulsory sexual boundary training sessions for staff” is a very American cultural phenomenon. I will not deny that it occurs in my and other countries as well but to a significantly lesser degree. That may be changing with metoo and that is perhaps for the better

  25. jrkrideau says

    @ 23 evilrooster

    the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment

    That theory reminds me of someone….

    It would be interesting to see sociologists or social psychologists do some work on the theory. Intuitively it makes perfect sense.


  26. petesh says

    @27: No. You are implying that his behavior was acceptable while he was growing up. That’s bullshit. I was born in the same year as Vogt. Yes, when we were young there was “Coffee, Tea or Me” and the like; Playboy not to mention Penthouse; “free love” as an abuse of a needed reaction to prudery. But what he did recently would at least have pushed the boundaries of acceptability in the 1960s and 1970s — and no decent person of our age would not have evolved. Vogt has lived his entire adult life in the penumbra of the women’s movement; most of it during the establishment of gay and other rights. If he didn’t know better in 1970 (and he should have done), he certainly should have known better 40 years later — no matter where he lived. It is absolutely no defense to claim that what he did is OK because he was raised that way.

  27. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    Oh, I recognize that we’re on the same side! I didn’t think we were disagreeing on substance – in part because I did see that opening line. I just thought that the “clash of cultures” narrative was …unlikely.

    I disagreed with a line of argument, but not your general conclusion. I’m also not thinking poorly of you for bringing it up. We always need to consider such possibilities. I just had considered it and rejected and your post reminded me that I hadn’t explained why I had rejected it, which had to do with evidence and not just some dismissive bias of mine. So I spelled it out.

    But yeah, we’re fine.

  28. Daniel Dunér says

    @14 fredrikjanson
    In my native Sweden, people regularly sauna in any combination of dress/towel/nude in any combination of genders and non-genders. It’s not the norm in completely public saunas, but certainly in tons of different social circles where people more-or-less know each other.

    On another note, I think it might be a good idea for you to ask yourself why you felt the need to present a speculative possible semi-excuse for Vogt’s behaviour. As Crip wrote, it’s certainly not a bad idea to consider such things. But I have personally discovered that I have a reflexive instinct to bring up different alternative “plausible scenarios” in situations like these. And when digging into my motivations for that, everything becomes a bit murky and perhaps a bit problematic.

    The reasonable part of the instinct-to-speculate-about-excuses probably stems from my skepticism; I am trained to consider as many sides of a situation as possible (which is generally a good thing). But I think there is something more to it, some kind of need to find possible excuses for transgressions and/or mistakes I could see myself making. Or maybe it’s part of my training as a man to excuse other men? Or something else? I’m not sure about myself and certainly not in any position to psychoanalyse your motivations. But it has been incredibly valuable for me to critically reflect upon my own need to publicly put forward such speculations, so I thought I’d share that experience.

  29. anbheal says

    @31 Daniel Duner — exactly! This argument is akin to the Aussies and Kiwis and South Africans and Scots who bandy about the C-word, and then defend themselves, “oh, but in the Empire, it means something different, we call asshole men that”. Well them call them assholes in America, asshole. They have known since the 1960s that American women object, they have lived here since the 1980s, and you know DAMN WELL they have been called out 300 times before, but they enjoy the transgressing and then the shocked innocent defense. They like to say the C-word and get that reaction. Period.

    Ockham’s Razor suggests that if someone sounds like they’re being a total dick, the most likely reason is that they’re a total dick.’

    And let me go out on a limb, and speculate that a Snake Doctor is not expected to whip out his junk in front of a class full of undergrads in Sao Paulo. Fredrikjanson is on a fishing expedition. If some intellectual wants to take off his tightie-whities in a sauna in Zell Am See, Skol! You go, Sven! If somebody is a sexually harassing scumbag, then stop trying to invent bogus excuses!

  30. youguysareidiots says

    you guys are idiots…. oh no! attractive female student researchers out in the field where it is hot AF! how dare you allow these female forms to make contact with my innocent eyes! it’s rape, i tell you! RAPE!

  31. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @youguysareidiots, #33:

    Your comment shall stand as a monument to the reading comprehension ability of anti-feminists everywhere, as well as anti-feminists’ ability to construct an argument.

    Truly, you have well-represented your tribe this day.

  32. youguysareidiots says

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    061 cgttaaaaca gcaaaactcc aaaacaataa aacgacaaaa cattaaaact agaaaacaca
    121 aaaacgccaa aacaataaaa cgacaaaaca ccaaaacgcg aaaacaataa aacgacaaaa
    181 agacaaaacg ctaaaaagac aaaacgctaa aacatgaaaa cgttaaaaat ttaaaactca

  33. says

    I see the newest concrete example of rape culture has shown up. This one devalues the concept of rape in order to mockingly uphold a male authority figure treating their female subordinates like pieces of meat. Their next comment is nothing but a juvenile dominance display.

    evilrooster’s link at 23 is looking tangentally relevant. I wonder how many more socially pathological behaviours they will model for us?