Mark Siddall becomes famous for something! Not for what he would have intended


The AMNH cracks down on a harasser.

I don’t know the guy, and hadn’t heard anything about his behavior until now — the whisper networks are pretty good at the ‘whisper’ part and focus their messages on the people who need to hear them for their own defense, which is not me. I’m not at all privy to the man’s actions, but for an institution as staid and conservative as the AMNH to fire someone they once featured in a children’s video says something awful was going on. They have typically been thorough in covering up problems (not a good look), but we are starting to hear from the people he harassed.

There are big questions here, though. He’s been a problem for many, many years, and nothing was done — he was allowed to take on women as students. I don’t know whether to be surprised or groan at the familiarity of it all. The larger and more prestigious the institution, the more likely there will be some people in the upper ranks who practice denial. What that means then is that the problem festers, and eventually there has to be a big ugly break after years of peoples’ lives and careers are ruined.

You can learn more about this mess at Balter’s Blog.

Over the last 24 hours, a number of Siddall’s victims and their allies (including people the victims have told) have taken to social media to briefly describe their experiences with him. A key, widely shared demand is that the museum engage in full disclosure of how and why Siddall was allowed to traumatize colleagues for so many years. That means disclosing who knew, when and what they knew, and what they did or did not do about it. Perhaps will take some lawsuits from survivors to pry that information loose, but the museum would be better off doing its own, fully transparent, inquiry now, and let the chips fall where they may. Perhaps even a fully independent inquiry would be necessary to get at the truth.

The AMNH is evidently hoping that getting rid of Siddall after all these years, with a minimal internal announcement to museum staff, is enough to show that they take harassment seriously. Bullshit. My sources say that the museum administration was fully aware–right up to the top ranks–of Siddall’s behavior all this time, but that the HR department was used as a shield to deflect all complaints. They got away with this for years. We still don’t know what the actual findings were in the investigation of Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example; and the only time that the museum has shown any transparency was in the case of disgraced human origins curator and sexual predator Brian Richmond. Why? Because Science magazine already had the whole story.

This is what happens if you’re not swift to respond and transparent about how you handle the accusations — someone is going to sink their teeth into the story and guilt will shift from the bad guy who was abusing people to all of the bad guys who are sheltering the culprit. Perhaps you too are an amoral exploiter who has risen in the ranks of the administration, and I can’t possibly reach you with appeals to morality and goodness; but can I appeal to your selfishness? The bad guys will eventually be exposed, and then you are going to be in the crosshairs…and you’re going to deserve it.

Comments

  1. komarov says

    “the museum would be better off doing its own, fully transparent, inquiry now, and let the chips fall where they may.”

    It might benefit the museum, but how is this going to benefit the people at the top who have been so hard at work all this time to keep these things quiet? Maybe a tightly guarded, ultimately inconclusive internal review that comes up with some generic recommendations, but please, we have to be realistic here. The best thing for everyone (of import) involved is if nothing really changes and the whole thing goes away quietly, as per usual. (sarcasm indicator, just in case)

  2. chrislawson says

    I know this is seems to be a minority opinion, but I would have thought that any academic who is not allowed to take female students should not be in the job at all. Not only are avenues for abuse other than to those directly under one’s tutelage, but it creates knock-on inequalities and increased administrative load. The only reasonable exception I can see is for someone who is being managed with a view to longer-term behaviour change. That is, for relatively minor behaviour problems that are likely to respond to education.

  3. PaulBC says

    I know this is seems to be a minority opinion, but I would have thought that any academic who is not allowed to take female students should not be in the job at all.

    Is it even legal to make a restriction like this? It is starting to get into “Pence rule” territory here. It seems like a no-brainer that someone you can’t trust not to harass anyone should not have a job with you (or at least a job dealing with human beings).

    The only reasonable exception I can see is for someone who is being managed with a view to longer-term behaviour change.

    Their employer isn’t their nanny. I think any proven harassment is grounds for firing. Beyond that, I guess some kind of longterm career rehabilitation is possible (we all need to support ourselves) but it seems well beyond the scope of their employer’s responsibility.

    Is this really a minority view?

  4. DanDare says

    @1 Doesn’t seem like a minority view to me. I’d be interested to know if there is a history of “keep em on but restrict access”. Could you imagine a pedophile teacher being kept on at a school as a janitor, because they are then not in directly charge of kids?

  5. recoveringcladist says

    I suspect that he knew too much about the people who were in a position to fire him, until he left them no choice.

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