I guess David Sabatini is a failed scientist now


The fall from grace was precipitous, but it should have happened long ago. The molecular biologist David M. Sabatini has been outright fired from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Whitehead Institute, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he also loses his tenured position at MIT soon enough. Can you guess what prompted his ouster?

An investigation found that he had “violated the Institute’s policies on sexual harassment among other policies unrelated to research misconduct.” No details are available yet, but it’s notable that they were serious enough that he wasn’t merely placed on leave, or slapped on the wrist, or placed under tight restriction on his interactions with student. Nope, just flat out FIRED. Tea will have to be spilled sooner or later, though.

This is not entirely surprising, but I had expected the grounds for his dismissal would be over his frequent cases of forged and falsified data that had already given him a reputation, or perhaps over his amazing arrogance. He’s a guy who, when caught with faked figures in his paper, would turn around and accuse the people who disclosed his errors of being “resentful, anonymous, petty, failed scientists”.

That’s what I thought would bring him down in the end. I hadn’t heard anything about him being a sexual harasser, but we should have figured that that would be a comorbidity associated with terminal cockiness.

Comments

  1. Matt G says

    The Science article says he resigned from Whitehead. I wonder how all this was orchestrated. Did he agree to resign in exchange for something?

  2. says

    He accomplished something important once and became famous, but then the limelight began to fade and couldn’t accept being a one hit wonder. So he decided fame was more important than repeatable results and assumed no one would challenge him on it. Ego^2.

  3. komarov says

    “This is not entirely surprising, but I had expected the grounds for his dismissal would be over his frequent cases of forged and falsified data that had already given him a reputation, […]”

    Could the reason just be a matter of framing? You can a) fire someone from your research institute for cooking data or b) for sexual harassment. A) casts doubt on the credibility of your organisation. B) makes you look great (relatively speaking) because you actually did something about a predator working for you that didn’t amount to a mere shrug. Whichever reason you choose to give is going to end up in large print alongside the name of your institution. Thus “Sexual harassment at [Prestigious Science Place]” might seem the better choice simply because it happens all the time and usually has next to no consquences.

    So hooray for you, o wise and progressie administrator, champion of the harassed! It’s also a great reason to keep the predators around because that’s the skeleton to pull out of the closet and present to the public when they misstep in some way that could actually harm funding.

    Well, some might say I’m being far too cynical, but all I see is room to grow.

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