Did the MeToo movement ruin America

"MeToo" debate caught US research off guard

Researchers in the US like to see themselves at the forefront of society when it comes to identifying problems. But the debate about sexual harassment surrounding “MeToo” caught her off guard - as was recently shown in a major discussion in the US scientific community.

The need to speak is huge. Even when the discussion event on the subject of "Harassment in Science and Technology" was supposed to be over long ago, the audience kept holding up their hands. “I'm a mathematician and I'm panic. What can I do now and what not? Where are the green zones - and where are the yellow ones? "

Jodi Wesemann from the Association of US Chemists tries to calm the young student down. "No panic. Just be open. Without an open discussion, we cannot move forward on this topic. "

"Not better than other industries"

The "MeToo" movement against sexual harassment, launched last year by Hollywood and allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein, has long since reached US academia. Several cases of sexual harassment of female researchers have become public. The topic also overshadowed the world's largest annual science conference, the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), which ended on Monday in Austin, Texas.

"Science in the US is probably no better or worse than other industries in this regard," said Shirley Malcolm, AAAS 'education and human resources officer. “But we have to openly embrace the problem and the solutions. We have to discuss it openly and be honest, nothing can be hidden anymore. "

“Completely new territory” of a known problem

The researchers are wrestling with themselves, this quickly becomes clear. Actually, they see themselves at the spearhead of society in recognizing problems and finding solutions - how can it be that Hollywood of all people has dragged this problem into the light of the world? And the country's universities and research associations are only slowly admitting that there is a problem - let alone suggest what could be done about it?

"This is completely new territory for us," says Malcolm, "even if at least we women have of course actually known the problem for decades and this discussion should have been held long ago." The institutions and associations are worried a lot: Where should the money and the money be Have the capacity to investigate all the allegations? Will there be scientists who are unjustifiably accused and whose careers are thereby destroyed? And will allegations have a negative impact on the funding of research institutions?

Strong hierarchies

In addition, science is completely different from Hollywood, says Jamie Lewis Keith, lawyer for the consulting firm EducationCounsel in Washington. “In the entertainment industry, people are cut out of a film or the film is not released. That doesn't seem to work in our industry. "

The foundations that make sexual harassment possible in science are the strong hierarchies and the still clear majority of men in research, especially in the natural sciences, says Meg Urry, an astrophysicist at the elite University of Yale. "We have no gender equality in our society and our scientific institutions reflect that." The problem of harassment occurs particularly strongly in research projects outside the home university.

New rules and ethics

"I can't even count how many women have come to me and told me about their experiences," says Urry. A whole range of harassment is represented there, none of which is trivial. A young woman was besieged by a significantly older man at a scientific conference until she finally locked herself in her hotel room for the rest of the conference. Another young woman presented the results of her research on a poster. "What is attractive about your poster - besides you?" Asked a man.

As an antidote, Urry initially suggests stricter rules and ethical standards - similar to those against the falsification of research results and plagiarism. Some scientific associations, for example that of geophysicists, have already implemented this.

The National Science Foundation also recently linked its important grants to new guidelines. At some universities, however, there is still no rule that professors are not allowed to go out with their students, says Urry. That has to be changed. In addition, the men would also have to raise their voices in support.

“The change has to happen now,” urry urges. "And I can only give any research organization one piece of advice: if you want to keep quality high, hire women."

Christina Horsten, dpa

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