The news about Harvey Weinstein can hardly have escaped the attention of even the most lab-bound post-doc ro PhD student. The investigative journalism at the The New York Times story has led to the downfall of a movie mogul for sexual harassment, unwanted physical contact and other things most of us don’t think people like him should do. Ashley Judd commented on the NYT story saying women had been talking about Harvey for a long time and that it was simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly. The implication being that his misconduct was an open secret. The Guardian’s recent coverage pointed to 2015 reporting of this by journalist Jennifer Senior; more and more people are coming out into the open to denounce someone they knew was operating in a pretty despicable manner.
Lets not kid ourselves that this is only a problem for the movie industry, or for business in general – it’s a problem for scientists working around the world right now. In Cambridge (UK and USA) I am pretty certain that at least one post-doc has had to fend of or deal with this kind of problem and probably this week.
Nature covered this during the summer and included the Guardian’s reporting of at least 296 allegations against UK university staff since 2011. But this was only those where the details could be tracked down. Michael Katze was sacked from the University of Washington after similar details emerged to the Weinstein case, and he’d sued to keep things quiet.
How do we get this out in the open when an Institution can sack a PI for misconduct “on the quiet” and avoid any scandal. But they may not let that persons other employers/funders know, and even if they do the other employer/funder may well turn a blind eye saying “this was not on my watch”. We need to be open – I’d ask the questions “should MRC/RCUK, Wellcome Trust, NIHR (Top 3 UK funders) and CRUK should be communicating about cases so people don’t lose a job in one place due to misconduct, but keep their other funding somewhere else.
PS: If any investigative journalists would like to dig into this please get in touch.