Bad Apples

Today, the astronomy grapevine, Twitter and Facebook were lit up by the revelation that Geoff Marcy, one of the world’s foremost astronomers, had been reprimanded by Berkeley for multiple episodes of sexual harassment, committed over a ten year period. Marcy, frequently tipped as a future Nobelist, pioneered the discovery of exoplanets – planets orbiting stars other than our sun.

The story was broken by Buzzfeed, and Marcy has posted a half-assed apology on his website. 

Berkeley is a fantastic place. It is not just one of the world’s leading universities, it is arguably the top public university on the planet, a wellspring of innovation and originality. So I would love to see Berkeley take the lead in making science a hospitable place for women. I would like to see Berkeley openly ask how this happened inside their community, to investigate whether Marcy is the only bad apple in the barrel, and do what it takes to become an institution within which everyone who earns a place can thrive.

Of course, we know how this sort of thing happens – it happens because “everyone knows” who the problems are, but nothing happens to stop them. Sooner or later, astronomy and the rest of academic science will face a reckoning over its long-term acquiescence in the face of bad behaviour by prominent and not-so-prominent individuals. Theft, fabrication and plagiarism are all sacking offences for scientists and we know it. But behaviour that blights careers and drives students out of the field often goes unrecognised and unpunished, or brings only the mildest of reprimands. This has to change.

CODA: Image via Flickr; Stephanie Watson