TimesUp for Sexual Misconduct in NIH Funded Science
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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the leading funder of US scientific research underwriting critical research on human health, development and disease. One of the main goals of the NIH is "to exemplify and promote the highest level of scientific integrity, public accountability, and social responsibility in the conduct of science."
And yet, the majority of women in science report having been sexually harassed, assaulted and retaliated against. One in ten women avoid going to scientific meetings because of fear of facing their harasser or being harassed. Men who have assaulted, groped and retaliated against women in science move to new universities without consequences.
The NIH Director, Francis Collins has done nothing to help fight harassment. His public relations campaign with regard to safety and sexual harassment has been weak at best and harmful to women in science at worst. Two years ago, he co-authored a correspondence in Nature stating that, the NIH is "..deeply concerned about sexual harassment in science..." and yet he has done nothing to follow up.
If NIH had done anything in 2016, professors like Jason Lieb would face real consequences for their long history of assaulting students. And the National Academy of Sciences would expel the five men who were guilty of assaulting, harassing and retaliating against women for decades.
But NIH still funds the National Academy in spite of their harassers, and NIH gave known harassers millions in grant dollars since 2016. The Jason Lieb's of science have no paper trail to warn the next community of their horrible acts of aggression. Things have only gotten worse since 2016, and women in science now face the highest rates of sexual harassment of any profession outside of the military. A multiyear study has shown that sexual and gender harassment is widespread and harmful, causing many committed, hardworking and innocent women to leave science.
Unlike another major contribution of government funding for scientific research, the NSF, the NIH has consistently failed to create specific policies that ensure those who have been found guilty of sexual misconduct will be banned from obtaining NIH funding and opportunities that enable them to put trainees and colleagues at risk.
Senator Patty Murray and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro request for answers to these problems has gone unanswered by Dr. Collins. We want a public hearing and immediate implementation of new policies that put safety first.
We don’t need anymore data, lip service or ‘concern’. We need policies that will protect trainees and ensure that our environment is safe for everyone right now. We, the undersigned, ask Dr. Collins and the members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to take the money away from those who harass trainees, colleagues and staff and the institutions that pass these predators to other unsuspecting universities or industries.
We ask that no one with a history of sexual misconduct is eligible to receive the benefits of NIH money including:
- receiving training grant
- receiving travel funds
- performing service on study sections
- career awards or NIH sponsored talks
For those who do report abuses by colleagues, we must rely on Title IX hearings and run by offices within our universities. These proceedings are heavily biased, secret and unfair to women. The NAS report showed retaliation for participating in a Title IX hearing, even as a witness, is the norm and no one protects us. We ask that the participating in Title IX hearings be recognized as a form of service and normal career variance.
It must be clear in both words and actions that the NIH actually does not tolerate sexual harassment or misconduct of any kind within grantee institutions, societies it funds, field sites or anywhere science is conducted.
Sexual misconduct refers to assault, harassment, gender bias and retaliation. When apply for NIH funding, individuals would be required to disclose any university sanctions associated with misconduct. This includes includes sanctions from prior universities as well as proceedings that the scientist was asked to participate in, but left the university before the hearings could be concluded.
Institutions and individuals that fail to disclose or misrepresent sexual harassment history will be subject to revocation of any grants the offender is associated with, return of both direct and indirect costs to the National Institutes of Health of any money given to the institution including back pay if the individual and institution misrepresented or did not disclose harassment.
To enforce these policies, we ask that NIH appoint and fund a office within each institutes that will answer individual concerns and develop uniform policies, education, reporting and expectations with regard to gender equality and safety. These officers will work coordinately across the NIH under answer to the HELP committee as well as members of the Scientific Councils.
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