Reiterating Our Stance on Harassment

Content warning: The following post will discuss issues pertaining to bullying and sexual harassment.

The Astrobites Code of Conduct states the following regarding harassment, bullying, or other unacceptable behavior perpetrated by a member of the larger astronomical community:

If Scientist D has been found guilty of a Title IX violation (or a similar violation, such as violation of an institution’s anti-harassment policy), then the Investigating Committee may use this ruling as sufficient evidence that Scientist D has acted in a way that does not align with our collaboration’s core values, and may choose to remove Scientist D’s name and likeness from the public-facing Astrobites website. 

In line with this policy, we are yet again writing to discuss another harassment case within the astronomical community. We will no longer be covering any papers featuring Christian Ott as an author and will be removing existing content featuring Ott’s work.

This action was prompted by a recent publication in Science, which brought Ott’s 2016 harassment charges back into the forefront of our community’s awareness. In 2016, Ott was suspended from Caltech for gender-based harassment, losing his salary and being barred from campus for one year. Although there was a significant and recently resolved legal battle surrounding this finding, Caltech’s investigation clearly found “that Ott was guilty of gender-based harassment against two graduate students,” as stated in the recent Science article.

It is upsetting that we are dealing with another harassment case so soon, as astronomy was faced with another large case just recently, that of Tim de Zeeuw. Although we are grateful these situations are coming to light and being handled, we are deeply disappointed and concerned that there are multiple harassers in our community who have retained their positions of power for so long before facing consequences. The emotional and mental strain that we all face in coping with these events takes a significant toll on our community, especially for those who have already survived harassment or abuse in their careers.

As we stated in our earlier statement on harassment and our statement on de Zeeuw’s actions, it is again incredibly disappointing that the act of creating an environment in which we are all free from harassment, bullying, and abuse is falling on some of the most junior voices in our community. As Astrobites is a collaboration of graduate students, we are, yet again, calling on the more senior members of our community, namely tenured faculty, to stand with us and stop giving voices to known harassers. 

This can be done by refusing to co-author or collaborate with someone who is known to have committed assault, bullying, harassment, or other problematic behaviors. This can be done by ensuring that sexual predators and harassers are reported. This can be done by not asking when offenders will get their second chance at a professional career in astronomy, and instead asking how to ensure that survivors of violence, bullying, and harassment keep their first chance. This can be done by prioritizing the health and well-being of your students, post-docs, and faculty. 

We sincerely hope that change will happen soon, and the practice of “passing the harasser” will stop. We believe there are consequences for one’s actions — especially when those actions jeopardize the livelihoods and well-being of many of our community members. 

Disclaimer: This post was written after a collaboration-wide decision and is based on the personal views and opinions of Astrobites authors, who are graduate student volunteers. They are not necessarily representative of the views of the American Astronomical Society or other institutions with whom our authors are affiliated.

Featured image credit: Astrobites

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This post was written collectively by multiple members of the Astrobites team. Meet the authors of Astrobites.

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