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The scientific community is taking steps to improve working conditions for women. Photo by Gorodenkoff/Stock Adobe.

World’s largest scientific society adopts policy against harassment. Will it work?

The world’s largest scientific society adopted a policy to combat sexual and gender harassment in the scientific community on Saturday.

The measure came in response to an open letter written by a group of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellows that called on the organization to pass a new policy that would address harassment and strip honors and fellowships from offenders, as PBS NewsHour reported in August.

Previously, harassers could be reprimanded by their universities, but still maintain their titles, honors or privileges from AAAS.

“Harassment has no place in science,” AAAS president Margaret Hamburg wrote in a press statement. “We must do more as a scientific community to create a respectful and supportive environment for our colleagues and students.”

The new policy provides a procedure “for AAAS to consider and act to revoke the status of an elected AAAS fellow ‘in cases of proven scientific misconduct, serious breaches of professional ethics, or when the Fellow in the view of AAAS no longer merits the status of Fellow.’”

“I’m very pleased that AAAS has taken action,” said Noelle Eckley Selin, an atmospheric chemist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the authors of the letter. “But it’s a step…Action has to follow. I’d like to see those actions continue to be transparent and public.”

The public letter references a recent study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that highlights the pervasiveness of harassment in the scientific community, especially towards women. The study says 58 percent of female faculty and staff in academia have experienced sexual harassment. Women of color and sexual- and gender-minority women also encounter increased rates of harassment.

“The more we can talk about the implications of sexual and gender harassment on the scientific community at large, [the more] we can understand the problem and how to address it,” Eckley Selin said.

The new policy is set to go into effect on Oct. 15, 2018.

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