TThe National Institutes of Health have received more than 300 complaints against NIH-funded scientists since 2018, most of which related to sexual harassment. As a result, 75 investigators have had their grants withdrawn, the agency reported on June 10.
The data was presented to the Director during a meeting of the NIH Advisory Committee and included complaints received over the years since the NIH changed its complaints process in response to growing pressure to combat sexual and racial harassment from the scientists it sponsored . Prior to 2018, no senior sexual harassment investigator had been removed from an NIH fellowship. science Reports, and the agency has increasingly encouraged victims to raise their complaints.
“As the world’s largest single sponsor of biomedical research, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a responsibility to take action to end this behavior,” write an editorial in science, including NIH Director Francis Collins, wrote last year.
Breaking down the type of complaints outlined in last week’s NIH meeting, the analysis shows that the number of complaints, regardless of their specific nature, rose from 31 throughout 2018 to more than 70 in 2021 75 PIs were removed from grants, more than 50 for sexual harassment, while the rest were removed for racial discrimination, bullying, or other reasons. Sixty-one of these investigators not only lost their funding, but also left their positions. In the presentation it was not stated whether it was a matter of redundancies or voluntary resignations.
The analysis also found that less than a third of allegations of sexual harassment were examined and validated by the accused scientist’s host institution, compared with 22 percent for other types of complaints. Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez, a Colorado attorney with experience in gender discrimination, shares science that these are promising results considering how difficult it can be to support such ailments. Victims may drop their complaints or cases may not meet the “severe or ubiquitous” standard required to classify a complaint as genuine harassment. If an investigation confirms results or leads to a comparison, the agency works with the institution to [the scientist] from the NIH ecosystem, “said Assistant Director of the NIH’s Office of Extramural Research, Michael Lauer, during the meeting, as reported by science.
Many funding agencies and professional organizations reviewed their complaints policies following a report published in 2018 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS), partially funded by the NIH, and in response to pressure from lawyers such as MeTooSTEM. The NAS report found that up to half of women in academia experience sexual harassment and that existing guidelines do not address the issue.
While the NAS election was previously granted for life, the organization voted in 2019 for an amendment to its statutes that would allow members to be ousted in documented cases of sexual harassment by a two-thirds majority of the academy council. In May of that year, the first such vote was held, disqualifying astronomer Geoffrey Marcy after Marcy’s allegations of sexual harassment led him to leave his position at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley. Another case against UC Irvine geneticist Francisco Ayala is pending.
“We’re watching social change unfold before our eyes,” said NAS member Nancy Hopkins, a biologist emeritus at MIT science when Marcy’s expulsion was announced. “It took a long time.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) also announced similar changes in 2018 in response to a petition from BethAnn McLaughlin, founder of MeTooSTEM, allowing its members to be revoked even though no one was removed. (McLaughlin has since left the organization after admitting she invented a Twitter persona. She was also charged with bullying.)
There have also been changes at funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the NIH. Any institution receiving funding from the NSF must now notify the agency within 10 working days of discovering that a person funded by an NSF grant has committed sexual harassment nature reported in 2018. The guideline aims to increase transparency so that researchers cannot simply leave one institution and apply to another without disclosing ongoing studies. In a recent example of such behavior reported in an investigation report from The cancer letter in May, NIH-funded oncologist Axel Grothey lied on multiple claims in three states. According to the article, Grothey replied “no” when asked if he was ever asked or allowed to stand down pending disciplinary proceedings related to his character, despite being investigated for inappropriate sexual relationships with several women he mentored has been.
The NIH also announced changes following the NAS report, equating sexual harassment with research misconduct, fraud, inappropriate foreign influence, and violations of integrity through peer reviews. nature reported last year. In 2020, the agency outlined a number of steps, including restricting academics from participating in peer-reviewed panels during an investigation, withholding grants, and cracking down on transfer requests for grants in cases where an accused harasser is denied Job changed. In 2020 science In an editorial written by Collins and other NIH officials, the authors stated that universities must notify the agency when major changes are made to a grant because scientists are being investigated for creating an unsafe work environment. Speak with nature In 2020, Carrie Wolinetz, Assistant Director of Science Policy for the NIH and author of the editorial, stated, “We have specifically defined this as harassment, bullying, sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior.”
Despite advances at the NIH, advocates pushing the new policy said nature in 2020 that some of the changes are too reliant on university collaborations and that the new rules are not as strict as those of the NSF. The NIH only requires universities to report changes if, for example, the status of a grant changes, which means information flows in and out with the scholarship update cycle, while the NSF requires immediate notification regardless of the timing. And many universities will only share the results of a full investigation, which means that the majority of claims that are not fully investigated may never be brought to the NIH at all. Speak with nature, Angela Rasmussen, Columbia University virologist who helped shape the new NIH guidelines, says, “These guidelines are a good start, but there is still a lot to be done.”
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