A scientific society disseminated sexual harassment [updated]
It was recently revealed on Twitter than a spectacularly sexist newsletter about scarab beetles has been disseminated by the Coleopterists Society and by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. (The newsletter even used the word “coerce” to describe the “modeling” featured in its pages; one of its founders jokes about the models being “employees.” Do the models/“employees” get to wear pants? No, they do not.) Both the Coleopterists Society and University of Nebraska have taken down the newsletters, which is good, but have simply deleted the relevant webpages rather than acknowledging their misdeeds and apologizing, which is unforgivable.
I worry that the Coleopterists Society and University of Nebraska are hoping that they could just make this all go away by getting rid of the PDFs. So with that in mind, here are archived copies of most issues of the newsletter, preserved forever, so anyone can see that the Coleopterists Society and University of Nebraska are distributors of sexist garbage.
1 2 3 4 (text) 5 6 7 8 (text) 9 (text) 10 11 (text) 12 (text) 13 (text) 14 (text) 15 (text) 16 (text) 17 (text) 18 (text) 19 (text) 20 (text) 21 (text) 22 (text) 23 (text) 24 (text) 25 (text) 26 (text) 27 (text) 28 (text) 29 (text) 30 (text) 31 (text) 32 33 (text) 34 (text) 35 (text) 36 (text) 37 (text) 38 (text) 39 (text) 40 (text) 41 (text) 42 43 (text) 44 (text) 45 (text) 46 (text) 47 (text) 48 (text) 49 (text) 50 (text) 51 (text) 52 (text) 53 (text) 54 (text) 55 (text) 56 (text) 57 (text) 58 (text) 59 (text) 60 (text) 61 (text) 62 (text) 63 (text) 64 65 (text) 66 (text) 67 (text) 68 (text) 69 (text) 70 71 (text) 72 (text) 73 (text) 74 (text) 75 (text) 76 (text) 77 (text) 78 (text) 79 (text) 80 (text) 81 (text) 82 (text) 83 (text) 84 (text) 85 (text) 86 (text)
Something that I have not yet seen discussed on Twitter (I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault; this issue was raised very recently and is still unfolding) is the racialized aspect of the objectification of certain women in Scarabs. The women, who are discussed in sexualized terms in the text, are often women of color and are called “assistants.”
Here’s one example, in which they just had to comment on her nationality:
Here, Scarabs says that a human being was “loaned” from some men to another man:
The Coleopterists Society has acknowledged that these images are degrading to women, but still needs to acknowledge that some of these images are particularly degrading to women of color.
Background: the Coleopterists’ Society
The Coleopterists Society’s entire webpage appears to be down at the moment. The most recently archived version shows that its six current society officers are all men. Lest you think that the total absence of women is simply an artifact of entomology being a male-dominated field, I’d like to point out that the Entomological Society of America — whose Annual Meeting hosts the official gathering of the Coleopterists Society — has a female Past President and a female Treasurer. If other entomological societies can have female officers, why can’t the Coleopterists Society?
Background: the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
The archived version of the Scarab Newsletter page on the University of Nebraska website doesn’t say which university employee is responsible for hosting this garbage on a university server. However, it’s not hard to guess who this university employee might be. Also hosted by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is the Scarab Workers World Directory, which is managed by Brett Ratcliffe, a professor who studies scarab beetles. It’s not unheard-of for this newsletter to devolve into Brett Radcliffe hagiography, as you can see here:
Connecting the dots between the CS and UNL
Ratcliffe has been fêted by the Coleopterists Society on various occassions. He’s a former Secretary of the Coleopterists Society and is an Elected Fellow. Though the Coleopterists Society has deleted the offending PDFs from its website, it is not done cleaning house.
A search for the term “code of conduct” on the Coleopterists Society webpage yields zero results. The Society’s Bylaws make no mention of the words harass, assault, bias, or any form of the word discriminate.
What needs to happen
Recently, the American Geophysical Union began treating sexual misconduct as a form of scientific misconduct. Soon thereafter, a fancy man had his fancy award taken away. Clearly, there is an urgent need for the Coleopterists Society to follow suit and:
- implement a code of conduct that addresses misconduct: not just sexual misconduct, but also other forms of misconduct based on attributes such as race
- define such forms of misconduct — sexual misconduct, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, ageism, etc. — as a form of scientific misconduct
- take away the awards of individuals who engaged in sexual misconduct and kick them out of the Coleopterists Society
Until that happens, maybe someone should e-mail the leadership of the Entomological Society of America (which does have a code of conduct, unlike the Coleopterists Society) to say that societies lacking a code of conduct should be prohibited from gathering at Entomological Society of America events?
Update — good news!
The Coleopterists Society made an official statement:
The University of Nebraska State Museum of Natural History also made an official statement:
Still no word on whether the Coleopterists Society will remove Ratcliffe as an Elected Fellow, and also no word on whether the University of Nebraska will investigate whether Ratcliffe violated Title VI or Title IX. But we’ve made measureable progress during the past 24 hours.
However, one of the Society Officers of the Coleopterists Society seems intent on squandering the small amount of goodwill that the Society earned with its belated apology. When women on Twitter discussed the lack of diversity among Society leadership, Society Officer Andrew Smith responded:
Smith is one of six men and zero women who serve as Society Officers, and he has the nerve to tell women that Coleopterists Society leadership does not lack diversity. More infuriating still, Smith has not apologized on Twitter in any way for the Society’s role in disseminating sexual harassment. Smith uses Twitter only engage in failed attempts to explain away his Society’s shortcomings, never to apologize for said shortcomings.
And Smith is not alone. Another male coleopterist took to Twitter to say that the Coleopterists Society used to have female board members. This other male coleopterist, like Smith, had nothing at all whatsoever to say about the Society’s decision to host Scarabs and even keep the newsletter up for months after becoming aware of its vile content.
Thanks to everyone who brought attention to this issue.