If you support the American Society of Mammalogists, you’re complicit #MeTooSTEM
The American Society of Mammalogists has supported an admitted sexual assailant for years, and society leadership clearly does not have what it takes to address this issue.
In 2016, a news article contained Miguel Pinto’s written admission that he has sexually assaulted multiple women. Soon after the article was published, Pinto, a mammalogist, was banned from the Smithsonian. Pinto had previously received various awards (see here, here, and here) from the American Society of Mammalogists.
I am one of countless women who Miguel Pinto sexually assaulted. In 2015, about a year before the news article was published, my advisor at the Smithsonian was attempting to get institutional administrators to take meaningful action to keep Pinto away from me. Pinto’s then-advisor, ertswhile Smithsonian Curator of Mammals Kristofer Helgen, knowingly enabled Pinto for years and fought against all efforts to ensure a safe workplace for me. In response to my advisor’s factual statements about Pinto’s history of committing sexual assault, Helgen sent an e-mail in which he admitted that Pinto had sexually assaulted me, but nevertheless threatened my advisor with a false claim about “defamation.” You can read the whole e-mail here. Note that, between his admission of Pinto’s guilt and his false claim about “defamation,” Helgen lists Pinto’s supposedly wonderful attributes. Chief among these was Pinto’s ongoing prominence within the American Society of Mammalogists after he finished graduate school: Helgen writes that Pinto “was elected by the membership at large of the American Society of Mammalogists to its Board of Directors for the second time, a very high honor and responsibility for a young professional.”
Because Pinto admitted to being a sexual assailant and was banned from the Smithsonian over two years ago, one might expect the American Society of Mammalogists to revoke his awards and ban him from participating in Society activities (attending meetings, submitting articles to Society journals, etc.). There is plenty of precedent for this. The American Geophysical Union revoked an award given to a scientist who was found to have engaged in misconduct. The Geological Society of America revoked an honor from a sexual harasser who was elected as a fellow. When it became public knowledge that a member of the Tree-Ring Society is a sexual harasser, the society expelled him:
and promptly updated its Code of Conduct.
There is also precedent within the discipline of vertebrate zoology. After decades of enabling creeps, the Herpetologists’ League was forced to rescind a harasser’s award this past summer. The Herpetologists’ League was dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, as will also have to be the case for the American Society of Mammalogists, but that’s better than nothing.
The American Society of Mammalogists has failed to follow in the footsteps of these societies. 2016 came to an end, and the American Society of Mammalogists did nothing to address Pinto’s behavior. 2017 came and went, and they did nothing to address Pinto’s behavior. 2018 came and went, and they did nothing to address Pinto’s behavior. Now, in 2019, the American Society of Mammalogists has released an updated Code of Conduct that remains insufficient, while Pinto remains on their website as a recipient of various awards. The American Society of Mammalogists has had years to ban Pinto but they have not done so.
The Society’s new Code of Conduct is both limited and lax. First of all, it only covers actions that occur during Society activities:
The Ombudsperson(s) are charged with reviewing and adjudicating allegations of misconduct occurring within the context of Society events or Society sponsored activities, in an effort to seek the truth as a neutral designee.
(This limitation is confirmed by their reporting form, which immediately demands to know, “At what ASM sponsored activity [emphasis mine] did the incident occur?”)
Second, consequences are hardly severe enough to serve as a deterrent and keep people safe:
Egregious and illegal actions may justify an immediate lifetime ban from all future meetings and revocation of membership, past awards and honors, and future recognition (to include automatic disqualification for any future awards, honorary membership, etc.). [emphasis mine]
Pinto admitted to doing something illegal, and he has not faced these ceonsequences. How illegal and egregious does a substantiated allegation — or, as we have in Pinto’s case, an outright admission — have to be?
The American Society of Mammalogists has had well over two years to get its act together. Not only have they taken no action to address their continued support of an admitted sexual assailant, but the one action that they have taken (updating their Code of Conduct) is woefully inadequate.
In a recent e-mail about the updated Code of Conduct, American Society of Mammalogists President Douglas Kelt mentioned “harassment” without acknowledging the existence of other forms of sexual misconduct, such as sexual assault. Discussing harassment, Kelt wrote, “We hope never to have to deal with any such issues.” Yeah, Doug, your society’s years-long failure to address this issue has made it clear that you don’t want to deal with it.
Also, “deal with” is a strange phrase. It would be unacceptable for anyone to ever endure any inappropriate behavior at any ASM event ever again would have been more effective. But Kelt chooses to focus on the burden that harassment causes for society officers, rather than the impact that harassment has on the actual victims.
Immediately after sticking his head in the sand in his explicit discussion of harassment, Kelt wrote, “Simply put, however, the ASM is about mammal science, and focusing on that science — and talking about it with colleagues — should be the driving focus of our gatherings. It certainly has been for me, for over three decades now.” What on earth does this mean? I’ve gone to these meetings three decades without noticing or caring about harassment, so please praise me for the existence of our b.s. Code of Conduct and don’t ever ask me to act on it?
Pinto’s previous and potential future victims would have a much easier time “focusing on that science — and talking about it with colleagues” if Kelt banned Pinto from society meetings. But Kelt either does not understand this or does not care. Note to Doug: before telling everyone that science “should be the driving focus” of their participation in society activities, make sure you’ve provided a safe environment in which it’s possible for everyone to focus on science.
Some young researchers may feel that they have no choice but to attend the upcoming meeting of the American Society of Mammalogists for the sake of their career advancement. But anyone who attends this meeting by choice, or who promotes this meeting, is complicit in the society’s utter failure to keep women safe.
The American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the Tree-Ring Society have shown that it is possible for academic societies to take a stand. The American Society of Mammalogists have shown that it is also possible for academic societies to do nothing in the face of incontrovertible evidence of sexual assault — at least, as long as the society membership remains silent.
In the original version of this post, I wrote:
The American Society of Mammalogists’ online reporting system, a Google form, doesn’t inspire confidence either. The form confirms that complaints can only be filed for misconduct that occurs at an “ASM sponsored activity”. Also, the form “was created inside of Texas A&M University,” which is a public institution, thus raising the question of whether victims’ accounts submitted through this form may be subject to public records requests. (“Currently, there is little consensus among states in their open records laws about which public university records should be subject to release.”) This issue is not addressed anywhere.
This problem has since been resolved — reports of misconduct are no longer processed through a TAMU-affiliated Google form.
ASM leadership: You’re capable of fixing your counterproductive Google form. Why aren’t you capable of ridding your events of a man who admitted, in writing, years ago, to have sexually assaulted multiple women? So many scientific societies have banned known sexual predators from their meetings; it’s long past time for you to step up.