To report harassment at a scientific conference, get its officers to follow you on Twitter

The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) is currently holding its annual meeting, a famous gathering for all kinds of narcissists and creeps. SVP’s Code of Conduct is one paragraph long and does not mention any mechanisms for reporting misconduct. SVP’s sexual harassment policy says that harassment should be reported to the society’s ethics committee, whose only specified member is the society’s unnamed Vice President. If the harassment in question involves the Vice President, it should be reported to the President, who is also not named.

That’s right — if you’ve experienced harassment there’s no phone number, e-mail address, or website available for you. It’s up to you to track down the names of the members of the ethics committee, or the name of the president, and figure out how to contact them.

And what happens after you report harassment? How long will the investigation take? Will your confidentiality be respected? SVP won’t tell you!

Rather than crafting and disseminating a sensible harassment policy, the brilliant minds in charge of SVP have instead chosen to tell victims to report via Twitter.

I am not making this up.

You are supposed to contact society officers via Twitter.

You can “feel free to DM” this individual! The only problem is that her DMs, like those of the other society officers tagged in these tweets, are not open. So I guess the first step in reporting harassment at SVP is getting one of its society officers to follow you on Twitter.

If you ever wondered why so many groups of people are underrepresented in science, wonder no more.


Of the SVP officers with closed DMs who victims were supposed to contact via DM, two are women and one is a man. The women have both belatedly opened their DMs and apologized. The man, David Polly, has neither opened his DMs nor apologized.

(Polly has posted many comments on Twitter during the past few minutes, so it’s not as if he hasn’t had the opportunity to fix things and apologize. Furthermore, university e-mail is apparently the only other method through which Polly can be contacted. As noted above, neither his name nor e-mail address are listed in the code of conduct or anti-harassment policy on SVP’s website. And because Polly is at a public university in the US, there may be reason to fear that the e-mails he sends or receives at his institutional e-mail address could be subject to public records requests.)

This is a nice little metaphor for how sexual misconduct in STEM works — both women and men perpetuate the problem, and men are less likely to face accountability.

Note: If you hear anyone from SVP acting like they have no idea how to fix this because there’s no way of knowing what a meaningful code of conduct or anti-harassment policy would look like, send them this link and this link about the American Geophysical Union’s policies.

"Committed to Dialogue"

Written by

I was sexually assaulted at the Smithsonian in 2011, and the museum administration continues to mishandle my case. Here I write about ways to move forward.

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