Once again science is used as a tool for enacting ideological programs

October 16, 2022 • 9:30 am

The Department of Energy (DoE) hands out a substantial number of grants for research (mostly in physics), as well as for science meetings. Here is their latest announcement about what you have to do if you want the DoE to help fund your conference.

You know what’s coming: when applying for funds, you have to submit a statement that you will increase the “equity” of speakers above that represented in the scientific community involved in the meeting, and have a plan in place, announced to attendees, that will “address discrimination and harassment.”

Here’s the announcement (indented), which you can see by clicking on the link.  I’ve put some parts in bold.

Conference Proposals

Beginning in FY 2023, applications submitted to the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (SC) requesting funding support for conferences will have additional requirements that must be included with the application.

The following language included in the FY 2023 Continuation of Solicitation for the Office of Science Financial Assistance Program Funding Opportunity Announcement defines the new requirement:


Consistent with SC’s Statement of Commitment, SC does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind, including sexual or non-sexual harassment, bullying, intimidation, violence, threats of violence, retaliation, or other disruptive behavior at institutions receiving SC funding or other locations where activities funded by SC are carried out. Further, SC is committed to advancing belonging, accessibility, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion across the portfolio of activities it sponsors. For applications requesting SC funds for the purpose of supporting (hosting) a conference, symposium, or workshop, the meeting must have a policy or code of conduct in place that addresses discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, other forms of harassment, and sexual assault, and that includes processes for reporting complaints and addressing complaints. The policy or code-of-conduct must be shared with all participants prior to the conference, symposium, or workshop (hereinafter the ‘meeting’) and made easily available.

Applications must include:

  • An online link to the current code of conduct of the host organization for the meeting, or the link to where the code of conduct will be posted. If a code of conduct has not yet been established by the meeting organizers, the application must describe the process and timeline by which a code of conduct will be written, approved, and endorsed.
  • A recruitment and accessibility plan for speakers and attendees that includes discussion of recruitment of individuals from groups underrepresented in the research/professional community associated with the technical focus of the meeting, and discussion on plans to address possible barriers for attendees, including but not limited to physical barriers.

This is not as invidious as the platform Jon Haidt recently reported for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, which requires every speaker to include a rationale of how their individual talk would advance DEI. As Haidt wrote then:

. . . all social psychologists are now required to submit a statement explaining “whether and how this submission advances the equity, inclusion, and anti-racism goals of SPSP.” Our research proposal would be evaluated on older criteria of scientific merit, along with this new criterion.

Informed that the SPSP would not back down on this requirement, Haidt announced he would resign.

Now I’m not adamantly opposed to amplifying the voices of those who are underrepresented in science, but I would suggest that all talks be judged on merit and suitability alone, with the diversity issues perhaps addressed in a separate symposium representing different viewpoints.  And if two proposed talks are equally qualified, I have no issue with choosing ones from women, Hispanics, blacks, and so on. This does constitute a form of affirmative action, but it is not one that lowers the bar for scientific quality. (Another method is to leave the names of proposed speakers and their affiliations off proposals, which ensures equality if not equity.)

Rather, I’m concerned with the last sentence requiring “discussion on plans to address possible barriers for attendees, including but not limited to physical barriers.”  What does this mean? My first thought was to assure the grant-givers that there would be facilities for the handicapped (i.e., elimination of physical barriers), but that doesn’t appear to be the case. If you amplify the voices of minorities by deliberately choosing some minority speakers who are as well qualified as non-minority speakers, then you have eliminated one barrier—discrimination on the grounds of sex or race.  What else can the meeting do beyond this? What is the sweating DoE trying to say?

But in some ways I’m more concerned with the paternalistic “codes of conduct” that are becoming increasingly elaborate at meetings, to the point where they may have reduced possible collaborations between men and women scientists. My view is that a simple statement like this would suffice in a conference announcement:

“If anyone witnesses or feels they are a victim of harassment or sexual misconduct, please report this to X.”

But it has gotten to the point where meetings spend a lot of money hiring professional “conduct consultants” to monitor behavior. If you want to see how elaborate they can get, have a look at the “Safe Evolution” page of last June’s joint meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the American Society of Naturalists, and the Society of Systematic Biologists, which includes four sub-pages on inappropriate conduct, reporting procedures, and so on. These elaborate procedures wind up infantilizing scientists, all seen as potential predators. It’s especially galling that almost no objectionable conduct actually occurs at such meetings, and societies already have procedures in place to deal with it.

The worst part of this joint meeting is the presence of “Evo Allies”. This is a synonym for “conduct spies”, society members with tags who roam about the conference halls and poster presentations, overhearing conversations and looking for inappropriate behavior. They are empowered to report such behavior even if no participants do:

Started in 2019, Evo Allies are members of our community who have been vetted by a safety officer and trained to help support individuals who have experienced or witnessed potentially inappropriate behavior during the conference, including informing them of their options. They commit to creating safe spaces at the meeting by serving as active bystanders. The inspiration for this program came from the https://entoallies.org program.

Anyone, whether an Evo Ally or not, can make a report directly to the meeting safety officer for investigation; Evo Allies are not involved in investigation nor sanctioning, but instead serve as peer supports and help to make the meeting a more welcoming place.

Evo Allies are chosen through a nomination and vetting process; we anticipate that the next call will be for the 2023 meeting. Any vetting process is imperfect; if you have concerns about any Evo Ally, please reach out to the meeting safety officer.

In other words, the Big Brothers have to be Big Brotherized as well!

This Big Brotherism will result in chilling speech and behavior that can be inimical to scientific discourse. If you doubt that, read Luana Maroja‘s piece at the Heterodox STEM forum, “Extreme emphasis on sexual harassment stifles productive scientific discourse between men and women.”  She went to the 2019 meetings of the three societies named above and reports this:

In 2019 my professional society (The Society for the Study of Evolution – SSE) hired a consultant to help “prevent sexual harassment at the [annual] conference.”  The initiative consisted of training volunteers to be “allies” (they got buttons and walked among us signaling their role as meeting police), projecting messages (powerpoint slides) on the walls of the poster session saying “stop harassment now,” and putting posters in all bathrooms along with anonymous boxes for depositing complaints about harassment.  This came at a cost: about $10 dollars increase in registration fees per participant, resulting in tens of thousands in the consultant’s pocket.  But aside from cost, are these initiatives a net positive or a net negative for scientific interactions?

I have been attending the SSE meetings since 2003.  Compared to conferences in my home country, Brazil, SSE conferences were a paradise – nobody ever grabbed my rear end, said nasty things in my ear or followed me around.  Yes, there was the normal degree of flirting, but it was polite, with people backing off when they were rebuffed.   Perhaps I have thick skin, but I don’t think anyone would say that serious harassment or sexual violence were commonplace at the American meetings, and there were already procedures in place—involving both the local police and the conference administrators—to deal with serious offences.  Many people think it’s a good thing to raise awareness about even minor actions that might be perceived as unwanted attention.  But is it?

When I saw what the organizers were doing, I was immediately concerned about the chilling effect it would have on interactions between the sexes.  In my life I have benefited from great relationships with my male advisor and other senior male researchers.  I would not want men to be afraid of talking, interacting and collaborating with me merely because their actions might be misinterpreted.  Wondering if men were actually more cautious about interacting with women and in particular junior women (in general, not only at conferences), I started asking around.  As I expected, many men secretly confided to me that yes, they do not volunteer to mentor junior women and are circumspect when talking to junior women PhD students out of fear of misinterpretation.  I could swear I even saw people taking a step back as the “police allies” walked past them!  However, my sample is not only small, but biased – I could ask only men I already knew well and was friendly with, not a random sample of the research population.  But now we have data – the first study looking at the effects of the #MeToo movement on female research collaborations in economics:  Gertsberg, Marina, The Unintended Consequences of #MeToo: Evidence from Research Collaborations (May 10, 2022). Available at SRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4105976 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4105976.

Maroja then presents evidence (not dispositive but correlative) that the #MeToo movement was significantly associated with a reduction of new collaborations between male and female scientists, particularly (as would be expected) for scientists within rather than between institutions. If this is an effect of fear of accusations, then it’s inimical to scientific collaboration, especially to women. As Maroja notes,

The data shows clearly that new collaborations are strongly and significantly reduced inside institutions (where the fear of harassment accusations will be highest). The paper also shows that, where the fear is highest (in institutions where harassment accusations are common and policies are vague), the reduction in collaborations is also higher.

This represents a huge loss to both men and women, but it especially harms women.  Indeed, the academic output of females fell significantly after #MeToo (a decrease of between 0.7-1.7 projects per year, with the loss in male collaborators explaining 60% of this decline), while the output of males did not (they were apparently able to find other male collaborators).  This decrease in collaboration is apparently also happening in other fields, such as fundamental physics [she then gives more data]. . . .

Now nobody here, including Maroja and me, is saying that men shouldn’t be punished for sexual harassment of women (and vice versa), nor that people should not be aware of the consequences of such behavior. The point is that this kind of policing has gone too far at scientific meetings, to the point where roving spies are empowered to report suspicious incidents.  Scientists should not be treated like potential criminals or harassers. As Maroja notes,

It’s clear that well-intentioned actions (protecting women from harassment) can be taken too far.  I hope that our scientific professional societies will absorb these data and start taking steps to bring people together rather than separate them.  Good starts would be clarifying harassment policies and keeping “harassment consultants”, who profit from promoting the idea that harassment is everywhere, out of conferences.  Another important step would be to eliminate anonymous complaints, which set the bar for a complaint too low and can be used for revenge and to bring down competitors and enemies. Both of these effects lead men to worry about what they might be accused of and to thus limit interactions with women. Finally, any sexual harassment judgements should only be made after a pre-defined, fair process where the accused can challenge the accuser– a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

I’ll finish by saying that while it’s the government’s responsibility to help the disadvantaged of society, regardless of race or sex, that help must be more than performative or superficial. It must involve expensive, long-term interventions by the government, like Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” program. I approve of these, as it’s really the only way to open the “intake valve” of the pipeline to success. Requiring talks or meetings to have a specific ideological bent is far less helpful, and in some ways can be counterproductive. The purpose of scientific societies is to advance science and its communication, not to further the goals of progressive politics.


UPDATE: I just found an op-ed piece on the DoE policies by Lawrence Krauss at the Wall Street Journal (where else could it be published?): “Now even science grants must bow to ‘equity and inclusion”.  He mentions the meeting policies noted above, but also says that the DoE now requires “equity and inclusion plans” in every grant proposal:

Starting in fiscal 2023, which began Oct. 1, every proposal responding to a solicitation from the Office of Science is required to include a PIER plan, which stands for Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Research, to “describe the activities and strategies of the applicant to promote equity and inclusion as an intrinsic element to advancing scientific excellence.” In the words of the announcement, “The complexity and detail of a PIER Plan is expected to increase with the size of the research team and the number of personnel to be supported.”

He adds that none of his own past work funded by the DoE had anything to do with diversity and inclusion, but were concerned with scientific questions involving gravity waves, dark matter, and other intriguing issues. Now he, like everyone else who wants a DoE grant, will have to dissimulate to get money:

Scientists will respond to these new demands with boilerplate to the effect that they will make every effort to seek graduate and postdoctoral students from minority communities and encourage new outreach programs. This is lip service at best; it doesn’t address true societal issues of inequity. People qualified to work in these esoteric areas have all gone to good graduate schools and carried out credible research projects. They may be minorities, but they haven’t been marginalized. They are thus not appropriate targets for what should be useful societal diversity initiatives.

It is the job of government agencies, and not ones concerned with advancing science, to carry out such political policies. If we’re going to turn scientists and their societies into arms for achieving approved societal aims, why do they always involve racial or gender “equity and inclusion”? Why not deal with socioeconomic issues, which include marginalized racial and gender groups, or with the disadvantaged in other countries—something that our government already has as a primary goal?

Better yet, why don’t we let scientists and scientific societies do what they do best—find out stuff about the universe and report it—and let government policies be carried out by the appropriate agencies?  Diverting the efforts of scientists to fixing societal issues turns us into arms of public policy, detracting from what we are trained to do best: science.

h/t: Anna

43 thoughts on “Once again science is used as a tool for enacting ideological programs

  1. The “code of conduct” comes across as if never before has any code of conduct existed. As if it is a completely new idea.

  2. Perhaps the popular caricature that scientists are social misfits plays a role. Carl Sagan discusses the caricature in Demon-Haunted World.

    So scientists could appear easy to manipulate by non-scientists with agendas to push.

  3. My view is that a simple statement like this would suffice in a conference announcement: “If anyone witnesses or feels they are a victim of harassment or sexual misconduct, please report this to X.”

    Precisely, and, as an addendum, “If anyone witnesses or feels they are a victim of a crime, please report this to law enforcement officers”. It shouldn’t need to be said, but I guess it does now.

    And I suspect that LEOs will handle due process more appropriately than anyone on staff at a conference. I attended a hundred-person conference last month; I know the organizer well enough to know that I wouldn’t trust her to field a harassment complaint in a professional manner. It’s not her field – and shouldn’t have to be.

  4. Re “barriers”, possible examples are cost barriers (so the organisers might give grants to help those from under-represented groups attend) and a lack of childcare availability.

    On codes of conduct, I don’t object to them, but nor have I seen conduct at conferences that would make them necessary (though I’m entirely open to testimony from others who have).

    1. Cost barriers? Like the $620 it will cost a professional member to attend the Geological Society of America 2022 meeting in Colorado or the $810 for a professional non-member? Now, they do offer lower prices for students, guests/companions, or people from low-income countries (with varying limitations) but what student can afford $225 for the full meeting or $125 for one day? Grants are available, of course but still, is it worth it? These professional organizations promote inclusivity by being exclusive and costly. I think I’ll stick to the non-professional meetings that are free and usually include a potluck at a local park.

  5. > A recruitment and accessibility plan … discussion on plans to address possible barriers for attendees, including but not limited to physical barriers.

    Looks like a barrier to me!

    What I mean is this: Adding ever more, vaguely defined, criteria like this for applications is a way to erect barriers to outsiders applying for this funding. Having someone write the appropriate statement will not be a big problem for established groups at rich universities. They have people employed to keep on top of divining precisely what is really wanted in such a statement, this year. People getting feedback on what wasn’t quite right last year. People making sure the enthusiastic but clueless scientists don’t accidentally say the wrong thing (this year) like being colorblind.

    But small groups, outsiders who haven’t previously won such a grant, with less institutional backup, are much less likely to get this right. So they will be rejected.

    There’s a parallel to this in trade policy, where I understand the EU are masters of the art. If you want to restrict the ability of some poor country to export particular goods, you can do it indirectly by adding all sorts of sensible-sounding measures. Did someone certify that they wood used for shipping pallets was sustainably harvested, fumigated with an approved (but not too dangerous) agent? (Listing bug X common in country Y.) Manufactured in a facility which has been inspected to check for child labor (by an organization we’ve certified)? These are all worthy goals… and they can all be made to serve two purposes.

    1. Good point. It probably also makes it more difficult for grant-giving agencies to do their work, potentially reducing the number of grants awarded. Talk about erecting barriers.

  6. I think Krauss has hit the nail on the head when he writes this regarding grant proposals:

    “Scientists will respond to these new demands with boilerplate to the effect that they will make every effort to seek graduate and postdoctoral students from minority communities and encourage new outreach programs. This is lip service at best; it doesn’t address true societal issues of inequity.”

    Through cut and paste, essentially the same magic words will be inserted into every grant proposal. Moreover, the government employees that will review the proposals will know this and couldn’t care less. As bureaucrats with more work that they can reasonably handle they are highly unlikely to say “Oh, look proposal A has the same DEI wording as proposal B, we’d better investigate.” No, the last thing the employees will want to do is to create a ruckus over DEI wording. Too much work will be involved. Their goal is to shuffle the papers as quickly as possible. Nor is it likely that the receivers of grants will be investigated by government employees for compliance if for no other reason that government agencies will not want part of their budgets diverted for hundreds of investigations. Just as there are very few tax audits, at the worst, a few grantees may be asked to fill out a questionnaire which will be cursorily reviewed by the government employees. As a result, the DEI requirement will become totally performative and life will go on as before.

    1. > government agencies will not want part of their budgets diverted for hundreds of investigations

      I’m not so sure.

      I mean if the DOE were one rational being with goals unrelated to this… then the new requirement would probably not have been added.

      Maybe it was forced on them from outside, or above.

      But if someone inside wants DIE stuff, then that person may well see the difficulty of vetting such statements as a way to argue for hiring more people to read them closely. Thus expanding their little empire, as a manager with 100 underlings is automatically more important than one with 10. Privatize the gains socialize the losses.

      1. PRECISELY. Who benefits from requirement for more and more DEI boilerplate in applications for funding and for employment, and in assessments of promotion and tenure, and in the organization of meetings? Particular benefit flows to the class of DEI bureaucrats, which expands to meet the “demand” of all this boilerplate, In my Marxisant days as a student, we called elementary observation like this class analysis.

      2. > But if someone inside wants DIE stuff

        Consider human nature. There is another possible motive. We are giving a tool to an agency that allows them to punish. If your rivals propose something with suspiciously similar wording, how long do you think it will take for someone to come down on them – maybe for plagiarism at an academic conference. Anything is possible.

        This is the law of unintended consequences. When you create a power structure, consider how it will be abused.

        1. And you can be sure that the ones who have created and are now inhabiting this power structure have it very clear in their heads how they will (ab)use this power for their own personal gain and to push their ideology. I hardly think it’s “unintended”. It’s a completely intentional bureaucratic powergrab and a full on (Marxist-style) cultural revolution.

  7. Keep in mind this is all a response to an executive order from President Biden.

    When people voted for Biden they thought they were getting Obama II, but they really got Elizabeth Warren.

  8. I am currently reading “Life and Fate” by Vasily Grossman, an enlightening book about the truth of life in the Soviet Union; it was banned there and manuscripts destroyed but copies were smuggled out and published in the West. When the author, a favorite of Stalin who’d fallen out with him submitted it after Stalin’s death, thought it would be received favorably because it was about “Truth”. Boy was he wrong.

    It is a compelling account of life in mid-century Russia and among the many recurring characters in the book are ever present Political Commisars, often the most senior ranking officers present and in any case, if there are equivalent ranks the political commisar wielded the real authority. They were party apparatchiks, true believers in the Stalinist/Marxist ideals. They were present to ensue that politically incorrect thoughts, ideas or actions don’t go un-punished. The horrors of that are part of the “truth” which got Grossman into trouble. Anyway, the people’s commisariat monitored all conversations, writing, art, photography, actions, everything the people did, military or civilian. No one in the book is able to say what they think about almost any subject, except that which passes through a very carefully contrived filter for self-protection. They have relationships with people other than their loved ones (with whom we hear what they really think) which are filled with suspicion, evasion, resentment at the fear of making a simple error of thought or a careless action which could cost them their lives. So they are forced to speak in a kind of code designed to protect them from the worst of the Commisars. Of course, this code is often misunderstood, sometimes deliberately. It goes a long way to help understanding the deep dysfunction in Russian political and technological culture.

    Why am I going on about this book and boring y’all? It strikes me that the “Evo Allies” sound very like these Commisars.

    “O brave new world, That has such people in’t”

    1. Precisely. I read Norman Gilinsky’s comment below (#9), where he said “I never thought I’d see the day when modern Science would succumb to pressures from political and social ideologues” and I immediately thought of all of the ‘ideologically pure’ research that came out of oppressive regimes in the 20th Century, research that was politically correct with respect to the political environment that produced it. This is one of the reasons I still hold on to terms like ‘PC’, rather than ‘woke’. We have to see just how scary and Orwellian it really is.

  9. This policing of conduct (conference police) and of ideological suitability (performance art affirming allegiance with Kendian “anti-racism” and other “anti-isms”) can’t be good for science. Far from advancing inclusion, they can easily lead to the opposite—as is apparently the case now, with men and women no longer initiating collaborations for fear of saying or doing something that might end their careers. And, they enforce a crushing conformity on the very people society depends on for creativity.

    I never thought I’d see the day when modern Science would succumb to pressures from political and social ideologues. We continue to laud Galileo’s bravery for his insistence on the pursuance of truth in the face of ideology, yet many leaders of today’s science institutions seem to be embracing the 21st century equivalents. How will this end? Will it end only when an existential crisis demands that we abandon the nonsense and focus our resources on doing science again?

    And yes. Simply having a place where conference attendees can report inappropriate conduct should be good enough.

  10. The institution of roving “Evo ally” spies at a meeting is simply the next step after the “anonymous bias complaint” system already established on many campuses. [At one that I know, that system was used for anonymous complaints against this website.] Among institutions of “higher learning”, apparently nobody has learned that there is a downside to systems of surveillance and coercion established to protect nominally noble ends.

    The VCheka was originally named the “Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption”. Who could object to an agency that would combat profiteering and corruption? In time, the Chekists found more and more things to combat, as Comment #8 reminds us. Today, more than a century later, Chekists dominate the most populous country in Europe, and are maintaining their monopoly of power by, among other things, bombing hospitals in a neighboring country.

  11. There is clearly racism, sexism and all manner of ill behavior in society. How much of it is happening at universities and research institutions? I don’t think that’s where the hotbeds are, but that’s the implication from such policies.

    It’s possible that someday I’ll unintentionally violate such regulations. My instinctive response would be that I don’t think I’m the problem, it’s my neighbor down the street with the confederate flag bumper sticker, but that would probably make matters only worse for me.

  12. I’m going to push back a bit on the “code of conduct” criticism.

    Story time!

    Earlier this year I was at a conference, where I attended a party wearing a fairly revealing evening dress. It was getting a bit late and some people were getting drunk. I posed at a photo booth with a few guys, and only after the photo was taken did I realize that one of the guys had made a lewd gesture at me that was now immortalized in the photo.

    I sort of froze – it was completely unexpected – laughed it off with the guys, and quickly walked away. I haven’t spoken of it since. To be clear, I’m not going to pretend that this incident was “traumatic” or “violent” or some kind of deep scar on my existence. A dumb, possibly drunk guy acted stupidly, and that’s that.

    What hurt me was that the other guys in the vicinity either laughed at it or ignored it completely. I did not want the lewd-gesture guy to be punished or fired from his job or dragged off before some DEI Inquisition Board. But it would have meant the world to me if at least one of the bystanders had said to the lewd-gesture guy, “Dude, not cool” or “Sir, this conduct is unbecoming of our organization” or “That was disrespectful, you should apologize.” Realizing that one dude is a jerk is very different from realizing that one dude is a jerk *and* everyone around you is fine with his being a jerk.

    All this is to say, I think it’s a good idea not only to have a boilerplate “we don’t tolerate bad conduct at our conferences” but also to have a little bit of (perhaps informal?) training re: how to act when someone acts badly in your presence. Of course, people have to learn and absorb such training. Horse, water, etc.

    1. Yes that behaviour was disrespectful and not cool. I agree you deserved an apology!

      But can I tell another story about harassment? This one is about race (and mostly not about sex), and it was fuelled by twitter (not alcohol). At the annual meeting of an international research society earlier this year, one member of the society (a young black woman) lamented on twitter the small number of people attending a workshop on decolonizing science, and especially noted that few older white male members of the society attended. One of those OWM tweeted in response his regret about not being able to attend the workshop. Pile-on ensued. Leaders of the pile-on were other young black women of the society who tweeted that this OWM is a racist for not showing up at the conference workshop. These tweets got hundreds of likes from other members (they were among the most-shared tweets coming out of the conference, and the society skews toward members who tweet a lot). When asked to comment on this, the society leadership (mostly older white women) said it was a good thing to call out OWM for his racist behaviour, and claimed that this kind of racism is endemic in science.

      Experiences like yours seem much more damaging because they happen in person, whereas this tempest in a twitter teapot happened entirely online. But thankfully that kind of direct sexual harassment is not common at conferences (and much less common that it used to be), whereas online bullying for clout seems to be on the rise.

      Do you think lewd-gesture guy would have behaved that way if the party had been booze-free? Conferences can ban alcohol at events, but it’s hard to ban social media. “Evo-allies” and similar kinds of thought police seem like overkill in response to both kinds of bad behaviour, but maybe this is a necessary evil.

      1. I totally agree with you that the Twitter pile-on was wrong and unfair to OWM! It doesn’t sound like he had said anything racist or otherwise wrong. If not being able to attend every single workshop at a conference is wrong, then nobody is right!

        Re: would removing alcohol from the conference have changed the guy’s behavior, I honestly have no idea.

    2. I agree that that is boorish conduct, Did you not feel like you should say something to the boors? And even if not, why didn’t you report it?
      But given that this happens in life all the time, do you think that everybody in the US should have some training about how to act towards other people? If so, where would they get it? I grant that I’m not a woman and have never had that kind of idiocy foisted on me, but at the same time I’ve heard from women and learned that one IS NOT TO DO STUFF LIKE THAT.

      1. Hi Jerry,

        Thank you for replying!

        “Did you not feel like you should say something to the boors?”

        It’s not a question of “should;” I didn’t do a rational cost-benefit analysis in the moment. Mostly my brain kind of got stuck on “why is bad thing happening” and I resolved the cognitive dissonance by removing myself from the situation. I’m not saying anything bad would have happened to me had I spoken up.

        “And even if not, why didn’t you report it?”

        It was the last night of the conference. I’ll probably never see lewd gesture guy again, Ceiling Cat be willing. I reiterate that I never wanted to make a big fuss over this; the memory just came back when I read your post and I thought I’d comment.

        “do you think that everybody in the US should have some training about how to act towards other people? If so, where would they get it?”

        I mean, ideally, yes? Analogy time: not too long ago, it was common sense that a woman saying “no” to a man’s advances really meant “yes,” and was just playing hard to get. Then, gradually, this was rejected and replaced by “only yes means yes.” Where did this come from? Some combination of popular culture, parents, and public schools. I have a young son, and when he’s older, my husband and I will certainly teach him to respect women and to be absolutely, 100% sure not to have sex with anyone who does not enthusiastically want it. Just as people gradually learned that “only yes means yes,” so too it would be good if more people learned to speak up when someone else is disrespected/treated unfairly in their presence, rather than just standing there ignoring it or awkwardly laughing along.

        To be absolutely clear, I do NOT want perpetrators to be canceled or told, “You are evil and deserve to be cast out into the darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” I’m talking of something very low-key and informal, just calmly telling your peer or colleague: “That joke wasn’t funny.” “That was disrespectful.” Again, I agree with pretty much everything you have written here about DEI/woke excesses and I’m sorry that woketivists have poisoned the well with their “every white man is a wReTCHeD TooL of the CIsheteRONORmativE RaCIst PaTRIARchy!!!” nonsense.

    3. [not in reply to our host – posted at the same time] I buried the lede, which is that codes of conduct (e.g., no sexual harassment) can be used as a shield in cases like drosophilist described, but in other cases (e.g., no racism) can be used as a cudgel.

    4. Without getting into the revealingness of your dress or the lewdness of the gesture, I do have to ask why you felt it was incumbent on the other men to make a scene on your behalf when you for your own good reasons decided to retire silently “after laughing it off” without making one yourself. His doing it for a photo was particularly hurtful and I think the photo taker, different from the gesture maker, would have obliged you by instantly deleting the photo at your request, especially since he was probably as surprised as you by what the drunk guy did in the instant of the snap. If you had forcefully demanded the photo be deleted, you could have educated the drunk guy without having to directly confront him. And the other guys would likely have backed you up, knowing it was important to you.

      Edit: Of course, the more alcohol involved the harder these buzz-killing altercations are to resolve amicably.

    5. I sometimes wonder if my life is determined by fleeting, regrettable moments at parties I’ll never be able to undo.

      1. No, it isn’t.

        I’m not saying lewd gesture guy should be defined by that one moment, either! For all I know, he’s an upstanding husband, father, and citizen who just had one bad lapse in judgment, possibly under the influence of ethanol. I don’t want to ruin his life, and I don’t feel he has ruined mine. I just used that anecdote to illustrate the fact that yes, codes of conduct exist for a reason. With apologies to James Madison, “If men were angels, no codes of conduct would be necessary.”

        1. Women aren’t angels either btw, especially drunk women. I’ve been touched or grabbed by ladies under the influence of alcohol before, in ways that would be unacceptable if done in the reverse. Now, I didn’t feel particularly “violated” or anything and I do realise the dynamic is different (considering that a man can more easily physically force himself onto a woman than the reverse) but still, we shouldn’t pretend it’s only men who sometimes overstep boundaries.

  13. You mention a confederate flag sticker, but it’s not paired with an image of an automatic rifle and the admonition “Come n’ git it!” ?

  14. Bloat from the academic administrative sector is starting to resemble the Shoe Event Horizon. There is a reason why the B Ark was programmed to crash into Earth: DEI officers.

  15. I think this is so tiring, exhausting and dispiriting. I commend our host to be untiring in his efforts there. Kudos! It gives me strength to oppose it whenever it pitches up it’s ugly head in my own environment (and it does, not as systematically and in a different way, but still).

  16. From Mike’s anecdote in Comment #12: “one member of the society (a young black woman) lamented on twitter the small number of people attending a workshop on decolonizing science…” Anyone resident in a country called Ukraine might reply to the twitterer: “I’d like to have your kind of problems with decolonizing”.

    1. True it’s a first-world problem.

      I think the young black folks in that story are less culpable bc they’ve been taught to see colonialism and racism everywhere. Some of them have probably experienced actual anti-black racism (though not at a conference).

      More responsibility lies with the society’s executive committee: these are mostly older white people with elite university backgrounds who create the workshops and selectively enforce the conference code of conduct.

      1. Absolutely right. The executive committee dignitaries who concocted a “decolonizing science” workshop no doubt awarded virtue points to themselves for doing so.

  17. To whom does the Department of Energy report to justify the efficacy of its own DEI statements? Do its own statements cut the mustard? Why doesn’t DOE simply provide the necessary statements, and applicants can decide whether they can abide by them?

  18. I am a professional male scientist and have taken numerous DEI courses. I’ve been wholly supportive of women and minority participation in my field throughout my career.

    To presume that adult men need self-appointed hall monitors of sexist behavior at professional conferences is insulting beyond belief to both men and women. What an unseemly presumption of guilt! Krauss is right that this will have a chilling effect on male scientists interacting with aspiring female ones, for fear of misperceived ill conduct. So the boys club will return? Scientific conferences might become “separate but equal” in the future by choice and self-organization? I sure hope not.

    There is only one way out of this as I see it. Female scientists, for the sake of womens’ participation in science, must stop villifying men and stop allowing this type of juvenile policing of professional meetings. Men can’t say much of anything about it but women can. Surely, this is bad for the future of women in STEM so women should oppose these measures or do nothing and let it worsen. Much of the exclusion of women from STEM that DEI purports to correct is due not to sexism (though no one should deny that it is a factor) but to the pipeline problem and different career interests between men and women. Men for the most part aren’t insisting on these actions, women are. So will women stop other women from creating draconian measures in the name of protecting women (from what exactly, I’m still not sure), only to perversely prevent more women from advancing into scientific careers?

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