On August 17th, 2018, Science magazine published the letter “Harassment Charges: Injustice Done?” in which colleagues wrote in to defend Francisco Ayala, an academic formerly at UC Irvine who resigned after findings of sexual harassment at that institution.
The letter decries the negative effects on Ayala of the consequences of the investigation, and implies that the reputation of a scientist should somehow excuse scientific misconduct such as sexual harassment. In publishing the letter, which does not provide evidence to substantiate its claims, Science legitimizes attempts to discredit victims of sexual harassment, blaming them for the consequences of their accusations and findings made against harassers. Emboldened by the platform that publication of the letter in Science has given them, we hear that Ayala’s colleagues are now contacting local newspapers attempting to discredit his accusers.
A letter to Science has been drafted by representatives of the #MeTooSTEM movement, calling for retraction of the letter, and an apology to Alaya’s accusers. There is a petition urging support for this letter, which we endorse, and you can sign here. The text of the letter follows below.
Science has issued a statement that it will not publish letters of this nature again. However it has neither retracted, nor apologized for, the original letter. We add to the call from #MeTooSTEM, and the calls of other organizations such as 500 Women Scientists to urge Science to retract the letter, and to apologize to Ayala’s victims for its publication. You can join us in signing the petition here.
Text of the letter:
“The letter “Harassment charges: Injustice done?” by Moya et al. (8/17/18) defends Francisco Ayala, recasting him as the victim of an “unfair” investigation that found him guilty of repeated sexual harassment, leading to his resignation from University of California Irvine (UCI). In publishing this retaliatory letter, Science legitimizes attempts to discredit Ayala’s accusers reinforcing the narrative that consequences are the “fault” of the harassed rather than those engaging in harassment.
Moya et al. do not substantiate their claim the UCI investigation lacked transparency and due process. Instead, they propose Ayala’s status and research accomplishments should shield him from the consequences of his actions. In UCI’s 96-page public report, evidence included testimony from 61 witnesses and detailed Ayala’s repeated sexual misconduct against multiple colleagues, as well as his attempted retaliation against whistleblowers.
Moya et al. decry the “appalling consequences” of the charges against Ayala, deflecting attention from the consequences of his proven misconduct and impugning the motives of those who testified. A recent NASEM report (http://tiny.cc/3hxszy) shows approximately 50% of women face sexual harassment in academic workplaces—more so for women of color and sexual and gender minorities. Most who report face retaliation. Sexual harassment undermines core values of research integrity. It not only harms targets and bystanders; harassment damages science itself by discouraging and driving out talented people.
Ayala’s targets were courageous in coming forward. They deserve support, not public criticism and retaliation enabled by a prestigious scientific organization. Science would not publish such a letter defending a data-fabricator on the basis of their accomplishments, and making unsupported claims against the investigation—why is the standard different here? In our opinion, Science committed an injustice and a serious error in judgment by publishing this letter, providing a platform for retaliation against the victims. We request Science retract the Moya et al. letter and apologize to both Ayala’s victims and the scientific community at large.”