The Bullying Scandal in Zurich

Yesterday I came across a story about bullying in the Institute of Astronomy at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich in Switzerland (known universally as ETH Zürich). You can find details here (in German) or here (in English, as produced by Google translate).

The allegations contained in this piece are so serious that they have resulted in the closure of the Institute of Astronomy. Two senior members of the faculty are currently on sabbatical and have had their positions transferred to the Department of Physics. You can read the substance of this case in the link I’ve provided so I won’t elaborate further here and will restrict myself to making a couple of points.

First, while this is not the type of case of sexual harassment with which we are becoming regrettably familiar in Astronomy and elsewhere, it does seem to be a product of the same systemic problem: an excessively hierarchical management structure that places far too much power in the hands of prominent individuals at the expense of junior colleagues. Moreover, as in so many other cases, the institutional response seems to be to protect the senior staff rather than to deal with the underlying issues. The institution has allegedly taken over a decade to respond to the accusations of bullying. What compensation or other redress is being offered to those who have been bullied in the Institute of Astronomy during this time? I suspect the ETH just wants to keep the lid on this scandal and hopes it goes away by the time the individuals involved return from `gardening leave’. That is not an adequate response to a situation so serious that it necessitated the closure of an entire Institute. Ironically, just a month ago, ETH Zürich hosted a meeting on `Equal Opportunity at Work’.

That brings me to my second point. The article describing this case changes the names of the principal protagonists, perhaps for legal reasons. The allegations are directed at `Gabriella M.’ who arrived at the Institute at the same time (2002) as her British husband `Paul F.’. This information is sufficient to allow anyone working in Astronomy to identify the two immediately. Anyone not familiar with the Astronomy world could arrive at the same conclusion in a few minutes with a little bit of googling (as a non-astronomy friend of mine proved on Facebook last night). I don’t know why the report I’ve linked to felt the need to disguise the identities of these people, but I see no reason to play along with the attempted anonymity even if it were not so badly botched.

The (female) Professor against whom the allegations of bullying have been made is Marcella Carollo and her husband is Simon Lilly. You will see if you look at the Wikipedia page for Marcella Carollo that it has been edited a number of times to include the news presented in the report I linked to, but the editors have been undoing the changes on the grounds that they represent `vandalism’ of a biographical page. Nowadays telling the truth is `vandalism’, apparently.

I might get into trouble for posting this information, but I feel I’m acting in the public interest and anyway I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble…

UPDATE:

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113 Responses to “The Bullying Scandal in Zurich”

  1. I thought I’d let you know that I appreciated the Sam Spade allusion in the last sentence.

  2. Thank you for not participating in the farce of hiding their names. I hope no one sues you.

  3. chrislintott Says:

    Re wikipedia: you need a secondary source – it never hosts primary info. I suspect one could now make a case this blog is a primary source which could be referenced on wikipedia…

  4. The NZZ article gets the history of the institute in question completely wrong: neither was it founded in 2002 (it had existed for a long time before and merely offered additional professorships that year), nor has it been “closed” – it rather has been merged with another one this year, apparently as part of a wider long-term strategy. Furthermore the story makes it sound that Carollo sliped into the faculty just because she was Lilly’s spouse – while she had been an assistant professor at Columbia University before.

    • telescoper Says:

      If you Google the Institute of Astronomy Zurich, it tells you it is “permanently closed”….

      • If Google says so then what’s an ETHZ press release worth … but this is interesting: the physics department lists the two as “independent” professors now – not affiliated with the (new merged) astronomy institute.

      • Three more ‘discoveries’: a) the “Fundamental Physics Initiative” named in https://www.phys.ethz.ch/news-and-events/d-phys-news/2017/09/institute-for-particle-physics-and-astrophysics-launched.html as the reason for the institute merger seems to appear only in this very news item and nowhere else (where Google can find it); b) there was no ETHZ press release announcing the merger before it happened; and c) as late as this July when the WayBackMachine last captured the homepage of the astronomy institute as a separate entity – https://web.archive.org/web/20170704231456/http://www.astro.ethz.ch/ – there was no indication of the upcoming merger. While the two professors in question were still in leading positions there, Carollo even as the chair. There is a lot we don’t know about events in the past months, it seems …

      • telescoper Says:

        The plot thickens…

      • From the Wayback-Machine page you mentioned:

        Gender bias in astronomy quantified

        Numerous studies and anecdotal accounts support the notion that scientific work performed by women is treated differently from that of their male peers

        I wonder if that includes the “weak beings” who were bullied?

        Also this gem:

        2017 Herschel Medal awarded to Simon Lilly

        The Royal Astronomical Society (UK) has announced today that this year the Herschel Medal is awarded to ETH professor Simon Lilly.

        Perhaps because Herschel, with his sister Caroline, was the first dual-career hire? 😦

        Yes, my comments here might hurt my job prospects, but anyone who doesn’t appreciate that it’s worth risking one’s career for a good one-liner is not someone I want to work for. 😀

        Sam Spade should have said that. 🙂

    • “Furthermore the story makes it sound that Carollo sliped into the faculty just because she was Lilly’s spouse – while she had been an assistant professor at Columbia University before.”

      Whether the ETH is more attractive than Columbia generally, I don’t know (probably so, at least in the past 😐 ), but it very probably is for someone from Europe whose spouse has a permanent full professorship at ETH. Being an assistant professor at one institute doesn’t automatically mean that one would get hired in a similar position (perhaps on a tenure track, with promotion to full professorship more or less a formality) elsewhere, certainly not within a relatively short time. There is no question that this was a dual-career hire with leading spouse and trailing spouse. OK, being married wasn’t here only qualification (and the articles (I read the original in German) doesn’t claim that), but it certainly played a major role.

  5. Vandalism in this context consists of two or more persons repeatedly editing a Wikipedia page in a fashion similar to two children arguing, “Yes you did!” “No I didn’t.” “Yes you did” “No I didn’t” “Did too” “Did not” “Did too” … It has nothing to do with truth (BTW I corroborate the two names). What if someone alleges it was you on your Wikipedia page? Maybe then you might appreciate more the Wiki standards of citation of appropriate sources rather than disparage them.

  6. Thanks for writing this. As you said, the typical institutional response to this kind of thing is to keep silent and hope it is forgotten. The counter is to talk about it very loudly, and make sure people remember.

  7. A sad story, for the students and postdocs who were the victims. Could a working mentoring system have prevented it? People in dependent positions need a way around the chain of command. That could have flagged up that the person involved needed training in supervision. I am afraid this will not be the last such case, though.

    • “Could a working mentoring system have prevented it? People in dependent positions need a way around the chain of command. That could have flagged up that the person involved needed training in supervision.”

      Someone who needs that sort of training should not have been hired in the first place, or at least not promoted to full professor.

      Yes, people in dependent positions need a way around the chain of command, but it has to avoid “we believe the victim in any case”. I mentioned here once a case in which I was not involved but in which I was a witness (not in a legal sense) where an attempt was made to abuse such a system. I believe Peter then mentioned that he had also witnessed and/or experienced something similar.

      If one has to get around the chain of command, it is probably too late to avoid damage to the dependent person.

      At the student level (including doctoral students), perhaps the best solution would be to have not just 1 but 2 or 3 advisers. If problems kick in, one could probably shift responsibility to the less problematic ones without anyone losing face. Shifts will happen anyway. This would also encourage cooperation within the institute and give the student more exposure to other more senior people.

      Higher up, there probably shouldn’t be any hierarchy. That doesn’t mean that everyone has the same rank, but that, at least legally and formerly, all are on the same level once past the doctoral phase.

      • telescoper Says:

        It tends to be assumed that academics somehow automatically know how to supervise early career researchers. The evidence does not support this assumption.

        Nowadays there are schemes to advise new academics about such things and I think that’s a very positive development.

        I supervised my first PhD student when I moved to Queen Mary in 1990. The only experience I had was from my own supervisor, who was great. He gave me interesting problems to work on, but also gave me plenty of space to do them the way I wanted to. That worked very well for me, but it didn’t work for everyone he supervised.

      • Part of the problem might be that such a job requires research, teaching, and supervision, in about equal proportions, but the hiring criteria are heavily biased research record, as opposed to teaching or supervision record. While there is something of a chicken-and-egg problem, a typical postdoc probably has some (perhaps voluntary) opportunity to do at least some teaching, at least if desired (and if not desired, then an application for a teaching job is probably not a good idea). Similarly, one can act as an adviser to more junior people, at least inofficially.

      • I agree with Peter. Supervising is something that needs to be learned (and in some cases, being supervised also can require some training). It is on-the-job learning, but systems should be in place to support it.

  8. “Two senior members of the faculty are currently on sabbatical and have had their positions transferred to the Department of Physics.”

    Reminds me of a dispute involving airplane pilots. As punishment, they were “grounded with pay”. Other people call that “holiday”.

  9. “while this is not the type of case of sexual harassment with which we are becoming regrettably familiar in Astronomy and elsewhere”

    True, but note that the perpetratorix called women “weak creatures”. If that’s not sexism, I don’t know what is.

    Also, there is some speculation that the whole thing might be due, at least in part, to a dual-career hire. Perhaps the trailing spouse needed to appear stronger than she really was. While dual-career hires are the politically correct thing to do, I’ve always thought that they were wrong. In any other context, getting a job one would otherwise not get because one has a sexual relationship with a certain person is wrong (not because sex is wrong, of course, but because it should be irrelevant as a “qualification”). Yes, putting up with Harvey Weinstein in order to get cast is worse than sex with the one you love, but it is just as unfair with respect to the other applicants who are better qualified and thus butted out of a job. (I also hate the excuses: “It’s not a proper position, just a five-year fellowship to tide me over.” Yeah, right. Many people who were forced to leave the field would still be here if they had had a five-year fellowship to tide them over. “It’s a new position, specially created for me, so I’m not taking anything away from someone.” Well, the money has to come from somewhere, so, at least indirectly, someone better qualified is robbed of a position. Even in the case of a negotiable salary where the leading spouse gets offered, say, twice the normal salary, and says “give me 1.3 times the normal salary and my spouse 0.7”, it is still unfair, since the trailing spouse can put “permanent job at prestigious institute” on their CV and those butted out can’t.)

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Let’s keep the discussion to where Einstein worked, rather than Weinstein.

      • Weinstein is relevant here, as an example of how power can be abused. Because of who he is and whom he abused, the Weinstein case gets more publicity. If anything good comes of it, hopefully a raised awareness for such abuse even where the people aren’t celebrities. The article about the ETH is from 21 October. Perhaps the Weinstein case even inspired some people to come forward.

  10. “I don’t know why the report I’ve linked to felt the need to disguise the identities of these people”

    Apparently there is more disguising involved. Obvious searches on Google bring up a notice that certain links have been removed for legal reasons. While I think that this is OK in some cases (say, incorrect claims, especially if they might endanger someone), sometimes it might go too far.

    • Interesting that “certain links have been removed for legal reasons” – I think this relates to Europe’s “right to be forgotten” law. A Google search for the alleged bully’s name from the USA doesn’t result in such a notice.

      Elsewhere you express frustration at the journalist’s abbreviation of the last names of the pseudonyms. Imagine a journalist needed to make up a pseudonym for an article and happened to choose , “Phillip H.” instead of a randomly selected last name of “Helbig” – now perhaps you understand why journalists abbreviate the last name? It’s to avoid the real and entirely innocent “Philip Helbig” from asking his attorney to demand an apology and a retraction or face libel litigation.

      • “Interesting that “certain links have been removed for legal reasons” – I think this relates to Europe’s “right to be forgotten” law. A Google search for the alleged bully’s name from the USA doesn’t result in such a notice.”

        Yes, that is explicitly mentioned as the reason. Does the search turn up anything relevant?

        “Elsewhere you express frustration at the journalist’s abbreviation of the last names of the pseudonyms. Imagine a journalist needed to make up a pseudonym for an article and happened to choose , “Phillip H.” instead of a randomly selected last name of “Helbig” – now perhaps you understand why journalists abbreviate the last name? It’s to avoid the real and entirely innocent “Philip Helbig” from asking his attorney to demand an apology and a retraction or face libel litigation.”

        Really? If it explicitly says that it is a pseudonym? And if so, then can all Phillip H. in the world sue for libel?

        You raise a good point. My question is whether this plays a role in practice. I have seen articles where pseudonyms were used, but with surnames as well.

        Abbreviated surnames in pseudonyms, perhaps intentionally, reminds one of articles where real last names are abbreviated for legal reasons.

        The best practice would probably be to use standard pseudonyms such as John Doe and Jane Doe or Jane Roe. (Note that “Roe” in Roe vs. Wade is such a pseudonym, though the real name is now known.)

    • Try googling your own name from Europe and you will very likely see the same message. I believe that it’s a standard disclaimer that is shown even if no links have been removed.

      • interesting. Yes, I see it. It also says “possibly removed”. There are a few other people called Phillip Helbig out there (note the spelling of both names). (Note: I am not the BMX biker.) Maybe one of them asked for something to be removed. I certainly haven’t. I’m all over cyberspace, warts and all. 🙂

  11. “Professor Paul F. zu berufen. Dieser verlangte auch einen Platz für seine Partnerin Gabriela M. (beide Namen geändert)”

    This has been annoying me for a long time. If the names have been changed to protect the guilty, what is the point of abbreviated surnames? Either abbreviate the real surnames if this is sufficient, or, if the names have been changed anyway, just make up some surnames.

  12. “What compensation or other redress is being offered to those who have been bullied in the Institute of Astronomy during this time? I suspect they just want to keep the lid on this scandal and hope it goes away by the time the individuals involved return from `gardening leave’.”

    Just to be clear, “they” does not refer to “those who have been bullied” but to “(the people running) the institution”.

    I recently learned that guessing the antecedent of a relative pronoun is used as a test of artificial intelligence (though it could test natural intelligence as well). This is more difficult in English than in languages where pronoun and antecedent must agree in gender, number, etc. (It is even more difficult in Swedish which has (apart from “vems”, “whose”) just one relative pronoun, “som”, for all situations (i.e. one has to guess the antecedent from the context).

  13. “What compensation or other redress is being offered to those who have been bullied in the Institute of Astronomy during this time? I suspect they just want to keep the lid on this scandal and hope it goes away by the time the individuals involved return from `gardening leave’.”

    Just to be clear, “they” does not refer to “those who have been bullied” but to “(the people running) the institution”.

    I recently learned that guessing the antecedent of a relative pronoun is used as a test of artificial intelligence (though it could test natural intelligence as well). This is more difficult in English than in languages where pronoun and antecedent must agree in gender, number, etc. (It is even more difficult in Swedish which has (apart from “vems”, “whose”) just one relative pronoun, “som”, for all situations (i.e. one has to guess the antecedent from the context).

  14. Just to be very clear (and I know you mentioned it in the article, but never hurts to state it again): There have been no accusations against Simon Lilly whatsoever in terms of bullying his students. In fact probably most of his students would remember him as a very fair supervisor.

    • Indeed. The article does suggest, though, that part of the cause of the problem might be the dual-career hire. Also, it is hard to believe, both as most famous person in the department and as the spouse, that he knew nothing about this at all.

    • Anyone with first hand lived experience might keep their head down and not comment. Why?

      It is common practice, regrettably, for the social media crowd to express outrage when someone expresses an opinion like “probably most of his students would remember him [Lilly] as a very fair supervisor.”

      See for example, mashable.com/2015/10/13/geoff-marcy-sexual-harassment/ Admittedly in that case Marcy had been sanctioned for violating harassment policies, whereas Lilly is not accused in the NZZ article that spawned the Carollo/Lilly blog posting here. Still, you walk a dangerous path of being seen as sympathetic to a fellow human being rather than damning the accused.

      NY Times science writer Dennis Overbye was criticized by hundreds of astronomers for “… focusing on Marcy and his wife’s feelings, Overbye fosters sympathy for a sexual predator and exacerbates the culture which allowed him to prey on unsuspecting students.” http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~lopez.513/Letter/Letter_to_NY_Times.html

      So by focusing on Lilly’s presumed innocence, your comment fosters sympathy for a …

      I imagine that your intentions are good in making that point about Lilly. Who could argue with a bedrock principle such as “presumption of innocence”? Or be opposed to “guilt by association”? Well, the court of public opinion, fueled by social media and rumor mills, might not behave accordingly.

  15. (Comment deleted at request of commenter.)

    • telescoper Says:

      One wonders however why *both* are on sabbatical and why both are now `independent professors’…

      • Because both were hired at the same time. If not the direct cause, obviously there is a connection. From the original article:

        Gemeinsam bauten die beiden das Institut auf, später wurde Gabriela M. zur ordentlichen Professorin befördert. Zwei weitere Professuren wurden geschaffen im Institut, zudem Förderprofessuren des Schweizerischen Nationalfonds, doch das Paar hatte stets das Sagen. «An den beiden kam niemand vorbei», sagt einer, der die Situation aus nächster Nähe kennt.

        The Google translation is actually pretty good:

        Together, the two set up the institute, later Gabriela M. was promoted to the full professor. Two further professorships were created at the institute, as well as funding programs of the Swiss National Fund, but the couple always had the say. “Nobody came past them,” says one who knows the situation at close range.

        My translation:

        Together, the two built up the institute; later Gabriela M. was promoted to full professor. Two further professorships were created at the institute, as well as professorships funded by the
        Swiss National Science Foundation, but the couple always had the say. “Nobody came past them,” says one who knows the situation at close range.

        (“Swiss National Fund” is a literal translation of “Schweizere Nationalfonds”, but this is short for “Schweizerische Nationalfonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung”, “Swiss National Fund for the Support of Scientific Research”.)

    • You concluded: “If a social media outrage is the consequence, well so be it, that won’t stop me from pointing out the right thing.”

      If you think we’ve gotten past the Medieval Ages, then I sincerely express “Good luck to you and I applaud your courage.”

      And you need to be more careful. Defamation is a very hard suit to win, generally speaking, but if a defendant has written, in a public location (such as this) that a specific named individual has committed a crime, that’s one of the few “easier” cases to win.

      I think you should immediately follow up to clarify yourself.

      • Nowhere I said, that she has committed an offence: I don’t think anyone can judge that without full knowledge of facts nor is it our place to judge that. All I say is, that you can’t assume that was reported about her, is also true for him.

      • Stars, you wrote, “the same crimes as Carollo” – for which I admonish you, and then you assert, “Nowhere I said, that she has committed an offence.”

        Have it your way.

    • “That’s exactly the problem here: guilt by association.”

      Of course, innocent until proven guilty, and of course there is no such thing (at least there shouldn’t be) as guilt by association. However, this doesn’t mean that association means that one is automatically innocent. In this case, the article does mention both, not in the context of bullying but in the context of having too much say at the institute. Also, as Peter points out, both were punished by the ETH (if one can call an independent professorship and a sabbatical punishment).

    • telescoper Says:

      There is no suggestion in either the original report or in my blog post above that anyone has committed a criminal offence.

      • False.

      • telescoper Says:

        Interesting. Who are you alleging has committed a criminal offence and what is the offence?

      • telescoper Says:

        I am now very interested in who `Wikitalk’ is. He/she seems to be purporting to be associated with Wikipedia, but has in any case violated my comments policy by using a fake email address.

      • The quote in question is “And therefore it is fair to comment that Lilly should not be condemned for the same crimes as Carollo.”

        Wikitalk claims that this implies that stars claims that Carollo committed some crimes.

        As my history teacher used to say, just an observation, not a judgement. Which of these claims is true is best left to judicial experts.

      • So, no-one is claiming that you* alleged that anyone has committed a criminal offence; Wikitalk claims that stars has made such a claim.


        * Except, perhaps, via association. 😐

      • You = “Peter Coles”

      • Thank you Philip Helbig. I was responding to a statement that now reads “There is no suggestion in either the original report or in my blog post above that anyone has committed a criminal offence.” My memory is that it originally read “There is no suggestion that anyone has committed a criminal offence” at the time that I replied with “False.” But memory is notoriously faulty; I do not impugn that Telescoper may have edited his comment in the mean time. I’ve written enough on the topic of defamation here. Good discussion all around.

      • telescoper Says:

        I did edit the comment to clarify it. You must have replied before I did so. Apologies for the confusion.

      • Thank you Telescoper for the comment that you edited the comment. Thank you also for the apology. Please accept my apology for using a pseudonym and thereby violating your terms of service. I am not affiliated with Wikipedia in anyway other than as a contributor of cash and a few edits – it just seemed like an appropriate pseudonym when I made my first comment here.

        Alas, it is often risky and even dangerous these days to express anything different than “G. Bruno is guilty: please let me add a burning log before he expires!”

  16. telescoper Says:

    It’s perhaps worth mentioning that, at least under UK law, `harassment’ has a specific and reasonably well-defined meaning whereas `bullying’ does not. Disciplinary cases relating to the former are generally easier than for the latter (although that doesn’t imply that they are easy).

  17. In https://barfi.ch/Wissen/ETH-Zuerich-Institut-nach-schweren-Vorwuerfen-geschlossen finally some independent reporting: the merger of the astronomy and particle physics institutes was a result of the allegations against C. as well as general unease about the leadership situation (so the Sep. 1 ETHZ press release re. the reasons was essentially fake news), and when C. & L. return from their sabbatical they will report directly to the physics dept. and not the institute anymore (which retains all other astronomy groups existing prior to the merger). And should C. ever have PhD students again, the ETHZ “will accompany her closely,” as a spokeswoman puts it. The new article also adds that an investigation is going on that may lead to further consequences.

  18. extragalactic astro Says:

    While you are naming names, do you feel like naming some other known bullies in our community too?

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t have any direct knowledge of any instances of bullying.

      • extragalactic astro Says:

        what kind of evidence do you need?

      • telescoper Says:

        Actual complaints from people who have been bullied, outlining the details of the bullying and the names of those people alleged to have carried it out.

      • extragalactic astro Says:

        If the names are already in the source, then there is no need to name them anymore. 😉
        Anyway, there is a good comment for you in the astro FB group post on this topic. It that doesn’t name anyone, but it has the complaints and details you requested. And it is easy to guess whose names are not named.

      • Is there a link to this FB page? (If it’s not public, then no point in posting a link, at least there is no point for me.)

  19. I wondered if Paul was a cheeky nod via Paul Simon (the singer-songwriter) and Gabriella via Gabriella Marcella (the graphic designer); while the first is well known to anyone the second is quite obscure though perhaps not to the Swiss who do rather like their graphic design.

    • I was puzzled by your comment. It just occurred to me that the last name of one is the surname of the other. OK. But unless Paul Simon is married to Gabriella Marcella (maybe, I don’t know; I do know that he was once married to Carrie Fisher), probably not. It was probably intentional that Paul is a common English name and Gabriela a common Italian one, though both exist in other languages.

      • You’re probably right about them just choosing names that were common in English and Italian, but I still hold some possibility that they were being even more clever than that!

      • I agree. 🙂 But I’m still curious: what made you mention Gabriella Marcella? Just the only combination of “Gabriella” and “Marcella”? Or is there some connection with Paul Simon which I am missing?

      • Just because they’re in the same set as I am: people whose names are composed of two first names joined together!

  20. In this comment I would like to address the issue of naming names, which was your blog post’s second main point. I see an interplay of multiple issues.

    Because the names are searchable by anyone on the internet, and your blog posting is one of the top sites listed by Google (in the USA), this greatly extends the range of persons for which this knowledge is available. So now and forever, a prospective student of the Respondent will easily find these allegations. And so too will a potential employer of the Respondent. And also neighbors, friends, and family. Those greatly amplify the punishment of the accused by limiting options for learning from the experience, moving to a new institution (or staying) and in either case, continuing to contribute to astronomy.

    Publicity causes the ETH to lose some autonomy in administering its affairs according to its rules. Without diminishing the conflicts of interest, one has to admit that the ETH administration is better positioned than journalists or a social media crowd to gather testimony or other evidence, determine and interpret the facts, follow rules, and in general administer something approximating justice for the Complainant(s) and the Respondent(s). The conflict of interest is obvious: the administration looks bad for not having sensed problems sooner; it might like to sweep things under the rug, if practical. However, the feedback of social media’s “naming and shaming” could be for institutions to enforce secrecy even more in the future. That may not necessarily be a bad thing, but it could be opposed to one of your apparent objectives of warning those with a potential need to know. It could also be a bad thing: institutions are often accused of being poor at administering justice (for the Complainant(s) and the Respondent(s)), and secrecy also hides incompetence or malfeasance. This same concern for unintended but rather predictable but complicated feedback mechanisms of human affairs has been raised with respect to legislation proposed in the USA by representative Speier to require Universities to report those sanctioned for harassment to a Federal database. (IMHO that legislation has little to zero chance of being enacted into law, and Speier probably knows that.)

    This case won’t be the last.

    When considering whether to give the full name of the accused on blogs or in Tweets prior to them being named by more established journalists or officials, one might consider not doing so. I imagine you did think deeply about that, and upon weighing the potential costs and benefits, still chose to post the full name of the accused and the spouse (and colleague) of the accused.

    I acknowledge that different well-intentioned persons can choose different options in circumstances that challenge our morals or ethics.

    An intermediate option would be to intentionally and consistently misspell or abbreviate a name. That would make it more difficult for search engines to pick up and catalog the posting. Those with a genuine need to know will be informed, since astronomy is such a small and well-connected community, but neighbors, distant colleagues, et al., wouldn’t.

    It will be interesting to see if the two accused can return to the fold or will be hounded and ostracized by the social media crowd to the point of ending one or both of their careers in astronomy. Or if further allegations and evidence will surface that will make all these speculations moot.

    • telescoper Says:

      And your name is?

      I’ve told you before about my comments policy.

      This is what is written on the front page of this blog:

      The views presented here are personal and not necessarily those of my employer (or anyone else for that matter). Feel free to comment on any of the posts on this blog but comments may be moderated; anonymous comments and any considered by me to be abusive will not be accepted. I do not necessarily endorse, support, sanction, encourage, verify or agree with the opinions or statements of any information or other content in the comments on this site and do not in any way guarantee their accuracy or reliability.

    • telescoper Says:

      My main concern has been to prevent ETH burying this story. I stand by my decision to to publish the names.

    • Some valid points. However, I think that there would be much less discussion had the thing not gone on for 10 years before something happened. If ETH had dealt with it quickly (OK, they didn’t know, perhaps, but would have had the structures been better), and the guilty apologized and straightened things out, then much less harm done. But without public discussion, if this could have been swept under the rug even after 10 years, there might be little motivation to improve.

      As to the future of those involved, I’m sure that they can stay at ETH, which is certainly not a bad place to be; otherwise they wouldn’t be there anymore. Applications for observing time, funding etc will presumably be judged on merit.

    • Reading this was interesting, because I find that by response mostly isn’t “I disagree” but “That’s a feature, not a bug”. To elaborate:

      Someone applying for a job in academia will generally have to bring both a CV and letters of recommendation, to prove that aside from formal qualifications, they’ve manage to make a good impression on the right people. Due to the inherent imbalance of power between employee and employer, the latter never feels the need to do the same. Supervisors are not expected to show letters of recommendation from former students to prove that they are competent at supervising. Institutions are not expected to show letters of recommendation from former employees to show that they are good workplaces. It would be considered absurd for an applicant to ask for those things before agreeing to come to an interview.

      Instead, applicants have to acquire that information by informal routes, which have tended to be very unreliable. One person may know ETH’s reputation, and know to stay far away, while another might walk right into it. Social media do a good job of evening out that power imbalance, by making informal communications much more efficient. It is true that this increases the risk that supervisors and institutions will have their reputations ruined arbitrarily, but that risk has always been present for the applicants – plenty of careers have been ended prematurely by a failure to flatter the right person. The only real change is that the risk is gradually becoming a bit more evenly distributed between the powerful and the powerless, and that’s a change I welcome.

      As for the risk that institutions will work harder to enforce secrecy, they certainly will. Hopefully they will keep discovering something called the ‘Streisand Effect’. Since investigations organisations make of themselves always have as their main purpose to control PR fallout, and solving the actual problem as a very distant second, I expect this as well to be a net improvement.

  21. An interesting Twitter response – “first-hand”, so to speak – to the ban on married professors in the same dept. in effect at ETHZ now: https://twitter.com/aussiastronomer/status/923198784745611265

    • telescoper Says:

      I agree. I think that response is rather silly. Proper policies, properly enforced can solve this problem. It doesn’t need a ban like that.

      I’m afraid it seems like panic stations at ETH right now.

      • My advice to those lucky enough to negotiate a position: Ask if there is a dual-career–hire programme. Ask if there is a ban on couples in the same department. If either is the case (whether or not one could potentially be affected by either of these), decline the job in favour of one without such silly rules.

    • It would be hard to find a better example of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” than that. As I mentioned above, dual-career hires are immoral because a sexual relationship with a certain person is not a valid qualification. It shouldn’t give one an advantage in getting a job. By the same token, it shouldn’t give one a disadvantage. While I know some dual-career cases where the trailing spouse would otherwise not have received that job (nor perhaps any other), there are numerous cases where couples work in the same department and it’s OK. Some dual-career hires where the two are of equal quality—still bad, but not quite as bad—, but also cases where the couple met while working at the institute, or where one was hired normally then the other, some time later, was also hired normally. (The best way to do this is for the trailing spouse to get hired first. This demonstrates that the hire was based only on qualifications. Then, when a job at the same institute opens up later, the leading spouse can apply. As the leading spouse, there should be no problem biding the time with a permanent or even temporary job elsewhere. One can then hardly fault the institute for hiring the leading spouse later on. To be sure, the trailing spouse might be hired in the hope of later attracting the leading spouse, but as there is no guarantee that the leading spouse would come, or that both might go elsewhere, or whether they will even be a couple in the future, there is much more pressure on the institute not to hire someone who doesn’t really qualify.) Even professors who married students. (What could be meaningful is to avoid one member of a couple being the legal boss of another, to avoid suggestions of possible conflict of interest.)

      What about couples who are not married? This whole idea creates many more problems than it solves.

      In one of his books, Cliff Stoll quotes “10 rules for a succesful chess game” or something like that, where rule number 4 or whatever is “always make the best move”. He remarks that this is really the only rule one needs. Similarly, with regard to the issues discussed here, one rule, “don’t be a jerk”, would suffice.

    • “the ban on married professors in the same dept.”

      The problem is not that they are married.

      With the same logic, they could say that they’ve had a problem with a female professor so will hire no more women.

  22. The last three paragraphs of http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/10/swiss-university-dissolves-astronomy-institute-after-misconduct-allegations paint a very different picture of the situation at the institute than the NZZ story. Is the open letter they quote from somewhere online in its entirety?

    • Not a very different picture, but mentioning other opinions. Of course there will be various opinions on such a dispute, otherwise there would have been no dispute in the first place.

      It would be interesting to read the open letter, espeecially since the pupose of an open lettter is that it be widely read.

    • This is one of this cases where it’s very important not to play the sexism card (re: Ursula Keller’s comments in that article) without knowing all the details. From my observations there (2009-2011) the abuse was worst towards other women and was both personal not professional in its impact.

      • Daniel Mortlock Says:

        The open letter of support for Carollo is now linked from the Science article and (at least for the moment) has its own URL: http://www.sciencemag.org/sites/default/files/CarolloSupportLetter_short.pdf .

      • telescoper Says:

        Thanks for the link!

        The letter doesn’t really shed much light on the substance of the allegations, nor does it attempt to explain why the Institute for Astronomy was closed down as a result of them.

      • “We take strong…”: Yes, they are good in their field. So what? This is irrelevant to the accusations. Harvey Weinstein is also good in his field. Imagine someone trying to defend him: “Hey, cut him some slack; he’s a Hollywood bigwig!”

        “Emphasizing the…”: It was mentioned, not emphasized, by the writer of the article. The question remains, though: if someone is qualified enough for a position on her own, why play the dual-career card at all? (The fact that the ETH, not the writer of the article, has thrown the baby out with the bathwater by banning married couples in the same department is another issue.)

        “The article misses…”: Surely the point of comparison is the fraction of ETH doctoral students, not some average based on a larger sample (with, presumably, lower quality than the ETH). Yes, it is probably not possible to get a permanent job in astronomy if one works only 40 hours a week. Yes, it might be a good idea for supervisors to tell the truth, and suggest cutting losses for all by getting out early if one is not dedicated enough. But if this is some sort of excuse, why the complaints (as far as I know) against only this one person? Why was the institute closed?

        “Many of the issues…”: Why is it grossly unfair to “finger” a female professor? If all complaints can be brushed under the rug by playing the misogyny card, how can real, founded, serious complaints be dealt with? The way to end misogyny is to consider the gender of the people involved as irrelevant. This cuts both ways. Both negative and positive discrimination are wrong. What is this supposed to mean? As long as some women somewhere in the world are disadvantaged, is it grossly unfair to complain about anything done by a woman?

      • Jayanne English Says:

        Thanks for the link!

  23. Thanks for disclosing the name of this bully. It is a pity to hear that the ETH authorities still protect these sort of scientists. However, it is worthy to mention now that due to the neurotic competence in the academy, it won’t be a surprise to find some people (who have fed a lot their ego, becoming arrogant and inept) like Carollo in other universities. Thousands of applauses for the brave student who had the courage to denounce the abuse.

  24. Nothing new, but the story has now appeared in Der Spiegel, at least on the (very popular) online version of the serious weekly news magazine.

  25. Nothing new, but the story has now appeared in the online version of Der Spiegel, the serious weekly news magazine.

  26. Jayanne English Says:

    Dear Peter Coles,
    Let’s flip this around. You present this as if you know the truth that she was a bully. But wait — perhaps she’s the one who is bullied. Let’s look at this in a different light. Imagine, and this is just a hypothesis, that you are a professor at an institute and want to eliminate the institute for astrophysics and make your institute physics dominated. Oh let’s call the new institute “Institute for Whatever Physics and Other Things” — Oh ok “Astrophysics”. You only have had one woman hire in, oh say, 30 years. Many of her students are the best that the institute have ever produced but that is because she is rigourous. What can you do to get rid of a such strong astronomy component from the institute? Attack the woman and call her a bully for being rigourous. ( While you are at it , why not twist working to midnight as unreasonable when it is a common practice of astronomers using prestigious telescopes to submit observing proposals at the midnight deadline?) As a member of the administration you can move your “physics first” agenda forward by putting her on sabbatical leave and move her to a new position — she will have no power over this. Nevertheless make it look like all that is her choice, or for protection of her and the university’s reputation, or a necessary choice for the administration. Conceal the real situation by making the information that she was a dual hire an issue. Wham — you have your “physics first” institute. Oh, by the way, get in touch with the media so the President, who signs off on these decisions, can cover his tush. Indeed make sure his “very acceptable” portrait image is in the piece so the public can believe he is a reasonable and pleasant person. Well, thinking about it, the possibility is high that she isn’t the bully but she is the one who is being bullied. The reporter has picked a position — you don’t have to adopt it.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t have to adopt your position either.

      • Jayanne English Says:

        Of course not. And there exists a whole spectrum of positions between the 2.

      • telescoper Says:

        There are many positions that are implausible in the face of the facts that have emerged. Yours is one of them.

      • One reason for the implausibility of the “alternative-facts” scenario is that there are several people on record as saying that there were problems, but no-one on record supporting the alternative scenario. Also, while it is not uncommon for astronomers to work nights (duh!), you are twisting the facts: meetings until midnight, forced long working hours, too little holiday, etc. There are an infinite number of alternative scenarios, but we tend to believe those scenarios for which there is some sort of evidence.

      • Jayanne English Says:

        By the way Philip there is other, not be be dismissed as “alternative”, evidence. «Es gab einige Forschende aus ihrer Gruppe, die eine erfolgreiche akademische Karriere gemacht und sich auch positiv über sie geäussert haben.» “There are some researchers in her group who have made a successful academic careers and who have spoken positive/supportive of her.”

        And from the journal Science:
        Carollo and Lilly have said they can’t comment on the situation, but several colleagues and former students have come to their defense. In an open letter of support, they write that Carollo and Lilly are leaders in the field who have “built an absolutely world class astronomical institute in less than a decade.” The letter notes that Carollo’s first five Ph.D. students all are now in tenure-track positions—something that happens to only about 15% of Ph.D.s, the letter says. It adds that a 30% dropout rate is not unusual in prestigious Ph.D. programs. “She has been unusually dedicated to her students,” the letter says. “If at times she comes across as a relentless task master, this owes to her commitment to her students and desire to maximise their career chances.”

        (I used a construct to illuminate the possibilities — I thought I made that clear. There are a variety reasons for doing so, of course.)

      • By the way Philip there is other, not be be dismissed as “alternative”, evidence.

        Such a defence is illogical. No-one said that everything they did was bad. There is a complaint about bullying and a complaint that complaints by those bullied were not taken seriously. The institute was close for reasons which don’t jibe with the official ones given at the time. These are facts.

        Note that in none of my comments here do I take a stand on the truth or falsehood of the accusations. I wasn’t there.

        One can’t defend someone from an accusation by pointing out their accomplishments. It’s just illogical. That’s like saying “I’ve won an Oscar, so I don’t have to pay my speeding ticket”. It just doesn’t make sense.

        As Peter noted, the open letter doesn’t address the accusations nor the closure of the institute.

        In the last few days, I’ve read about accusations of sexual harassment against George Bush Sr. No-one has stepped forward and said “Hey, he was a good ambassador to China” or “He was President of the United States”. Positive qualities cannot be used to cancel negative ones. Take Bill Cosby. No-one would even think of “defending” him by saying “I used to laugh at his comedy; he was pretty good” or “He was a role model to other Black comedians”. So the “defence” of pointing out that they did good work in science, that some students think positively about them, and so on is just irrelevant. All it proves is that not everything they did was bad, which, however, no-one has ever claimed. I am not doing so, but it could be interpreted as saying that if one has accomplished a lot, one has licence to do bad stuff which other people don’t.

    • Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams!!! 🙂

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        But it can burn at such a temperature as to weaken iron and steel, which is why blacksmiths heat the metal before hammering a horseshoe into shape.

        I suspect you are making an allegory. For the sake of definiteness, I am not. I want to keep 9/11 nuts away.

    • Jayanne English Says:

      Philip says ” several people on record saying there were problems but no-one on record supporting the alternative scenario.”
      Jayanne quotes 2 articles that state there are students that speak positively about her and support her. There are people on record. This point is independent of accomplishments.

      • The “alternative scenario” is the one mentioned above where someone from another department bullies the person accused of bullying. There is, as far as I know, no evidence supporting that scenario. See above:

        Jayanne English Says:
        October 28, 2017 at 12:26 am

        That is the alternative scenario I am referring to.

        Again, the fact that people speak positively about her is neither here nor there. It is irrelevant, unless you believe that accomplishments are an excuse, or that someone with such accomplishments is incapable of bad behaviour.

      • Jayanne English Says:

        “.. unless you believe that accomplishments are an excuse, or that someone with such accomplishments is incapable of bad behaviour.” I absolutely do *not* believe that accomplishments are an excuse or that someone with such accomplishments is incapable of bad behaviour. It is obvious that a professor shouldn’t bully students. If those accomplishments belong to a university administrator who is bullying a professor, I also don’t believe that such an administrator has an excuse for bullying. Nor do colleagues who bully a professor who is at the same level of accomplishment have a right to do so. The imagining of this “alternative scenario” is meant to indicate that there can be political reasons for people to bully a professor and spin it to make it look like she’s a bully. It was not meant to be a 1-to-1 correlation with events (“Imagine, and this is just a hypothesis,…”). If the situations I’ve put together from my experiences for my construction of an alternative scenario have not been part of your experience, that’s great. And I understand why it feels unrealistic. However I now understand that you want me to provide evidence that someone has gone on record to say that Prof. Corollo has been bullied (which is the main crux of to scenario). I read this part of the open letter of support for her to be saying this: “To finger a particular female Professor is grossly unfair and may reflect the misogyny that is generally prevalent in society and sadly even more pronounced in a University science environment. It is particularly misdirected in this case as the Professor in question has an outstanding record in launching PhD students towards faculty level careers.” Also there is a whole paragraph about her dedication to students, them respecting her as a role-model, and her promotion of young women scientists, to counter the accusation of bullying. Enjoy the read. http://www.sciencemag.org/sites/default/files/CarolloSupportLetter_short.pdf

      • I absolutely do *not* believe that accomplishments are an excuse or that someone with such accomplishments is incapable of bad behaviour.

        Just to be clear, I did not mean to imply that you do. This was directed at the open letter. Instead of saying “she didn’t do it” (and providing evidence to back up that claim), the letter mentions positive things which, as far as I know, no-one contests. These things are irrelevant to the case.

        However I now understand that you want me to provide evidence that someone has gone on record to say that Prof. Corollo has been bullied (which is the main crux of to scenario). I read this part of the open letter of support for her to be saying this: “To finger a particular female Professor is grossly unfair and may reflect the misogyny that is generally prevalent in society and sadly even more pronounced in a University science environment. It is particularly misdirected in this case as the Professor in question has an outstanding record in launching PhD students towards faculty level careers.”

        Maybe I got it wrong, but I read this part of the open letter as criticizing the journalist covering the story, not an allegation of bullying against the accused professor. Even assuming that it is intended to be interpreted as you interpret it, this would imply that the bullying in your alternative scenario was successful enough to get the institute shut down, without any protest from the signatories of the letter (who signed because they are familiar with those involved) at the time (the letter appeared, as far as I can tell, as a response to the public criticism of the professor, not to the closure of the institute a couple of months before). This is a long shot at best.

        “Also there is a whole paragraph about her dedication to students, them respecting her as a role-model, and her promotion of young women scientists, to counter the accusation of bullying.”

        All this proves is that not everyone was bullied.

        Take any of the sexual-assault allegations in the news now. Would anyone even think of defending the accused by saying “well, here is a list of people who were not assaulted” or “he’s really good at his job”? I think not.

        Note: I am not comparing this case to other cases in terms of severity, morality, etc, but rather trying to demonstrate that, in any other context, the letter doesn’t sound like a credible defence.

      • “I read this part of the open letter as criticizing the journalist covering the story, not an allegation of bullying against the accused professor”

        And certainly not as a criticism of students who complained. While women can also be misogynists, I don’t think that the letter writers are complaining about the misogyny of the students who complained.

      • Jayanne English Says:

        “without any protest” — try “in spite of any protest”. “All this proves is that not everyone was bullied.” I see you didn’t read that actual paragraph in the open letter. Additionally even my synopsis should make the reader also suspect that “no one was bullied” is a possibility.

      • Correction: Without as much protest as there is now after the article appeared. A while back, the university of Utrecht closed down the astronomy department. I remember when the RGO was shut down. There was much protest and much discusssion. OK, in this case it didn’t mean that people became unemployed, but still I would have expected to have heard something about it, especially if (as you seem to imply; I am not sure) it was shut down because of internal sqabbling and false accusations.

        Of course I read the letter. it says “We take strong exception to the reporting on the two astrophysics Professors identified in the article. ” This makes it pretty clear that they are protesting the reporting, not implying that it was the professor who was bullied.

        OK, maybe they are protesting the reporting because they don’t like the angle, but the misogynist-accusation comments are directed at their colleagues and/or the ETH. If that is the case, why has there been no public outcry, apart from this letter which appeared in response to the article, not in response to the closure? University closes a department and there is no public outcry. A (in the eyes of the signatories) wrong reason is reported in the press, then there is protest? If they feel that strongly, where is the open letter as soon as they heard about the closure?

  27. @Anton; you are correct on both counts

  28. FYI, it is not that the press is “hiding” their identity to protect them. Swiss privacy laws do not allow the use of any full names, not even if an accused person has found guilty. But interesting what you said about the WikiPage. That is definitely, a page managed by someone close to them!

  29. […] Just time for a quick post following up my previous piece on the Bullying Scandal at ETH Zurich. […]

  30. […] the other hand, Peter Coles, a theoretical astrophysicist at Cardiff University, opined on his blog on October 23 that ETH’s efforts to keep Carollo’s identity a secret, quietly closing the […]

  31. […] high-profile harassment and bullying scandals, including incidents at UC Berkeley, Caltech, and ETH Zurich. These particular cases were extreme enough to make the news, but abysmal, exploitative behavior is […]

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