Codes of Conduct to Counter Bullying and Harassment – A Petition

A week or so ago news broke of yet another case of bullying in an astronomy department, this time in the University of Lund. This and a number of older examples of harassment and bullying have led to the circulation of a letter calling for Codes of Conduct to be introduced in scientific collaborations. I received this letter (from Dr. Clémence Fontanive) through the Euclid Collaboration together with an encouragement to circulate it as widely as possible, which I am now doing. I have signed the petition and hope you will do likewise.

Dear Colleagues,

In light of recent events within the astronomy community, it has become
increasingly apparent that many official collaborations in astronomy
lack Codes of Social Conduct, with policies in place to deal with cases
of behavioural misconduct. We believe Codes of Conduct to be important
tools to make academia a safe, respectful and inclusive environment, and
have therefore written an Open Letter to the Community soliciting their
introduction in all collaborations, with the hope to encourage and
normalise their implementation.

You can read and sign the Letter at the following links:

View Petition

Sign Petition

Please consider adding your name to ours in support. We would also be
very grateful if you could help circulate this as widely as possible to
your colleagues and institutions.

Thank you very much for your support.

Best wishes,
Clémence, on behalf of all co-authors


15 Responses to “Codes of Conduct to Counter Bullying and Harassment – A Petition”

  1. The case is similar to those in Zurich and Garching. What the Nature piece doesn’t mention is that Feltzing and Davies are a couple; that makes three couples (though the extent to which both members of the couple are accused varies between the cases). Also, of the six people in the three couples, only Feltzing is originally from the country in which she works; all others are from different countries with different languages. It seems to me unlikely that there is no causal relationship.

  2. A cynic would say that pushing for a code of conduct implies that the people didn’t know that they were doing something wrong.

    • telescoper Says:

      One of the difficulties with “bullying” is that, at least in English law, there is no clear legal definition of what it is. That can be contrasted with “harassment” for which there is a clear legal definition. I don’t know but it may be a similar situation in other countries.

      • So perhaps the idea is not so much to tell people what is right and what is wrong, but rather to be able to point to an explicit violation (which might not be covered by law), similar to questions like “Are you planning to assassinate the President?” which one has to answer on the questionnaire before landing at a U.S. airport.

      • telescoper Says:

        Yes, I don’t imagine they catch many would be assassins with that question.

      • The point is that presumably no one with such plans would answer in the affirmative. So why ask it? So that if someone is found out to be planning to assassinate the President, then they can charge him with false testimony as well?

      • telescoper Says:

        IIRC there’s also a question about whether you are planning to overthrow the Government of the United States by violence or sedition, but there’s not enough space in the box to select either of these options.

  3. It was Gilbert Harding who yielded to temptation and said yes when asked if he intended to overthrow the Government. His response, “Sole purpose of visit”, was made at the US consulate in Toronto. He was arrested on arrival.

  4. Power abuse is usually more complicated than presented in the social media. Most people who’ll be glad to sign the petition, won’t ever back you up when you try to call out an abuser. They’ll close their eyes, or watch to the side, and more often — blame you.
    First, one has to survive all that abuse. It is not evident that one does, at least it was not for me. Then, when you finally call out your abuser, you are totally on your own. The next stage is ostracism, everyone will speak behind your back. You are the problem. But hey, those who ostracize you will be glad to sign the petition against abuse. It’s easier to fight against abuse on the other side of the planet, than taking a stand against problems in your closest vicinity, where it most matters.

    • Another problem is that everyone has their own definition of bullying. Even if there is a policy, people can disagree as to whether some specific event is bullying according to the policy or not. For example, I consider not allowing a paper to appear in astro-ph at arXiv even though it has appeared in MNRAS, and not even giving a reason for it, to be academic bullying of the highest order. How better to exclude one from the community than to exclude them from the appropriate category at arXiv? Whatever the intention (and that is kept very obscure), that is the result.

      I can relate to the phases you describe.

      But as in other situations, some people have a genuine fear that they might suffer if they speak up. I can understand that, but not belittling the problems of others.

      • I completely agree with you. It’s absolutely unacceptable. Even scientists who sit in prison for heavy crimes, must be permitted to post a peer-reviewed published paper to arXiv. If I want lessons on moral, I go to church.

  5. It is good to have a policy. The issue is normally in the implementation and in the consequences of violations.

  6. Shantanu Says:

    Peter, the link is not working for me.

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