Sunday, April 3, 2016

Last word before exiting: My editors at @sciencemagazine pressured me to do something highly unethical on the Brian Richmond story

One week from today, I will no longer be under contract with Science after 25 years.

My efforts to explain why I was terminated have generated considerable discussion but also a great deal of confusion. That's because I left out something very important, in an effort to protect my editors--including Science's news editor, who notified me that I was terminated--from public exposure of a very serious ethical lapse on their part.

I have told a number of people about this privately, and this morning I posted the following on the BioAnthropology News Facebook page. I am pasting it in below. It will be the last statement I will make on this blog about what happened; if anyone has questions, they should contact me directly and I will attempt to answer them. It was not an easy decision to take this last step, but I do it in the interests of telling the truth.

I am hearing that there is still a great deal of confusion about what happened between me and Science. With the [American Association of Physical Anthropologists] meeting coming up, that means there will continue to be rumors and possibly discussion in this community based on this confusion. I have been trying to hold off saying more publicly on my blog, although there is so much more I could say. However, I have been telling some people privately, and in response to someone who just wrote me yesterday I have said the following. I hope it will help this community, at least, to understand things a little better about what was going on behind the scenes. But it requires me to, very reluctantly, accuse my editors of pressuring me to engage in behavior that is widely considered unethical in both journalistic and sexual assault victim advocate circles. I hope this will be the last thing I will have to say about it so that we can all move on:

"There is much more to what happened than I have said publicly, but briefly everything blew up between me and my editors on January 15 when they pressured me to try to convince the "research assistant" to go public with her name. She had already decided firmly she did not want to do that; to have gone back to her would be highly unethical--it would have been perceived as pressure--and most journalists know that. My editors lost their moral compass in pursuit of a "hot" story, that was their motivation at least as much as concern about the issues: They thought it would make Science look good and redeem its previous miscues and bad reputation on the sexual harassment topic. I refused what they asked, in shock, and I then began making demands concerning the timeliness of publication and insisting on guarantees of the integrity of the story, and threatened to publish it elsewhere if they were not met. They by and large capitulated to those demands, but now I am paying the price. I memorialized all of these events in lengthy emails written contemporaneously to my editors, usually within a day of the events, and have them available if they are needed and/or if my account of events is challenged."

Update: Although I don't intend to post any more blog posts about these events, I will update this post as necessary. On January 16, the day after my editors pressured me to go back to the "research assistant," I wrote a lengthy memo to them, including our news editor, my editor on the story (identified as "E" below), and Science editor-in-chief Marcia McNutt (who was fully aware of events the entire time.) Here is an excerpt relevant to the ethical issues at play:

[E] said that the story would be "so much stronger" if she could be named. To me that is clearly incorrect. Everyone in the anthropology community knows who she is already, and the rest don't need to know--the story is clear enough for them to understand what is going on. What would be stronger if she were named, however, would be the titillation factor for Science readers, and the further humiliation of someone who is an alleged victim of sexual assault and who is still clearly suffering greatly from the trauma. Are we mainly interested in providing click bait for our own purposes and interests, or are we trying to make a real contribution to the ongoing discussion about sexual harassment in the sciences?

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