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Friday, October 20, 2017

At long last, human origins curator search begins anew at @AMNH

American Museum of Natural History -- Wikimedia Commons
It's been about 10 months since the last curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Brian Richmond, was forced to resign his post after an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and assault. And since Richmond was not allowed to work in the museum during the investigation, which took up most of 2016, that makes nearly two years that the AMNH has gone without an effective individual in that post. It's been a real loss for the public, as well as for biological anthropology and human origins research, because the curator was often seen as the field's public face. That was certainly the case during the many years that Richmond's predecessor, Ian Tattersall, held the position.

One possible reason for the delay is financial: In its settlement with Richmond, the museum agreed to pay him a full year's salary after he resigned, that is, for the entire year 2017. I guess the AMNH cannot be blamed for not wanting to pay the same salary twice

Now, finally, the job has been posted, apparently in time to get a new curator into position by January 2018. Whoever the new winning candidate turns out to be, I hope the museum will vet him or her thoroughly not only for their academic and research credentials, but also for their ethics. A closer look at Richmond's behavior before he was hired might have avoided this long and embarrassing episode for the museum. I say "might," of course, because there are no guarantees.

But the Richmond case, along with the fall of Harvey Weinstein and many others over the past few years, does carry one lesson that I hope will be taken seriously by would be sexual predators: The consequences for sexual harassment and assault can be very severe. The tide is turning, the culture is changing, slowly, but irrevocably.


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