Friday, September 25, 2020

Kurin v. Balter update: The defense names its first witnesses.


As I announced earlier this month, the $10 million defamation suit against me by University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin is moving into the critical discovery phase, where both sides of the litigation will begin to gather evidence relevant to proving its case. That means issuing subpoenas to produce documents, posing questions under oath, and, very importantly, live witnesses.

Normally, potential witnesses are subpoenaed to give depositions, in which they sit down with the attorneys and answer questions (under pandemic conditions, depositions are often done remotely rather than in person.) In a document called "disclosures," each side reveals to the other which witnesses and documents it is likely to seek. That has now been done.

A party to a lawsuit can oppose a subpoena, seeking to "quash" it in the legal sense, but that requires filing a motion to the court citing good reasons why a witness should not be obliged to testify. We do not expect any such efforts to block our witnesses to be successful. The parties have already agreed that both Kurin and I will be deposed.

Here then is our list:

Michael Balter: the Defendant.

Danielle Kurin: the Plaintiff.

Enmanuel Gomez Choque: Kurin's former husband.

Kevin Vaughn: Vaughn, currently at University of California, Riverside, was the academic dean for UCLA Extension at the time of Kurin's 2016 Title IX. In that capacity, he was involved in cancelling Kurin's field school in Peru that year, which was under the auspices of the Institute for Field Research (IFR.)

Ran Boytner: As the former executive director of IFR, Boytner was involved both in the 2016 events as well as the investigation of misconduct at Kurin's 2018 field school in Peru.

Willeke Wendrich: Wendrich, as director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA and chair of the IFR board of governors, has knowledge both of the 2016 and 2018 events and related matters.

Fred Limp: Limp, a professor at the University of Arkansas and member of IFR's academic board, was a member of the committee that investigated the 2018 events at Kurin's field school.

Julie Stein: Stein, at the University of Washington, is, like Limp, a member of IFR's academic board and served on the 2018 investigative committee.

Richard Kurin: Kurin, a well-known scientist and official at the Smithsonian Institution, is Danielle Kurin's father. He has knowledge relating to a number of issues in the lawsuit.

Stuart Tyson Smith: Smith, a member of the UCSB anthropology department, was department chair during key events related to the lawsuit, including Kurin's Title IX and earlier episodes.

Amber VanDerwarker: VanDerwarker, a former chair of the UCSB anthropology department, is a former department chair and undergraduate advisor, has knowledge of issues related to Kurin's conduct in the department.

Casey Walsh: Walsh is the current chair of the UCSB anthropology department.

Charles Hale: Hale is UCSB's dean of social sciences and has considerable knowledge of Kurin's conduct and disciplinary proceedings.

Roger Nisbet: Nisbet is a former UCSB dean and has knowledge of issues related to this lawsuit.

Melvin Oliver: Oliver, currently president of Pitzer College in California, was UCSB's dean of social sciences at the time of Kurin's 2016 Title IX and has knowledge of issues related to this lawsuit.

David Marshall: Marshall is executive vice chancellor of UCSB and has considerable knowledge of issues related to this lawsuit, including Kurin' 2016 Title IX.

Henry T. Yang: Yang is Chancellor of UCSB and in that capacity has knowledge related to the issues in this lawsuit.

Ariana Alvarez: Alvarez is UCSB's Title IX officer and was directly involved in Kurin's 2016 Title IX proceedings.

Brian Quillen: Quillen, now at CalTech, was a Title IX analyst at UCSB and directly involved in Kurin's 2016 Title IX proceedings.

Cindy Doherty: Doherty is UCSB's director of academic personnel and had direct knowledge of Kurin's 2016 Title IX proceeding.

Leila Rupp: Rupp is interim dean of social sciences at UCSB and has information relevant to this lawsuit.

Lara Wilkinson: Wilkinson was a student at UCSB and was severely bullied by Kurin, causing her significant harm including dropping out of the university.

This is just a preliminary list, and it is quite possible that other witnesses will be added as the case goes on. Deposing these witnesses is expensive, especially paying for the obligatory court reporter who must be present. Each deposition could cost $1500 or more depending on its length. I hope readers will consider contributing to my GoFundMe, as little or as much as you can. Do it not just for me, but for freedom of the press and the right of survivors to tell their stories. Thank you.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A case study in lying: Part Two [Update Sept 24, 2020: The liar and the lies are clearly identified]


I really wish I didn't have to do this.

The lies about my #MeToo reporting began nearly three years ago. Soon I will be preparing a report about the origins of those lies, in detail, although the names will be left out. It will be in the context of a broader piece about #MeToo reporting which I hope will be of use to journalism students and even experienced journalists.

The lies flare up from time to time, almost always when I publish a new investigation. They have been in full force since I reported on misconduct by Peruvian archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, and they flared up again this week when I began posting about Mark Siddall, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History who was just fired for sexual harassment and other more serious behavior.

As they did this week, the lies almost always take the same form. A group of individuals begin claiming, which no evidence, that I harass survivors and badger and threaten them into talking to me, or I try to do that; that I "center" myself and privilege myself over the needs of the survivors, even though survivors come to me constantly and ask for help telling their stories; and that I am doing this all for self-aggrandizement, maybe for money (even though my blog has no ads), or to advance my "career."

That last one always makes me laugh, since I am an older man with a journalism career spreading 42 years, writing for major publications, and I am on Social Security and Medicare. Nowhere to go but up, career-wise, I guess.

The "centering" trope is the evidence that these accusations against me are really a collection of memes that were launched three years ago, as I said, and connected with a particular episode in my #MeToo reporting. The phrase was used by one individual, but has since spread to hundreds, who pass it down faithfully in the best fashions of cumulative culture and the old fashioned telephone game. But that does not make the memes true, any more than many others are.

A key contention is that even by complaining about the lies, I am proving that I am centering myself over survivors. But really, no one wants to be lied about, even the liars, especially if the lies have consequences. In the case of my #MeToo reporting, the lies do much more than damage my personal reputation. They also damage the reputations of those survivors who have chosen, of their own accord, to entrust me with their stories, as a journalist who has the skills to investigate them and get them published. Even more, they damage the #MeToo movement itself, because they drive a wedge between survivors and a reporter who has a proven track record of helping to remove sexual predators and bullies from positions of power.

Not everyone likes my "methods," which I admit are aggressive towards the villains; and some don't like the fact that I don't pick and choose which abusers to investigate, depending on how much power they have and how much some people like them, or whether they are famous or the victims are well known. The whisper network endures because, to put it bluntly, some colleagues do not want to upset the power structure too much, especially since everyone, from undergrad student to scientific titan, has to negotiate it--or find the courage to change it.

Now please look at the redacted Tweet at the top of this page. This particular survivor has posted similar things at least twice that I know about, once last July and once just a few days ago. And some others have merrily RTd these Tweets, so ready to believe the worst about someone, without questioning the veracity of such very serious accusations. If someone actually did what she claims in that Tweet, they are horrible and deserve all the condemnation anyone can muster.

But the problem is that not one word in that Tweet is true, except maybe that I followed her abuser, and the survivor knew exactly why I did--in fact she guessed it herself. In redacted form, at the following link, I am posting the entire conversation between us. (Since I find Blogger hard to work with when manipulating files, I have linked to a downloadable WordPress URL, but I hope to be able to display the entire thing on this page later on.)

The one thing I have left out is an email from her husband, dated April 28, in which he sent me some emails and other material related to what was happening to her.

Any honest person can see that the statements made in the Tweet at the top are untrue. She approached me; I tried to help her; she understood why I followed her abuser even if she was briefly confused about it; she offered the documents referred to, and I certainly did not say I needed them to prove she was telling the truth (I generally believe survivors); and I did not break my promise to try and help. The way we left the conversation, she was going to check with her lawyer about the documents, and I did not pester her about it further.

Should I have checked with her when I didn't heard from her after a while? Perhaps so. I was busy on several other investigations, we were in the middle of a pandemic, and I figured she had perhaps worked it out on her own. But none of what she says now is true. Nevertheless, this survivor, and those who believe these lies, are frantic on Twitter as I write now, condemning me for posting this before they even read it.

If this does not separate the honest from the dishonest, I don't know what will.

The question remains, why is this survivor lying now? I don't know. I can make some guesses, but I am not going to do so here. Perhaps others would like to comment on that, even those who know her. Their comments here would be welcome. 

I will save further discussion for the broader piece I plan to write about the origins of the falsehoods about me, and how they relate to the broader issues of reporting on #MeToo investigations.

But I would ask those piling on, if they have any sense of decency, to ask themselves those questions, and look into their own motivations--including why some are so quick to believe the worst about a reporter who has worked hard for five years, taking lots of very serious risks, to help survivors tell their stories.

Addendum: In the comments section, I have waived my normal rule (and that of most moderated blogs) against comments that engage in personal attacks on me and others. That's because the comments illustrate my point, which is that situations like this clearly separate the honest from the dishonest. For one thing, I redacted the name of this survivor, and I will continue to do so, even though the survivor has outed herself on social media--thus making her the main person who is sharing her story with the world, all in the interests of perpetuating the lies she told about my interactions with her (see again the Tweets at the top of this page and below.) What is remarkable is that none of the virulent critics here can even acknowledge the clear evidence that she did lie. So there is no, "Yes, it is clear she lied, but Balter you should not have done this anyway." That might at least be a defensible position. But admitting that she lies disrupts the dishonest narrative that so many here are wedded to. Thanks to those, here and privately, who understand what is really going on here, and the sickness that has infected academia.

Update: Okay, with the help of a more tech savvy friend, I can now post the screenshots of this Twitter DM exchange:

Add caption

Update September 18, 2020: The morning after.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on this blog post up to now.

I posted a comment of  my own this morning, which I am  pulling up here for emphasis:

"It is now just after 5 am East Coast time, the morning after I first posted this report. There are 54 comments at the moment. I have not censored any comment, but allowed them all through, even gratuitous personal attacks (fortunately those died down after a while and somewhat more serious comments dominated.)

I said at the outset that this blog post would separate the honest from the dishonest. I still maintain that.

I'd like everyone to look again at the Tweets from July and September by this survivor that led me to respond to her with this blog post (see above.) They are not redacted. The survivor used her real identity to tell very clear and blatant lies about my conversations with her. She referred to her having been raped and stalked.

Those Tweets from July and September were liked and RTd widely, including by at least one well known person in the #MeTooSTEM movement who has also lied repeatedly about me.

Yesterday, when I DM'd the survivor to tell her what I planned to do, and asked her to retract her lies, she went public again with what she said were my "threats."

Despite the fact that this person has gone public and identified herself for the express purpose of telling lies about our interactions [emphasis added], which waives any right to anonymity she might have originally had, I have protected her identity on my end. I redacted her name throughout, and other identifying information (if the name of her rapist can be detected, as one commenter said above, then that is just too bad for her rapist, who is not owed anonymity, as is standard journalistic practice.)

This means that all of the accusations above, and on Twitter, are off base, because they refuse to discuss or engage with this basic fact of the matter. I won't be deleting this blog post and I stand by my actions, which were intended to protect not just my reputation but that of the many survivors who have put their trust in me and whose stories were told either on this blog, in Science, or in The Verge."

I would just add one thing, which I have repeatedly said to people who have been attacking me on  Twitter. Why did the survivor lie? Few have expressed much interest in this question, even though it  seems obviously a very important one. I have asked  critics to ask the survivor this question, because I think we cannot have an honest conversation about these issues unless they do either  do that  themselves or at least express some interest in the question.

Update September 20: Why did a prominent #MeToo/#STEMToo advocate publicly identify the survivor?

It has been interesting to follow the debate in the comments section of this blog the past 24 hours. The trend has begun to turn, from those very critical of what I did to those supportive and understanding of my actions. Early this morning (East Coast time) I approved a comment pointing out that a prominent #MeTooSTEM advocate, someone with about 18K followers on Twitter and who has tried unsuccessfully to stop my #MeToo reporting for nearly three years now, outed the identity of the survivor to the world, something I have not done and would not do despite her blatant lies about me. Here is that comment, and my response to it:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sad irony is that one of the prominent advocates of #MeTooSTEM outed the survivor to the world on the same day that Balter published this piece. I had no clue who the survivor was till I came across the advocate’s tweet, where she feigns being incredibly sorry for what happened to her. It’s still there, so for the sake of the survivor’s privacy I hope she’ll delete it soon.

September 20, 2020 at 4:03 AM

Blogger Michael Balter said...

Re the last comment:

Yes, I am aware of the advocate’s Tweet, in which she identifies the survivor to her very large Twitter following. This advocate, who has done important work in the #MeToo area as I have always acknowledged despite her three years of attacks on me, expressed in another Tweet how “frustrating” it was that she and others have not been able to stop my #MeToo reporting.

To recap what has happened here, and which the outraged Twitter mob still refuses to see:

The survivor outed herself publicly in a Tweet last July, saying that she had been raped and stalked, using her real name, and then telling blatant lies about my conversation with her. This month, just the other day, the survivor outed herself again, using very similar phrasing, and telling exactly the same lies (those redacted Tweets are reproduced above.)

Not only the advocate referred to above but many other “advocates” repeatedly amplified the survivor’s Tweets, thus ensuring the Twitterverse knew who she was. Of course, the survivor not only did not try to hide her identity and what happened to her, but actively participated in her publicization.

If my DM conversation with the survivor had included intimate details of the rape or other things that happened to her, I would never have published it. I would have found some other, albeit much less effective, way to expose the lies. But since the conversation did not include such details, waiving confidentiality in this case (justified because of the survivor’s blatant lies) did not reveal anything essential beyond what she had revealed herself of her own volition.

This is why so much of the response to what has happened is so hypocritical. And readers should think about whether the long campaign of lies about my reporting might sit on similarly bogus claims. The advocate obviously was much more concerned about hitting at me than protecting the identity of the survivor. As for the survivor, I don’t know her motives, but my guess is that she saw a chance to insert herself into conversations that were going on and to draw attention to herself. She certainly did that.

And yet I have still not named her, nor would I, even though I would be justified in doing so, while the Twitter mob has outed her repeatedly.

Update Sept 24, 2020: Yesterday a colleague on Twitter who appropriately calls herself "Cassandra of Academia" (no, not my sockpuppet, but a woman of color and a survivor herself) posted a long Twitter thread which exposed the lies that have been told about my interactions with this individual, with full receipts in the form of screenshots. She is now identified, which is not an ethical problem since she and her friends outed her publicly many times over (I seem to be one of the few people involved in this controversy who has not yet named her in some way.) You can access it in an easy Twitter thread reader here. Thanks also to everyone who has commented below.

Another thought or two for today: Why all the lies? I often wonder that myself, but I have some ideas. I will have more to say about it soon. Suffice to say for now: In late 2017, a leading #MeToo advocate, together with a survivor who was ambivalent about telling her story, more or less teamed up to create a false narrative about my reporting and how I went about it. They are telling the same story today. That false narrative is the "origins story" for the very skewed and biased interpretations of what I have done, which at times break into outright lies like the ones discussed here. I will tell that origins story soon, in the context of the "(Mis)Adventures of a #MeToo Reporter" piece I have long planned. I also plan to put it into the overall context of the marked ambivalence with which many colleagues in anthropology, and academia more broadly, view exposing abusers. That ambivalence, I believe, is linked to the disruptions that upsetting established power relations and networks of prestige and patronage (linked as well to the patriarchal structure of academia) and the reluctance--or in some cases outright hostility--that some colleagues have towards allowing those (necessary) disruptions. More to come.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020



As regular readers of this blog know, I have been sued for defamation by University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin for my reporting on documented misconduct by her and her former husband, Enmanuel Gomez Choque (you can read the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint here and my Amended Answer to her Complaint here.) The case was filed in federal court, the Southern District for New York's White Plains branch, and has been assigned to Judge Vicent Briccetti.

Now that the Complaint and Answer (known as the "pleadings") have been filed with the court, the case moves into the so-called discovery phase. For those not familiar with civil procedure,  this means that each side of the litigation can seek evidence and other information from the opposite side, as well as from third parties that might have relevant information.

This evidence seeking exercise takes several forms. Perhaps the best known is the deposition, where a witness sits down with the lawyers and a court reporter and answers questions under oath (during the pandemic, many or most depositions are being done remotely, although a court reporter must still be there.) Thus my legal team from the firm of BakerHostetler will no doubt take Kurin's deposition, and Kurin's attorney, David Scher of the Hoyer Law Group, will take mine. In addition, each side is likely to depose other relevant witnesses.

The parties in the lawsuit can also ask each other written questions, which are called interrogatories, or ask each other to admit to certain facts, and so on.

The lawyers for both sides have agreed to--and Judge Briccetti has approved--a joint "Civil Case Discovery Plan and Scheduling Order" which lays out how discovery will be conducted. All "fact discovery" (seeking evidence relevant to the case) must be completed by January 12, and all "expert discovery" (for example, depositions of expert witnesses) must be completed by March 7.

In addition, in a separate order dated September 14, the judge has scheduled a "case management conference" with all parties to be held by telephone on March 19, 2021. Judge Briccetti has also ordered the parties to submit a joint letter by February 19 about any efforts to settle the case short of going to trial, and whether the Court can assist in that process.

While I have said a great deal  publicly about this case up to now, as we go forward there will be some restrictions on how much I can say. I will, however, continue to link to any official filings in the case, which can also be found on the court docket.

Last but not least, defending this lawsuit will be expensive. Although BakerHostetler is representing me pro bono, I still must raise the basic legal expenses such as for court reporters, etc. If you would like to help out, please contribute to the case's GoFundMe campaign. You will be helping me, but much more importantly, you will be supporting freedom of the press and the rights of survivors to abuse to tell their stories.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Another harasser bites the dust. Please don't pass him. [Updated Sept 24 2020: The New York Times weighs in]

Over the past weeks I have been Tweeting about the misconduct investigation the American Museum of Natural History in New York City has been conducting on its long-time curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, Mark Siddall. More recently I reported that he had been fired.

The official word comes today:

From: Michael Novacek <>
Subject: Message for Curators and Division of Invertebrate Zoology staff members
Date: September 4, 2020 at 3:01:14 PM EDT
Cc: Michael Novacek <>, Kala Harinarayanan <>

Dear Curators and Division of Invertebrate Zoology staff members,
We write to let you know that Dr. Mark Siddall was terminated from his employment with the Museum, effective September 3, 2020, due to violating the Museum’s anti-harassment policies. As a result, Dr. Siddall will not be available for any Museum-related work. If you have ongoing projects with Dr. Siddall, please contact your supervisor or the Provost’s Office.
Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President and Provost
Kala Harinarayanan, Vice President of Human Resources

It's too soon to say much about the details, but let's just say that he made the museum's women, and men too, miserable for many many years. He finally went too far, apparently, and now he is gone. Good riddance.

By the way, reports have reached me that Siddall is trying to find a new job, and telling people that he left the museum voluntarily. That is obviously a lie. Don't let this harasser get passed, please.

Update: I am still piecing together the full story here, but it is clear that the museum has known about Siddall's behavior for many years, and in fact he had been reprimanded for sexual harassment some years back. Banned from teaching in the museum's graduate school, I am reliably told. More to come.

Update Sept 9, 2020: A pattern of years of abuse, covered up by the American Museum of Natural History.

Over the last 24 hours, a number of Siddall's victims and their allies (including people the victims have told) have taken to social media to briefly describe their experiences with him. A key, widely shared demand is that the museum engage in full disclosure of how and why Siddall was allowed to traumatize colleagues for so many years. That means disclosing who knew, when and what they knew, and what they did or did not do about it. Perhaps will take some lawsuits from survivors to pry that information loose, but the museum would be better off doing its own, fully transparent, inquiry now, and let the chips fall where they may. Perhaps even a fully independent inquiry would be necessary to get at the truth.

The AMNH is evidently hoping that getting rid of Siddall after all these years, with a minimal internal announcement to museum staff, is enough to show that they take harassment seriously. Bullshit. My sources say that the museum administration was fully aware--right up to the top ranks--of Siddall's behavior all this time, but that the HR department was used as a shield to deflect all complaints. They got away with this for years. We still don't know what the actual findings were in the investigation of Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example; and the only time that the museum has shown any transparency was in the case of disgraced human origins curator and sexual predator Brian Richmond. Why? Because Science magazine already had the whole story.

It is heartening to see the pressure building on the museum. But what about the New York media? The New York Times never wrote a word about the Richmond case, and reported next to nothing about the Tyson case. Why not? Another question that needs answering, although the overlap between New York elites that run the museum and the Times might provide some clues.

Update Sept 11, 2020: Survivors begin to speak out. The search for accountability begins.

Over the past couple of days, survivors of Siddall's abuses and other witnesses to aspects of them have been very vocal on social media. These expressions of outrage, grief, and anger represent acts of courage by women (and a few men) who have never been given the forum nor the opportunity to be courageous, because the fear of retaliation--and the almost total negligence of their plight by the AMNH administration, from HR to the top echelons--made it almost impossible.

I'm going to quote some of the statements people have made, leaving out the names, since these are not my stories to tell and I have not talked to some of the survivors about their experiences. But since they are public I think it is important to put all these reactions in one place, so that everyone can feel the weight of the abuse and oppression Mark Siddall (and those who enabled him, see below) was responsible for.

--"I'm overwhelmed by how many reaching out also suffered at his hands. We are not alone. We will get through this together."

--"I carry an enormous amount of trauma in me that I generally try to stamp down but these past weeks have reminded me that it's very much still there. Seeing his photo so much is jarring and painful. Reading the name is painful... I hope someday to not have these reactions and I hope that the others are able to heal, too."

--"Mark Siddall [was] my postdoc advisor from 2012-2014... I am also a victim of his actions, especially gender and sexual harassment... My lack of publications during the years in Mark's lab have been used against me in job searches, as has my lack of recommendation letter...I feared retaliation due to his volatile personality..."

--"...[Siddall] messaged me incessantly until I paid attention to him, often asking things like 'which bottle of wine should I drink?' And when I didn't pay attention he threatened to take away my research resources."

--"It's horrible that  Mark Siddall was allowed to hurt more people before action was taken. I filed a complaint against him for accosting me at a bar. [AMNH] determined it wasn't a pattern of behavior so no action was taken."

--"...I call bullshit on there not being a pattern of behavior  since I don't know a single person who's had to interact with him in-person that hasn't had a bad experience."

"...I stand with survivors 100%. The whisper network warned me about him practically as a matter of orientation."

--"Seconded. Was warned as a MA student, even."

--"I wasn't even at AMNH or working on [invertebrates] and yet the whisper network still warned me about him."

--"I knew as an MS student studying mammals at an entirely different institution, back in 2013."

--"Complaints against him go back years... [but he was allowed to keep teaching in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program even after being banned from teaching grad students.] ...
Why was he allowed to supervise a group of  vulnerable young (mostly female) undergrads when he was  not allowed to teach in the grad school?"

--"Years ago, a museum curator wrote me a long, vitriolic email after I gave his exhibition a mixed review. I felt so scared, sure I'd done something very wrong. Now I learn he's been fired for violating their harassment policy and duh, of course, the problem there hadn't been me."

--"Siddall was a bully and a jerk and when you build institutions that shelter or encourage bullies and jerks you often find yourself giving shelter to harassers as well."

--"...there are indications that Mark is trying to get a new job in academia and/or rebrand himself as a COVID scientist. Please don't pass the trash or perpetuate misinformation."

--"So I too will add my voice and call on my institution, AMNH, to  make a public statement on Mark Siddall's history of harassment, laying out what they knew and when they knew it. All members of AMNH--students, post-docs, and staff, alumni, former REUs--deserve to know."

"--I'm against 'cancel culture' but for real plz don't hire Mark Siddall. He has harassed not one not two but THREE of my friends in professional settings. (Plus some acquaintances). That behavior makes women feel so unwelcome in science."

Here are some messages sent directly to me by museum colleagues:

--"I cautioned various people that I know, not just students,  to steer clear of Siddall because he could be verbally offensive, especially to curatorial colleagues, male and female..."

--"The man... vowed he was going to destroy everything about my life."

--"[Brian] Richmond and Siddall are but two examples of a
culture resistant to change. In my opinion, this is the bigger story
than the single individual who was outed, and the circumstances in
which that happened, for several reasons. The people who ignored or
covered this up for years are still firmly in control. The steps taken
to address the systemic problems are band-aid solutions, creating the
appearance that something has been done when little has changed on the
ground. Finally, and most importantly, there are others who have
conducted themselves at least as badly, in terms of 'violating the
Museum's anti-harassment policies', without ever being called to
account. This is actually quite well known..."

--"...while I completely agree that the individual in
question got what he deserved, it seems blatantly hypocritical to
single him out while others escape scrutiny, and the administration
gets a pass for turning a blind eye. As the saying goes, the fish rots
from the head."

Who who responsible for letting Mark Siddall harass and abuse colleagues for so many years?

To answer this question, reporters are going to need to investigate what happened internally at the museum over the years, much as I tried to do with my 2016 investigation for Science magazine of disgraced human origins curator Brian Richmond. When I say reporters, I do not just mean me, although I am obviously on the job (is it not shameful that so far no other publication other than this blog has reported on Siddall's firing? Not the home town papers, the New York Times, New York Post, New York Daily News; not Science or Nature or any other science publication. Do better!)

To figure out who is responsible, one must start with the frankly useless Human Resources division, which also figured heavily in my Richmond investigation. Dan Scheiner, former vice president for human resources, was the key person responsible for Richmond and also for passing on so many reports of misconduct by Siddall. As one museum colleague put it to me:

"Mark Siddall is just one of many harassers in Invertebrate Zoology at AMNH. Look into the VP of Human Resources Dan Scheiner and Don Sposato, both of whom have left the museum recently. For decades, they brushed off complaints or turned complaints from women against them, even insinuating intimate interactions between the complainee with the harasser as cause for harassment. Scheiner and Sposato were enablers of/complicit in terrible, terrible harassment from several of the curators in the division. It is one of the most toxic environments."

Okay, so we have evidence that HR not only turned a blind eye but actually enabled abusers.

Who else? The AMNH Provost, Mike Novacek, was fully involved in both the Richmond and Siddall cases, and fully involved in decisions about what to do about them. Novacek has declined to be interviewed over the years, but his role is clear from evidence from other sources.

Who else? I am still working out the role of the museum's various deans and other administrators. But the museum's lawyers knew and were involved at every step of the way, which strongly suggests that museum officials all the way up to the top of the hierarchy were aware that complaints were being made and aware of how they were handled--perhaps even providing the instructions for how they should be handled. Indeed, multiple sources tell me that at one point, some years back, Siddall was offered a job in Canada (University of  Guelph), but the museum bumped up his salary and his research funding so he decided to stay.

Who are we talking about here? Ellen Futter, the AMNH president? To paraphrase how a colleague put it above, what did she know and when did she know it? What other museum execs were in the know about Siddall?

Let's get at this, New York reporters; let's get to it, science journalists. I will do my bit, please do yours, and press for the kind of full accountability that the victims and survivors of Siddall, Richmond, and all the other abusers (their time will come, surely) roaming the hallways  of the American Museum of Natural History.

Let's get the accountability ball rolling. My email to Anne Canty, AMNH's Senior Vice President for Communications, Marketing, and Digital 

I've known Anne Canty since late 2015, when I first began reporting on the Brian Richmond case. She contacted me after learning that I was talking to colleagues at the museum and asked if she could help. One of her first questions was whether my story was for Science or "one of the other publications you write for." After I gave her the bad news, but also made clear that I already had most of the details reported and needed comment from her, Canty began to cooperate to a certain extent, making disclosures that the museum normally keeps secret under its "personnel matters" policy (the policy that so many institutions use to protect their reputations and then pass the harasser as quickly as possible.)

It does not look as though Siddall will be lucky enough to be passed, but there is still a lot to know about who enabled him all these years, as discussed above. As head of communications, Anne is the first stop for reporters who want to follow up on this story. My email to her today:

Dear Anne,

I hope you are doing well.

I am aware that you do not want to answer my queries these days, perhaps because you think that since I took my #MeToo reporting onto my blog I can be ignored. In reality, that is not the case, as a number of abusers have recently learned, including the president of the University of Adelaide, the head of the ancient DNA lab there, and many others. I continue to be active as a #MeToo reporter because survivors continue to ask me to do it.

At the moment I am the only reporter covering the Mark Siddall firing, and that may or may not change given the reluctance of the New York press to publish anything negative about the museum. But as the only reporter, current and former colleagues at the museum are literally flooding to tell me their stories.

There is a major and growing call for the museum to exercise both transparency and accountability concerning who knew about Siddall, who protected him, who overlooked his abuses, and who put the institution’s reputation before the health and safety of the museum staff. If the museum does not pay attention to these calls, there may be hell to pay this time. In many ways, the museum got a free pass on the Brian Richmond case, by at least adopting some momentary (and very partial) transparency about the investigation.

So I would ask you not to ignore this email, which has the force of a lot of survivors behind it. Talk to me, tell me what the museum is doing, answer my questions, and most importantly, make a serious public statement about the Mark Siddall case and why his abuses were allowed to go on for so long.

One thing is sure: I will not stop reporting on this, and the survivors of abuse will not stop talking to me.

I look forward to hearing from you. This letter is on the record.

Best wishes,

Michael Balter
Writer/reporter (anthropology, #MeToo, mental health, environment)
Adjunct Lecturer (Journalism),
   City College of New York
Paris correspondent, Science 1991-2016
Adjunct Professor of Journalism "emeritus,"
   New York University and Boston University

Tweet: @mbalter


"Lying is done with words and also with silence." --Adrienne Rich

Further update, Friday afternoon: Museum officials say more to AMNH staff.

To: amnh-staff <>
Subject: [AMNH-Staff] Message for the AMNH Community


Dear Members of the AMNH Community:


Last week, we informed curators and members of the Invertebrate Zoology Division that Dr. Mark Siddall’s employment with the Museum was terminated, effective September 3. This action was taken following the Museum’s receipt of formal complaints, a full investigation, and a finding that Dr. Siddall violated the Museum’s sexual harassment and bullying policies. In addition to sharing this information, we want to underscore the Museum’s commitment to a workplace and academic environment that is safe and respectful, and free from harassment of all kinds.


We understand that many of you may have heard this news informally and may have questions or concerns, and we wanted to directly inform our community of our decision. We also share this information because many of you have collaborated with Dr. Siddall, and this decision may affect your work.


We also recognize that an occurrence like this may raise questions about the Museum’s work environment, and the desire for more details, particularly when some individuals are publicly sharing their own perspectives and personal accounts. However, the Museum does not share details of individual investigations or personnel decisions. We strive to balance our commitment to supporting the valid concerns of members of our community with the goals of ensuring a fair investigatory process and outcome, and an environment that encourages future complainants to come forward. 


It is also important to acknowledge the movements that have led to meaningful changes in recent years around issues of sexual harassment and discrimination. In recognition of those changes, the Museum has taken concrete steps to strengthen internal policies, training programs, and processes to make them more robust and comprehensive, and those improvements have been critical to this termination. These policies, and Dr. Siddall’s termination, reflect the Museum’s strong commitment to ensuring a workplace and academic environment that is free of harassment or bullying of any kind.


Waffirm our commitment to maintaining an environment that is safe and respectful, and free from harassment of all kinds, and to continuing to listen and learn. We look forward to ongoing conversations about how we can best live up to the highest moral and ethical standards in our dealings with each other.


To that end, we would also like to remind everyone of the processes in place to both prevent instances of harassment and bullying and to provide avenues for those who feel they have been harassed or bullied. Soon, all Museum staff will receive details on our required annual anti-sexual harassment training, which this year will be conducted online. Additionally, in the fall there will be outreach from the Museum’s Title IX Coordinator and Equal Opportunity Specialist, Ben Marzolf, to schedule meetings to further discuss the resources available to the Museum community and how the Museum can support and improve workplace experiences.


Finally, all members of the Museum community may contact Ben Marzolf at 212-769-5316 or or call the confidential hotline at 1-800-620-5571. Taking advantage of the full spectrum of these resources is a crucial component of achieving our common goal of protecting our community.



Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President and Provost


Kala Harinarayanan, Vice President of Human Resources

Several people have already commented to me about this particular passage, carefully worded to be somewhat ambiguous:

"We also recognize that an occurrence like this may raise questions about the Museum’s work environment, and the desire for more details, particularly when some individuals are publicly sharing their own perspectives and personal accounts. However, the Museum does not share details of individual investigations or personnel decisions."

Some are interpreting this, I think rightly, as a veiled admonition not to speak publicly about what has happened, including to the media. If that is wrong, perhaps museum officials can reassure museum staff that they have every right to speak out without fear of retaliation. As one researcher put it: "If Michael Cohen can write a book then victims can Tweet."

The passage also implies, as one colleague put it to me, that any experiences made public and outside the official investigation do not really count. But of course they do.

(People wanting to comment on this letter or any other aspect of this case are very welcome to use the Comments section of this blog, which is moderated. I will moderate comments as fast as I can.)

Update Sept 18, 2020:

There's likely to be important developments soon in the news coverage of this case. I hope that the issue of AMNH's accountability, or lack of it, will be raised.

Meanwhile a colleague who knows Siddall writes:

"They hired him for his reputation as a renegade in his science and his sharp critique of those with differing views that always bordered on bullying, but was hailed as clever. Turns out those traits are not restricted to his scientific writing."


Update Sept 24, 2020: Yesterday the New York Times posted a story on Siddall's firing, by reporter Julia Jacobs, which was good to see. Siddall got a chance to offer some lame denials of his well documented behavior, and a survivor of his abuse--former museum microbiologist and current dean of science at the City College of New York, Susan Perkins--got a chance to briefly describe her experiences. Perkins' comments at the end of the story, which suggest that the museum did far from all it could to deal with Siddall's long history of abuses, contrasted sharply with quotes from communications VP Anne Canty, who attempted to avoid any accountability for the museum's failure to act.

As I have banged away about above, this really has to be the next step in any serious reporting on not only the case but previous ones that the Times has not seen fit to cover. The AMNH, a hugely important institution in New York City, has basically gotten a pass from the Times and other New York media from any serious coverage. Perhaps some enterprising reporters will now see that there is much that needs looking into; the comments below suggest that as well.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

A case study in lying to protect a serial abuser: Luis Jaime Castillo Butters and his "friends" [Updated Sept 6, and with dozens of comments]

Late last June, in a post entitled "Andean Archaeology Has a #MeToo Problem," I reported on my investigation of misconduct by Peruvian archaeologist and former culture minister Luis Jaime Castillo Butters. I have posted a number of additional stories and updates since, including evidence that Castillo attempted to get Yale University to give him an honorary PhD in exchange for signing off on the return of the Machu Picchu artifacts to Peru.

From pretty much the first day of the first report, Castillo and a group of his defenders and apologists have worked overtime to brand the survivors of his abuse liars and attack the credibility of my reporting. This included mocking the survivors, who asked for and were accorded confidentiality because they feared retaliation not only from the powerful Castillo but also his supporters and, I hate to say it, sycophants. For example, I used letters to identify the survivors (Student A, B, etc.) and the faculty members who confirmed their stories (Professor A, B, etc.) One well known colleague of Castillo's changed his Twitter description to read "Student Z" in clear disdain for the suffering of the victims.

This craven disrespect for survivors of abuse was met with an open letter to Castillo from some of them, which I also published on this blog. Let me quote the first three paragraphs of the letter:

"We are some of the women whom you have dismissed time and time againwhose boundaries you have negated, whose humanity you have disrespected, whose bodies you have exploited, whose innocence you have stripped. We are not all of the people you have damaged. You should know that there are many more. But we are enough.

We listened to your interview. We heard how you again attempted to silence us in the ways only you know best. But your threats won’t work. They never really did, did they? Deep down, you know that. We never stayed quiet. We told many throughout the years and will continue to break the silence.

You lash out at us for being anonymous. Because it makes you feel threatened. Because the tables have turned. And you feel your power slipping away. You fear our anonymity because you think you know who we are, but you can’t be sure. After all, you have wronged so many women." 

In addition to trying to discredit the survivors, Castillo and his defenders launched a scurrilous campaign of lies about me, the reporter who carried the messages from the victims, in a further attempt to help the powerful archaeologist whose good graces--in many cases--the defenders had relied upon in their own careers. Indeed, this is the central cowardice I have seen in so many #MeToo cases I have reported on. I described it this way in a recent Tweet:

The central lie Castillo's defenders and apologists have told about me is that during my reporting I "relentlessly harassed" one of Castillo's students, whom I will call Student L to protect her identity (even though she herself is at the origin of this lie.)

Here is how I described the situation between Castillo and this student in my original report:

"Castillo is known to have assisted with the placement of Peruvian students, many who worked under him for a number of years, in top-tier graduate archaeology programs in the United States. A few of my Peruvian sources allege that Castillo tells young students that if they want to attend major universities abroad, like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, he can make it happen if they work for him.

"Witnesses allege that Castillo has carried on a longstanding sexual relationship with one such student. This student and his other former students doe not wish to talk about the situation, so I am not naming her to protect her privacy. However, Castillo routinely referred to this student as 'mi mujer' ('my woman'), sometimes even to archaeologists who do not know him very well."

In a recorded interview with PerĂº21, of which I published a complete transcript in the blog post that featured the open letter from the survivors, Castillo makes reference to this allegation (With thanks to the translators who helped me post both the Spanish and English versions):

"There are also three direct allegations saying that I have had relationships with students. One of them is a—with a person who is referred to in the text as "my woman," so that I ... [unintelligible]. That student—this girl is a student of mine who is doing her Ph.D. in the United States, right?, with whom I have a very deep academic and familial relationship—very deep. [Unintelligible] very close, yes? And she is outraged that the guy pointed her out because he contacted her, she rejected him, and he contacted her again, harassed her for information and when she did not give him the same story [as the others], he put out this [unintelligible] saying that she was my lover and that because she was my lover, she had obtained all kinds of— what are they called?—of academic successes. Which is an insult. [Unintelligible]."

I find it very interesting that Castillo immediately knew who "mi mujer" referred to. Be that as it may, this falsehood, that I harassed Student L, has become a widespread meme for Castillo defenders and apologists (and others who claim they are not endorsing Castillo's behavior but still feel the need to attack the reporter.)

Reporters must have tough skins to survive the kind of abuse we are subject to (eg those journalists who cover Donald Trump), but no one likes being lied about, and I am no exception.  But more serious than their effects on me are the effects on the survivors, who are basically being told that they are liars too. The main effect is to enable the abusers, and those who continue to spread lies--despite being told that what they are saying is false--are complicit in the abuse.

Let me give one such example, that of Ilana Johnson, a professor of anthropology at Sacramento City College (no I am not "doxing" her, this is from her own Web page.)

Johnson has worked with Castillo in Peru at his famous site of San Jose de Moro and is very close to Castillo's group at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP.) She has been very active in spreading the lies about my interactions with Student L, and  this week I insisted that she stop. Here are the emails, to which she did not respond; they quote the Tweets she has posted about me.

My first email to Ilana Johnson:

My second email to Ilana Johnson, correcting an omission:

It's no surprise, but not only has Ilana Johnson not corrected the lies she either told or passed on from others, but she is also apparently talking to UC Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin's attorney, David Scher, about being a witness in Kurin's $10 million defamation suit against me for my accurate reporting on her misconduct (please scroll this blog for numerous stories and updates about that.)

So who is the source of the lies about my harassing Student L? I believe it is Student L herself, a student and protege of Castillo's, who has her own interests in protecting him and her own reputation. That is fine, but when she lies about what happened, she forfeits my sympathy, at least, even though I have still refrained from naming her.

So here is the entire exchange I had with Student L,  except that it was never an "exchange" at all. I never once talked to her.

As I said, Student L never responded, but a communications person from her university got in touch after my second email:

That was it. After I was contacted by the university representative, I did not try to contact Student L again. Where is the relentless harassment, and all the rest? If Student L, Castillo, or anyone else has evidence that there was anything more to it than this, let them produce the "receipts," as they say.

For those who are unsure about all this, it is routine for a journalist working on a #MeToo story to contact possible victims and see if they want to talk. If they do not respond the first time, it is normal to try once again (in my experience, survivors are often taking time to think about it, and often do respond  the second time.)  This is the way all #MeToo reporters work: If you read  the books by Ronan Farrow (The New Yorker) and Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor (The New York Times) who all won Pulitzers for their reporting on Harvey Weinstein, you will see in detail  how reporters  approach sensitive sources. In the Weinstein case, the reporters contacted the victims again and again to try to urge them to tell their stories, although always respectfully. Their methods were much more "intrusive" than mine have ever been.

In the case of Student L, as I explained to her university representative, it was always possible that she might have to be named, if it could be demonstrated that she got her university slot through patronage and not through merit. That would have been unethical on Castillo's part, and in fact everyone involved in this  sorry saga knows the identity of Student L. Nevertheless, I have not felt it necessary to name her myself.

Let's end on the main point: Ilana Johnson, and all of those in Castillo's circle who have attacked survivors and told lies about this reporter, have made themselves--wittingly or unwittingly--complicit in his misconduct. I ask all of them to find the courage to dissociate themselves from a man whose long years of abuse has caused so much damage, and left Peruvian archaeology hostage to a bully who does not deserve the power he has accumulated.

Afterthoughts Sept 3: It's okay for women to lie?

I've been pondering the first two comments on this post, and I realize my response is probably inadequate. I thought that by providing proof that lies were being told and spread on behalf of a sexual abuser, colleagues would get the point. What I failed to realize is that if a woman lies and enables a predator, and if a male reporter calls out those lies, that is still bullying in some minds. What a Victorian corruption of the #MeToo and women's rights movements. We put women on pedestals, even if they are enabling abusers, and pretend they are somehow other than normal humans. It's dishonest.

This, by the way, is what the Danielle Kurin case is all about. I don't see anyone coming to her defense, at least not publicly, because the evidence that she enabled harassment and assault by her ex-husband--by retaliating against students who reported it--is so very clear and well documented. So yes, women, even brilliant scholars, can get the wrong end of the stick, blatantly enable abusers to protect themselves, and become complicit in the abuses. 

The strange thing is, everyone knows this, but some still want to use enablers as shields against the truth. This is the whole point, and I stick by my reporting on it.

I see that someone has just made a forceful and eloquent comment which sums the issues up much better than I can. I am pulling it up here to make sure it gets seen.

"What’s ironic about all these people who suddenly worry about Balter damaging his reputation is that they had ruined it already with their lies before he made even the first report. Exposing these lies is what anyone would do, especially a reporter. A reporter’s credibility is of utmost importance, especially when reporting on MeToo issues. The fact that these commenters made no comment on the egregious and obvious lies shows they do not value truth, but factional politicking. These lies caused a lot of trauma among Castillo survivors. We begged Balter to publish the receipts so everyone can see the truth of what’s happening: Luis Jaime Castillo’s accomplices, enablers, and beneficiaries are desperately telling lies to discredit Balter and the survivors. They are not the victims, but the victimizers. Remember that white women were some of the biggest defenders of the patriarchy during the women’s suffrage movement. Being a woman does not automatically make you a victim. Indeed, it’s sexist and paternalistic to play the victim trope. “White women tears” phenomenon has led to a lot of atrocities in history. Similar things are happening here."

Update Sept 6, 2020: Castillo's giant loyalty test is in full swing.

As I've reported before, Castillo is leaning on everyone he can to write testimonials on his behalf, to PUCP investigative bodies etc., and his followers are circulating bogus letters on his behalf disguised as letters supporting students. He is  defending himself in his classes, thus intimidating students, and keeping a close eye on who supports him and who does not. In that kind of atmosphere, only the brave will speak out. And many already have.