|Alan Cooper, fired from the University of Adelaide, still publishing in high profile journals|
Of all the scientists who have lost their jobs due to misconduct, Alan Cooper, former director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), was one of the most high-profile. The University of Adelaide, where ACAD was hosted, began an investigation into a series of bullying charges after I began reporting on his alleged misconduct, with the help of numerous survivors of his abuses. While most of these allegations involved bullying colleagues, I also reported that the the university was aware of at least three alleged episodes of sexual harassment, and I believe that this was quietly taken into account in the decision to fire him.
Despite an increasing consciousness of issues related to bullying and sexual harassment, and a very determined effort by a growing number of colleagues in academia to enforce accountability for both individuals and institutions, too many abusers are finding ways to land on their feet. One way this happens is when disgraced academics are still allowed to continue to publish in their disciplines, almost always together with other colleagues who themselves have voiced opposition to misconduct. Some younger academics have begun to address this problem (see, for example, "A Beginner's Guide for Addressing Sexual Harassment in Academia" by Needhi Bhalla and "What to Do With the Predator in Your Bibliography?" by Dan Souleles.)
These two articles were recently cited in a two-part paper in the journal American Antiquity by archaeologist Barbara Voss of Stanford University, which are open access. As Voss points out, a growing number of organizations and funding bodies are re-defining sexual harassment and other abuses as scientific misconduct, raising them to the same, higher level gravity as fabricating research results, plagiarizing, fraud, and other well recognized sins.
Voss makes a sharply worded and well taken comment and a recommendation in such situations:
By defining harassment as scientific misconduct, archaeologists also can take steps to ensure that we are not enabling harassers through our professional relationships: “Every paper they publish, talk they give, and conference they attend enhances the influence they have abused” (Wood 2015). As Bhalla (2018) urges, “Erode the status that some serial harassers continue to enjoy. Do not collaborate with them. Do not invite them to meetings, to give seminars, etc. Do not invite them to be a PI [principal investigator] on a training grant or to participate in a graduate program.” In an essay titled “What to Do with the Predator in Your Bibliography,” Souleles (2020) recommends specific measures to avoid elevating the status of harassers through citations: acknowledge the abuse that occurred during cited research, consider alternatives to citing the abuser, and work to move the field beyond the abuser's contributions.
To get back to Alan Cooper: Voss's admonition to colleagues to stop enabling abusers, including by not collaborating with them, seems to have been ignored in one of the most high profile cases of misconduct and institutional consequences, that of Cooper himself. Here is the clear evidence, first from a recent issue of Science, and second from a new issue of Nature Ecology and Evolution:
Widespread Denisovan ancestry in Island Southeast Asia but no evidence of substantial super-archaic hominin admixture
- PMID: 33753899
- DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01408-0
The hominin fossil record of Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) indicates that at least two endemic 'super-archaic' species-Homo luzonensis and H. floresiensis-were present around the time anatomically modern humans arrived in the region >50,000 years ago. Intriguingly, contemporary human populations across ISEA carry distinct genomic traces of ancient interbreeding events with Denisovans-a separate hominin lineage that currently lacks a fossil record in ISEA. To query this apparent disparity between fossil and genetic evidence, we performed a comprehensive search for super-archaic introgression in >400 modern human genomes, including >200 from ISEA. Our results corroborate widespread Denisovan ancestry in ISEA populations, but fail to detect any substantial super-archaic admixture signals compatible with the endemic fossil record of ISEA. We discuss the implications of our findings for the understanding of hominin history in ISEA, including future research directions that might help to unlock more details about the prehistory of the enigmatic Denisovans.
The coauthors of these two papers include a number of leading figures in the field of human evolution research. What kind of example are they settling for the movement to end abuses, including sexual harassment and bullying, in academia and the sciences in particular? And what kind of example are they setting for the younger researchers who were most often the victims of abuses by Cooper and other abusers?
(Note that Cooper is publishing in part under the auspices of the South Australian Museum in Australia, where he apparently has an honorary position that allows him to claim an institutional affiliation.)
For the past several days, I have been making this point on Twitter and Facebook. A few people have taken notice of it, but so far I have seen no response from the authors of these papers, nor from other leaders in science who are in a position of influence and power and could do something about it.
In recent years, many feminists and anti-racist activists have begun drawing a distinction between “allies” and “accomplices” in the fight against abuse. To put it perhaps somewhat harshly, allies give lip service, but accomplices perform real services to these movements, by taking action even if it is risky.
Of course, not everyone is in a position to take action. Some are more vulnerable than others, and some are very vulnerable. But well-established, tenured academics are most certainly in a position to act—including by drawing a clear line between themselves and abusive collaborators.
It's time for them, at least, to do better, starting now.
Update April 6, 2021: At the upcoming 2021 meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, the presidential session will deal with some of these issues. Perhaps archaeologists at the meeting will adopt some kind of action plan that goes beyond just guidelines.
Publication ethics should never supersede behavioral and moral ones.
You may also find this discussion enlightening: