Why did a leading #MeToo reporter subpoena a leading #MeToo advocate? [Updated June 22]


The above Tweet is from Kate Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a leading #MeToo researcher and advocate. It's about me. Regular readers of this blog, as well as many in the anthropology and archaeology communities, know that Clancy and I have had a running (and sometimes very public) dispute since at least 2017. To avoid too much repetition of its sad history in this new post, please see this link and this one for the necessary background to this very unfortunate situation, which has had very negative consequences for survivors of abuse; and, a matter of no small consequence to me personally, for my reputation as a journalist.

The problem is that Clancy's continual attacks on me for the past five years are based on demonstrable falsehoods, as I have pointed out in the previous posts linked to above. This latest one continues in that vein. It was prompted by a complaint I made on Twitter that many anthropologists and archaeologists who claim to oppose sexual harassment and other abuses have done nothing to support a courageous Peruvian anthropologist who told the truth about the powerful Peruvian archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, who sued her for defamation after the U.S. National Academy of Sciences kicked Castillo off of its membership rolls. Among them are Clancy and three colleagues whom I asked to help out, as I will discuss below. Meanwhile I hope those not familiar with Marcela Poirier's case will come to her support, especially now that she lost the defamation suit when a judge discounted all of the evidence in her favor. This is an injustice I and her other supporters, especially in Peru where the case has become a nationwide cause celebre, hope will soon be overturned on appeal.

Now back to Clancy's Tweet. Amazingly, in less than 280 characters, she manages to tell three if not four lies, depending on how one counts them. Whenever this dispute between me and Clancy crops up publicly, some friends and colleagues advise me not to get into it with her, because she is widely admired (for good reason) for her #MeToo research and advocacy--which includes a number of journal articles and testimony before the U.S. Congress--and also because she has a large social media following (larger than mine, anyway.) Although I have sometimes taken issue with her overall approach, I have always acknowledged her contributions, even though she has never publicly acknowledged mine (see also here.)

That may seem odd, since I am, as a statistical fact, the most prolific #MeToo reporter in the U.S. I haved investigated dozens of cases of abuse and abusers, which have led to the termination or forced resignations of a number of scientists as a direct consequence. In nearly every case, my reporting began when survivors of abuse approached me and asked me to look into particular situations. Without their bravery, I would have nothing to report, as I have constantly tried to remind readers of my reports.

I will have more to say below about what I think Clancy's motivations are. That is important to understand because many of her followers, and others new to the debate, tend to think she must be right because of her own good reputation as a #MeToo advocate. But we must always remember the case of BethAnn McLaughlin, a pioneer of the #MeTooSTEM movement in the sciences who turned out to be not only a self-serving bully, but also guilty of dishonesty in her use of a fake social media persona.

So now to Clancy's lies. Let's take them in order.

1. Clancy claims that I have been "abusive" to her. False. From time to time, but more frequently in the past two years, I have responded more directly to the lies she has told about me, which I outline in the posts linked to in the first paragraph of this post. These lies include vicious and dehumanizing attacks such as the one below, which she addressed to BethAnn McLaughlin (the former @McLNeuro) herself in April 2019:

What prompted this attack? As I explained in an earlier post in some detail, two survivors of sexual assault at the hands of David Yesner, a former University of Alaska archaeologist, asked me to help them when Yesner showed up unexpectedly at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Albuquerque. When the meeting organizers refused to do anything about it, despite my showing them proof of Yesner's abuses, his ban from the UA campus and revocation of emeritus status, and that the University of Alaska had banned him from being anywhere near activities of UA students, I (peacefully) escorted Yesner from the meeting so that the survivors could feel comfortable attending sessions that he was also attending. The upshot was a huge upsurge of condemnation of the actions of SAA leaders, which is still going on to this day.

Despite my actions, which were widely praised and appreciated at the time (notwithstanding the spreading of totally false rumors that I had been violent with Yesner and had fought with security guards), Clancy and McLaughlin publicly branded me as the villain. The trope that I was doing all this to enhance my reputation and my career (now more than 44 years long and hardly in need of enhancing) spread widely, as it had in response to Clancy's earlier attacks on me.

2. Clancy says in the Tweet that I subpoenaed her in a lawsuit that had nothing to do with her. Again, a total and blatant lie. The lawsuit had a lot to do with her, and her with it. Clancy had spent months talking with the legal team for Danielle Kurin, a former archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who had sued me for defamation in federal court for exposing her many abuses, which include retaliation against students who had filed Title IX complaints against her former partner and husband. (Particularly ironic given Clancy's work to strengthen the Title IX system.)

So in reality, Clancy was a potential witness in the case. Because she was talking directly with Kurin's legal team, and was properly listed by them in disclosures mandated by the federal rules of civil procedure. (Clancy claimed in a declaration that this had been without her permission, which only indicates that her lawyer apparently failed to explain civil procedure to her.)

Indeed, only when her collaboration with Kurin was publicly revealed did Clancy say that she was leaning away from testifying, although she would not have had a choice--both sides in the case could have subpoenaed her.

Why did we subpoena Clancy? Because, as we knew and as discovery in the case confirmed, she instigated and orchestrated a so-called "ethics complaint" against me with my professional organization, the National Association  of Science Writers, as part of her campaign to block and discredit my reporting and my own advocacy on behalf of survivors. That complaint, which was bogus from top to bottom and which I will say even more about in future posts, was used by Kurin's team to try to prejudice the judge against me, which it apparently did; the complaint was used again by Castillo in the trial against Marcela Poirier, the brave anthropologist who reported him to the NAS, in an attempt to discredit my accurate reporting about Castillo and prejudice the Peruvian judge against Marcela--again, with evident success.

In other words, willingly or not, in her zeal to try to discredit me and my reporting, Clancy put herself directly on the side of the abusers. On a personal note, I will say that the use of Clancy's handiwork by Castillo against Marcela was the last straw for me.

3. That brings us to the third lie, and possibly the fourth, depending on how you count falsehoods. Clancy says in her Tweet that I asked her to do something, which was not clear, about something, which was also not clear. Nonsense. In my attempts to help Marcela Poirier defend her case, something that was in the interests of all survivors of abuse, I and others asked many colleagues in anthropology and archaeology to step up and make public statements on her behalf. Some responded in helpful ways. The Institute of Andean Studies, which represents scholars in the fields of study closest to that of Castillo himself, issued a strong statement; likewise, the National Academy of Sciences took action to bring its viewpoint before the judge, which I hope to be able to discuss soon.

On the other hand, both the Society for American Archaeology and the American Anthropological Association refused to do anything to help Marcela. In the case of the SAA, the organization did not respond to multiple pleas, but accidentally copied me on an email from its president indicating that this was deliberate; the AAA used what turned out to be a frankly bullshit technicality to avoid its responsibility to help a colleague in trouble. (In a later post I may publish the correspondence with each organization if readers feel they need more details.)

That brings us to Clancy and her colleagues. I wrote more than once to her and her three colleagues who had carried out the SAFE study of harassment in field situations linked to above: Katie Hinde of Arizona State University; Robin Nelson of ASU; and Julienne Rutherford of the University of Illinois, Chicago. I asked that we put aside our differences to help an anthropologist whose courage they would normally have appreciated. Was I unclear about what I was asking them to do, or about the circumstances that had led to Marcela being sued by Castillo?

You be the judge. Here is the email I sent to the four of them:

Dear colleagues,

As you probably know, Luis Jaime Castillo Butters was ejected from the National Academy of Sciences last October after an investigation upheld allegations of sexual harassment against him. This was the second institution to find the charges credible; earlier the sexual harassment commission of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, Castillo's home institution, came to similar conclusions, although for "technical reasons" the university has not seen fit to discipline him.

One of the researchers who reported Castillo to the NAS was Marcela Poirier, a Peruvian anthropologist. Marcela's role is briefly outlined in this news story in Science:

Castillo is now suing Marcela for defamation in the Peruvian courts, asking about $50K in damages and that she be jailed for 30 months. Despite her courage, she is very scared about what might happen. The hearing of the case will be held the morning of April 8 using the Google online platform. 

Marcela has three witnesses who will appear on April 8, including me; Castillo has 15, all of which appear to be "character" witnesses. I am a witness because my reporting on Castillo was instrumental, as all involved agree, in the two institutions deciding to launch investigations, as the Science story makes clear.

Of course we have had sharp disagreements in the past. But this is obviously not about me, but about Marcela, and an attempt by a powerful archaeologist to intimidate her and all other survivors into silence. Castillo has even managed to intimidate senior colleagues in Peru and the United States into not speaking out about his misconduct.

Thus I call upon you to do anything you can to support Marcela, perhaps by issuing a statement or in other ways encouraging the anthropology community to speak out both formally and informally. If you wish to copy me on what you do, I am happy to amplify it on social media; but most importantly, I hope that as #MeToo and anti-harassment researchers and activists, you will lend your support. I don't need to tell you that if Castillo succeeds in this action, it will be a setback for the movement, and a signal to survivors that they are better off keeping silent.

With thanks and best regards,


Not one of the four of them responded to my pleas on Marcela's behalf.

Why is this happening?

The dispute between me and Kate Clancy has two origins stories, one involving her complaints about how she was quoted in a story I had done for The Verge about a sexual assault at the Smithsonian Institution (detailed in my blog post about her linked to above), and the second about my handling of a story involving one of her friends and colleagues, Holly Dunsworth at the University of Rhode Island. (Since Dunsworth's complaints about me appear in the NASW ethics complaint which was leaked and has now been read by thousands, and since she has been public about them numerous times on social media, I am using her real name here.) In essence, Clancy seized upon what was, at the time, a well-intentioned miscommunication between Holly and myself to publicly attack me and my reporting, a strategy that Dunsworth at first refrained from joining--I believe because she herself knew that it was not true. Why she changed her position is something I will explore in another post, coming soon.

I used to think that Clancy actually believed her rhetoric that I harassed survivors and told their stories without permission (never true, then or now.) But the persistence of her attacks, and the easily provable dishonesty behind them, has changed my mind about this. I believe that, despite all the good she has done, which I have repeatedly acknowledged, Clancy sees me as some kind of competition, and her main motivation for the attacks is some kind of misguided, twisted professional rivalry. Unfortunately, because Clancy has many followers and because her otherwise positive reputation leads her colleagues to trust her, the lies not only get believed, but widely disseminated. (Right-wingers have no monopoly on this unfortunate social psychology.) I know few people who would find it acceptable to have their reputations impugned without responde, and I certainly do not, or do not any longer.

To some extent, as I suggested in this critique of the approach Clancy and other #MeToo advocates have taken to the fight against harassment and other forms of abuse, the dispute between me and her reflects the reality that the first wave of #MeToo campaigning has run out of ideas. That focus was on advocacy, the adoption of anti-harassment guidelines and stiffer penalties for violating them, in an attempt to change the culture within academia, the sciences, and other walks of life. But it has not turned out to be so easy, as the recent #MeToo "backlash" shows.

My own view, as I expressed it, is that for the culture to change there first have to be very severe consequences for abusers, on a case-by-case basis. That's why the failure of so many archaeologists and anthropologists, including Clancy and her colleagues, to come to the aid of Marcela Poirier is so serious. The effective consequence of that and other such failures is the enabling of the abusers, who are beginning to see that they can not only get away with their misconduct but actually try to punish the victims and others who have accused them. (The case of former MIT cancer researcher David Sabatini is another example of how supposed advocates for women in science have tried to enable an abuser.)

I will end by reaffirming that despite the years of personal attacks, I have no intention of stepping aside from the #MeToo fight. To that end, let me close by urging everyone reading this to support Marcela Poirier by donating to her defense fund. She is now appealing the court's finding, and needs to pay her legal bills which are mounting up. And if she loses again, she will have to come up with nearly $50,000 for simply telling the truth about an abuser who deserves no one's support. By supporting Marcela, you can become not just an "ally" of survivors, which anyone can give lip service too, but an actual "accomplice," one actively involved in the struggle.

Update June 20, 2022: In today’s New York Times, feminist pioneer and author Susan Faludi, whose 2006 book “Backlash” exposed the war on women that is now in full force, published an opinion piece entitled "Feminism Made a Faustian Bargain With Celebrity Culture. Now It’s Paying the Price.The piece reflects many of the concerns I and others have expressed over the past few years, on social media and other venues, about white middle class feminism and its weak, short-sighted approach to the systemic nature of sexism and misogyny. Faluci concludes that this form of feminism, among other things, has left us largely defenseless against the current attack on reproductive rights.

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Anonymous said…

Kate Clancy would never support an abuse victim if Michael Balter asked her to. That's because she cares more about her feud with Balter than about actual #MeToo victims. And just like Kurin, Clancy is happy to lie whenever it suits her.
Michael Balter said…
In response to the previous comment:

Most of the abusers in archaeology and anthropology whose cases have become public were the subjects of my reporting, in concert with brave survivors who asked me to help tell their stories. With the exception of the first one, Brian Richmond of the American Museum of Natural History (forced to resign, along with a number of others who lost their jobs), neither Clancy nor her SAFE colleagues have demonstrated any public support for the survivors. Clancy in particular made quite a career out of the #MeToo movement, and all four SAFE authors now have tenure. I don’t want to question anyone’s sincerity without clear evidence, but the question of careerism does pose itself. In Clancy’s case, her actions against me have clearly helped the abusers, and continue to do so. For her to even consider testifying on behalf of Danielle Kurin put her in the same company as the numerous abusers Kurin’s legal team had recruited to provide testimony. We got their statements in legal discovery.
Michael Balter said…
Correction to the above: Clancy and her colleagues did publicly support anthropologist Holly Dunsworth when she publicly outed serial sexual harasser/assaulter David Lordkipanidze, but then gaslighted Holly into publicly turning against me when I pursued that story which involved numerous victims. I will tell that story fully in an upcoming post, since Holly has made a number of comments on social media that are demonstrably false (that I “investigated” her, that I told her story without permission, etc.)

Btw, the NASW complaint I refer to above was given to Kurin’s legal team by anthropologist Akshay Sarathi, who was a confidential source for about a year until he cowardly caved in to false accusations about my reporting. As I have mentioned before, there is a growing consensus among journalists that when a confidential sources lies, they waive their agreement with a reporter to shield their identity.

It’s truth telling time, and the truth will be told about all of this, with receipts.
Anonymous said…
Kate Clancy is an empty, narcissistic self-promoter. That she leapt at the opportunity to give aid and comfort to a notorious abuser—simply because of her animus toward Balter—says everything we need to know about her and her ‘advocacy.’

Clancy protects herself, and, to a lesser extent, her sycophants (none of whom should get too comfortable), above everything and everyone else.

The harm she has done to survivors of abuse in academia is incalculable. As far as I’m concerned, she represents everything that is predatory, false, and nauseatingly self-aggrandizing about that world. May karma swiftly catch up with her.

Michael Balter said…
Re the last comment: It's not clear what Kate Clancy has been doing in regards to sexual harassment the past few years. She had a PNAS paper on the subject, but for the most part she seems to have moved on to other things, such as the possible relatively minor and short-lived effects of Covid vaccination on menstrual periods. She has also been working on a book. The other three SAFE authors have also largely moved on to other issues. All four of them got tenure.
Anonymous said…
Go on a neutral platform so we can discuss. You don't need to publish this bur you have to allow genuine feedback somewhere
Michael Balter said…
To the previous commenter: What “neutral platform” do you suggest? I have no idea who you are. We can discuss it here if you like.
Anonymous said…
Balter is a coward.
He does not allow posts here that disagree with him.
And it's hilarious that none of you see theough that.
He learned these tactics when working for the KGB during the Vietnam War.
You are all his patsies.
Michael Balter said…
In case anyone is wondering, this last commenter is Danielle Kurin, who was forced to resign her tenured position from the U of California at Santa Barbara. A number of recent blog posts spell out why.