Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Be the comet

It has been a bad month for flashbacks for victims of sexual harassment in Academia. First came the horrific stories of campus harassment from Rochester University, followed by the Antarctic harassment from Boston University, followed by the story of Harassment by a major Hollywood movie producer. At this point the producer has lost his job, and investigations continue for the two professors. And closer to home, the University of Canberra professor who was convicted of raping a student has appealed against his 4 year sentence.

As geologists, we need to figure out how to consign these dirtbags to the fossil record, preferably on a human, not geologic timescale. There are many ways to wipe out a species, but I am going to focus on what I think is an important one that is often overlooked: Habitat destruction.

It is no accident that harassment issues are constantly popping up in the academic and creative workplaces. Both sectors value their reputation, and are willing to defend the appearance of everything being fine. Both disciplines are popular career choices, with many more people willing to work in them than there are available jobs. Both sectors value intelligence to the point of considering it a virtue, or being willing to overlook other problems in the name of “Genius.” Both sectors have substantial hierarchies, with few formal checks and balances on power.

It is these problems that we should address if we want these perpetrators to go extinct. The names aren’t important- I haven’t even mentioned them above. As long as universities and studios build the perfect ecological niche for abusers to thrive in, then they will flock to the sectors. It is institutional change that is needed to actually stop the abuse.

So, specifically, what has to happen?

Firstly, reporting mechanisms need to be transparent and incorruptible. The reason that these scum can continue to wreck peoples lives for decades is that complaints, even if made, are too easy to bury. An administration that prefers ongoing, covert sexual assault on its campus over an embarrassing headline can simply use the reporting mechanism as a way of silencing victims, allowing the rapist to continue offending for decades.

Whomever victims report to, be it the police, the funding agencies, professional organizations, or some special independent body, the report receiver needs to be able to investigate allegations without being pressured from the university. In cases where potentially illegal activities have occurred and complainants are threatened, then university officials should be subject to the same treatment as organized criminals who try to intimidate witnesses.

Sexual predators are ambush predators- they need cover from which to attack, and removing administrative cover gives them fewer places to hide. There must be heavy penalties for authorities who fail to act, especially if the offender commits further offences. Administrators who cover for offenders so that they can offend again should be considered accessories.

However, these crooks are also pack animals, so a healthy culture is important towards setting an example of what is and isn’t professional behavior. This is not in itself a solution, but it makes sketchy behavior stand out more easily, and it puts the ratbags on notice that the work place is for real men, not whiney losers.

Finally, although habitat destruction is important, the offenders to have to be hunted down when spotted. This is best done by the whole work team, as uncharismatic megafauna can be dangerous in single combat. However, a habitat in which they are allowed to operate with impunity is not detrimental to them. It is by shrinking their range through a unfavorable setting that allows them to be vulnerable to catastrophic events, but those events still need to be initiated. If a change in corporate climate has weakened the terrible lizardmen, and drying their environment removes their cover and their hiding places, then it is much easier to be the comet that wipes them out.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

A charitable request

I have never been a good fund raiser or salesman.  My disjointed talents do not stretch to the power of persuasion.

Nor have I ever understood the concept of fundraising linked to an outdoor recreational activity. A few years after I hiked the Appalachian Trail, I heard of people doing it as a way to raise funds for one cause another. But why this particular recreational activity is one to be used for a cause baffles me. If you like riding a bike, ride a bike. If you like drinking beer, drink beer. Doing either to excess, like riding a hundred miles for cancer, or drinking a sixpack for dementia, never really made any sense to me.

However, this winter I signed up for the Sydney-Gong  bicycle ride, and one of the conditions of entry is to raise funds for multiple sclerosis. At first, this gave me pause. But as I considered, I reckoned, why not? If you are going to have a limit for a popular activity, why not accept, as a condition of entry, a certain amount of community assistance. And multiple sclerosis is certainly a worthy casue.

MS is an autoimmune disease. Like arthritis, or lupus, it can strike otherwise healthy people in the prime of life, and it can be debilitating, even fatal, if not treated. Like these other autoimmune diseases, treatment has improved as a result of science, but there is still a ways to go before a cure, or even a more effective system of management, can be achieved.

I do not personally know anyone in meatspace with MS; although I believe that one of our fellow geobloggers may suffer from the disease. However, I am not convinced that personal attachment should be a prerequisite for decreasing human suffering through scientific research. After all, as long time readers of this Lounge undoubtedly know, I am not a particularly empathetic person. And, as the social aspect of the internet has evolved over the past dozen or so years, I have noticed an overabundance of heartstring-tugging emotive appeals. I will not add to their din. Instead, I offer an alternative way to contribute to the betterment of society without the awkward warm and fuzzies.

So I will politely request that long time readers- those who have enjoyed this blog since the early days of Hot Chick Thermodynamics and OysterBlessings, before Hypotheses were dumped and Geosonnets began- consider a donation via my MS ride fundraising page if, at any point in the last dozen years, you have found this blog informative, entertaining, or interesting in any way.

And if, like me, you are a bit too wry to donate to an event linked to a wholesome activity like bike riding, then I have an alternative. I will crassly debase myself by putting the charity sixpack back on the proverbial table. If I can get a hundred bucks donated through the MS ride page with comments attesting that your donation is earmarked for the beer, not the ride, then I will drink six bottles at the conclusion of the ride. Because I’m the sort of guy who is willing to drink beer…. FOR SCIENCE!