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Science Careers Blog

December 2, 2010

A Batty Case of Harassment

Academic scientists need no longer fear that sharing a scientific paper with a colleague will lead to major career damage.  That at least appears to be the implication of a decision handed down by an Irish court quashing the punishment of Dylan Evans, a behavioral sciences lecturer in the medical school of University College Cork, as reported by the Independent newspaper.  In November 2009, Evans showed a colleague, Rossana Salerno Kennedy, an article published the previous month in PLoS One entitled "Fellatio by Fruit Bats Prolongs Copulation Time."  At the time, he claimed in court, he believed Kennedy was amused.

She, however, complained to the university, which determined that, although Evans had not intended to offend, his act fell within the technical definition of sexual harassment.  It punished him by requiring counseling and two years of monitoring.  He also was not recommended for a promotion.  He took the case to court.

The judge termed the punishment "grossly" disproportionate and observed that the article, written in the dense and densely footnoted style appropriate to a reputable scientific journal and illustrated with graphs of statistical observations from what the authors termed 20 "completed copulations," was neither suggestive nor obscene.  The judge further noted that the article had won a 2010 Ig Nobel Prize, which, states the institute that gives the prize, is awarded for "research that makes people laugh then makes them think."  Or, in this case, maybe not so much the latter.

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