Why did National Academy of Sciences expel Geoff Marcy? Astronomer may not be last to go

In 2015, an investigation found that Geoff Marcy, as professor at UC Berkeley, violated campus sexual harassment policies between 2001 and 2010


                            Why did National Academy of Sciences expel Geoff Marcy? Astronomer may not be last to go
Geoff Marcy ahead of a press conference at The Royal Society in London, England (Photo by Stuart C Wilson/Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives)

Geoff Marcy, a world-renowned astronomer, has become the first scientist to be expelled from the National Academy of Sciences, a United States nonprofit, non-governmental organization established by an Act of Congress, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. NAS, per its website, is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Scientists are elected by their peers to membership in the academy for “outstanding contributions to research.”

Marcy’s expulsion from the group comes six years after his history of sexually harassing students was first made public. As per a news report, the 2,452 members of the academy are on average 72 years old and 79 percent are men.

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Professor of Astronomy, University of California, Geoff Marcy ahead of a press conference on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives, hosted by Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking, at The Royal Society in London, England (Photo by Stuart C Wilson/Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives)

Why was Geoff Marcy expelled? 

In 2019, under NAS president Marcia McNutt, the group voted to allow the membership of people to be rescinded if a scientist breached its code of conduct. "The NAS Council rescinded Geoffrey Marcy’s membership in the National Academy of Sciences for violating Section 4 of the NAS Code of Conduct. This action, which was effective on May 24, was taken following completion of the Conduct Review Process," said NAS spokesperson Dana Korsen. "This is the first rescission of a member by the National Academy of Sciences."

Section 4 of the Code of Conduct states that NAS members shall “treat all individuals in the scientific enterprise collegially and with respect, including supervisors, colleagues, other NAS members, students and other early‐career colleagues, technical and clerical staff, and interested members of the public.” NAS members, the section says, must refrain from all forms of “discrimination, harassment, and bullying in their professional encounters, especially when they involve power differentials, as these behaviors have adverse impacts on the careers of scientists and the proper conduct of science.”

In 2015, a six-month investigation found that Marcy, then a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, violated campus sexual harassment policies between 2001 and 2010. Four women alleged that Marcy repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behavior with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping. Days later, more women accused Marcy of repeatedly engaging in unwanted behavior such as touching, massaging, and making lewd comments, with students when he was an astronomy professor at San Francisco State University, his job prior to moving to Berkeley in 1999.

Professor of Astronomy, University of California Geoff Marcy speaks at a press conference on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives)

The decision to expel Marcy has been praised by members of the scientific community. "I'm certainly pleased that it's happened. I do think that this is a great first step," said Kathryn Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "But I do think we need to distinguish between accountability and justice. The women that are no longer in astronomy, they're not going to suddenly, magically get those years back and rejoin the discipline; the people whose careers were sidelined; the people who took lateral or downwards moves to not work with Marcy or to avoid him; the people who chose not to collaborate with him at great cost to their careers."

Per an April report, evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala was also among the names that would potentially be expelled from NAS. Ayala was terminated from the University of California, Irvine, in 2018 after an investigation found that he had sexually harassed colleagues including making sexually suggestive comments and inviting a junior professor to sit on his lap. 

Other speculated names in this list as per Science magazine include Sergio Verdú, an information theorist formerly at Princeton University, and Inder Verma, a cancer biologist formerly at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Verma was accused by eight women of sexual harassment over a period spanning 40 years. Princeton dismissed Verdú in 2018 after an investigation found that he sexually harassed one of his graduate students. A separate probe found that he had also violated a policy prohibiting consensual relationships with students.

Disclaimer : This is based on sources and we have been unable to verify this information independently.