15 May 2010

The birds and the bees and the bats

Dylan Evans is in trouble for discussing animal behaviour.

Several websites, including Pharyngula, Richard Dawkins’s site, and the Huffington Post are running a letter that Dr. Evans wrote describing how he is being sanctioned for showing an article about bat copulation to a colleague.

I had been engaged in an ongoing debate with the colleague in question about the relevance of evolutionary biology to human behaviour, and in particular about the dubiousness of many claims for human uniqueness. I showed it the colleague in the context of this discussion, and in the presence of a third person. I also showed the article to over a dozen other colleagues on the same day, none of whom objected.

HR launched a formal investigation. Despite the fact that external investigators concluded that I was not guilty of harassment, Professor Murphy has imposed a two-year period of intensive monitoring and counselling on me, and as a result my application for tenure is likely to be denied.

There is video of this behaviour online, but as described, this is about showing the article to the colleague. This is arguably the raciest picture in the article:

Now, it’s easy to make jokes about this. (“I’m guessing it was those tawdry error bars that Dr. Evans’s colleague found so upsetting!”) And I’m a reluctant to advocate for a side in a harassment case, because I don’t know the other party’s version of events.

But if the university’s Human Resources department found nothing wrong... why is the President of the institution getting involved?

There is a petition to sign, here:


Additional: The Digital Cuttlefish scores an immediate nomination for Open Lab 2009 for writing all this in verse!

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