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Remember when sexism in science died? Me neither.

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Any female scientist my age (Generation Pre-Internet) can remember when sexism was a standard rite of passage.  Truly, you hadn’t ‘made it’ in science until you could one-up your colleague’s harassment story.  I remember being enlisted into the Sisterhood of the Travelling Confidants (to quote an old classic), where we laughed at the futility of filing complaints while helping new members process their anger.  We were powerless back then… but many.

Then came the advent of ‘social media’, sharing and liking posts, hashtags, connectivity and a voice.  This led to the realization that all institutes of every field of science had their own Sisterhoods.  One by one, reluctantly, these groups came out of the libraries on the second floor (there’s a second floor??), hidden basement kitchenettes, and forgotten conference rooms.  New members, who were younger and more internet savvy than the old guard, took to social media to process their anger.  The sisterhoods became solidarities when male colleagues used their position to amplify the messages.  Soon, a spotlight was put on our inside joke that reporting harassment to higher-ups was as effective as one of David’s remote petitions, and titans of torment began to fall, one by one, each story more disturbing – at least to those outside of the sisterhood – than the last.

Then came the landmark lawsuit that shook every Dean’s office in academia.  Even though the case was based in Belgium, Marks vs. The Ocean Monitoring Group sent shockwaves worldwide.  This harassed PhD candidate was awarded damages from the institute and the supervisor that totaled to 500,000 Euros (~1.2 million today), but that price-tag wasn’t the catalyst.  The International Union for the Protection of Scientists and Research Staff placed all scientists affiliated with the OMG under an immediate ban on submitting applications for new grants until sexism within the institute was investigated to their satisfaction.  This ban, which with cooperation could have lasted days, remained in place for 14 months.  Cleared tenured or tenure-track scientists were headhunted by other institutes, and in the end, three additional staff members with records of harassment were identified by remaining colleagues desperate to get on with their work.  Two of these harassers forfeited their tenure positions after declining mediation, opting for an early retirement over a badge of infamy, while nine tenured or tenure-track scientists transferred to different institutes or universities, leading to a mass exodus of 47 graduate students.  The twelve vacancies at the OMG were filled quickly and, as we know, the OMG is now leading the world in research on coastal defense, global ocean current forecasts, automated shipping disaster response, and recently received the prestigious Gillian Equality Award from the West European Union.

Students suffering discrimination or harassment began to pursue similar investigations and grant bans.  Scientific centers around the world responded by implementing open access rulings.  Researchers found guilty of harassment would be dismissed, publically, and reported to the Union’s so-called “no pie list” of scientists barred from conferences associated with the Union.  It seemed that students were finally protected and that science’s two key problems – lack of available jobs and abundant harassers – were simultaneously solved.

Alas, harassment continues even today.  It seems every year is met with a quiet migration of staff and graduate students away from certain institutes.  Colleagues and I note when certain institutes suddenly have several tenure-track openings and when a usual keynote speaker is absent from conferences.  Underrepresented groups now have the opportunity to vie for the top ‘white-haired’ positions, and the consequences have been policies towards equality, job creation, and student protection.  Recently, the Oxford School of Medicine set a record when they hired 31-year-old Prof. Katniss Abrahams, a second generation Syrian who grew up in Luton, as Dean.  Also, sexual harassment cases involving female aggressors and/or LGBT students are also, finally, being addressed… welcome to the solidarity!

No, sexism in science hasn’t died and it may never, but now we have the tools, ability, and voice to stamp out flare ups when they occur.  You know… just like every other industry had about 80 years ago… I just can’t figure out how it took this long?


On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.