Astronomer Geoff Marcy has become the first scientist to be expelled from the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious scientific organization in the US, six years after his history of sexually harassing students was first made public.
The move follows a yearslong fight to change the 158-year-old academy's bylaws, which maintain membership for life. In 2019, under NAS president Marcia McNutt, the group voted to allow membership to be rescinded if a scientist breached its code of conduct, which bans “discrimination, harassment, and bullying” as well as scientific misconduct like plagiarism and data manipulation. The 2,452 members of the academy are on average 72 years old, and 79% are men.
Marcy, whose groundbreaking work studying planets outside of our solar system made him a contender for the Nobel Prize, was admitted to the prestigious group in 2002. In 2015, BuzzFeed News reported that an investigation at the University of California, Berkeley, had found Marcy had sexually harassed students in several cases between 2001 and 2010. Marcy had also been accused of sexual harassment by students at his former employer, San Francisco State University. Several of those students cited Marcy's harassment as part of the reason why they left science altogether.
"The NAS Council rescinded Geoffrey Marcy’s membership in the National Academy of Sciences for violating Section 4 of the NAS Code of Conduct.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."
The NAS's move to expel Marcy was celebrated by scientists who have criticized a culture in science that has long ignored problems of sexism and racism.
"I'm certainly pleased that it's happened. I do think that this is a great first step," Kathryn Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a coauthor of a landmark 2018 NAS report on sexual and gender harassment, told BuzzFeed News. "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."
"My hope is that this is an opportunity for us to reflect," said Clancy, noting the academy's work to also prevent sexual harassment in higher education.
Several other NAS members are also under consideration to be removed from the academy due to sexual harassment findings, including evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala, formerly at the University of California, Irvine, and Inder Verma, a cancer biologist formerly at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Marcy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This story has been updated to include the NAS's latest membership numbers.