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This Elite Science Group Finally Has A Way To Expel Members For Sexual Harassment

Until now, there has been no procedure for revoking membership.

Last updated on June 3, 2019, at 3:57 p.m. ET

Posted on June 3, 2019, at 1:54 p.m. ET

Dirk Lammers / AP

National Academy of Sciences president Marcia McNutt.

The most prestigious scientific organization in the US has voted to allow members to be expelled for sexual harassment and other forms of misconduct.

The new bylaw amendment, announced Monday, allows any person to present evidence that a member of the National Academy of Sciences has breached its code of conduct, which bans “discrimination, harassment, and bullying,” as well as scientific misconduct, such as plagiarism and data falsification.

A decision on expulsion will then be taken by the academy’s 17-member governing council.

The expulsion procedure was put to the academy’s 2,242 voting members, who approved it by 84% to 16%. (Under its rules, the Academy won’t reveal how many votes were actually cast.)

“The lead up to this vote has been nearly a year-long effort,” NAS president Marcia McNutt told BuzzFeed News by email. “Given the careful thought and work that has gone into reaching this point, it is certainly a good feeling to see the change to our governance accomplished.”

Getting into the National Academy of Sciences, founded in 1863, is seen as one of the highest honors in science. Until now, there has been no procedure for revoking membership. But pressure has been growing to create one after several members were disciplined by their employers for sexual misconduct.

They include astronomer Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala of the University of California, Irvine, and neuroscientist Thomas Jessell of Columbia University in New York, who died last month. And the former editor of the academy’s flagship journal PNAS, cancer geneticist Inder Verma, resigned from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, last year, after eight women accused him of sexual harassment.

Members of the academy average 72 years of age, and more than 80% of them are men.

“I’m excited,” Kate Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a member of the National Academies committee that last year delivered a landmark report on sexual and gender harassment, told BuzzFeed News. “To have 84% of that membership vote in favor of this signals the beginning of real culture change.”


This story has been updated to include a comment from National Academy of Sciences president Marcia McNutt

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.