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  • Washington Highlights

    NIH Shares Update on Efforts to Address Sexual Harassment in Science

    Amanda Field, Specialist, Science Policy

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Feb. 28 posted an update on its efforts to address sexual harassment in science. The NIH statement, signed by NIH director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and other NIH leadership, acknowledges the seriousness of the problem and apologizes for NIH’s role in it, stating, “we are sorry that it has taken so long to acknowledge and address the climate and culture that has caused such harm” and “NIH has been part of the problem … We are determined to become part of the solution.”

    The statement explains that the working group of the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) on Changing the Culture to End Sexual Harassment, which was announced at the December 2018 ACD meeting [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 14, 2018], had its first meeting in February. The working group is co-chaired by Francis Cuss, MB, BChir, FRCP, executive vice president and chief scientific officer at Bristol-Myers Squibb (retired); Kristina Johnson, PhD, chancellor at the State University of New York; and Carrie Wolinetz, PhD, acting chief of staff and associate director for science policy at the NIH. It plans to report interim recommendations in June and provide a final report and recommendations to the ACD in December 2019.

    While waiting on the working group recommendations, the NIH leadership stated its intention to continue taking actions to demonstrate accountability and transparency, clarify expectations for institutions and investigators to ensure a safe workplace and inform the agency, provide clear channels of communication to NIH, and listen to victims and survivors of sexual harassment and incorporate their perspectives into future actions. In a demonstration of this transparency, the NIH statement publicly announced the removal of 14 principal investigators named on NIH grants awards in 2018, as well as other investigations that resulted in other consequences both internally and externally.

    The statement also reminded readers that concerns related to NIH-funded research can currently be sent to GranteeHarassment@od.nih.gov, and the NIH is working to make other channels of anonymous communication available in the next several weeks. Such communications do not constitute an official report, but NIH will follow up with relevant applicant/grantee institutions.

    The statement closes with “We can do better. We must do better.”

    This update follows summer 2018’s release of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s report on “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine” [see Washington Highlights, June 22, 2018] and a letter sent from Congressional leaders to Collins, asking about the NIH’s plans to “address harassment and discrimination among NIH-funded research settings” [see Washington Highlights, Aug. 17, 2018].