Guest essay by Eric Worrall
People who believe they are on a mission to save the world frequently behave as if their great mission excuses their personal failings.
FIXING SEXISM AT THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE
A sexist remark at a recent meeting prompted some soul-searching among the world’s top climate scientists. How can they prevent women’s expertise from being excluded?
At the recent meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the science body of the United Nations, there was an unusual announcement halfway through the week: a reminder to the scientists present that this was a meeting of experts, and that everyone’s expertise must be respected.
In one instance, Friederike Otto, an associate professor at Oxford University specializing in extreme weather events, was being introduced to a group of men. She’d said her name and where she was from—she was wearing her lead author badge—when one of her interlocutors asked who her supervisor was, implying that she must still be a graduate student. In fact, she’s deputy director of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.
As a young female scientist, Otto says she’s familiar with these kinds of insinuations, but this particular incident left her speechless. “I was just particularly annoyed by it, because it was at the IPCC meeting, at a lead author meeting, where clearly the setting is we’re all equal,” she says. “I should have asked him who his supervisor is.” In a subsequent email exchange between the two, Otto says, the male scientist was reluctant to acknowledge any wrongdoing.
In 2015, former head of the IPCC Rajenda Pachauri was forced to resign over allegations of serious sexual harassment.
Pachauri’s alleged misbehaviour obviously went well beyond the odd sexist comment. But the decision by people close to Pachauri not to speak up over the extended period of Pachauri’s alleged abuses should be a serious concern. Maybe people close to Pachauri didn’t value their female colleagues enough to put their own careers at risk, by publicly demanding Pachauri cease his alleged deviant behaviour.
I agree with the author that sexism exacerbates the risk of disregarding the contribution of colleagues who are the target of that sexism. But the alleged rampant sexism problem has deeper implications for the scientific integrity of the IPCC and other climate groups.
Sexism is effectively a nasty form of bullying. The kind of people who think it is funny to bully women for being female likely also have no qualms about bullying their colleagues over scientific issues – especially colleagues who hold unpopular scientific views. But then we knew that already from Climategate.