Thursday, January 05, 2017

An Open Letter to Christina Richey

Dear Christina Richey,

Two years ago, on January 5, 2015, you announced that the CSWA was conducting a survey of workplace climate, inviting members of the American Astronomical Society to participate. On March 15, the survey closed. On November 12, 2015, more than a year ago, you presented preliminary results of the survey when you accepted the Division of Planetary Sciences' Masursky Award. You presented them again on January 6, 2016, at the annual meeting of the AAS.

These results were widely publicized and continue to be cited to this day. In January of 2016, for example, Sarah Scoles reported that "fifty-seven percent [of your survey respondents] said that they had been verbally harassed because of their gender." In December, she reported your results again. "32 percent of respondents reported experience of verbal harassment in their current job specifically because of their gender," she now wrote. As you know, the difference in the two figures reflects an error in your initial presentations, which you subsequently corrected in your slides without corrigendum. As you must also know, the statement in any case neglects the wide range of severity in the reported experiences, with 19% reporting that it happens "rarely" and 11% reporting that it happens "sometimes". Only 2%, in other words, reported that it happens "often".

These nuances are left out of both your presentations and media reports. Although journalists were initially told that a paper would be published in the spring of 2016, it was in fact merely under review at the time and, as far as I have been able to gather, has still not been accepted by any journal. Indeed, while you have made yourself available to media who communicate your results uncritically, you have steadfastly ignored my queries, including those that pointed out the error you corrected. You ignored all my requests for information about methods and data for over half a year, and then finally rejected them explicitly through a press officer of the AAS only after I took my concerns to AAS President Christine Jones. (An account of my communications with you and the AAS is available here.)

The AAS Code of Ethics states that "research results should be recorded and maintained in a form that allows review, analysis, and reproduction by others. It is incumbent on researchers ... to make results available in a timely manner." I therefore strongly suggest you upload a draft of the paper to either ArXiv or SocArXiv, so that those of us who have been interested enough in the issue to help spot and correct errors can examine your methods and analysis. Given that your results continue to be reported in the media, there is, in my opinion, no excuse for not making their basis available for critical scrutiny.


Thomas Basbøll

cc: Kate Clancy

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