It's no secret that it can be hard to be a woman in STEM. You work hard, you think things are getting better – and then some creep like Dr Richard Vogt comes along and ruins everything.
Last week, at a meeting of ichthyologists (fish scientists) and herpetologists – researchers of amphibians and reptiles – the Herpetologists' League decided to honor Dr Vogt with a lifetime achievement award for his work with turtles. But the award was soon taken away from him – and he's only got himself to blame.
Dick, as he's appropriately known, apparently thought that a roomful of reptile enthusiasts might get bored by a presentation about, er, reptiles, and decided to spice things up by peppering his acceptance lecture with raunchy images of women in revealing swimsuits. Not creepy enough for you? One of the photos was of his own wife.
"We’re scientists. We are there to learn about the animals," said attendee Dr Emily Taylor to The New York Times. "We are not there to be subjected to pictures of half-naked women holding the animals."
Vogt was apparently "shocked" and "flustered" by the images – but don't forgive him just yet. He wasn't the victim of a badly judged prank – some vengeful reptile nemesis seeking to discredit him by making his lecture X-rated – no, he was just annoyed somebody had censored him. Many of the women's torsos had been covered by blue boxes, which Vogt said only "made matters worse by suggesting... there was something wrong with the material."
Thankfully, his behavior didn't go down well. Some attendees walked out, and the Herpetologists' League took swift action, rescinding his award and forming a new committee to address diversity and inclusion.
"Many members of all genders took strong offense to the images... and to the awarding of this distinction to someone whose extremely inappropriate behavior toward other attendees has been long known," the League said in a statement released on Sunday. "We acknowledge that scientific achievement does not excuse misconduct in the profession at any level."
Yes, you read that right – amazingly, Dr Vogt had won this award despite already being notorious for this type of thing. Even in 2018, it seems decades of inappropriate behavior isn't enough to disqualify you from being honored – Dr Lori Neuman-Lee, chair of the new Diversity and Inclusion Committee, told The New York Times Vogt had previously included photos such as turtles nestling around a woman's breasts in presentations, and Dr Taylor described him repeatedly using "sexually explicit gratuitous images".
The incident prompted some female researchers to take to social media to describe their experiences in the field, many using the hashtag #HERper.
The Herpetologists' League board of trustees has stated that the winner of the Distinguished Herpetologist award is a unilateral – and in this case unpopular – decision by the League president. In response to this controversy, they are apparently seeking to change this procedure.