The Herpetologists’ League rescinded its annual Distinguished Herpetologist award after winner Dick Vogt showed racy photos during his acceptance address.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports:
According to several attendees, Vogt, a longtime researcher of Brazilian turtles, showed several pictures of “scantily clad female students” doing field research. The photographs were risqué enough that conference organizers added blue boxes to cover parts of the women’s bodies.
Henry Mushinsky, committee chairman of the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, told the Democrat and Chronicle that the conference did not have a code of conduct. He said that students doing fieldwork near water often wear bathing suits, but that these photos were “not just typical documentary photos,” the Democrat and Chronicle wrote. Several attendees tweeted that they walked out of the talk. The Herpetologists league offered a statement to conference attendees condemning Vogt’s behavior.
The New York Times reports that the controversial slides were consistent with Vogt’s reputation. The president of the Herpetologist’s League’s decision to honor the scientist came despite warnings against the choice from the organization’s board, according to the NYT.
It is 2018, and if you are alive and read or watch literally any news at all, it’s clear that Vogt and those who reviewed his slides should have known better. If you’re given an award, you shouldn’t embarrass the award-givers during the talk by making the audience uncomfortable. And if you’re an award organizer reviewing slides, you should know what will anger the audience—and know whether your presenter has a rumored history of this sort of behavior.
Tweets from the conference further illustrate some scientists’ reactions to Vogt’s talk.
Like many industries right now, science is in the midst of reckoning with its sexual misconduct problems. Cognitive sciences, archaeology, astronomy, and other fields have been shaken by revelations of sexual assault and sexual harassment from senior academics. And according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, offensive pictures and jokes most definitely fall under the category of “harassment.”
The four scientific societies that put together the conference are working on a code of conduct for the event, reports the Democrat and Chronicle.
So, scientists, journalists, literally anyone who is planning to present something in front of an audience: If you deliver near-nudity when the audience expects turtles, don’t be surprised when they react negatively. And to conference organizers: If you don’t want this kind of controversy, listen to the people who tell you that you’re about to honor someone who will give you these problems.
Update, 7:00pm ET: Vogt responded to a Gizmodo request for comment with the following:
“My students chose these photos in that the phtos[sic] are typical of what we look like in the field in the Amazon there was nothing sexual or indecent about the photos, I made no jokes or indecent comments about any photos...”
“...I do not understand why 4 out of 153 photos are causing such a stir, I did not choose the photos my female students chose the photos and helped me set up the talk, the last photo they blocked out part of was one of my current students who was in a group of about 26 people in the group photo of my turtle course, where there were other women, and men without shirts and with swimming suits on, me included...”
“...I am very sad that this has happened. I have been a part of this community for 54 years, Henry Mushinsky apparently has some kind of vendetta for me. He had no right to enter into my slide presentation and try to destroy me, if he thought he had the right to censure my slides why didn’t he just delete them. It made matters worse by suggesting to people that there was something wrong with the material beneath the slides.”