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Astronomer Geoffrey Marcy is no longer a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Astronomer Geoff Marcy booted from National Academy of Sciences in wake of sexual harassment

For the first time, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has expelled a member who had been found guilty of sexual harassment. NAS’s governing council has rescinded the membership of astronomer Geoffrey Marcy, the academy told its members in an email yesterday.

The action is the first since the 158-year-old NAS revised its bylaws 2 years ago to allow members to be expelled for documented misconduct violations. No actions were taken on the policy until fall 2020, when, after reading news accounts, a French scientist filed a complaint against Marcy and three other NAS members who had been investigated for sexual harassment.

The email from NAS informed members that Marcy’s membership had been rescinded, effective 24 May, for violating its harassment policy. The NAS press office confirmed the academy’s action in an email to ScienceInsider, noting that the council’s vote met the required two-thirds majority.

In 2015, Marcy was forced out the University of California (UC), Berkeley, after BuzzFeed reported that a university investigation had found him guilty of sexual harassment, including kissing and groping students. He is now with Space Laser Awareness, a nonprofit in Santa Rosa, California, and is a co-author on preprints recently posted to arXiv.

"I have always supported equal opportunity and success for women in academia and science,” Marcy wrote to ScienceInsider in an email. “My engaging and empathic style could surely be misinterpreted, which is my fault for poor communication. I would never intentionally hurt anyone nor cause distress.” As for his removal from NAS, Marcy says: “I have been completely out of organized academia for over 5 years.”

The French scientist, François-Xavier Coudert, a computational chemist at CNRS, the French national research agency, also included evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala in his complaint. Ayala resigned from UC Irvine in 2018 after a university investigation found him guilty of sexual harassment, including making suggestive comments and inviting a junior professor to sit on his lap. He has “absolutely” denied the allegations. NAS told Coudert in November 2020 that it intended to adjudicate Ayala’s case. But the academy does not “have information on other cases,” a spokesperson said today.

Coudert’s complaint also included cancer biologist Inder Verma, formerly at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. In 2018, Science published accounts from eight women alleging sexual harassment stretching over decades. Salk investigated but did not release its findings; Verma denied the allegations. NAS told Coudert it could not take action on the basis of media reports alone.

The fourth scientist in Coudert's complaint was information theorist Sergio Verdú, who was dismissed by Princeton University after two investigations found he had sexually harassed a graduate student and violated a prohibition on consensual relationships with students. (Verdú has denied both allegations.) NAS told Coudert it was holding off on any action until a lawsuit Verdú filed against Princeton was resolved. 

Marcy's expulsion is “a positive step, but a baby step,” Coudert says. He argues that the lack of action against Verdú and Verma shows the NAS policy requiring public findings or a settled court case “is too weak, and therefore ineffective. They are allowing bad actors to remain members of the academy.”

*Clarification, 28 May, 12:55 p.m.: The description of Geoffrey Marcy's departure from UC Berkeley has been clarified.