Ocean Community News

Scientific Community Releases New Recommendations on Field Science Safety

Changes in culture, accountability, policy, and reporting of harassment are needed, say experts from across disciplines

Within the natural sciences, fieldwork has long been a near-necessary component of scientific research. For many, fieldwork is a requisite in their course of study, and could go on to be integral part of their job.

However, participants in field science face acute safety concerns related to the remoteness of the field site or platform, which includes an exacerbated risk of sexual and gender-based harassment. A host of factors, from deeply ingrained cultures that normalize sexual harassment at a field site to the fact that isolation and unfamiliar environments can both empower harassers towards more extreme behavior and limit targets’ ability to seek safety and assistance, increase threats to health and safety in remote and rugged environments.

In March 2021, California State University Desert Studies and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership held the Workshop to Promote Safety in Field Sciences. This workshop focused on addressing the special problems of remote research settings in harassment prevention, target support, and incident response.

“When you’re working in the field, you can be far from your home institution, living and working with people from different institutions, sometimes for months at a time. With so many different parties bearing responsibility for each individual’s behavior, it has been hard for many places and programs to establish comprehensive, systemic policies for accountability, reporting, and responding to harassment,” said Kristen Yarincik, vice president and director of research and education of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership and co-organizer of the workshop. “This workshop is an important step forward for our community in preventing individual incidents in addition to combatting the pervasive culture of harassment while better supporting survivors.”

About 70 participants representing field practitioners from across the natural sciences and social scientists with expertise in the causes and impacts of gender-based harassment attended this three-day virtual meeting. The workshop resulted in 52 recommendations targeted at improving field science culture change, as well as misconduct, accountability, policy, and reporting. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice and trainings were additional cross-cutting topics.

“This workshop was unique in that our recommendations range from immediate action items, such as keeping multiple means of external communication — such as satellite phones — available for field participants at all time, no questions asked, to challenging the scientific community to reconceptualize harassment as a health and safety issue and research integrity issue,” added Anne Kelly, co-organizer of the workshop in their previous role as program director for research and education at California State University Desert Studies.

The recommendations focus on improving experiences for field participants of all backgrounds and identities. They represent a starting point to inspire and guide scientists, ocean platforms, field stations, academic institutions, professional societies, funding agencies, and other actors in field science in improving the science environment in a collaborative, community-based way. The workshop report of recommendations is available here.

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation under Grant DEB-1929455. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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