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Women In Science

NIH redoubles efforts to combat sexual harassment

Agency leadership apologizes for not taking steps sooner

by Andrea Widener
March 7, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 10


After facing criticism for not going far enough, the US National Institutes of Health has announced new efforts to fight sexual harassment in science.

In a Feb. 28 letter, the NIH’s leadership, including Director Francis Collins, apologized for the agency’s failure to address harassment sooner. “NIH needs to do better in tackling the underlying culture that enables sexual harassment to take place, admit our contributions to perpetuating this culture, and elevate the seriousness with which the agency takes this issue through our actions,” the letter says.

In the letter, the NIH committed itself to more transparency and accountability about sexual harassment investigations. It revealed that in 2018 it had raised harassment concerns with more than two dozen funded institutions and replaced 14 principal investigators on grants, removed another 14 PIs from participating in peer review, and supported institutions in disciplining 21 PIs. Internally, the NIH investigated 35 sexual harassment allegations, which so far has resulted in the firing of 10 staff members and disciplinary actions against 10 more. The agency also announced steps to make it clearer how to report harassment to the NIH, including the creation of an email address,, where complaints can be sent.

Previous NIH announcements about sexual harassment policies focused primarily on internal staff, but the late-February announce­ment focuses on the NIH’s extensive grantee community. An advisory panel to the director will make further recommendations in June.


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