Does science have a bullying problem?
In August, accusations of bullying roiled the Institute of Cancer Research in London, one of the leading science centres in the United Kingdom. A prominent cancer researcher there, geneticist Nazneen Rahman, resigned from the institute following an investigation into allegations that she had bullied her staff. And in an unprecedented move, the biomedical charity the Wellcome Trust revoked £3.5 million (US$4.5 million) of the funding it had given her.
Three months on, many more people from Rahman’s lab have left the institute. Yet most of the details about the case remain hidden from the public: Rahman has not commented about the allegations and the institute has released little information. It even withheld certain findings from the Wellcome Trust because they contained highly confidential personal information. The secrecy — and the resulting confusion — are prime examples of the difficulties that scientific institutions and researchers face in dealing with the thorny issue of bullying.
The case is part of a spate of allegations that have rocked major scientific institutions in the past year. At Germany’s prestigious Max Planck Society, two directors were accused of bullying; and the UK-based Leverhulme Trust revoked £1 million in funding from palaeontologist Nicholas Longrich at the University of Bath following an investigation into bullying allegations. One of the world’s leading genomics centres, the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, has also investigated claims of bullying. But the decision to clear the Sanger’s management of this and other allegations has led some of those who complained to question the scope and extent of the probe. The Wellcome and other science funders, including Cancer Research UK (CRUK), have announced policies this year that prohibit bullying as well as other forms of harassment.