Scientist Loses Distinguished Award After Acceptance Presentation Full of Racy Photos

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum on at

The Herpetologists’ League in the US rescinded its annual Distinguished Herpetologist award after winner Dick Vogt showed racy photos during his acceptance address.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 organisers 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 swimming costumes, 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 behaviour.

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 honour the scientist came despite warnings against the choice from the organisation'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 organiser reviewing slides, you should know what will anger the audience—and know whether your presenter has a rumoured history of this sort of behaviour.

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 organisers: If you don’t want this kind of controversy, listen to the people who tell you that you’re about to honour someone who will give you these problems. [via Democrat and Chronicle, NYT]


More Science Posts: