Bullying is a word that perhaps most of us associate with kids in school; however, bullying can be present in any social interaction. Notably, the astronomical community has been infuriated over a paper that refers to others’ work in a disrespectful, unprofessional way. However, this misconduct was received by some as you should understand, the first author is a weirdo, others have condemned it, an apology has been published, but this behavior will most likely go on without consequences.

The authors of the paper, R.J. Bouwens, P.G. van Dokkum, G.D. Illingworth, P.A. Oesch, M. Maseda, B. Ribeiro, M. Stefanon, D. Lam mock about the work done by R. C. Livermore, S. L. Finkelstein, and J. M. Lotz[1]. It is also worth noticing that the authors of the paper are all men, while the authors of the latter are 2 women and 1 man. Apparently there is a consensus in the community that this type of behavior shouldn’t be tolerated, but I can’t stop wondering what are the consequences the authors will face because of such misbehavior.

Academia has generated a very strange environment, mainly because a lot of working-related aspects are left to complete randomness, like what happened with this paper. The majority of the authors have no bosses, they get payed by different institutions, work in different countries. They are not evaluated by this type of misdemeanor, but by the number of papers they publish (and this last one, for example, is still going to count for their careers.) Since it is virtually impossible to envision a reprimand arising from the employers, it has to be the community that takes a step forward. For example, banning the authors from conferences or boycotting the citations of their work.

I do not belong to the field in question, and therefore it is not my place to come up with answers, but just to point out that there is something very wrong about the reasons why these things happen. This is a case of academic bullying through a written paper, but how can the system, the universities or whoever, protect researchers from bullying at their work environment, in conferences, etc.? How can a university promote a healthy work environment, when such behavior is simply tolerated and put under the carpet? I sincerely hope that something is going to change for the better; scientists, as part of society, should behave with at least the same standards than society imposes.

[1]: It is very hard to know if the links point to the real authors of the paper, since there is a close-to-infinity number of B. Ribeiro, for example. If I’ve made a mistake, please inform me so I can correct it.

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