A big problem in our community

Posted in General, Seminar/Conference, Statistics by Pierre Jacob on 14 December 2017

“Tout va très bien”, meaning “all is well”, by Franquin.

Hi all,

Kristian Lum, who was already one of my Statistics superheroes for her many interesting papers and great talks, bravely wrote the following text about her experience as a young statistician going to conferences:

I can’t thank Kristian enough for speaking out. Her experience is both shocking and hardly surprising. Many, many academics report similar stories. This simply can’t go on like that.

I happen to have gone to the conferences mentioned by Kristian, and my experience as a young man was completely different. It was all about meeting interesting people, discussing ideas, being challenged, and having good times. Nobody harassed, touched or assaulted me. There was some flirting, as I guess is natural when hundreds of people are put in sunny places far away from home, but I was never the victim of any misconduct or abuse of power. So instead of driving me out of the field, conferences became important, enriching and rewarding moments of my professional life.

Looking back at those conferences I feel sick, and heartbroken, at the thought that some of my peers were having such a difficult time, because of predators who don’t ever  face the consequences of their actions. Meanwhile I was part of the silent majority.

The recent series of revelations about sexual harassment and assaults in other professional environments indicate that this is not specific to our field, nor to academia. But this does not make it any more acceptable. I know for a fact that many leaders of our field take this issue extremely seriously (as Kristian mentions too),  but clearly much much more needs to be done. The current situation is just shameful; strong and  coordinated actions will be needed to fix it. Thanks again to Kristian for the wake-up call.


3 Responses

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  1. Anthony Lee said, on 15 December 2017 at 13:46

    This is very disturbing. I don’t spend much time at the more social events of conferences, just because I am quite introverted. Nevertheless, my surprise turns to anger when I realize that I have just been very ignorant about the extremely negative experiences many women have been having in these spaces, which are supposed to be intellectually stimulating in exactly the way you describe. There is some expectation that academics periodically attend conferences, perhaps more regularly in ML than in Statistics, so it is vital that this is fixed.

    It seems I also have very few collaborators who are women; certainly none of my regular collaborators so far are women. This may contribute to my ignorance, is another problem in and of itself, and seems to be affected by women being driven from the field.

    • Pierre Jacob said, on 15 December 2017 at 18:28

      I agree, it’s really bad in Bayesian computational stats, even compared to other parts of stats. At the moment I have zero publication co-authored with a woman. Most likely I’ll have some with my own graduate students, or by doing more mathematical statistics, or by doing more interdisciplinary work.

  2. xi'an said, on 15 December 2017 at 14:20

    Reblogged this on Xi'an's Og and commented:
    Like Pierre, after reading Kristian’s courageous wake-up call, I was thinking of waiting a few days before blogging on the fundamental problem this harrowing story of hers exposes, while moving to actively make ISBA safe, along with Kerrie Mengersen and other members, especially j-ISBA. So in the meanwhile, here is Pierre’s blog entry that I completely endorse, with an additional feeling of failed responsibility as a senior man and president of ISBA:

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