22 October 2015

Harassment and dissemination of pornography in a scientific conference?

I just became aware of an astronomy conference organized at Uppsala whose topic is Cool Stars. The home page looks pretty nice
but once we click on "about" we find a page that has two parts. The first part describes the subject of the conference.  But the second part,  which is more lengthy, is very strange.
Cool Stars gathers approximately 400 international experts on brown dwarfs, low-mass stars (from the pre-main-sequence through the asymptotic giant branch), solar physics, circumstellar environments, extrasolar planets, and astrobiology....
Cool Stars 19 is dedicated to a harassment-free workshop experience for everyone regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of workshop participants in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate in any workshop venue, including talks, poster sessions, and organized social activities. Workshop participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the workshop without refund at the discretion of the workshop organizers.  Click here to read our full anti-harassment policy.
What? Is this a conference in astronomy or on harassment/gender/sexual issues? Are they expecting participants to harass and be harassed? Are they expecting participants who insult others? Participants going around using sexual language? Sexual imagery? (Really? Are they expecting dissemination of pornographic material?) Something very very fishy is going on, otherwise why, on the front page of the conference, spend more space to talk about possible offenses rather than the topic per se.

But the situation becomes even worse. If we click on the anti-harassment policy we find a 3 page document that is clearly prepared in anticipation of a lot of trouble. Here are some excerpts.
Harassment includes, but is not limited to:      Verbal comments that reinforce social structures of domination related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, or religion      Sexual images in public spaces      Deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following      Harassing photography or recording      Sustained disruption of talks or other events      Inappropriate physical contact      Unwelcome sexual attention      Advocating for, or encourage, any of the above behavior.
Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

Exhibitors should not use sexualized images, activities, or other material. Booth staff, including volunteers, should not use sexualized clothing/uniforms/costumes or otherwise create a sexualized environment.

If someone makes you or anyone else feel unsafe or unwelcome, please report it as soon as possible.

You can file an anonymous report using this form: http://goo.gl/forms/03OCO6CGMq  

You can make a personal report by:  Calling or messaging this number: (TBA). This phone number will be continuously monitored for the duration of the event. Contacting a staff member identified by colored LOC badges and workshop t-shirts labeled STAFF or LOC.
This report is clearly prepared with the mindset that there will be lots of trouble. Conference people are probably going to harass and be harassed, exhibit sexual imagery, insult, etc. What KIND of conference is this, I wonder? Filing anonymous reports is something that was done during some dark times, like the McCarthyist era, or during Hitler's reign, among others. I'm really surprised that some people are encouraging this. Of course, if there is, indeed, a problem, then actions should be taken.

But I wonder: Is there a problem? If yes, again I ask: what KIND of conference is this? Why do they expect so much trouble?

I'm closing this posting with a screenshot showing the format of the anonymous report:
In summary, there are three alternatives:
  1. Either this is a practical joke.
  2. Or this is a conference where lots of trouble (harassment, sexual abuse, pornography) is expected.
  3. Or this is just a normal conference and these pages were created amidst paranoia. 
Options 1 and 3 seem unlikely because they both (especially 3) convey extreme irrationality and we're in a university so we don't expect this. So option 2 seems to be the more likely one.

Or is it not?


  1. Reminds me of a line from Samuel Clemens: “What would men be without women? Scarce, sir...mighty scarce.” Perhaps they were expecting Geoff Marcy?

    1. Ah, yes! Thanks for providing a most plausible explanation. I didn't know about him. I checked: 
      Indeed, the article reports he sexually harassed many women from his position as professor of astronomy and the resigning is very fresh. This kind of thing could be common in astronomy and perhaps that's why they're so much concerned.This is the first rational explanation I come across. 

    2. Dr. Konstantopoulos's comments are very sensible. When I heard about this meeting and its stated rules I too wondered, "Is this an astronomy conference or a sociology conference?"

    3. Anonymous: I thought that too, but, what is worse, the whole thing evokes directives written in fascist regimes.
      May I ask why you write anonymously?

    4. I wrote anonymously because I could not figure out how to give myself an identity except to mention who I am in the body of the message. My choices are Unknown (Google), Live Journal, Word Press, Type Pad, AIM and Open ID. I'm somehow logged into Google something. But further to your question. If I'm not anonymous, anything that strikes others as support for sexual harassment and other kinds of harassment can bring down a lot of criticism on a person. A couple weeks ago I wrote on Facebook that while we might hate Geoff Marcy's behavior, we should not hate Marcy the person, especially if he has apologized and demonstrated that his behavior has changed. A philosophy student of mine pointed out that Martin Heidegger was an enthusiastic Nazi starting in 1933. Even with that major moral lapse, his reputation was eventually salvaged.

  2. Yes, you're right. I didn't know who Marcy was before Joe pointed the case out. And, of course, I was being a bit cynical when I responded that this kind of thing must be commonplace in astronomy conference. Actually, never in my career have I been to a conference where, say, sexual imagery was present. I also understand what you said about Heidegger. Also, it's easy to talk about moral compass a posteriori.

  3. One scandal per day, keeps the doctor away.


  4. Takis, check the development. "Summary" is quite interesting and the whole investigation is posted.


    I guess a good article that summarizes it can be found here:




What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant