Politics over science in Mexico.

Investigation 🔬| Julio Gálvez

The American journal SCIENCE - one of the most influential scientific magazines - is about to publish a report that seeks to discredit the honorability and professional integrity of the Mexican scientist Jean-Philippe Vielle Calzada, and to question the official measures taken by the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of Mexico (Cinvestav) to prevent, attend and punish gender violence, in particular sexual harassment. Cinvestav is a decentralized federal entity devoted to scientific research and graduate education.

The report is in charge of Emiliano Rodríguez Mega, a freelance journalist that for the last 6 months - with the complicity of Dr. Karla Sandoval Mendoza, who is in charge of the Institutional Communication Office at Cinvestav -, has undertaken a tendentious and questionable crusade of journalistic harassment to repeatedly pressure no less than 32 people close to the working environment of Vielle Calzada - students, researchers and colleagues -, in search of statements and images that could support his report on the basis of a conservative and moralistic perception that prohibits any type of romantic or intimate relationship between unequal hierarchical employees or members of the academic community, as is the case in some academic institutions of the United States.

On March 8th 2020, Dr. María del Carmen Ávila Arcos – a professor and researcher at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) - published on her twitter account a string of messages indirectly calling Vielle Calzada a “sexual harasser”, after he presumably told her that he was “in love with her”. After confirming the identity of the Cinvestav researcher, she called her followers for massive accusations addressed at Cinvestav Ethics and Conflict of Interest Prevention Committee (https://twitter.com/paleogenomics/status/1236793461338247169).

Ascribed at the International Laboratory of Human Genome Research (LIIGH) of UNAM, Ávila Arcos directly competes with Vielle Calzada for top-ranked scientific discoveries in the field of paleogenomics, studying the history of our ancestors using DNA isolated from millenary archaeological specimens, a scientific area for which the Cinvestav researcher is an international leader and coordinator of the collaboration agreement with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the Mexican federal body responsible for the protection and access of the archaeological samples necessary for paleogenomic research.

The public accusations of Ávila Arcos gave rise to a smear campaign visibly implemented from Cinvestav by Sandoval Mendoza – a personal friend of Ávila Arcos and spouse of genomist Andrés Moreno Estrada - and by Dr. Angélica Cibrián Jaramillo, who also seeks to discredit Vielle Calzada, after he refused to establish with her an intimate relationship. This group also benefited from the complicity of former Cinvestav student Elvira Hernández Lagana, who in 2016 was formally accused of administrative responsibility and misconduct, after altering and stealing scientific materials and confidential information from Cinvestav. As a result of these unfortunate events that damage the academic life of one of the most important scientific institutions in the country, the accusations made by both parties led the Cinvestav Ethics Committee to investigate and conclude that there were no elements to sustain any violation of its institutional Code of Conduct.

The Code of Conduct of Cinvestav (last update: 09/27/21) at any moment prohibits sentimental or inter-personal relationships between members of its scientific and academic community, including professors and students.

On March 10th 2020, the General Director of Cinvestav- Dr. José Mustre de León - signed a document calling for zero tolerance to sexual harassment, listing in an enunciative but not limiting list of 15 types of misconduct that are prohibited in the institution (https://www.cinvestav.mx/Portals/0/sitedocs/integridad/01313-Pronunciamiento_Cero_tolerancia_al_hostigamiento_sexual_y_acoso_sexual.pdf). Since then, in full accordance with the recommendations of the Federal Government and the institutional Ethics Committee, Cinvestav has redoubled efforts to eradicate gender violence and strengthen the perspective of equity through documentaries, surveys, talks, seminars and workshops that seek to sensitize and reflect on a gender perspective, exhibiting the inequalities that could be consciously and unconsciously embodied and reproduced among its scientific and academic community.

The position of reporters such as Emiliano Rodríguez Mega and Rodrigo Pérez Ortega seems far from the objectivity and professional journalism necessary to address these delicate issues. As revealed in a public workshop entitled "How to cover sexual harassment in science" - published last July on the Facebook page of the Mexican Network of Science Journalists (https://www.facebook.com/watch/ live /? v = 952351045307491 & ref = search) -, their methodology is based on the premise that the topic should not be dealt in an objective way, because the journalist has always to “to give priority and privilege to the victims, and this for historical reasons, as people have not trust or listen to their complaints". While Mexican institutions including Cinvestav fully recognize sexual harassment as a criminal form of lewd violence that needs to be eradicated from all social sectors, including academia, the position of these reporters is partial and defective considering that, to fully respect a gender perspective, and following any journalistic investigation, facts need full confirmation to avoid the serious consequence of false accusations or factual slandering, discounting the absence of incredibility motives and the non-existence of past or immediate spurious motives, and double-checking the credibility of the allegations or accusations as well as the persistence of their coherence, coincidence and truthfulness.

Their journalistic position sustains that academic accusers are invariably victims de facto, without any verification of the accusation content, assuming that all their testimonies are legitimate, without in-depth investigation and confirmation of their veracity. They seem to omit the need to define sexual harassment and differentiate it from illegitimate accusations, contributing to curb defamation practices, respecting the presumption of innocence and a due legal process as fundamental rights. Although their position appears to align with the editorial policy of some of conservative American journals to which they intend to sell their reports, their journalistic position is not in accordance with the reality, as it directly interferes with Mexican laws and their current regulations, including the federal Protocol to Prevent, Attend and Punish Sexual Harassment. Although this Protocol indicates that the word of any presumed victim is sufficient for a complaint to be admitted, there is a fundamental difference between its admittance, the eventual investigation, and the conclusion of the federal administrative procedure. The General Law of Administrative Responsibilities of Mexico indicates that it will be the exclusive competence of Internal Control Bodies (Órganos Internos de Control, or OICs) to address the complaints and determine if a subsequent investigation is initiated, ensuring strict confidentiality during the full process prior to its eventual resolution.

To this date, it is unknown whether the Cinvestav OIC has proceeded to investigate any aspects related to alleged accusations of gender violence against any of the researchers mentioned above. What is known is that last Tuesday, September 14th, in response to his repeated insistence to contact current or former Cinvestav personnel, Emiliano Rodríguez Mega received a letter signed by more than 30 people that decided to reject his journalistic efforts seeking to judge the professional integrity of Vielle Calzada, as well as denying the use of their names in any of his reports related to these issues. It is worth mentioning that, in this case, the Mexican legal system for protection of personal data in possession of private entities necessarily requires written consent of the Cinvestav researcher for a report to be published, avoiding possible illegality on the basis of violations to the Federal Law of Personal Data Protection in Possession of Particulars.

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