Field of Science


Fruit Bats and Sexual Harrassment

In a sentence that almost certainly had never been uttered before, Irish professor Stephen Kinsella announced on his blog last spring, "As far as I'm aware, I started the #fruitbatgate tag on twitter."

Fruitbatgate, since you asked, has been a long and confusing drama involving University College Cork in Ireland, two professors, the internet, and a paper entitled "Fellatio by Fruit Bats Prolongs Copulation Time." The paper was pretty silly, if explicit, and won an Ig Nobel prize this year. What happened between the two professors was not so silly.

A female professor at UCC accused a male professor, Dylan Evans, of sexual harassment in the fall of 2009. According to Evans, all he was guilty of was "showing an article from a peer-reviewed scientific article [sic] to a colleague." He had visited his colleague's office and shared the paper with her, he says, "as part of an ongoing debate...about the relevance of evolutionary biology to human behavior." Or, more likely, because he thought it was hilarious. According to his colleague, Evans had a history of inappropriate behavior toward her, including sexually charged conversation and unwanted touching and kissing. The way in which he presented her with this paper was not hilarious, and she filed a complaint with the school.

An investigation found Evans not guilty--sort of. Actually, they found that "the incident fell within the definition of sexual harassment," but that Evans "had no intention to offend," whatever kind of verdict that is. Still, the university's president assigned Evans to counseling and two years of monitoring.

Evans, outraged, took to the internet. He spread his story around and began a petition online that read, "We the undersigned demand that...UCC change its policy on harassment so that it cannot be used any longer to limit academic freedom and stifle debate." Almost 3900 people signed it. Evans brought his case to court. Meanwhile, confidential documents relating to the case had been leaked online, and everyone knew the name of the "flamboyant Italian-born nutritionist" who had filed the complaint. The university started a second disciplinary investigation into the leak (Evans denies responsibility), but it was too late for the female professor to regain her anonymity.

A few days ago, a High Court judge passed down a ruling on Evans's case against the school. The judge agreed with the finding that sexual harassment had taken place. However, he found that the school's sanctions against Evans were "grossly disproportionate," and overturned them. Evans, ignoring that first part, claimed victory.

And so did Science magazine. "Biologist Prevails in Case of 'Fruit Bat Fellatio' Harassment Allegations," their Science Insider blog crowed:
Dylan Evans is breathing a sigh of relief. The biologist...was required by the school to attend 2 years of counseling for reading aloud from a scientific paper about fruit bat fellatio. Evans challenged the ruling, and a judge has now ruled in favor of him.

I get that people enjoy writing headlines about this because they get to say "fellatio." And I agree that the idea of a professor being censured "for reading aloud" is ridiculous. What I don't get is the parade of academics and bloggers--and Science magazine--assuming that's what really happened. Something complicated went on between these two professors, and none of us knows what that was. Yet writers are eager to join in the jokes about the humorless prude who wants to stifle academic freedom, rather than trying to understand the whole story. And that's not very scientific.


  1. The reality, as with much of this theatrical performance, is that Dylan Evans is a consummate media performer, with a long career (Psychoanalyzing Diana, In Praise of the Unabomber, etc) and every news item has been written from his perspective - the university is keeping quiet and the woman who made the complaint has moved on.

    The reality, as the judge said very clearly, is that Dylan Evans was found guilty of sexual harassment (at the lower end of the scale), had behaved very stupidly in his position and betrayed a complete lack of understanding of the verdict. The Times Higher Education (which had been sucked into his theatre) wrote:

    "Sexual harassment 'Fruitbatgate' verdict upheld

    The Irish High Court has upheld findings of an investigation by University College Cork into the academic at the centre of the "fruitbatgate" affair. Dylan Evans was accused of sexual harassment after showing a female colleague a research paper on oral sex among fruit bats. An investigation by Cork concluded that the lecturer in behavioural science was guilty of sexual harassment under the university's "right to dignity" policy. After a judicial review, the High Court last week ruled that both the investigation and its conclusions stood and should not be revisited. However, it quashed the "disproportionate" sanctions imposed on Dr Evans, including a two-year period of monitoring and counselling, and awarded costs to the lecturer."

    Hannah Fearn, who initially supported the Evans media circus, wrote

    "Court upholds findings of ‘fruitbatgate’ investigation

    The Irish High Court has ruled that the findings of an investigation by University College Cork into the academic at the centre of the “fruitbatgate” affair should stand."

    Evans has pulled the wool over many people's eyes, but Dr Batboy has really earned his wings on the sexual harassment front.

  2. Dr Batboy Dylan Evans has won "Person of the Year" from World Weekly News for his sexual harassment antics, and his internet "FREEDOM!" campaign with suggestions of Batboy the Musical


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