Scientist sues U.S. National Academy of Sciences after being ousted | Science

Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, a prominent Peruvian archaeologist who was among the first members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to be removed after a 2019 bylaws update allowed expulsion for documented misconduct violations, filed a $5 million defamation lawsuit against the academy and NAS President Marcia McNutt this month. The suit alleges that “NAS and McNutt made false and defamatory statements … concerning alleged sexual harassment by Castillo.”

NAS rescinded the archaeologist’s membership in October 2021 after his institution, the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP), found “indications of sexual harassment.” “I am completely and absolutely innocent of all these claims,” Castillo Butters told ScienceInsider at the time. He went on to file a defamation lawsuit in Peru against one of his accusers, Marcela Poirier, a manager of cultural and educational resources in Lima. A judge ruled in his favor in May, fining Poirier $48,400 and giving her a suspended jail sentence of 1 year and 8 months.

The new lawsuit—filed in Washington, D.C., on 7 October, and first reported yesterday by independent journalist Michael Balter on his blog—contends NAS and McNutt made “unfounded, untrue, and malicious” statements about Castillo Butters, including in a press release, and failed to acknowledge the success of his defamation case against Poirier. “They continue to show a reckless disregard by not publicly reversing course,” the lawsuit reads. (McNutt served as editor-in-chief of Science from 2013 to 2016.)

The lawsuit doesn’t specify what statements Castillo Butters views as defamatory—and no statements or press releases are currently visible on the NAS website, apart from an acknowledgement that Castillo Butters’s membership was rescinded because of a violation of the academy’s Code of Conduct. Castillo Butters’s lawyer declined to share documentation to support the allegations. “All of our evidence will be put forward at trial,” he wrote in an email. NAS also declined to confirm or deny whether a press release was in fact issued. “We are aware of the lawsuit and are reviewing it,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “At this time, we don’t have any additional comment.”

Legal battles over the case continue to be waged in Peru, as well. Poirier has appealed the verdict in her case, and hearings began this week. “I do believe that the original verdict will be overturned,” Poirier wrote in an email to ScienceInsider. “But I need to also remind myself that I am in a complicated situation, that our society and institutions are still miles away [from] knowing how to handle gender based violence and how to take care of victims and survivors.” Castillo Butters declined to comment.

Ahead of this week’s hearings in Peru, the United Nations issued a statement expressing concern about the precedent the judgment against Poirier could set. “We are concerned that the lower court judgment sentencing Poirier failed to integrate a victim-centered and gender-sensitive approach,” the statement read. “If the court’s decision stands, it could silence other victims and survivors of sexual violence and prevent them from speaking out against their aggressors.”

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