Turtle Research Group Takes Back Award After Complaints Against Researcher

July 17, 2018

The Herpetologists’ League rescinded its Distinguished Herpetologist award to Dick Vogt, a professor at the Brazilian Institute for Amazon Research, last week after he showed photos that some attendees at the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Rochester, N.Y., found offensive. The Democrat and Chronicle reported that Vogt showed photos of "scantily clad female students" doing field research during his award acceptance talk on turtles. The women in the photos were wearing bathing suits, but conference organizers were concerned enough to add blue boxes to cover parts of the women's bodies. A day after his talk, on Friday, the league rescinded Vogt’s award and apologized for the "offensive content" in his slides.

Emily Taylor, a herpetologist from California Polytechnic State University, said she and 14 of her students were at Vogt's lecture. Showing inappropriate slides "is something he's been doing for 20 years … There's a big difference between what he does and just (pictures of) students in normal field garb," Taylor told The Democrat and Chronicle.

Henry Mushinsky, conference committee chairman, reportedly said that "some of the photos people thought were a little too revealing, so we decided to sort of block them out a bit. The whole idea was to try to minimize anyone feeling uncomfortable." Wearing bathing suits is common for scientists working in water, he said, but the photos Vogt showed were not typical documentary images. "In my humble opinion it’s unfortunate he got selected to give this plenary," he said, noting that his organization and others involved in the conference are currently writing codes of conduct for participants.

Vogt reportedly declined comment but gave another public address at the conference, on the vocalizations of sea turtles. Some on Twitter complained that Vogt made sexual references to animal reproduction during the talk, which had little to do with the topic. Others alleged past inappropriate behavior on his part, such as talking about sex to a female scientist and auctioning off a thong swimsuit.

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