harassment accusations have hit another corner of the tech industry,
with allegations involving prominent artificial intelligence
researchers, including one at Google, a leader in the field.
scientist Kristian Lum wrote in a
blog this week that a man she called "S"
grabbed her inappropriately at an industry conference in 2010 and
said he took advantage of another woman she didn’t identify on
separate occasions. Two people who were told about the conduct
from two alleged victims told Bloomberg the man is Steven Scott, a
senior researcher at Google.
also wrote that a well-respected academic touched her
inappropriately on the leg at the same conference and later sent her
innuendo-laced messages. The man was later identified as Bradley
Carlin, an expert in biostatistics, by people familiar with the
allegations were widely discussed on social media, drawing
supportive comments and similar stories from researchers in academia
and leading tech companies, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and
Microsoft Corp. Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft research director, called
Lum’s post a "powerful and important report."
love to tell my side of the story, but I’m afraid you’ll need to get
it from firstname.lastname@example.org,"
Scott wrote in an email, referring to Google’s public relations
is investigating the matter," Gina Scigliano, a company spokeswoman,
has been suspended from Google as of Friday, according to a person
familiar with the matter.
professor at the University of Minnesota, referred questions to the
school, which said it is aware of the accusations but declined to
researchers involved are experts in Bayesian statistics, which
underpins a powerful type of AI known as machine learning. The
accusations have surfaced during a growing debate over the lack of
diversity among machine learning researchers and whether computer
scientists are paying enough attention to bias – including gender
and racial bias – in the data sets they are using to train AI
allegations came to light after the recent
conference on Neural Information Processing
Systems (NIPS) in Long Beach, California. Some attendees
complained that aspects of some parties held during the
conference were inappropriate and potentially offensive to women.
They also condemned a joke about sexual harassment made by Carlin, a
member of an amateur band that performed at the NIPS closing night
the band’s keyboardist, joked about the sexual misconduct
allegations that forced the resignation of U.S. Senator Al Franken.
After several attendees complained on Twitter that making light of
sexual harassment was inappropriate, Carlin apologized on the band’s
who was not at the conference, learned of the incident and then
wrote in the blog that she was “unsurprised to learn that a person
involved in making the troubling comments is a well-respected
academic who is widely known to behave inappropriately at
naming Carlin directly, Lum said the academic had touched her
inappropriately on the leg during an informal presentation she gave
at a Bayesian mathematics conference in 2010. He also commented on
her dress, saying it “was too sexy” for such an academic talk. Over
the ensuing years, she wrote, the person sent her several
innuendo-laced or inappropriate private Facebook messages, including
messages in which he discussed watching pornography.
would like to defend myself against her accusations, but the matter
has already been referred to my university’s EEO team, which I’m
told will be conducting a full investigation into the matter,"
Carlin wrote in an email to Bloomberg, referring to the University
of Minnesota’s Equal Employment Opportunity department. "So I’ve
been instructed not to say anything more publicly pending the
results of that investigation."
Lapiska, a spokesman for the university, said the school is "aware
of public accusations" involving Carlin but declined to comment
further citing privacy protections.
declined to comment. In her post, she detailed further incidents of
alleged harassment at the same 2010 conference. The "worst
offender," she wrote, was a researcher that she only identifies as
"S." At the end of the conference, while she was swimming with other
researchers, the person grabbed Lum without her consent and put “his
hands on my torso, hips, and thighs,” according to the post. Other
female mathematicians spoke similarly to Lum about S, Lum added. And
she wrote that he had "taken advantage of a junior person" under the
influence of alcohol.
said that several years later at another conference, during a
reception hosted by Google, she overheard the same person bragging
to friends about “banging smokin’ hot chicks.” When Lum gave him a
castigating stare, he told Lum she was only jealous he hadn’t been
talking about her, according to the blog.
knew it would be even more difficult to get people to find S’s
behavior problematic since he is employed by a large tech company,"
person in Lum’s post is Scott, a director of statistics research at
Google, according to two people familiar with the
situation. Katherine Heller, an assistant professor at Duke
University, recognized Scott in Lum’s description and told Bloomberg
that he had acted inappropriately with a former student of hers.
Heller also said that several other female researchers had reached
out to her with similar stories about other men in the field after
Lum’s blog post was published.
really is just a lot of sexual harassment of women in Bayesian
statistics and machine learning," Heller said. Another person in the
field said she had witnessed Scott’s actions with women in the past,
but asked not to be identified given the sensitivity of the topic.
you for having the courage to speak out about this terrible
behavior," Jeff Dean, head of Google’s Brain AI unit, tweeted to
Lum. "This has no place in science, math, statistics, computing, or
anywhere else.” Dean was commenting generally and he didn’t respond
to an email asking about Scott.
said that after she saw in October that "S" had been nominated as a
candidate for the board of the International Society for Bayesian
Analysis (ISBA), she brought concerns about his behavior to the
organization’s president and he was removed from the ballot.
who has been at Google since 2008, was a candidate for the board and
is no longer on the ballot, according to ISBA’s website and one
person with knowledge of the organization who spoke to Bloomberg.
Mengersen, ISBA’s president, did not respond to questions about
Scott. But she said in an email that she and ISBA’s executive
committee supported Lum coming forward with her account. “The
Executive Committee takes any report of inappropriate behavior very
seriously,” she said. “We have a great Society and a proud record of
including women as members and as leaders. However, like many
societies, we have recognized that we need to do more.”
said the organization was in the process of establishing protocols
for appropriate behavior and support mechanisms for members who have