Costs Untold: Sheila Jasanoff and the Long Trail of Emotional Abuse and Academic Bullying

Lee Vinsel
13 min readNov 7, 2022
An upcoming event with Sheila Jasanoff at the French Embassy in Washington, DC. In light of Claudia Schwarz-Plaschg’s revelations, this event must be canceled or others participating should withdraw. More on this soon.

In 2015, I started writing this essay about my experiences with emotional abuse and academic bullying at the hands of Sheila Jasanoff in the Harvard Program on Science, Technology, and Society. For a variety of reasons, I never found the energy or bravery to post it.

But then, on November 4, 2022, Claudia Gertraud Schwarz-Plaschg published a post on Medium titled, “On its 20th anniversary, my testimonial on the Harvard STS Program.” It is a horrific story of sexual harassment by Schwarz-Plaschg’s peers and then emotional abuse, gaslighting, exclusion, and bullying on the part of Jasanoff. I am extremely grateful to Claudia for bravely telling her story. I am deeply in her debt, as is all of the community around Science and Technology Studies.

I am putting up an abbreviated version of my own story to corroborate many aspects of Schwarz-Plaschg’s courageous post. You should check out responses to Schwarz-Plaschg’s Tweet about the Medium post too. Several people recount either directly experiencing or hearing about phenomena like those Schwarz-Plaschg recounts. If you drill down in the STS community, you will find more stories like these, and the stories will share many elements. That’s because they are describing the same abusive reality.

By the way, if it needs saying, I do not believe Jasanoff’s is a unique story. In fact, my hunch is that stories like these are pretty common in academia, maybe especially at elite schools like Harvard. They may be even worse in STEM and medical fields. And surely they are worse for women, people of color, queer folks, and other historically marginalized populations.

Some of what I will say below may seem petty or even absurd without first setting the scene: the Harvard STS program, which often contained several young predoctoral and postdoctoral fellow and sometimes more-senior visiting scholars, was a cult of personality in which absolute loyalty and fealty to the guru was expected. Even minor questioning was not allowed, as I will spell out below. It was a hierarchical and very emotionally intense space that featured constant policing by Jasanoff and those loyal to her. Jasanoff’s forms of manipulation were varied and often subtle but included public and private…

Lee Vinsel

I do technology studies, co-organize @The_Maintainers, and profess Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech.