Okay so… Neil deGrasse Tyson was probably my favorite living scientist and science-popularizer. He has carried on the scientific legacy of Carl Sagan in a way I can only admire. I absolutely adored his take on Cosmos, and I loved Startalk (until he decided to have Michael Shermer on as a guest… recap on that for those who’ve forgotten). I was a huge fan of his, to the point where I was defending his “ruining” of movies. I loved when he pointed out the scientific failings of films, regardless of what film it was or if science was at all relevant to the film. He was like CinemaSins, only with science (and yes, I like CinemaSins… get over it).
So, by all accounts, I’m the exact right person to defend his statement about these allegations.
For a bit of history, a couple years ago, an astrologer named Tchiya Amet accused Neil deGrasse Tyson of raping her in grad school. People liked to use the fact that she’s an astrologer and believes in chakras to discredit her allegations. PZ Myers reported on it because Tchiya contacted him, as she was exploited by Slymepitters and sent to him by them, as a weird sort of “gotcha” because, despite the evidence, Slymepitters to this day refuse to believe that Michael Shermer is anything other than a saint. His post was how I found out about it. I was ambivalent. I didn’t want to believe it, but I was very uncomfortable with using the woman’s beliefs against her the way many were. I also noticed that there was no serious attempt to deal with the allegations in any serious way. And that bothered me. PZ felt relatively comfortable saying it may not have been Neil who raped her, in part because of an interview with her.
Let’s fast forward to a couple days ago, and not only does the rape allegation come up again, but two more allegations, both of harassment and boundary-pushing, come up as well. So Neil posts a response and it’s…
Look it’s fucking terrible, okay? I’m sorry, but it’s not good. Neil deGrasse Tyson does not actually admit to doing anything wrong. He absolutely admits 100% to doing what he was accused of doing by the two women accusing him of harassment and boundary-pushing, but he seems completely incapable of understanding why these things are wrong… and it’s almost as if he doesn’t want to.
With one woman, he saw that she had a solar system tattoo, and wanted to know if she has Pluto. He literally says this:
And while I don’t explicitly remember searching for Pluto at the top of her shoulder, it is surely something I would have done in that situation.
I mean… it’s something you would have done? What about just asking? “Hey. I see you have a solar system tattoo! Do you have Pluto on there?” And then taking her answer at her word? Why in the fuck would you go looking for it, on the body of a woman you barely know? How is that in any sense okay?
Just. Fucking. Ask.
And then there’s the colleague he harassed. He responds by saying that she gave everyone hugs. He admits to saying to her “If I hug you I might just want more.” There is literally only one way to take that statement. It’s sexual. There’s no other way to take that. I’m sorry but there’s not. And denying it makes you look like a fucking ignorant victim-blamer… or somebody who has a history of this kind of shit and doesn’t want to face up to it.
One anonymous person talks about comparing Neil’s statements with Lawrence Krauss’s. This person admits to being biased against Lawrence and in favor of Neil, yet manages to see some remarkable (and frankly disturbing) similarities between the two statements:
-They both lay some blame at the “current climate/#MeToo.”
-They both corroborate the essential facts of much of the incident(s), while saying that it was not their intention or interpretation of the incident.
-They both attempt to shift the burden to the other party, by leveraging the lack of having said anything.
-They both minimize the impact and discomfort of what happened as being ‘not that bad’.
-They both leverage a supposed level of ignorance of boundaries cause by enthusiasm and/or geekery and/or general social ineptitude, but which is in fact more likely to have been caused by taking for granted and taking advantage of a level of privileged power differential available to them.
Now I will grant… Neil does apologize. And as far as apologies go, I’ve seen worse. It isn’t just an “I’m sorry for offending you” or “I’m sorry you were uncomfortable”. He admits that he didn’t realize they were uncomfortable and that was never his intention.
But that’s not good enough.
Yeah I said it.
It’s not good enough. He needs to go well beyond “I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable. He needs to directly apologize for his behavior. He needs to show that he understands why it was so grossly inappropriate. And as for Tchiya Amet… the first thing he needs to do is take back any attempt to smear her because she’s an astrologer who believes in chakras.
Yes, astrology is bullshit and there’s zero evidence for the existence of chakras. But that has no bearing on whether or not he raped this woman. His account is of briefly dating her while they were in graduate school together, and that her accusation is based on a night she can’t remember. He explicitly says this:
It is as though a false memory had been implanted, which, because it never actually happened, had to be remembered as an evening she doesn’t remember. Nor does she remember waking up the next morning and going to the office. I kept a record of everything she posted, in case her stories morphed over time. So this is sad, which, for me, defies explanation.
No! Abso-fucking-lutely not! You especially do not get to speculate about false memories! All you get to do in this case is welcome an honest, strict, and thorough investigation. You acknowledge that the victim may very well have been raped (because the simple fact is that less than 5% of rape accusations are false, and even that may be an overstatement)… perhaps it’s a case of mistaken identity. But even if you know for a fact you’re innocent, it is not your place to speculate on these things. Because you might also be a rapist… we don’t know for sure, and without a thorough investigation, we can’t know.
Now Neil does indeed welcome an investigation. However, I do not trust Fox or NatGeo to conduct a thorough investigation. I’m also not sure if an investigation can truly be thorough after all these years.
I have seen some people question why this is so devastating for many, and why so many, even fellow SJWs, are so quick to defend or, at the very least, look for redemption for, Neil. Many have pointed out that there are other Astrophysicists of color, and perhaps it’s time to bring women to forefront.
I agree wholeheartedly with the latter part of that. There’s Dr. Jedidah Isler, Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook, Dr. Reva K. Williams, Dr. Dara Norman… all of whom should have at least as much fame as Neil does. They are amazing Astrophysicists who deserve a much bigger spotlight than they currently have.
On the other hand, however… I have already explained how I feel about Neil at the opening of this post. So yeah, it’s devastating. More devastating than Jamie Kilstein was (and he’s the reason I decided to stop calling myself a feminist… instead of seeing it as a label I get to claim, I now treat it as the kind of person I am, how I act, and the way I conduct myself both in public and in private… I treat it as something I have to earn; he’s also why I don’t ask to be trusted and don’t expect to be trusted). More devastating than finding out that Robin Williams’ stand-up was… well… not at all original; that he was a chronic joke thief (FTR… until I learned that, Robin Williams was my favorite stand-up comedian… I still love him as an actor).
I loved Neil deGrasse Tyson. Every single time I went to the American Museum of Natural History, there was a distinct hope that he’d be there, randomly, and I could meet and talk to him. He always came across as inviting, warm, friendly, and wonderful. At least in talks, he had such a way with children… such a way with inspiring children. Sure, he could be annoying at times… like when he nearly derailed a science discussion once over… String Theory, maybe? I can’t remember… or when Ann Druyan was once asked about bringing more women into STEM, and Neil butted in to give his opinion, not allowing her to answer. He was yet another personal hero. In fact, I think, the last time this happened, I hoped aloud that he would not be one of the ones with these allegations.
Yet here we are.
I’m not satisfied.
Yes, I want to be satisfied. I want to clap my hands together and say “welp… that’s settled. Back to being a fan.” Instead, I’m stuck with yet another “hero” who turned out to be a creep in private. And worse, I don’t know why. Is it just that he genuinely has no understanding of professional boundaries and bodily autonomy, and his intentions are truly so innocent that he has no clue why what he did was wrong? Is it that his public persona is not his private persona, and that in real life he’s a leering creep?
I have absolutely no idea. I could sit here and try to armchair diagnose him, but what purpose would that serve? For one thing, it’s ableist. For another, it has zero bearing on his actions. His actions are his and his alone, and there simply is no excuse for them.
And now I sit here wondering… Bill Nye? Phil Plait? Adam Savage? Alan Guth? Paul Matt Sutter? Fraser Caine?
Y’all are good… right?