No more stonewalling, NdGT


Two more women have stepped forward to recount instances of creepy behavior by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Up until now, he has just ignored the accusations by Tchiya Amet, which I think is the right thing to if the accusation is false. But now that there are further specific complaints — and these are accounts of inappropriate boundary pushing, not assault — I think he needs to step forward, explain himself, apologize to the women, and recognize that these were wrong actions that won’t be repeated.

Silence at this point is just denial, and it will look like these behaviors will be threatening to emerge again. I hope he does the right thing.

Comments

  1. DanDare says

    I’m not happy about some of the thinking there. He may have abused his position of power and fame when he allegedly raped a fellow grad student? He didn’t have that position of power and fame when he was a grad student so that’s dopey.
    That not withstanding the “Pluto bit is a bit of a creepy move and should be apologised for. What if he has no memory of the incident? Does he apologize anyway? I would but then does that magically lend weight to the tape allegation, where he used his position of power as a grad student?
    These things get fraught without some kind of reasoned boundaries. I remember a very drunk friend of my sisters during a party falling all over me asking for sex, which I declined. She passed out and I carried her to a nearby bedroom and left her there to sleep it off. What would be my defence if she remembers it differently? Sadly she died of alcoholism a few years later.

  2. says

    It’s worth noting that as more people come forward, the case against NdGT becomes stronger, but his defenders also get more fodder. When there are more incidents to choose from, it becomes easier for defenders to pick on the “weakest” incident–in this case the tattoo incident–and ignore the growing list of victims.

    Without even looking at the particulars of NdGT’s actions, if we look at the consequences, that’s two women who quit their jobs citing NdGT as a cause. One was decades ago, one was recent. This is a big deal. Even interpreting NdGT’s actions in the best possible light, this is a harm that needs accounting for.

  3. tacitus says

    I’m not happy about some of the thinking there. He may have abused his position of power and fame when he allegedly raped a fellow grad student? He didn’t have that position of power and fame when he was a grad student so that’s dopey.

    I thought that too at first, but I think what’s she’s trying to say is that her experience with him (and the way he employed his fame and celebrity with her) led her to believe it’s possible the rape allegation might be true. (i.e. not that he had fame and celebrity back then).

    It’s a single sentence quote, lifted the interview, so it’s impossible to say if the context would have clarified it.

  4. says

    Has anybody asked NDGT whether or not these accounts are true? If not, then silence does not equal denial. I have noticed, Dr. Myers, that on some of your posts you shoot first and aim later.

  5. gijoel says

    @ 4 If you read a previous post about Tchiya Amet PZ noted there was an accusation but he laid out his reasons why he didn’t believe them. One of those reasons was there weren’t other complaints or witnesses to creepy behaviour. That condition has been satisfied, so it’s not unreasonable for PZ, or any other person, to ask for an explanation/acknowledgement of NDT.

  6. lotharloo says

    I can see how an apology could be okay for the “Pluto” incident but the second one is really beyond pale.

    That all changed, however, when he invited his underling to his apartment at around 10:30 P.M. to “share a bottle of wine” and “unwind for a couple of hours.”

    Watson, who said she felt pressured to impress her superstar boss, told me she agreed to come in for a glass of wine instead. Upon entering his apartment, Tyson allegedly took off his shoes and shirt, remaining in a tank top undershirt. Unfortunately, the night only got more awkward as Tyson, who is married, reportedly put on romantic music and replayed the most graphic parts.

    Watson says Tyson started talking about how every human being needs certain “releases” in life, including physical releases. He reportedly mentioned how difficult it had been for him to be away from home for several months.

    She was getting up to leave when Neil allegedly stopped her, saying he wanted to show her a “Native American handshake” he knew. That involved holding hands tightly, making eye contact, and feeling for each other’s pulse, Watson told me.

    Watson says she left Tyson’s apartment quickly after the inappropriate sexual comments and that, the next day, she confronted him because she felt he had betrayed her as a mentor. He reportedly told her in that meeting that she’d never rise through the ranks in her career because she was too “distracting.”

    This is really very very shitty. An apology should not cut it. Fuck apologies.

  7. angela78 says

    I read the linked article. Frankly speaking, I don’t see anyhting justifying public apologies from Tyson (nor, imho, public requests for him to do so). Saturn…the “stabbing movement with a knife”, dear me…
    I want protection from violence, from power abuse, from assholes. Not from “probably inappropriate behaviour”.
    Oh, and for me I’d consider inappropriate behaviour to go at my boss’home just him and me for a bottle of wine and some “unwinding”. I’d never do that. Different thing is if he invites me at his home for work and when I get there I discovere we’re alone and he’s trying an approach with me, but this is not the case.

  8. lotharloo says

    I’d never do that.

    So it was her fault. Got it. That’s certainly a very unique perspective that I’m sure nobody around here has heard it at least a million times from a million different assholes.

  9. Saad says

    lotharloo, #9

    So it was her fault. Got it. That’s certainly a very unique perspective that I’m sure nobody around here has heard it at least a million times from a million different assholes.

    Seems to be their thing.

  10. Curious Digressions says

    I have a couple of questions for the commentariat.

    Do you think these new accusations are significant, considering his contributions to science education and communication?
    Assuming that the new accusations are true, what could NdGT do to regain your personal good regard?
    What is your threshold for evidence required to believe that he is an entitled creeper who has, in addition to the good he has done, has also treated women poorly and should be censured?

    My answers:
    1. Yes
    2. I don’t know. The standard apology/ public-statement-of-excuses falls short. I don’t think we currently have a remedy by which someone can retain good graces after being called our for being a creeper. The only thing I can think of is an as-of-yet undetermined length of time of demonstrated impeccable behavior.
    3. This seems like it varies based on how much you like, agree with, or identify with the public figure being called out. I find I need to be extra (self) critical when dismissing claims against someone with whom I agree.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    I was really hoping that Tchiya Amet accusation was just the ravings of a New Age loon with an anti-science ax to grind, but these new claims coming forth have really dashed those hopes.

    I’ve been told that we should never have heroes. I can see that. However, it’s getting to the point where it’s becoming ill-advised to have any sort of admiration for anyone.

  12. angela78 says

    @8 LykeX and to all the other trying the “you blame the victim”:
    I’m saying that it’s nobody’s fault, because there is nothing for which a fault has to be found. The description I read account to nothing at all.

  13. larpar says

    angela78 @# 15
    It was just a person of authority trying to get in the pants of a subordinate. Nothing to see here. Right?

  14. screechymonkey says

    Curious Digressions @13:

    Do you think these new accusations are significant, considering his contributions to science education and communication?

    I don’t think that “his contributions to science education and communication” have anything to do with it. (Other than the indirect sense that, if he wasn’t famous, we might not have heard about these allegations, and/or he wouldn’t have been in a position to commit the acts.)

    I hope I’m misunderstanding you and that you’re not implying that a sufficiently impressive resume should excuse sexual harassment. I don’t care if a scientist cured cancer and AIDS and developed and proved a Grand Unified Theory of physics, it wouldn’t excuse or mitigate sexual harassment or make it less “significant.”

  15. iiandyiiii says

    No heroes. Which doesn’t mean all things are the same, or every accusation is the same. But the behavior described is disgusting, IMO, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of criminal behavior (at least in my understanding). At the same time, I believe that decent people can sometimes do disgusting things, whether under the influence of substances or just being too wrapped up in themselves in a particular moment to bear the concern for others that they should. So how he responds will tell me whether he might be a decent person who (apparently) did some disgusting things, or just another famous/powerful person so wrapped up within themselves that they’re incapable of recognizing that they might have done some very bad things to others.

    Or maybe he doesn’t matter here; maybe what matters is that we listen seriously and take the accusations seriously. I’m glad this is happening in our society, it’s long overdue.

  16. says

    @angela78
    If consent matters, then power differentials are a problem. Since you seem to think they’re not a problem, it sounds like you’re saying that consent doesn’t matter.

    So, just to be clear, do you think consent matters?

  17. lotharloo says

    The funny thing about Angela78 is that I’m pretty sure he/she will also complain if women turn down any invitations from their bosses. I’m pretty sure he/she will say “The left has gone so mad and this PC culture has gotten so bad that even normal human interactions are not possible. You cannot even accept an invitation for a dinner from your boss”. But now he/she complains that “Nope she should not have gone there.”
    It’s all pathetic excuse manufacturing for the status que. There is no win, only condemnation for women.

  18. mynax says

    He responded today on Facebook.
    https://www.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/on-being-accused/10156870826326613/

    On Being Accused

    NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON·SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2018

    For a variety of reasons, most justified, some unjustified, men accused of sexual impropriety in today’s “me-too” climate are presumed to be guilty by the court of public opinion. Emotions bypass due-process, people choose sides, and the social media wars begin.

    In any claim, evidence matters. Evidence always matters. But what happens when it’s just one person’s word against another’s, and the stories don’t agree? That’s when people tend to pass judgment on who is more credible than whom. And that’s when an impartial investigation can best serve the truth – and would have my full cooperation to do so.
    I’ve recently been publically accused of sexual misconduct. These accusations have received a fair amount of press in the past forty-eight hours, unaccompanied by my reactions. In many cases, it’s not the media’s fault. I declined comment on the grounds that serious accusations should not be adjudicated in the press. But clearly I cannot continue to stay silent. So below I offer my account of each accusation.

    The 2009 Incident

    I am asked by thousands of people per year to take pictures with them. A flattering, time consuming, but delightful chore. As many in my fan-base can attest, I get almost giddy if I notice you’re wearing cosmic bling – clothing or jewelry or tattoos that portray the universe, either scientifically or artistically. And I make it a priority to point out these adornments for the photograph.

    A colleague at a well attended, after-conference, social gathering came up to me to ask for a photograph. She was wearing a sleeveless dress with a tattooed solar system extending up her arm. 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. As we all know, I have professional history with the demotion of Pluto, which had occurred officially just three years earlier. So whether people include it or not in their tattoos is of great interest to me. I was reported to have “groped” her by searching “up her dress”, when this was simply a search under the covered part of her shoulder of the sleeveless dress.

    I only just learned (nine years after) that she thought this behavior creepy. That was never my intent and I’m deeply sorry to have made her feel that way. Had I been told of her discomfort in the moment, I would have offered this same apology eagerly, and on the spot. In my mind’s eye, I’m a friendly and accessible guy, but going forward, I can surely be more sensitive to people’s personal space, even in the midst of my planetary enthusiasm.

    Summer 2018 Incident

    While filming this past summer, I had a (female) Production Assistant assigned to me, to ensure, among her countless tasks, that every ounce of my energy was efficiently allocated to the production needs of the show. As part of this, she was also my driver, to and from the studio, ensuring that I arrive on time. In the car we would review details of the shoot and she would help me anticipate parts of the shoot to come. Across the many weeks of shooting she and I spent upwards of a hundred hours in one-on-one conversation. We became so friendly that we talked about all manner of subjects, even social-personal ones, like the care of aging parents, sibling relationships, life in high school and college, hometown hobbies, race, gender, and so forth. We also discussed less-personal topics in abundance, like rock lyrics, favorite songs in various musical genres, concert experiences, etc. And we also talked about food – I’m kind of a foodie, and her fiancé was a chef. In short, we had a fun, talkative friendship.

    She is a talented, warm and friendly person — excellent traits for morale on a high pressure production. Practically everyone she knows on set gets a daily welcome-hug from her. I expressly rejected each hug offered frequently during the Production. But in its place I offered a handshake, and on a few occasions, clumsily declared, “If I hug you I might just want more.” My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection.

    In the final week of shooting, with just a few days left, as a capstone of our friendship, I invited her to wine & cheese at my place upon dropping me off from work. No pressure. I serve wine & cheese often to visitors. And I even alerted her that others from the production were gathering elsewhere that evening, so she could just drop me off and head straight there or anywhere elsewhere. She freely chose to come by for wine & cheese and I was delighted. In the car, we had started a long conversation that could continue unabated. Production days are long. We arrived late, but she was on her way home two hours later.
    Afterwards, she came into my office to told me she was creeped out by the wine & cheese evening. She viewed the invite as an attempt to seduce her, even though she sat across the wine & cheese table from me, and all conversation had been in the same vein as all other conversations we ever had.

    Further, I never touched her until I shook her hand upon departure. On that occasion, I had offered a special handshake, one I learned from a Native elder on reservation land at the edge of the Grand Canyon. You extend your thumb forward during the handshake to feel the other person’s vital spirit energy — the pulse. I’ve never forgotten that handshake, and I save it in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.

    At that last meeting in my office, I apologized profusely. She accepted the apology. And I assured her that had I known she was uncomfortable, I would have apologized on the spot, ended the evening, and possibly reminded her of the other social gathering that she could attend. She nonetheless declared it her last day, with only a few days left of production.
    I note that her final gesture to me was the offer of a hug, which I accepted as a parting friend.

    Early 1980s

    I entered astrophysics graduate school directly out of college in 1980. It’s a grueling adventure-marathon, and many people do not finish the PhD. In fact, it was not uncommon for half the admitted students to leave after two or three years, finding some other kind of work in their lives. While in graduate school I had several girlfriends, one of whom would become my wife of thirty years, a mathematical physicist — we met in Relativity class. Over this time I had a brief relationship with a fellow astro-graduate student, from a more recent entering class. I remember being intimate only a few times, all at her apartment, but the chemistry wasn’t there. So the relationship faded quickly. There was nothing otherwise odd or unusual about this friendship.

    I didn’t see much of her after that time. Our student offices were on different floors of the building and we were not in the same classes. A few years later, I ran into her, pregnant, with who I think was the father by her side. That’s when I had learned that she dropped out of graduate school. Again, this is not itself an unusual fact, but I nonetheless wished her well in motherhood and in whatever career path would follow.

    More than thirty years later, as my visibility-level took another jump, I read a freshly posted blog accusing me of drugging and raping a woman I did not recognize by either photo or name. Turned out to be the same person who I dated briefly in graduate school. She had changed her name and lived an entire life, married with children, before this accusation.
    For me, what was most significant, was that in this new life, long after dropping out of astrophysics graduate school, she was posting videos of colored tuning forks endowed with vibrational therapeutic energy that she channels from the orbiting planets. As a scientist, I found this odd. Meanwhile, according to her blog posts, the drug and rape allegation comes from an assumption of what happened to her during a night that she cannot remember. 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.

    I note that this allegation was used as a kind of solicitation-bait by at least one journalist to bring out of the woodwork anybody who had any encounter with me that left them uncomfortable.

    Overview

    I’m the accused, so why believe anything I say? Why believe me at all?

    That brings us back to the value of an independent investigation, which FOX/NatGeo (the networks on which Cosmos and StarTalk air) announced that they will conduct. I welcome this.

    Accusations can damage a reputation and a marriage. Sometimes irreversibly. I see myself as loving husband and as a public servant – a scientist and educator who serves at the will of the public. I am grateful for the support I’ve received from those who continue to respect and value me and my work.

    Respectfully submitted, Neil deGrasse Tyson, New York City

  19. angela78 says

    @20 LykeX
    Power differentials is not a problem: it’s what you encounter every day of your life. It’s part of human interaction. It only becomes a problem when someone uses it to get “consent” (or to avoid refusal of). And this is not what happened here.

    @21 lotharloo
    If you enjoy so much making statements I never made on behalf of me, in order to be able to mock them, I can give you my account credentials here. It would me much easier for you, just let me know.

  20. snuffcurry says

    Since it’s duplicated here, some choice weaseling:

    In any claim, evidence matters. Evidence always matters. But what happens when it’s just one person’s word against another’s, and the stories don’t agree?

    People’s “word” is evidence and he is describing what, 95-ish percent of the time, an accusation of sexual abuse always looks like. Somebody says it happened to them and the person they say did it says it didn’t.

    Note that this is from his opening remarks, before he addresses each individual accusation. Since he agrees that the first two encounters with Katelyn Allers and Ashley Watson did happen–and there are photographs in the case of Watson, of course–but does not agree that his behavior during them constitute harassment, this appeal to “evidence” and “credibility” is aimed primarily at one person, Tchiya Amet, whose character and habits are the subject of more lengthy discussion. Allers is faulted for not addressing him in the moment and Watson, in his mind, sent mixed messages.

    It’s also strange not to address these women by name, by the way. It’s a subtle way of dehumanizing them, even if that is not his intention.

    And that’s when an impartial investigation can best serve the truth – and would have my full cooperation to do so.

    The investigation he’s talking about, by his employers, cannot be said to be “impartial,” is part and parcel of corporate ass-covering to ensure that he never did anything untowards to other employees and contractors while they were paying him, and carries no legal or definitive weight. How is this going to happen? Who’s to say his victims will cooperate and, if they don’t, will the investigations acknowledge that their conclusion, if any is offered, is incomplete? What is he being investigated of having done? How are they defining their terms? What is the range of consequences for being found culpable? Is he going to be involved in shaping the investigation? These questions are irrelevant, of course, because nobody who matters has asked for an investigation and we know how these things play out and why they’re conducted in the first place and it is not in the service of any victims.

    While in graduate school I had several girlfriends, one of whom would become my wife of thirty years, a mathematical physicist — we met in Relativity class. Over this time I had a brief relationship with a fellow astro-graduate student, from a more recent entering class.

    Lots of words to say he had relationships with peers while trying to undercut future suggestions that he might have abused his power over a younger student.

    A few years later, I ran into her, pregnant, with who I think was the father by her side

    No reason to mention “the father” but to dogwhistle about single or unmarried parents.

    That’s when I had learned that she dropped out of graduate school. Again, this is not itself an unusual fact, but I nonetheless wished her well in motherhood and in whatever career path would follow.

    What is “nonetheless” trying to do there, I wonder.

    More than thirty years later, as my visibility-level took another jump, I read a freshly posted blog accusing me of drugging and raping a woman I did not recognize by either photo or name.

    Incredibly dishonest about the chronology here, implying this woman only came out of the woodwork to capitalize on/exploit his hard-won success.

    I note that this allegation was used as a kind of solicitation-bait by at least one journalist to bring out of the woodwork anybody who had any encounter with me that left them uncomfortable.

    More chronology fiddling, again indicating a shakedown or an attempt by a third party to elevate themselves by way of his coattails without saying so because it didn’t happen. There’s nothing remotely unethical or peculiar about a journalist doing background on a story, of course. For all his intimate knowledge and mildly warm feelings for it, he is very conveniently ignorant about the inner workings of #MeToo. We’ve arrived at a conspiracy.

    She had changed her name and lived an entire life, married with children, before this accusation.

    Irrelevant, no statute of limitations on writing blogposts about one’s past, no deadline to decide you’ve kept a secret hidden long enough. Again, exactly how trauma is processed. It can take years. It can take decades.

    As a scientist, I found this odd.

    Nobody cares. Shambolic appeal to authority.

    Over-all shoddy job, which is largely what he produces when he strays from his expertise. He makes a point of mentioning his successes in life, which, while gratifying in themselves, have also yielded financial fruit. He could easily have afforded a PR person to do this for him, but his judgment is bad here and he probably doesn’t recognize that this is serious enough to throw some money at it. Another example of a man in over his head but convinced his iron-clad “rationality” will see him through and that nobody is more qualified than him to respond to this in a way that doesn’t produce splash damage and engage in victim-blaming and ableism.

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