As you’ve probably heard, Neil deGrasse Tyson has been accused of, and is being investigated for, inappropriate behavior with women. Three women have made accusations of varying severity, which is starting to add up.
Tyson has made a response to the accusations. I think it’s a good one. It is the case that if you are a popular celebrity with many encounters with the public, you’ll slip up now and then and cross a boundary that someone finds inappropriate, and the question is whether you can recognize that, draw back, and apologize with some sympathy for your accuser. Tyson demonstrates that here.
I’m sure it’s even more difficult for an exuberant fellow like Tyson. I’m recalling one event where he and I met for the first time, and he rushed over and gave me a great big bear hug — more than that, we practically had a wrestling match then and there. He’s passionate and enthusiastic and unreserved with everyone, and looking back on it…what if I were more reluctant to accept physical contact? What if I’d been a woman? How would that encounter have been interpreted? I can see how his wholeheartedness is going to occasionally get him into trouble, but I don’t want a timid, reserved Neil deGrasse Tyson.
As for the three accounts: 1) the production assistant who resigned from her job over the excessive intimacy: he apologized profusely, and he did not touch her inappropriately, nor has she accused him of that. He says, “had I known she was uncomfortable, I would have apologized on the spot, ended the evening”, and they parted on good terms.
2) The woman whose tattoo he examined a bit too intensely:
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.
Isn’t that what we want, that people learn from their mistakes?
3) The Ahmet Tchiya accusations of rape: Something always seemed off about that, and Tyson admits to a relationship in grad school.
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.
That seems reasonable. This, though, is a case where a fleeting intimacy turned weird over the years.
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.
This behavior is also not unusual or exceptional or unbelievable. Barring other evidence, we have to accept it.
I also appreciate his final sentiment.
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.
What? He’s not going to throw a tantrum and sue everyone in sight? How refreshing. It is also how an innocent man would respond to an accusation.
Unless the investigation uncovers something truly sordid, I’m satisfied that Tyson wants to make amends, and is simply a guy who is perhaps a bit more exuberant than most. I’d accept a hug from him anytime, although maybe he needs to learn to ask permission first.
OK, he definitely needs to learn to respect boundaries more.