Christian Ott was a Caltech astrophysicist who was suspended for a year and ultimately resigned over accusations of sexual harassment. As is usual, the university was close-mouthed about the details — gotta protect the reputation of the institution first and foremost! — but now a former employee of Ott dishes out all the details. Handmer was fired so there might be a hint of disgruntlement here, but since he was fired for the petty detail of keeping his bicycle in his office, I think the circumstances themselves suggest that Ott was a rather nasty tyrant.
He also points out some of the failings of the media reporting on it. One problem was the tendency to report Ott’s unwanted relationships with students as “failed romances”, when they were entirely one-sided, constructed entirely out of Ott’s unrequited harassment. Lesson one: harassment is not at all romantic.
Lesson two is about self-serving myths.
The other failure of secondary reporting was lazy references to the mythical trope of the genius asshole. That is, the stereotype of a professional scientist who is both intellectually brilliant and, in compensation, socially clueless or even mean-spirited. Despite propagation in popular culture such as the Big Bang Theory, there is no evidence that links these two traits in the real world. Nor did the reporting provide any evidence that Ott was particularly brilliant, or have any excuse for social cluelessness. I find these tropes particularly corrosive since their primary application seems to be in inflating the perceived quality of a senior researcher’s work, who themselves compensates for relatively poor performance by taking it out on their powerless underlings. This same trope came into play in reporting on Andy Rubin’s departure from Google.
A lot of the long essay is about the failure of accountability and how university bureaucrats worked hard to bury the stories, which is how Ott managed to get employed and survive a huge number of complaints. What happens when you build an institution, like academia, on policies that shelter assholes? It fills up with assholes.