Astronomer, pop science icon, and general blowhard Neil DeGrasse Tyson seems to have his own very real #MeToo problem.
It all started last week when noted investigative journal Patheos ran a story with rather detailed and on-the-record allegations by some of Tyson’s former colleagues.
The groping incident allegedly took place at an after-party following the AAS meeting in 2009, which took place in Long Beach. This was supposed to be a lighthearted social event to show that astronomers could have fun, according to Dr. Allers.
“Tyson was there, and he was dancing and drinking and all of that at the party, so a friend and I decided to get pictures with him,” she told me.
But after the first picture was taken (above, left), Tyson decided to explore Dr. Allers’ tattoo. It features a realistic solar system that stretches from her arm to her back and collar bone area.
“After we had taken the picture, he noticed my tattoo and kind of grabbed me to look at it, and was really obsessed about whether I had Pluto on this tattoo or not… and then he looked for Pluto, and followed the tattoo into my dress.”
Dr. Allers said her experience was public and didn’t rise to the level of assault, but that it did show Tyson was capable of some “creepy behavior.”
“My experience with him is he’s not someone who has great respect for female bodily autonomy,” she told me in a phone interview.
Creepy is definitely a word that reappears in this saga.
As if this allegation wasn’t shocking enough, it came within days of my interview with Ashley Watson, a former assistant to Tyson who says she was forced to quit her job due to his inappropriate sexual advances.
Specifically, Watson said Tyson occasionally made “misogynistic comments,” and that he kept a list of overweight actresses on his phone to prove that women aren’t inhibited by portrayals in the media when it comes to health and fitness. He allegedly said it was untrue that women feel pressured to be skinny based on societal standards.
A list of fat actresses on his phone? Mother of pearl.
Watson says she had been working directly under Tyson, who called out Trump in 2016 by saying he would grab him by the crotch when they met, and that they got along well. 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.
She says Tyson soon brought out a cutting board and a knife to cut blocks of cheese that he decided they would share. But before slicing the snack, he allegedly gestured toward her with the knife and made a comment about stabbing.
Watson says she took the comment as a bad joke, but it’s important to note that this type of “joke” is exactly what people in power need to keep in mind when dealing with subordinates. And it set the stage for a night filled with subtle intimidation and sexual advances.
I can’t think of anything more un-seductive than a bestockinged Neil DeGrasse Tyson hacking away at a chunk of cheese while wearing a wife-beater t-shirt, but a guy of his age does this kind of thing because it has proven successful for him in the past. You have to know the market you are selling to. Bit it gets better:
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.
Watson says Tyson asked her if she needed any releases, and she responded with a story about sexual harassment she endured in the past. It was a smart way to diffuse a tense situation, but she says he was unfazed.
“It was like talking to a wall,” Watson said.
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.
When she broke off the awkward and incredibly intimate handshake, which he allegedly said represented a “spirit connection,” she attempted to just get up and leave.
Tyson then allegedly put his hands on her shoulders, and said he wanted to hug her, but if he did, he’d “just want more.”
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.”
Yes, this is bizarre in general and in all of its specifics. The very bizarreness of the encounter says it is probably true as if you were making up a plausible lie, you’d never tell this story.
And none of this would be complete without an allegation so old and nebulous that it can’t be proven or disproven.
A woman says famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson drugged and raped her when they were both grad students in 1984, and you’re about to hear her tell the story in her own words.
Her name is Tchiya Amet, and she’s a musician who once studied Galactic Astronomy in the graduate program at University of Texas in Austin. Amet says Tyson slipped her a “Mickey,” a drug used to incapacitate victims of sexual assault, and caused her to drop out of school.
Until the alleged incident, Amet — who reportedly changed her name from Staci Hambric — says she was on track to becoming the world’s first black female astronaut. But afterward, she dropped out of the program, suffered from PTSD, and sought therapy repeatedly.
…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.
I’m waiting to see if “I’m sorry you were offended” works here.
The second story is also true, though his explanation doesn’t make things better:
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.
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.
And the last story?
… 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…
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.
Ah, yes, the “she’s a nutter” defense. The irony here, as Sean Davis points out, is that Tyson, himself, has been noted to make up memories:
That's not what he claimed when he got busted for being a serial quote fabricator. At that time, he arrogantly claimed that the total lack of evidence for any of his assertions wasn't sufficient to reject them. https://t.co/1Ipi8yKhG9
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) December 3, 2018
So Fox and National Geographic are undertaking an investigation of the allegations. My prediction: nothing happens to him and he goes on with his bullsh** career of making stuff up because he is too prominent on the left to be taken down.
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