On Friday, November 29th, three women accused physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson of sexual misconduct, to include groping, misogynistic comments and full-blown rape. Given Tyson’s celebrity status this is front page news today.
On Friday, a website called patheos gave us an article that lists the accounts of three women and their history with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Ashley Watson, an assistant to Tyson for a television show, Dr. Katelyn N. Allers, an Associate Professor at Bucknell University, and Tchiya Amet, a musician who studied with Tyson at the University of Texas (who came forth earlier in November to patheos) back in 1984. All three women tell stories that range from weird to unsettling.
In 1984, Tchiya Amet, who was named Staci Hambric at the time, talks about how she was apparently raped by Tyson after being invited to his apartment and drinking a glass of water. She awoke in his bed, naked, with Tyson on top of her.
Dr. Allers speaks of her meeting the astrophysicist in 2009 at a meeting at the American Astronomical Society. Allen and Tyson posed for two pictures together where she wore a sleeveless dress, a dress that helped show off a large tattoo of the solar system. Since Neil deGrasse Tyson is famous for denouncing Pluto’s planetary class, he was interested in seeing if it was included with the tattoo. Allers then states that Tyson “looked for Pluto, and followed the tattoo into my dress” .
Finally, Ashley Watson recalls an incident this past summer where she was with him in his home sharing wine and cheese, like you do. Watson states that Tyson stating talking about “releases” and that people need certain releases in their lives, and then asked her if there were any releases that she needed.
The first allegation is incredibly alarming, to say the least, the last two are plain weird and almost comically awkward. But I don’t take anything away from these statements, as I was not there, I can’t tell you what happened or what didn’t happen. Did Neil deGrasse Tyson rape a woman back in ’84? I don’t know. Did Tyson touch a woman inappropriately just moments after taking a picture with her? I don’t know. Did Neil actually ask a woman about “releases”, and did he really mean sex? I can’t tell you. But to his credit, Neil deGrasse Tyson is being upfront and telling his side of the story.
In a lengthy Facebook note called On Being Accused, Neil explains all three accounts from his perspective. When talking about Dr. Allers picture and tattoo, he mentions that taking pictures with fans is both a flattering, and time consuming chore. But, he was interested in her tattoo and its possible inclusion of Pluto, as he does whenever someone has a tattoo depicting the solar system; he inspects it to see if it includes Pluto. I guess in the name of science. When he mentions the incident with Ashley Watson, he mentions that she would offer him hugs constantly which he “frequently” rejected. When talking about Tchiya Amet, he talks about how many people try and fail to get their PhD ad makes a point at stating that Amet was a dropout.
While I appreciate Tyson steering into the skid and openly talking about the three accusations, or at least writing about them, what is interesting is that in his entire post on Facebook, he never once mentions the accusers by name, which is probably a way to avoid slander. But his explanations of the events in his post, makes each accusation seem like a simple misunderstanding, his misunderstanding, of human interaction. Maybe this is the truth. Maybe Tyson just didn’t understand that his words and actions could be misinterpreted in an aggressive way and everything has just gotten wildly out of hand. The crazy thing is, is that we’ll never know the truth. This comes down to opinion. He said versus she said.
While the accusations may seem strange from an outsider looking in, Tyson’s explanation of the events seems just as strange. We all know how smart Neil deGrasse Tyson is and we all know how good he is at talking. Part of his appeal is his charisma, and part of that is his gift of gab. I find it hard to believe that Neil just misread what was going on with the three women accusing him, or that they misread him. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s just hard to believe.
So why am I writing about this? I have no dog in this fight, I just recognize Neil when he shows up on the Big Bang Theory. I guess I’m sharing this because as I get older, I just have a harder and harder time knowing who I can believe in. While I haven’t followed the career of Neil deGrasse Tyson, I am sure that he is someone’s hero. I am sure that he has inspired many young people to follow their personal interest in science and forge a career for themselves. How must they feel today? I feel terrible for the strain the three women have had to go through telling their stories, and I feel bad for Tyson because he is being accused of something horrible. Something that I hope no one would have to either go through or be accused of; because there are no winners in a situation like this.
To me it seems like someone is lying. If Neil deGrasse Tyson is lying, then his career may be over and three women will have been sexually assaulted, and that never goes away. Or, the three accusers could be lying and Tyson will be fine. But I can imagine that some people will look at the famous astrophysicist and always wonder “did he?” .