News People ‘Evidence matters’: Neil deGrasse Tyson welcomes inquiry into sexual misconduct allegations

‘Evidence matters’: Neil deGrasse Tyson welcomes inquiry into sexual misconduct allegations

American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, in New York in October, has responded to the claims. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Renowned US astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says he will “welcome” an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations made by three women against him.

In a lengthy Facebook post, the 60-year-old Cosmos and StarTalk star on Sunday defended himself against the claims of rape, misogynistic comments and inappropriate sexual advances – two of which he described as “benign” while suggesting the most serious claim of rape did not occur.

The investigation by the Fox and National Geographic networks comes after the Patheos website published an article detailing accusations of sexual misconduct from two women against the award-wining science communicator.

The article alleged Dr Katelyn N Allers of Bucknell University said Dr deGrasse Tyson groped her at an event in 2009.

Another woman, Ashley Watson, also claimed in the article she quit her former job as his assistant in response to repeated inappropriate sexual advances he made toward her.

The allegations surfaced a year after musician Tchiya Amet claimed Dr deGrasse Tyson raped her when they were graduate students.

Neil deGrasse Tyson and educator Bill Nye in New York in January 2017. Photo: Getty

In his post, Dr deGrasse Tyson said “evidence matters” in the ‘Me Too’ era when accused men are presumed guilty “by the court of public opinion”.

“Evidence always matters. But what happens when it’s just one person’s word against another’s, and the stories don’t agree?” Dr deGrasse Tyson wrote.

“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 co-operation to do so.”

Maintaining he “cannot continue to stay silent”, Dr deGrasse Tyson said he had declined comment over 48 hours “on the grounds that serious accusations should not be adjudicated in the press”.

Of the 2009 incident, Dr deGrasse Tyson said his colleague at a post-conference gathering was wearing a sleeveless dress with a “tattooed solar system extending up her arm”.

“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,” he posted.

“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 behaviour 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.”

As for the summer 2018 incident, he said he spent “upwards of a hundred hours in one-on-one conversation” across many weeks with the “talented, warm and friendly” production assistant as part of “a fun, talkative friendship”.

Dr DeGrasse Tyson said he “expressly” rejected a “daily welcome-hug from her”, instead offering 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,” he wrote.

He also said he felt an invitation to wine and cheese at his place during the final week of shooting was misconstrued.

“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.

“At that last meeting in my office, I apologised profusely. She accepted the apology. And I assured her that had I known she was uncomfortable, I would have apologised on the spot, ended the evening, and possibly reminded her of the other social gathering that she could attend.

“I note that her final gesture to me was the offer of a hug, which I accepted as a parting friend.”

Addressing the older allegation, Dr deGrasse Tyson said he’d had a brief relationship with the woman in the early 1980s when they were in graduate school but “there was nothing otherwise odd or unusual about this friendship”.

“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.”

In his overview, Dr deGrasse Tyson said he appreciated the value of an independent investigation.

“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.”