Famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has written a lengthy Facebook post in response to the three women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.
Last week, Fox Entertainment Group and the producers of the television series Cosmos opened an investigation into a series of claims of sexual misconduct against Tyson, the show’s most recent host.
“The credo at the heart of ‘Cosmos’ is to follow the evidence wherever it leads,” the show’s producers said in a joint statement.
“The producers of ‘Cosmos’ can do no less in this situation. We are committed to a thorough investigation of this matter and to act accordingly as soon as it is concluded.”
The decision was prompted by a blog post published on November 29 on the website Patheos, where writer David G. McAfee highlights the cases of two women who claim to have been victims of inappropriate sexual behaviour by Tyson.
Patheos is a site self-described as a “premier online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality, and to explore and experience the world’s beliefs”.
In the post, Dr Katelyn N Allers, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Bucknell University, said she was “felt up” by Tyson in 2009 at an after-party following a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
“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 McAfee in a phone interview.
After the picture took place, Dr Allers claims the author of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry decided to explore a tattoo of the solar system that she has on her arm.
“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.”
She says the experience was public and accepts it didn’t rise to the level of assault, but argues the incident is a demonstration of the “creepy behavior” she claims Tyson is capable of.
“My experience with him is he’s not someone who has great respect for female bodily autonomy,” she said.
In his Facebook post, Tyson explains that he in no way intended the gesture to be creepy, and apologises for making Dr Allers feel uncomfortable.
“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 a 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.”
The second allegation comes from Ashley Watson, Tyson’s former personal assistant, who worked with the astrophysicist during his time on Cosmos.
Watson not only claims Tyson occasionally made “misogynistic comments”, but also said the astrophysicist – who is married and has two children – attempted to persuade her into having sex.
She specifically cites one night that Tyson invited her over to his house for wine and cheese. She claims he took off his shirt and shoes and remained in a tank top undershirt during their encounter.
“Tyson soon brought out a cutting board and a knife to cut blocks of cheese that he decided they would share,” reads McAfee’s description of Watson’s claim.
“But before slicing the snack, he allegedly gestured toward her with the knife and made a comment about stabbing.”
According to McAfee, Watson said Tyson forced her to perform a “Native American handshake” that involves extensive physical contact and eye contact.
Tyson wrote in his Facebook post that he considered Watson a friend, as they spent many hours together during the many weeks of shooting the show.
When production was wrapping up, Tyson claims he wanted to invite Watson to wine and cheese as a symbol of friendship.
“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.”
Tyson claims that at their very last meeting together, Watson told him she had felt uncomfortable on that occasion; he says he then apologised and she accepted the apology.
“I note that her final gesture to me was the offer of a hug, which I accepted as a parting friend,” Tyson said.
In 2017, a former graduate school classmate of Tyson’s accused him of drugging and raping her. Tchiya Amet, a former student of Galactic Astronomy at the University of Texas in Austin, claims Tyson slipped her a “Mickey”, which is known to be a drug used to disable victims of sexual assault. Amet claimed the alleged incident happened in 1984 when both were grad students.
Amet described the incident as part of her accusation: “I woke up in his bed; I was naked… When he saw that I had woken up, he got on top of me and mounted me, and I passed out again.”
Tyson also referred to this claim in his recent Facebook post, saying he and Amet were dating at the time.
“I had a brief relationship with a fellow astro-graduate student, from a more recent entering class,” he wrote.
“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.
“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 recognise 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.”
Tyson closes up his Facebook post accepting that as things stand at the moment, it’s his word against the testimonies of these three women. He welcomes the investigation announced by Fox and thanks those who continue supporting his work.
“Accusations can damage a reputation and a marriage. Sometimes irreversibly,” Tyson wrote.
“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.”
You can read the full Facebook post here.