Category: Reblogs

Being Logical About Difficult Topics

The following post is a partial reblog from Science 2.0, written by Hontas Farmer. Farmer has taken a look at the information reported in the Geoff Marcy Title Ix Report, using “the Reasonable Person” lens. 

 

From December 24, 2015:

Geoff Marcy soon to be retired Professor of Astronomy at UC Berkley.  Pioneer of the search for exoplanets accused serial sexual harasser and perverse sexual assaulter was tried by media this year*.  Now more documents have been released. The problem with trial by media is that accusations often equal guilt.  That is the hallmark of a witch trial, that is the hallmark of a lynch mob, and no one should be lynched in the 21stcentury.  Especially now that social media makes it so easy to jump on the pile.   We can do better than that by giving both sides a chance to be heard.

….

In 2015 we are now in a place where a woman can allege sexual harassment, abuse, assault, etc and the default state of mind is to believe her until clear and convincing evidence prove otherwise.   We are now in a place where many times a “trial”in the court of public opinion or at best some sort of administrative process substitutes for any form of actual court hearing.    So let’s make a real trial of this and present the other side of the case of Geoff Marcy.   I was very hard on Geoff Marcy when this came out while affording him the presumption of innocence.

I am a person of color in the United States of AmericaAs such, I have been accused of things I did not or could not have done in the past.  When that has happened all I asked for was fairness. So in the spirit of our constitution, and the golden rule do unto others as you would have them do unto you…

….

Preponderance of evidence.

Reaction to my original article on this matter often made mention of the finding he did it by thepreponderance of the  evidence.  Reading the actual text of the finding I am really troubled by the “logic” used to reach that conclusion.

This is on page 44 of the full documentation in relation to the “crotch grab” and is proceeded by the investigator saying the accuser had no witnesses but could remember specifics*.

I found that Respondent’s reaction to this allegation lacked credibility. He did not entertain the possibility that he touched the student in any manner, including how he admittedly touched other students in the past. He distinguished Complainant 3 as someone whom he did not know, so therefore, not potentially subject to knee pats or other touching. Likewise, he characterized the behavior as that which he “would never have an interest in,” despite its congruency (arguably an extreme example) with other reported unwanted advances. Based on the preponderance of the evidence, I find it more likely than not that Respondent acted as reported by Complainant 3.

Focus on this.

Likewise, he characterized the behavior as that which he “would never have an interest in,” despite its congruency (arguably an extreme example) with other reported unwanted advances.

SO in this Title IX investigators mind the simple fact he was accused of things like hugging, a kiss on the forehead (like one might do to a small child), supposedly staring at a female student’s backside as she walked into the classroom, and giving a drunk student a ride home …. Means he more likely than not touched someone’s crotch?

That’s total BS nonsense.   That is like saying if you would get into a fist fight with one person that means if you are accused of shooting someone else you more likely than not did it.   That logic is …..not even logical. Proof is not just a sum of accusations.

What could Geoff Marcy have done differently…. Assuming for the moment he is innocent?

I practice preventative legal defense. It is my policy to document every interaction personal, private, or education with anyone in some form.

As a person of color if I enter certain stores I will be followed around as if I must be there to steal something  (MSNBC Anchor Tamron Hall, Neil DeGrasse Tyson).  As a person of color if I drive my new car through certain areas I may be stopped by the police, just because, and asked to present papers (Chris Rock talking about it).  As a person of color I cataloged a number of incidents regarding being #blackoncampus one of which had a campus officer at one of the schools I teach at instantly react to my entering a faculty lounge as if he was ready to shoot as soon as I opened the door.   Because of things like this I either I save documents and photos, or I make sure there are neutral witnesses, or at the very least I document my interactions in a journalWhen I have a meeting with anyone I tend to send an email or letter documenting my understanding of what was said.   That may sound paranoid but…I’ll bet Dr. Marcy wishes he had some of those now.

I know we are supposed to presume innocence.  I know that in practical terms one must prove innocence.

It is not enough to not break the rules; you have to PROVE that you did not break the rules.  Alternatively,if you do break a rule you can only be punished for what can be proven.

What should colleges and universities do differently?

Use the legal system to handle these things.

We have courts that are criminal, civil, and which address domestic issues such as stalking, harassment, etc.  Those tribunals are competent to hear such cases, consider evidence, and establish the credibility of witnesses.  The objection given to doing this is that then victims might not come forward.  Only people who think real court is like an episode of Law and Order SVU would think that.  In real court the accuser need not face the accused unless there is a criminal trial.  A sworn written statement, an affidavit can suffice to bring charges and have a potentially dangerous predator removed from campus via a restraining order with the full force of law.

University and College officials should serve as advocates for the accuser to get justice via the courts. Then they have to respect the decisions and orders of the court.   The accused will have all their legal rights protected through the whole process.

Let us not forget a university is much more like a town.  Students are taxed in the form of tuition to belong to a community that engages in certain activities that can lead to a credential.  If a student is deprived of the freedom to engage in those activities, they will lose a large investment of money in addition to any other legal sanctions.

A faculty member like Dr. Marcy would stand to lose tenure, promotion, and funding in addition to their freedom for a very serious allegation like sexual assault.

The legal system can take a person’s freedom.  The legal system has done it on the weight of an accusation based on a dream and only after over 28 years reversed that.   The legal system is not easy on the accused because even if they beat the charges it will cost thousands or tens of thousands in legal fees.

What of sensitivity towards victims in the legal based campus system I envision?

If the prospect of swearing out a statement is worse than sexual assault to someone … doubt them.  I don’t buy that in this day and in this age, or even 8 – 10 years ago a young woman could not accuse a man of sexual harassment.

Allow me to remind you, dear reader, of what was going on in the late 1990’s and early-mid 2000’s when much of what Dr. Marcy is accused of was taking place.

The late 90’s and early to mid 2000’s were the heyday of sexual harassment law.

  • This time period was hot on the heels of the Clarence Thomas hearings which were all about the allegations that he sexually harassed Anita Hill. It was on every TV Channel.
  • There were President Clinton’s troubles with Paula Jones and then Monica Lewinsky and almost being impeached because of it.  A woman accused a president of harassing her, and due to political motives and perjury Bill Clinton was almost removed from office.
  • In the very late 90’s and early 2000’s “Ally McBeal” was super popular.  That show was all about a single, short skirt wearing, dangerously thin, female lawyer being harassed by men she did not want and wanting a man she could not have. In an office with a unisex public toilet (and they even had THREE episodes that dealt more sensitively with transgender issues in 1999-2000 than most TV shows do now.)
  • In 2007 almost a decade ago a five year old boy was accused of sexually harassing a teacher because he hugged her.

Anyone old enough to have watched and understood “Ally McBeal”, or remembered the Clarence Thomas hearings, or the Clinton sex scandal(s) would know the gist of it.  Women were very empowered to accuse men, even powerful ones of sexual harassment.

….

Conclusion:

If the media is going to try people as if it is a court,then the media has to accept the responsibility of telling both sides of these stories with equal vigor.

My gut feeling is that between Geoff Marcy being a wanton Hannibal Lecter like predator, and a guy who just likes to hug the truth is in the middle.  He did much of what he was accused of, most of which are innocuous things.  He supposedly noticed a student’s backside, had lunch with research students, and spoke to some at a cocktail reception at a meeting of the AAS.  (In which case every student who attends a conference is a victim.)

The pendulum has swung back in favor of female accusers in cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.  For a long time, the deck was stacked against them   If we let accusations stand as if they are proof in and of themselves then we are as guilty of mob justice as those who lynched people of 1600’s Salem. (I guarantee that at least one comment on this article will say that I am “defending” Geoff Marcy simply by trying to be fair. )

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Thinking about Geoff Marcy

The following post is a partial reblog from Astronomy Topic of the Day, written by T. Madigan. Madigan has been the recipient of social media abuse for his comments.  They are reposted here with our support.

From October 18, 2015:

Unsolicited or unwanted personal contact is never ok, regardless of the individual’s position or status. Over a ten year period between 2001 and 2010, there were four documented cases that Berkeley’s Office of Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination investigated. The investigation focused on complaints of professional misconduct where Dr. Marcy was alleged to have behaved in a manner unbecoming of his title and standing at the university. The complaints included unsolicited and unwanted groping, a charge Dr. Marcy denies, having been reported 8 years after it supposedly occurred, innuendo, comments, and other overtures. Any actions where uninvited personal contact is made, often referred to as sexual harassment, a violation of US Title IX provisions is possible. Two of the complainants have changed career pursuits, citing certain irreconcilable effects Dr. Marcy’s actions had on them. The other complaints concerned Dr. Marcy behaving in an “overtly friendly” manner towards junior female colleagues and frank discussions about sex with a senior-level undergraduate over coffee in a public setting. It should be noted that this was a meeting that she arranged with Dr. Marcy, a meeting during which she steered the conversation away from astronomy. It should also be noted that this would not be the first of such meetings that she would arrange. To be clear, however, none of these cases involved sexual assault nor were any of the complainants students of Dr. Marcy’s! Sexual assault or assault of any kind is a serious crime, right up there with rape. If Dr. Marcy were guilty of sexual assault, he wouldn’t be preoccupied with recovering from the train wreck that is now his professional life, he would be either under arrest or in prison.

Anyone who decides to change their careers because of such actions was never committed to the profession in the first place since the field transcends any single individual or their actions. This is a red-herring used by those who have taken this affair to another level, who have disregarded the appropriate measures and sanctions already in place, who are obsessed with the personal destruction of Geoff Marcy and simply consumed with vengeance.

His actions were first reported in a Buzzfeed article and not by the department chair. That article was then followed by a piece in the New York Times by Dennis Overbye. While the university conducted its own internal investigation into the allegations, the department chair kept the news close to his chest, an action many have criticized him for. These actions, nonetheless, were wholly appropriate and consistent with a key aspect of our democracy, the presumption of innocence and the right to confront your accuser.

The response to Dr. Marcy’s actions by his detractors were extreme and wholly disproportionate to what he did. After concluding their investigation into the allegations, finding in favor of the complainants, the university’s attempt at a mediated solution didn’t satisfy. The administration provided a measured, reasoned and wholly appropriate response, complete with clearly defined directives and zero-tolerance sanctions if Dr. Marcy were to breach any terms of the new accord or the standing policy of the university with regard to sexual harassment. This solution was insufficient, not for the four complainants who originally came forward but for the cadre of individuals who were now out for blood! What did Dr. Marcy do to them? It was as though Dr. Geoff Marcy was guilty of murdering little old ladies, their grandmothers, their pet canary or torturing puppies or kittens on national television. There were four documented cases over a 10 year period, a period that ended in 2010. That would be an incident every 2.5 years. There were rumors of other incidents but, at this point, those would be considered hearsay in a court of law. Unfortunately, a court of law never got to decide Geoff’s fate and cooler heads did not prevail; he is now the victim of a mob mentality. Hundreds, literally, hundreds of highly educated professionals behaving like a mob; who would have thought? One has to wonder why now, why after 5 years since the date of the last reported incident in 2010, did this come to light? Could it be jealousy? Could it be pure altruism for the good of the profession; could it be that a new found nobility has emerged towards the plight of victims of sexual harassment or sexual violence, women in astronomy or women in general? I don’t think so; for a few, yes, but for the majority, no! The majority pounced on a wounded individual, a vulnerable individual; they did what is done in the jungle and on the open plains of Africa by packs of hyenas and lions, they attacked an individual who is wounded and vulnerable.

Having been the victim of character assassination based on lies, rumors and completely baseless and unfounded allegations at a regional university, I am particularly sensitive to this issue and have a very strong opinion. Granted, the allegations against Geoff are documented, the effects are the same. My situation didn’t have the same outcome as Geoff’s and I have since recovered in part and have moved on but, nonetheless, it is very difficult to rebuild one’s reputation once destroyed. The recipients of Geoff’s indiscretions will survive and recover if they haven’t done so already with some of them having established their own productive careers in a field of their choosing.

My question to those who now delight in Geoff’s demise, to those who have expected to feel vindicated, are you happy? How does it feel? Has it been worth ruining an individual’s life and career over? Has it been good for astronomy? Did you get your pound of flesh or do you still want more? I can tell you how you feel; you probably feel vaguely empty and somewhat ambivalent, right? Was it worth it? Ask yourself, would Carl Sagan have signed on with you? I address these questions to, among others, Dr. John Johnson of Harvard University. As stated in your strongly worded and vitriolic blog post, Dr. Marcy was your graduate adviser, one would expect a certain modicum of loyalty to the one who mentored and taught you. You now find it perfectly fine to see your adviser, colleague, mentor and teacher burn. I also pose the same question to the faculty at UC Berkeley’s Department of Astronomy, Geoff’s colleagues many of whom signed a letter calling for his dismissal and the hundreds of signers calling for Geoff’s ouster, most of whom probably never met him and to whom he did no harm.

That the university responds now to complaints made between 5 and 15 years ago on the heels of receiving a $100 million grant from Yuri Milner to fund the Breakthrough Listen project with Dr. Marcy as a principal investigator, is dubious. That with his resignation from Berkeley’s Astronomy Department, goes his appointment as a PI on the project; that one of the women often cited in the articles and one who has intimate knowledge of the allegations made against Dr. Marcy, Dr. Joan Schmelz, is a program officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Interim Director at Arecibo Radio Observatory; that she is in a position of authority at both NSF and Arecibo and decides who receives telescope time and funding; that this smacks of a breathtaking conflict of interest goes without saying; that Arecibo is not yet a key node for the project when, by all accounts, it should be; that the project is still open to partnering with the giant radio telescope if a certain legal poison pill related to cash woes at NSF can be worked out, something that Schmelz would have intimate knowledge of given her role at NSF; that Dr. Geoff Marcy was to take a leading rolein the Breakthrough Listen project, a career enhancement anyone would covet, at a time when these “allegations” surfaced is quite dubious. The deeper you dig, the clearer it becomes that this whole affair has very little to do with Geoff’s minor indiscretions and more to do with something much darker and more odious.

Famous people attract detractors and they anger others on their way up the ladder. Some become jealous of others success with sexual harassment being a real issue. However, the disproportionate response to admittedly inappropriate behavior of touching junior colleagues on the shoulder or giving them a hug goodbye is far out of bounds; mob mentality prevails.

I would suggest that the matter concerning Dr. Geoff Marcy could have been handled quite differently, more in accordance with the sage words of the late, great Car Sagan who exhorted all of us to treat each other more with kindness, mercy and forgiveness, rather than with the alternative: “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known”. In my view, these words are quite fitting in light of what has happened. Geoff has more than paid the price for his actions, transgressions made impulsively perhaps and without forethought; generally these kinds of actions are made without much forethought. The university’s mediated solution could have achieved more traction if it included provisions for mandatory therapy to address Geoff’s unprofessional behavior. Out of professional charity and respect for a fellow colleague, the Astronomy Department should have sought better for Geoff. In light of all that he has contributed to astronomy, is this to be his legacy? Is this how history will remember him? That many who had called him “colleague” signed the letter calling for his dismissal and suggesting that he is unfit to teach is shameful.

Is loyalty one of those virtues from a bygone era? Geoff’s career is over along with whatever fruits the rest of it would have yielded for us and for posterity. As we are all students of the universe and the natural world, as that is what we do, we continuously study and learn. It is disappointing that you haven’t learned one of the most essential lessons that an authentic study of science and the universe has to offer, humility, as said so well by Carl Sagan. It is as much ironic as it is disappointing, given that Geoff would have played a key role in the Breakthrough Listen project, a project Carl Sagan would have wholeheartedly endorsed and supported. In your grand quest to obtain some sense of justice, projected vicariously through the four individuals whose cases this entire affair is based on, you have missed the most basic lesson. I ask you again, was it worth it? Where is your humility?