AAS Investigating Members?: Open Letter to the AAS Council

The following post provides the content of an Open Letter sent to the AAS Council, AAS AEB, and many AAS Committee members, by The Astronomy Underground (January 19, 2016).


Open Letter to the AAS AEB and AAS Leadership:

Through the AAS CSWA blog and the evidence revealed in the Geoff Marcy Title IX report, it has become clear that 1) AAS Committees have actively sought out information that might incriminate AAS members and 2) AAS Committees have interfered in and manipulated the affairs of university departments.

The Constitution of the AAS and the charges given to these committees make it clear that 1) Council has no mandate to engage in such actions, and that 2) the Committees are going beyond their scope.

The open public records release of Marcy documents and the AAS CSWA blog make it clear that Council cannot be ignorant of these actions. Council’s legal responsibility as Board members of a non-profit organization should make it clear to everyone that 1) Council is responsible for the oversight of the Committees of the AAS, 2) negligence is no excuse for wrongdoing, and 3) individual Council members are liable if their actions cause damage to the Society or to its members.

The January 2, 2016 letter from Timothy Slater makes it clear that Council was knowledgeable, and that Council was formally asked to address their lack of supervision/negligence of supervision of their Committees. Council has failed to respond.

On January 16, 2016, The Astronomy Underground posted emails that were leaked out of the AAS CSWA/AAS AEB social justice movement. It was revealed that AAS is again being used as a means to gather incriminating evidence about its members. Kim Coble of the AEB was listed as the point of contact for the AEB.

The Astronomy Underground also transmitted that the AAS was aware of this and is in the motions of creating a letter disavowing these efforts.

At this point, the AAS Council has been aware of what its Committees are doing for months. Disavowing these actions, when they are being done in the name of AAS, and AAS is aware, is not credible. AAS Council has either condoned these actions or has demonstrated negligence in their duties.

We ask AAS Council and the AEB to publicly explain how these actions have been allowed to occur for so long, and with what license AAS has acted to investigate its members, damaging their careers, their personal lives, and the health of the Society in the process.

We ask AAS to publicly explain how they intend to 1) repair the damage done to those who have been “investigated” under the AAS name, 2) redirect the astronomy experience for our youngest members who have now spent their entire careers focused on these matters rather than on the science, and 3) repair the reputation of astronomy on the national landscape, for the purposes of future recruitment and funding.

Your response, or lack thereof will be posted as an update to The Real Astronomy blog, a collaboration of international astronomers. We are concerned about the junior-astronomer and AAS focus on social engineering over the business of advancing our science.

-The Astronomy Underground


Open Letter to AAS Council

Update:  The following open letter was sent to the AAS Council by Timothy Slater on January 2, 2016, ten days before his twelve year old sexual harassment report was released to the media.
As of January 17, 2016, the AAS Council has not responded to the letter’s request for clarification of AAS policy.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Timothy Frederick Slater <tslater@uwyo.edu>
Date: Sat, Jan 2, 2016 at 11:08 AM
Subject: AAS Council: Urgent Request for New Business concerning actions of AAS CSWA affiliates
To: “meg.urry@aas.org” <meg.urry@aas.org>, “jones@aas.org” <jones@aas.org>, “kouveliotou@aas.org” <kouveliotou@aas.org>, “burns@aas.org” <burns@aas.org>, “woodward@aas.org” <woodward@aas.org>, “morrison@aas.org” <morrison@aas.org>, “aassec@aas.org” <aassec@aas.org>, “marvel@aas.org” <marvel@aas.org>, “cowley@aas.org” <cowley@aas.org>, “liu@aas.org” <liu@aas.org>, “clayton@aas.org” <clayton@aas.org>, “jannuzi@aas.org” <jannuzi@aas.org>, “unwin@aas.org” <unwin@aas.org>, “calzetti@aas.org” <calzetti@aas.org>, “oey@aas.org” <oey@aas.org>, “chanover@aas.org” <chanover@aas.org>
Cc: “Tim Slater (timslaterwyo@gmail.com)” <timslaterwyo@gmail.com>

Dear Elected AAS Council Members (December 7, 2015):

My name is Tim Slater and I have served two-terms on AAS Council as the elected Education Officer from 2006-2012. I am writing to you to express my grave concerns about a seeming lack of oversight and a potential legal liability due to negligence on the part of Council members.

The AAS constitutional bylaws allow for the Board, hereafter known as Council, to create committees for the purposes of advisement. This charge for Committees and Boards to serve as advisors to Council is consistent with my own experience on the AAS Council. As chair of the Astronomy Education Board, our clear mandate was to advise Council on issues related to Education, not make nor enact policy, to run programs, or to conduct investigations of the educational behaviors of members, or even to educate the AAS membership on matters related to education. Similarly, the AAS Publications Board helps Council knowledgeably manage the AAS publications; yet, they do not themselves hire editors, as that is the express domain and responsibility of Council.

However, when I survey the activities of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, hereafter CSWA, my colleagues and I are alarmed at the efforts in which they are engaged, clearly under the banner of AAS. CSWA is expressly charged to

“…recommend to the Council practical measures that the AAS can take to improve the status of women in astronomy and encourage their entry into this field.”

It appears that this group has far exceeded their mandate. In addition to their Facebook posts, Twitter posts and newsletter articles, it is now well known that the AAS-sponsored CSWA members have worked together to influence the internal operations of astronomy departments around the U.S., have misrepresented their authority in the process of enacting self-organized investigations into the ethical and harassing behavior of members of the astronomy community, and have further, aggressively solicited, collected, and perhaps distributed names of suspected harassers from the larger community.

It is the responsibility of Council to oversee the structure of the AAS, and to make sure that all AAS policy and activity are legally and financially responsible, and ethical. This includes making sure that Committees and Boards are acting within their mandates. The current and ongoing activities of AAS CSWA is clearly outside of the charge given to that Committee, and I call upon the Council to urgently either redefine the charge of this Committee, or to strictly bring the Committee activities back into the parameters of the charge given to them.

As evidence of AAS CSWA working beyond its purview, page 7 of the recently released public information records regarding the Title IX investigation of Geoff Marcy describes a 2011 offer by AAS CSWA to do a Climate Site Visit, which the University wisely declined. I do not find evidence of how a Climate Site Visit is related to the AAS Council’s charge to the CSWA nor do I see qualifications of CSWA site visitors that suggest they are qualified or certified to conduct such a visit, nor the criteria of what would be involved in such a Climate Site Visit. I was on the Council during 2011 and do not see recorded in the minutes where CSWA members were charged or authorized by a vote of Council, to conduct such a visit. Indeed, at no point during my tenure on Council, from 2006 to 2012, was the topic of AAS performing site visits to departments discussed, but I am sure that if it had been discussed, Council would have shared my point of view that such visits go beyond the scope and expertise of the AAS.

Given the legal and fiduciary responsibility of Council members I am openly stating that I was never informed of these activities, and I believe that such activity is inappropriate and opens up the AAS and the Council members to liability. As the Council failed to engage in due diligence in supervising the activities of the CSWA, legal action against the AAS could find that the indemnity clause of the AAS by-laws has been voided.

Therefore, I call upon the Council to recognize my personal protest against the unsanctioned action taken by members of the AAS CSWA during my tenure on the Council, and I recommend to current Council that they investigate these unauthorized actions in order to protect the AAS and Council members from claims of negligence.

I am certain that many AAS members would share my concerns about the Committees of the AAS working beyond their charge without oversight or authority, and my concerns related to Council failing to fulfill their obligation to provide such oversight.

Additionally, I am gravely concerned that AAS members working under the authority of AAS Council as CSWA members are going far beyond what is appropriate, perhaps illegally, but certainly with liability exposure for the AAS. Pages 18 and 21-22 (redacted) of the released UC Berkeley documents provide evidence that a member of AAS CSWA (who has recently publicly identified herself as Joan Schmelz) contacted members of the community (AAS members and non-members) and insinuated that she was working, as a member of AAS CSWA, with UC Berkeley, to investigate possible instances of sexual harassment committed by a AAS member. This document indicates that UC Berkeley asked Joan Smeltz to refrain from portraying herself as working with them in an investigative capacity. Beyond the insinuation that she was working with UC Berkeley, the action of AAS CSWA members in the active pursuit of evidence against AAS members, outside the bounds of AAS activity, is highly problematic.

Looking through the records of Council meetings, I see no evidence that Council ever provided authority for members of the AAS CSWA to solicit investigative evidence related to the behavior of astronomers, particularly of members of the AAS, from AAS members or non-members. As a Council member I certainly would not have approved such action; the AAS has no mandate or cause to engage in the professional lives of AAS members or non-members, beyond the scope of meetings and publications, and the AAS and Council are specifically barred, by the AAS Constitution from activity that can cause harm to a member, as illustrated in the only specific cause that will void the indemnity clause:

“Any individual seeking indemnification is prohibited from indemnification for liability arising out of conduct that constitutes intentional infliction of harm on the corporation or the members, or an intentional violation of criminal law.”

As such, I call upon the Council and the Officers of the AAS to clarify their position. Did the Council provide CSWA members with a charge to investigate AAS members, outside of an official meeting? If so, were they aware that such members were addressing members of the community is such a way that they were implying that they, and by extension AAS, were working in conjunction with university Title IX offices to conduct such a investigation? In either case, which portion of the AAS Constitution or By-Laws support such an action? And finally, if the AAS CSWA was acting without authority from the Council to exceed the Committee’s charge, what is the AAS Council going to do to bring the Committee back into activity that is within the scope of that charge?
The answers to these questions are immediately relevant to current events. It is now well known that the AAS CSWA has actively worked to gather names of “known sexual harassers” by solicitation from the larger community.

The post “It’s Not Just Marcy, and the Grapevine Won’t Save Us” says they will not be PUBLICLY releasing the names on the list; however, they imply the list contains the names of at least ten men representing nine fields, including astronomy education, my field. In other words, the AAS CSWA has supported the creation of a list of alleged, but uncharged, serial sexual harassers although AAS CSWA members and affiliates have no expertise in evaluating the veracity of such allegations and no mandate from Council to serve as investigators. Such activity is a cancer in the community, and has most certainly created an environment in which old grievances and professional jealousies are made manifest in false accusations. In a field in which everything is competitive, only a very naive person would believe that such a witch hunt could be conducted with pure intentions, absent any temptation to take out rivals.

As the most prominent astronomy education researcher, I can only believe that I am targeted by these actions. AAS President Meg Urry has openly stated that the social changes desired by the social authoritarians in astronomy will only occur in the presence of loud actions taken against members of the field. The loudest news will obviously involve the leaders of the fields of astronomy, and I am certainly a leader, if not the leading researcher in my field. Given that my competitors have whispered rumors against me for years, it only makes sense that I am the next target. Such an action will simultaneously build the careers of those who cannot build their careers through actual astronomical research, while clearing me from the field to the benefit of those who have never quite been able to perform as well as I have.

I understand how the game is played, but I will not stand by and have my reputation and career damaged by these activities, and believe that legal action is completely within bounds. One could argue that the Council is foolish enough to take advice from a group of rather inexperienced astronomers, on matters of legal consequence, in which none of the astronomers have any legal expertise. That advice should probably come from AAS legal counsel. But this action on the part of AAS CSWA goes far beyond making recommendation to Council in response to a complaint to sexual harassment. This is a formal organization within the AAS, under the charge of Council, actively seeking out damaging information on members of the AAS community. This goes beyond foolish on Council’s part; this is reckless.

As such, I call upon Council to clarify their position: Is the AAS now taking on the task of proactively investigating members of the astronomy community? If so, are they only going to do so with regard to sexual harassment, or are they going to expand their work into investigating members of the astronomy community as to their management of grant funds? Publications? Allocation of institutional resources? Racism? Homophobia or other –phobias? What exactly is the extent of the topics in which Council is going to authorize self-organized investigations of members of the astronomy community?

Moreover, is AAS qualified to do such work? In a legal system in which employers and law enforcement agencies have the responsibility, training and expertise to deal with these matters, and do so to an extent that many of us find to be unsatisfying, is it reasonable to expect that the AAS, without mandate, training or expertise, can somehow do a better job of it? In the recent Marcy matter, it was revealed AFTER all of the damage had been done, that at least one of the Complainants, Jessica Kirkpatrick, provided the investigator with false testimony, and retracted her testimony when revealed that her third-party witnesses would be making their own statements in contradiction to hers, months after the investigation was over. If a trained investigator did not do a compete job of cross-checking facts, and sorting out damning fabrications from true statements, I have little faith that the types of member “investigators” that AAS would appoint, would do better. Not when too many individuals are advancing their careers, and eliminating their competitors, with false accusations and rumors.

And perhaps most importantly, at what point did the membership or Council decide that AAS has the obligation or right to investigate its own membership?

I do not believe that any of these actions are supported anywhere in the AAS Constitution or By-Laws, do I believe that such activity would be supported by the majority of the dues paying members of the Society.

In summary, I urgently call on AAS Council members to fulfill their ethical and legal responsibilities for overseeing the work of its committees, and ask that this matter be immediately added to the Council agenda for immediate action.

Timothy F. Slater, Ph.D.
University of Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chair of Science Education
AAS Education Officer, 2006-2012, tslater@uwyo.edu

Censored by AAS CSWA

The following post is a comment submitted to the AAS CSWA blog post entitled “It’s Not Just Marcy, and the Grapevine Isn’t Enough” on November 29,2015. It hasn’t been published yet, and there’s been no communication to explain why. The post asks the community to reconsider the reason and integrity they have used in thinking about the social issues in astronomy.  It also should cause us all to wonder a a blog of the American Astronomical Society censoring and biasing the conversations of its members.

There are serious concerns about due process for the accused under university Title IX policies. 28 faculty from the Harvard Law School voiced their objections to Harvard’s policy in the Boston Globe.

“Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation. Here our concerns include but are not limited to the following:

*The absence of any adequate opportunity to discover the facts charged and to confront witnesses and present a defense at an adversary hearing.

*The lodging of the functions of investigation, prosecution, fact-finding, and appellate review in one office, and the fact that that office is itself a Title IX compliance office rather than an entity that could be considered structurally impartial.

*The failure to ensure adequate representation for the accused, particularly for students unable to afford representation.”

All of these things are problematic with the UCB investigation of Geoff Marcy. There was no hearing. He did not have representation. And the UCB Title IX office had ONE officer do all of the interviews and write the report. So that one person was judge, jury, and executioner, and –like at Harvard–there is no step in the UC process that allows the accused to rebut the charges and face their accuser.

Marcy denied the “groping” charge that was reported 8 years after it allegedly happened. The investigator (one person) thought it was “more likely than not” true. But let’s think about this for a minute. This alleged action is substantially different than the other complaints, which mostly involved contact like a touch on the shoulder, a hug, a kiss on the cheek in a public place, or an intimate conversation.  Yet it is clear from this blog post and the firestorm of the last six weeks that many assume he is guilty of the worst of the accusations. Guilty until proven innocent, yet no opportunity to prove anything.

So do you believe the woman at all costs? Even if the behavior someone is accused of is totally out of character?  Even if others might have something to gain from causing another’s downfall? The conflicts of interest in this case are glaringly obvious to anyone who knows the field. Consider the possibility that UCB Vice-Chancellor Janet Broughton understood where this case fell on the spectrum of sexual harassment, and realizing that the latest incident was in 2010 and none of the incidents involved actual sex, requests for sex, or damage to careers, she meted out the appropriate punishment. Maybe she knew more about the facts of the matter than people who only read the headlines.

I and others have been appalled at how our community reacted to Geoff’s case. Some of the very people he has helped the most have jumped into the fray with their torches and pitchforks at his throat. If you are not ashamed of yourselves yet, you should be. And this suggestion to create a “serial sexual harassers” list has gone too far.  It will help no one, especially not the women who are driving this action. America is a democracy, but the microcosm that is astronomy has lately been acting like a fascist state.

I expect that the blog author and her friends will flame back at me with accusations, exactly as Senator McCarthy did in the 1950s for those who spoke out against his witch hunt of people suspected of being Communist sympathizers. But it is time to move past the disagreements and name calling and get to the reasoned discussion of solutions besides public shaming and blacklists.

One tactic I have seen used in this blog is that comments that disagree with the most outspoken of the CSWA are not posted. But diverse opinions are essential for arriving at solutions. If this comment is not posted, I think others in the AAS will be interested to hear about how “moderation” is being used to control the conversation.

Posted for Anonymous

Astronomy and Disappointment


A little over two months ago during the peak of “The Geoff Marcy Situation”, I was in Cancun celebrating my birthday, blissfully offline. I am often offline, and often not paying any attention to the Interwebs, because I’m busy with Real Life, which I highly recommend. On this occassion I made an exception, checking in to respond to birthday wishes. In addition to lovely birthday greetings, I found an inbox stuffed with inquiries about “The Situation”:

“What does it mean?” “Do you actually believe any of this?” “Sounds like a setup, to me, what do you think?” “I’m not an expert, but I sense some deeply seated psychological problems with these people; am I on track?” “What do we do to restore sanity to the field?” And, so on.

I didn’t know anything about “The Situation,” so I responded to all queries with a note that I would get back to the world when I knew enough to open my mouth about the business.

I think that’s an appropriate response. I don’t think that it’s wise for anyone to publicly comment on a situation until they possess actual evidence in hand, particularly in relationship to a colleague’s career, and most definitely when it’s a topic that is so prominent in the cultural wars. Unfortunately, at this point in the culture wars, one can’t really trust a rag like Buzzfeed to provide “truth,” or  the statements of any admin or official who knows that it’s safest to say the most damning things about The Accused. And the frequency with which social justice warriors will lie or twist the truth is sufficient that the First Law of SJWs is that “SJWs always lie.” It’s a lot to wade through in order to arrive at an intellectually honest and rigorous point of view.

Having said that, I did form an opinion fairly early on, that has not changed over the course of time, and it is that I am deeply, profoundly disappointed. The feeling of disappointment has nothing to do with Geoff Marcy, or whatever his behavior might be.  My disappointment is in the astronomy community.

I spent years earning a degree that would prepare me to be able to study the human issues of science, astronomy in particular, and I’ve now spent years doing that kind of research. In that time, I have observed that astronomy is extreme in the sciences, in that astronomers have an unusual capacity to constrain their claims to available, valid evidence. They do this more often than almost all human beings, even more so than other scientists. Perhaps due to the true “open secret” of astronomy, which is that astronomers fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum at a higher rate than the general population, astronomers tend to stick to the verifiable facts, stay out of politics, and focus head-down on  the science. While this can be a bit problematic (for instance, in making the Maunakea situation more difficult than it had to be) I have to say that I love it.  Quirky, cutthroat when it comes to funding, but more often than not, sensible and fair. Astronomers are remarkably resilient to the bane of human progress, “herd psychology,” and I love them and the field for it.

This resistance to herd psychology is the very thing that could, should, insulate Astronomy from the culture wars.

The rest of academia has come to equate individuals’ subjective feelings with objective fact, never mind the reality that our culture is filled with an ever-growing number of folks with personality disorders, narcissism, and just plain old meanness. Not to mention people who just aren’t very good at doing the science but who still want to be “important” and “special” in the field. Those folks tend to lie, and lies about social justice issues are so easy to get away with; anyone who makes a “Guilty” finding on these issues will be lauded for being on the right side of justice, while any person or institution that finds that there is insufficient evidence to find someone guilty will be eviscerated by their peers in the media of the Interwebs for doing too little to protect the vulnerable. So “Guilty” it is! Astronomy, with its focus on fact over feeling should be protected from the misrepresentations and crazy opinions that are destroying the detached scholarship and logical processes that have been the bedrock of Western Thought for these several centuries.

So, I am disappointed in the downward spiral into herd thinking. In an attempt to be socially progressive, and to avoid “moral cowardice,” too many in the community have swung the pendulum not to “moral righteousness,” but all of the way over to “rush to judgement.” And, I guess I just believe that astronomers are better than that.  While the rest of the nation, and academia in particular, are overrun with political correctness and speech/thought control, I have counted on astronomers to be a holdout, and to do what they do best: to think rigorously and independently, to demand valid and verified evidence before believing a claim, to be scientific even when it comes to the human side of being an astronomer.

As a community, Astronomy has let me down, and I am sad for myself to see so many that I respect abdicate their responsibility to bear the banner of Astronomy Culture, and I’m sad for the community, as you have collectively thrown off the very characteristics that have make the field so unique.

For instance, it has become clear that members of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status on Women in Astronomy (AAS CSWA) spent years soliciting investigative information on a member of the astronomy community. Now, I don’t think that’s their job.  Indeed, I don’t think it’s the job of any branch of the AAS to investigate its own members:  not in regard to sexual harassment, grant proposals, publications, resource management, or any other topic.  Yet, they did, and they admitted it, and I am yet to hear many voices in the community call that activity into question.

I mean, I didn’t know that the AAS might be investigating Geoff Marcy, or Meg Urry, or me…for anything. I’m a corporate member of AAS for goodness sakes, which means that I pay a whole lot more in dues than almost everyone else in the field, and I sure better not find out that AAS was investigating my actions outside of AAS events, or the actions of anyone on my team, because there will be hell to pay. As a Full Member and a Corporate member of AAS, in good standing, I’m making my stand on that issue explicit and public.

I would bet that if more people had slowed down long enough to digest what was happening, I wouldn’t be alone. To me, this is far more important than how UC Berkeley handles its internal matters, or for that matter, anything else having to do with Geoff Marcy. This is a serious violation of the relationship between Council and the AAS office, and its membership. So, how did we get so paralyzed with the scintillating details of something related to sex, that we didn’t notice that our professional society is working against its own membership? How could the Astronomers, that are so detail oriented, so prone to fall enthrall to protocol, not notice or mention this Very Big Thing? ….Disappointing.

How is it that no one has taken issue with the AAS CSWA posting that they have solicited, from the community, a list of a large number of “known sexual harassers”? First of all, I mean, how can doing such a thing create a positive climate? “Let’s dig up as much dirt as we can on everyone we can,” is about as antisocial an act as one could conceive. It turns colleague against colleague, and provides positive social reward for the “victim.”  It’s just a really bad idea.

If the social destructiveness of such activity is not enough to get someone to step out of line with the herd mentality, what about the absolute recklessness of it all? The creation of an astronomical blacklist, McCarthy-style, is the antithesis of due process; it is overseen by a group that has no expertise in how to handle such matters; it is so very, very ripe for abuse; and it has untold potential to damage the careers of our colleagues….

So the AAS CSWA, under the oversight of the AAS Council, is taking deliberate action that may damage the careers of AAS members, who may or may not be guilty…. Compared to this, Geoff Marcy and everything related to him is kind of irrelevant, I think. The goal of making astronomy a safe and welcoming environment, cannot come at the expense of innocent community members, and it cannot come in the form of the AAS violating its own responsibility to do its membership no harm.

I think that many agree and yet were too afraid to say so, for anyone who questions the tactics of the cultural warriors is quickly labeled a sexist, racist, or whathaveyou.  But saying that this behavior is unethical, is not equivalent to saying that sexual harassment is acceptable, and if no other group on the planet has the intellectual capacity to make that differentiation clear, it should be Astronomy.

But, everyone is too busy ducking for cover to mention it.  Ugh.  I am disappointed.  This is not the Astronomy that I love.

And 2,500 astronomers sign a petition supporting victims of a crime, prior to seeing evidence of the crime, or the existence of actual victims? Perhaps there are many in the community who believe that a finding of a violation of the sexual harassment policy requires that there be victims.  This is not true.  Such violations can be found without the findings that anyone was harmed, or even without a complaint being filed. This could just be my granddaddy whispering in my ear, but I’m not signing a public petition about anything without plenty of evidence in hand, and I’m loath to do so at that point. Such things do little real good, but are more often political tools used by the authors.  No, thank you.

I’m disappointed that so many in the field didn’t wait, at the least so that they could put their name on the paper with a more complete idea of what they were supporting. What’s even more disappointing? Hearing members of the community justify their rush to judgement because it was for “a good cause”, or worse, failing to think about the meaning and implications of the released investigative “Marcy documents,” because the contents are uncomfortable, and might cause us to question the self-righteous moral certainty we displayed in flaying a colleague’s career to pieces.  For the love of frickin’ Galileo.  Not looking at data because it stands in conflict with what you think you know about the situation? That has nothing to do with Dr. Marcy’s character; that is about our collective cultural character. It’s a failure of integrity, and it doesn’t represent what I believe to be true about the core values of the community.

More than the 2,500 is the 250 who signed the petition asking for the retraction of Dennis Overbye’s article on the matter. I spoke to Mr. Overbye at length about the matter, and was informed that several who signed that petition have subsequently contacted him to express their regrets about signing, and to apologize.  I asked if they had expressed their regrets and apologies publicly.  He laughed and asked me if I was kidding.

What cowards. They signed a petition to be included in the herd, realized they had erred, but lacked the integrity to undo the damage they had attempted to do to Mr. Overbye.  Who are these people and what have they done with my truth-seeking-and-speaking astronomers?

So, if I stand alone on this, I’m disappointed, but I’m stating that I think that it was foolish, a bit clueless, and an example of repressive authoritarianism, for some members of the astronomy community to attempt to influence the way that news is reported, and to insult one of the field’s best allies in the process. They do not represent all of astronomy, and they do not represent me.

Finally, I am so very disappointed that so many have given up their God-given right to be ornery and bullheaded, and have instead taken on a pattern of parroting the words of whoever appears to be the cult leader of the moment.  For instance, was it an “open secret” that Geoff Marcy was a “serial harasser?”  No, I don’t think so.  Upon reflection, members of the AAS CSWA investigated Geoff Marcy for years, and in the process talked to a fairly large number of people about Geoff Marcy being a serial harasser, and they talked to their friends, and so on, and so on. AAS CSWA approached UC Berkeley for years in an attempt to take action against Marcy. And thus, they created a situation in which a great deal of energy was being spent talking about, researching, actively seeking out negative comments on Dr. Marcy. They created the gossip that they then complained about.

But, I’ve interviewed hundreds of astronomers, including some of Marcy’s former students, and I have heard more than a tale or two about astronomers and sex, including matters that fall into the category of harassment, including from Marcy’s former students, and even assault, but I’ve never heard anything about Marcy.  I know where there are skeletons hiding in closets, but to be honest, all of the sex tales I’ve ever heard about Marcy are about women (older women) in astronomy pursuing him. In all of this probing of the astronomy community, an “open secret” would have been mentioned, at least once. So, no, it wasn’t an “open secret” because that phrase has a particular meaning, and it doesn’t fit this situation. This was gossip, led and stirred up by leadership within the AAS, which is a different, very disturbing thing. I’m disappointed in astronomers adopting a heavily laden term without thinking the business through.

Or, did Marcy get a wrist slap from UC Berkelely as a result of their investigation?  I keep hearing people repeat that, and all I can think is that they either don’t understand what it means to forego due process, or they don’t know what “slap on the wrist” means. I can assure you that they aren’t the same thing, and I’m disappointed, irritated actually, that the intellectually vigorous, precise, skeptical astronomy community that I have loved so much, would be so lazy, so scared, that they wouldn’t call out the difference.

It is enough to walk away from Astronomy, to be honest, and I know that I’m not the only one thinking so.  But today is the first day of a new year.  With the hope that new beginnings bring, it is possible that Astronomy may find the intestinal and intellectual fortitude that it seems to have lost in the midst of the culture wars. If that happens, I don’t want to miss it.

So, if you please, come back to being the astronomers that I know and love. Return to your insistence on evidence, as opposed to feeling. Demand due process. Stand against the abuse of social justice issues in the effort to restructure the work and culture of astronomy. Call B.S. Refuse to engage in rumor. Decry “public shaming” for the intellectual weakness that it is.  If you really want to do something about sexual harassment in astronomy, get off of Facebook and Twitter. Go home to your own institution, and get involved in the faculty governance process.

And above all else, at all cost, resist herd psychology. It’s anti-astronomy.

We Stand Against Public Shaming

The following post has circulated in the underground of the astronomy community since October 2015, at the latest.  It has been passed along and repeatedly edited by astronomers, primarily young and female,  waiting for a publishing home where they wouldn’t be censored or shamed for their point of view.  This post is largely responsible for the existence of this website.  We thank the many women who contributed for inspiring the rest of us to action.


Over the last year the astronomy community has experienced several conflicts surrounding individual scientists (e.g. the biologist Tim Hunt and astronomers Matt Taylor, Shri Kulkarni and Geoff Marcy) who were accused for sexism and behavior hostile to women in physics and astronomy. These scientists were defamed over Twitter, Facebook and other social media.  A mobbing of these individuals has taken place, sometimes with strong consequences for their lives, far exceeding any of the damage that they have been accused of inflicting on others. This public shaming does not help gender equality but only shatters the relations between individual scientists. Organizations such as the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy have engaged, notoriously, in this activity. The friendship and atmosphere within the astronomical profession has suffered as a result.

While we agree with rational efforts to improve the astronomy community for all, we do not agree with the tactics used.

We take a stand FOR encouraging gender equality.

We take a stand FOR inventing measures that will help attract women to the field and help them stay within the field.

We take a stand FOR informing people about how biases influence the situation of women and,

We take a stand FOR the challenge of making our research field as gender equal as possible with constructive, peaceful measures.


We TAKE DISTANCE from social-media bullying and public shaming of individual scientists.

We TAKE DISTANCE from the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy as a group that represents women, feminists and the fight for gender equality, as long as they engage in these tactics.

We TAKE DISTANCE from the defamation of individual scientists over social media.

If a colleague does something against the law or the ethical boundaries of their university, it is strictly their local police or university administration that must make the decision how to deal with it. Social media is an inappropriate and irrational venue for managing these matters.

This reliance on appropriate administrations also demonstrates the diversity of cultures in our field and allow for each nation and each institution to set their own values and protocols.