Tag: Geoff Marcy

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.



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. )


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?

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.