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Neil deGrasse Tyson Responds to Sexual Misconduct Accusations in a New Statement

neil degrasse tyson

Last week, astrophysicist and science celebrity Neil degrasse Tyson was accused of sexual misconduct by two women, and sexual assault by another. Now, Tyson has issued a response via a long-winded Facebook post, where he addresses each incident with his own recollections of the events.

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As far as #MeToo apologia goes, this statement is a mixed bag. He opens the statement by decrying the instant judgment that comes with a #MeToo accusation, and how claims are quickly bandied about in the court of public opinion via endless social media debate. Ever the scientist, Tyson calls for evidence and thorough investigation, which he welcomes:

In any claim, evidence matters. Evidence always matters. But what happens when it’s just one person’s word against another’s, and the stories don’t agree? That’s when people tend to pass judgment on who is more credible than whom. And that’s when an impartial investigation can best serve the truth – and would have my full cooperation to do so.

Tyson’s dismay at the speedy response of social media and coverage to these accusations is one we’ve heard before, from those accused of misconduct. But what many of these men are missing is that the loud response is the raison d’etre of the movement: it is a condemnation of the decades of silence and the systemic dismissal of women’s experiences of sexual misconduct and harassment. It’s a validation of survivors’ lived truth and trauma.

Tyson does issue apology for his behavior regarding the woman with the astronomical tattoo, saying “I only just learned (nine years after) that she thought this behavior creepy. That was never my intent and I’m deeply sorry to have made her feel that way. Had I been told of her discomfort in the moment, I would have offered this same apology eagerly, and on the spot.”

He then addresses the complaints of a production assistant regarding a private wine and cheese party in his hotel room. He also details an “special handshake” he learned from a “native elder”, which is … off-putting. To men everywhere, know this: no woman wants to participate in your “vital spirit energy” handshake.

Again, he apologizes for any perceived creepy behavior, saying “At that last meeting in my office, I apologized profusely. She accepted the apology. And I assured her that had I known she was uncomfortable, I would have apologized on the spot, ended the evening, and possibly reminded her of the other social gathering that she could attend.”

As for the accusation from Tchiya Amet, who claims that Tyson drugged and raped her when they were both grad students at at the University of Texas in Austin, Tyson says that they briefly dated but denies any wrongdoing. As a means of discrediting her, he mentions some new age, unscientific videos she posted after dropping out of graduate school:

For me, what was most significant, was that in this new life, long after dropping out of astrophysics graduate school, she was posting videos of colored tuning forks endowed with vibrational therapeutic energy that she channels from the orbiting planets. As a scientist, I found this odd.

Granted, this tuning fork stuff sounds like new age nonsense, but this is coming from the same man who enjoys “vital spirit energy” handshakes. And just because someone believes in new age nonsense, it does not invalidate their experiences and accusations. Tyson is clearly including this video as a negative.

Tyson approaches his apology like the scientist he is, with calls for evidence and proof of these accusations. But sexual misconduct and assault don’t work that way: often the only evidence is personal accounts and experiences, and that burden of proof is always on the accuser. In the meantime, FOX and NatGeo will be conducting an independent investigation of Tyson, leaving us to wait for further developments.

(via Facebook, image: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.

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