Because of my advocacy for the truth and the publication of two articles related to high profile, media-driven cases regarding sexual harassment and accusations of same leveled against professional astronomers of high renown, I have been accused by many of being in support of sexual harassment, most notably on the Twitter account associated with this website. That charge is patently absurd. The first article, published back in October of last year, chronicled and discussed the case of Dr. Geoffrey Marcy and his harried retirement from U Cal, Berkeley’s Department of Astronomy. In that article, I presented the viewpoint consistent with the highest standards of democracy in a free and open society: due process, the presumption of innocence and the right to confront the accuser.
Since the original Buzzfeed article broke, the ensuing parade of detractors against Dr. Marcy and anyone else who would dare suggest that a measured, reasoned, rational inquiry into what actually happened has been nothing short of epic. Driven by a series of articles and the desire to “be on the right side”, damn the truth, the life, career and reputation of those who are the objects of their derision, those who have been prematurely labeled and accused of sexual harassment, the angry mobs have marched in lockstep, blinded by their prejudices, defending at all costs their position no matter how high the price or how much it differed from the truth.
The second article was a follow-up to the first where, in addition to discussing important developments in Dr. Marcy’s case, developments that largely exonerated him, I chronicled and discussed several other cases involving Harvard and Yale Universities, CalTech and the University of Arizona. In the original article, I presented the facts and history related to Dr. Marcy’s case into a coherent timeline, all based on reliable sources. Nowhere in any of these articles did I remotely support or advocate for the perpetuation of sexual harassment or assault of any kind, in any way, shape or form.
What is curious and something that bespeaks a larger agenda, is the paucity of responses to these articles in the comments section of each. To date, there have been no less than 2,000 hits on both articles directly related to sexual harassment with only 2 respondents and those were posted on January 16th, 2016 (yesterday). Where are all the detractors? Anyone and everyone is free to opine so where are the detractors; since everyone is so free to judge and share their opinion on Twitter, where are they here? In a series of exchanges on Twitter with astronomers and scientists from other disciplines, most of whom have “Ph.D” following their names, professionals who are presumably highly-educated and mature, the Twitter account associated with this blog has been blocked by them! Why? Because I disagreed with them or posted something that was in conflict with their preconceptions or prejudices. This is the behavior of individuals who, when confronted with a reality that is at variance with these prejudices, behave like children. Is that how they conduct their personal and professional lives, by burying their heads in the sand or shutting out those who disagree with them? Science is all about finding the truth and this often involves discussions amongst individuals who disagree. That they did this speaks to their character, maturity and discipline as scientists and as representatives of their respective fields.
In closing, an additional rather troubling development has emerged from all this involving the CSWA, the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, a member organization of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). This organization’s stated purpose is the advocacy, promotion and advancement of women in astronomy, an eminently noble enterprise. In an effort to root out those individuals who are, in their terms, “serial sexual harassers”, certain members of the CSWA have floated the idea within the AAS of establishing a “Blacklist” of individuals so labeled. A variant of such a proposal was introduced on January 15th by Rep. Jackie Speier on the House floor (see this article for details), to build a database of those who have been the subject of a Title IX investigation with the contents of that database publicly available. I want to believe that the AAS rejected the idea out of hand. I am prepared to renounce my membership in protest if the proposal is ultimately adopted.
When the expansion of the universe is often discussed, it’s always within an Edwin Hubble context. What is rarely discussed is, that without the contribution of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Hubble may not have been as successful as he was within the same time frame. I always include her contribution in any lesson I teach about Hubble or the expanding universe. And we can’t forget Annie Jump Cannon. The AAS awards a prize in her honor; if anyone knows anything about “Blacklists”, their use and history, it is a grotesque insult to Annie Jump Cannon, her legacy, astronomy, women in general, women in astronomy, the AAS and its members that the CSWA would even consider such a project!
Twitter poll regarding the outcome of this case in the court of public opinion here.
Update: Clarification on Position regarding SH and Dr. Geoff Marcy
Update: When Will It End?
Update: In act of blatant censorship, an Independent Petition opposing the public shaming of Professional Scientists has been disabled by the petition site administrator.