Neil deGrasse Tyson. (Shutterstock)
Four women have now come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. The most recent accusations come years after one woman’s rape allegations against Tyson went largely unheard or dismissed.
Tchiya Amet first accused Tyson in 2010, decades after the alleged rape, in front of an audience at one of his talks. HuffPost reports:
It was April 21, 2010. Tyson was doing a Q&A segment at a NOVA scienceNOW Cosmic Conversation event at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. There, in front of a live audience, with “NOVA” executive producer Paula Apsell watching, Amet confronted the famous astrophysicist.
“I’m here in honor of all the people that you raped, assaulted, harassed, violated, denied,” she said, “and for the lives that you affected and for the lives of their parents and their friends and everyone that was involved when you were a TA in grad school at UT Austin in 1984 ― including myself.”
BuzzFeed News has also published a report, noting that “no one believed Amet when she said Tyson had raped her in the 1980s,” but now three others have come forward to relay their own experiences. BuzzFeed’s report includes the allegations of another woman who was working for Tyson this year, which was first published on the blog Patheos last week.
Ashley Watson says she took a job earlier this year as his driver, and then his assistant. When she took the job, she said a friend warned her of a blog post that accused the astrophysicist of drugging and raping a woman in the 1980s, “but the comments on the website that published the woman’s story — calling her a ‘mentally disturbed individual’ who ‘lies for a living’ — only reinforced her doubts.” The post was written by Amet.
After some time on the job, which was largely on the set of his show Cosmos, one night “Tyson invited [Watson] up to his apartment to ‘unwind’ over a bottle of wine… She felt uncomfortable as he gazed into her eyes and held her wrist to feel her ‘spirit connection.’ They spent two hours together, as he made sexual references to song lyrics and described his need for physical release. As she was leaving, he took her by the shoulders and said, ‘I want to hug you so bad right now, but I know that if I do, I’ll just want more.’ He [also] repeated the lyric ‘Do I make you quiver’… assembled a cheese plate… and talked about his need for emotional, spiritual, and physical releases. He asked her if she required releases too.” The next day he told her that “she was ‘too distracting’ to ever make it as a producer.”
Watson reported the incident to a producer on the show and said she was resigning. The producer suggested she tell everyone she would be leaving due to a “family emergency.” Watson then found Amet online, and told her she believed her.
Watson and Amet’s allegations, along with those of another woman, Katelyn Allers (an astronomy and physics professor at Bucknell University) were published on Patheos last week. BuzzFeed spoke with a fourth woman who remains anonymous, who says she was harassed by Tyson “at a holiday party for employees of the American Museum of Natural History” in 2010, when he allegedly propositioned her. “In a 2014 email shared with BuzzFeed News, she described the incident to her own employer in order to shoot down a proposed collaboration with Tyson,” the site reports.
During BuzzFeed’s on-and-off three year investigation, they interviewed dozens of people.
Most of the people interviewed lamented the prospect that damaging allegations might take down the world’s most famous living scientist — and perhaps the most famous black scientist in history — beloved for eviscerating so many of the stereotypes of the stuffy, out-of-touch academic.
But for Watson and Allers, the tragedy was the loss of a different black scientist: Amet. [Who, along with Tyson, was a graduate student in the astronomy department at UT Austin in 1983.]
For years, Amet had been trying to make the world listen to her account of a powerful man who had once assaulted her and derailed her life. Mainstream publications, including BuzzFeed News, were unable to adequately corroborate the events from so long ago, and did not publish her allegations. And internet commenters assailed her character and New Age lifestyle. Her claims may have stayed buried forever, if not for the women who saw in Amet’s story a shadow of their own.
“I saw that her credibility was being questioned in a way that honestly had a lot of racist and sexist and anti-religious undertones,” Allers said. “I kinda figured if I had any credibility to lend to that so that she’s taken more seriously, I should do that.”
According to BuzzFeed, Amet has been telling people in her life about Tyson for decades; her ex-husband told them “that she described being drugged by Tyson, and vaguely alluded to something traumatic. ‘It actually was a sore subject,’ he said. ‘It bled onto our relationship. It caused emotional problems for her.'” And when Amet went to Austin to file a police report against Tyson, the department said it “surpassed the 10-year statue of limitations for sexual assault. One of the officers wrote that Amet ‘had tears in her eyes as she said this has affected her entire life: her marriage, her relationship with her children, her unrealized ambitions and the choices she had made over the course of her life.'”
As for Tyson, he responded over the weekend in a Facebook post, in part by accusing Amet of waiting too long to speak out, having “odd” interests, and a “false memory.”
At an event in New Jersey last night, Tyson reportedly addressed the allegations by reading part of his Facebook statement. “For a variety of reasons, most justified, some unjustified, men accused of sexual impropriety in today’s Me Too climate are presumed to be guilty by the court of public opinion,” he told the audience at the beginning of the event. Adding that “Emotions bypass due-process,” and “Evidence always matters.”
Fox Broadcasting Company and National Geographic have announced an official investigation, according to BuzzFeed, and a spokesperson for the American Museum of Natural History (where Tyson is the Director of the Hayden Planetarium) said they were “looking into the allegations.”