Neil deGrasse Tyson has denied accusations of sexual misconduct that three women brought forward in late November. “Accusations can damage a reputation and a marriage. Sometimes irreversibly,” the famous astrophysicist wrote in a lengthy Facebook post titled “On Being Accused,” disputing the claims of inappropriate behavior – dating from 1984 to summer 2018 – first reported by spirituality website Patheos. “I see myself as loving husband and as a public servant – a scientist and educator who serves at the will of the public.”
Katelyn N. Allers, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, told Patheos that Tyson engaged in “uncomfortable and creepy” behavior during a 2009 party after a gathering of the American Astronomical Society. Dr. Allers has a tattoo of the solar system on her arm, and she claims Tyson was “obsessed” with whether or not it included Pluto: “He looked for Pluto, and followed the tattoo into my dress,” she told the site.
Tyson, in his note, wrote that it was “never his intent” to make her uncomfortable, emphasizing, “I can surely be more sensitive to people’s personal space, even in the midst of my planetary enthusiasm.” “While I don’t explicitly remember searching for Pluto at the top of her shoulder, it is surely something I would have done in that situation,” he wrote. “As we all know, I have professional history with the demotion of Pluto, which had occurred officially just three years earlier. So whether people include it or not in their tattoos is of great interest to me.”
Tyson, who hosted the Fox/National Geographic science documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, also rejected the description of their encounter. “I was reported to have ‘groped’ her by searching ‘up her dress,’ when this was simply a search under the covered part of her shoulder of the sleeveless dress,” he said.
Another accuser, Ashley Watson, told Patheos that she quit her position as Tyson’s production assistant this past summer after he tried to pressure her into sex. She allegedly visited his house, where he offered an “awkward and incredibly intimate handshake” and told her, “I want you to know that I want to hug you so bad right now, but I know that if I do I’ll just want more.”
On Facebook, Tyson described inviting Watson over to his home for wine and cheese, noting that she later told him she was “creeped out” and interpreted the invite as a seduction attempt. He described the handshake as “special,” writing, “I learned [it] from a Native elder on reservation land at the edge of the Grand Canyon. You extend your thumb forward during the handshake to feel the other person’s vital spirit energy – the pulse.” He wrote that his hug comment was “clumsily declared,” noting, “My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection.”
The third woman, Tchiya Amet, alleged Tyson of raping her in 1984 while they were attending the University of Texas as graduate students. She claimed she blacked out after Tyson gave her water, and then woke up naked on his bed; when she awoke, she claimed he began to have sex with her. She filed a police report in 2014 – which was not investigated because of the state’s 10-year statute of limitations on sexual assault charges – and has written multiple blog posts about the encounter in the years since.
Tyson disputed the claim, adding that the pair briefly dated but didn’t have “chemistry.” “According to her blog posts, the drug and rape allegation comes from an assumption of what happened to her during a night that she cannot remember,” he wrote. “It is as though a false memory had been implanted, which, because it never actually happened, had to be remembered as an evening she doesn’t remember.”
On Friday, Fox Broadcasting and National Geographic announced they will investigate the allegations; the next day, New York’s American Museum of Natural History, where the astrophysicist directs the Hayden Planetarium, said it is also investigating, The New York Times reports.
“In any claim, evidence matters,” Tyson wrote on Facebook. “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.”