Following allegations of sexual misconduct and amid an investigation by National Geographic and Fox Broadcasting Company, Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson has broken his silence. While he apologised for making one woman feel uncomfortable, he denied a lingering allegation that he drugged and raped a woman while they were in graduate school together.
In a lengthy post shared to Facebook on Saturday, the astrophysicist apologised for what was characterised as groping in a report on the religion blog Patheos during a photo-op following the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in 2009. Katelyn Allers, an associate professor of Physics and Astronomy at Bucknell University, claimed that during an after-conference event, Tyson followed a tattoo of Pluto “into [her] dress.” She also told the blog that Tyson was “not someone who has great respect for female bodily autonomy.”
Tyson said he “only just learned (nine years after) that she thought this behaviour creepy” and that he was “deeply sorry to have made her feel that way.” He added:
Had I been told of her discomfort in the moment, I would have offered this same apology eagerly, and on the spot. In my mind’s eye, I’m a friendly and accessible guy, but going forward, I can surely be more sensitive to people’s personal space, even in the midst of my planetary enthusiasm.
Tyson also addressed allegations by Ashley Watson, his former assistant, that she was forced to quit her job after Tyson came onto her. Watson worked for Tyson over the summer and told Patheos that she experienced inappropriate behaviour by Tyson that occurred over wine and cheese at his home after hours.
Tyson acknowledged a meeting in which Watson addressed the evening and told him that his behaviour made her uncomfortable. He specifically addressed an encounter reported by Patheos that involved a Native American handshake described by the blog as “incredibly intimate.”
I never touched her until I shook her hand upon departure. On that occasion, I had offered a special handshake, one I learned 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. I’ve never forgotten that handshake, and I save it in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.
At that last meeting in my office, I apologised profusely. She accepted the apology. And I assured her that had I known she was uncomfortable, I would have apologised on the spot, ended the evening, and possibly reminded her of the other social gathering that she could attend. She nonetheless declared it her last day, with only a few days left of production.
Tyson wrote that Watson’s “final gesture to me was the offer of a hug, which I accepted as a parting friend.” He did not address a claim by Patheos that Tyson told Watson during the meeting that she would “never rise through the ranks in her career because she was too ‘distracting.’”
The writer of the Patheos report, David McAfee, has repeatedly surfaced an allegation made by Tchiya Amet in a 2014 blog post that Tyson drugged and raped her. Amet alleges the rape happened in 1984 when she and Tyson were in grad school together at the University of Texas in Austin. In an interview published in November, Amet reportedly told the site that following the incident, “she dropped out of the program, suffered from PTSD, and sought therapy repeatedly.”
Tyson wrote that he had a “brief relationship” with Amet and that he remembered “being intimate only a few times, all at her apartment, but the chemistry wasn’t there.” Tyson said he ran into her a few years later, at which time he learned that she had dropped out of her graduate program.
Patheos reported that Amet changed her name from “Staci Hambric,” which appears to be corroborated by Tyson, who wrote that he did not recognise her name when Amet accused him of rape in 2014. In his post, Tyson denied the rape allegation, writing:
[A]ccording 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. 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. Nor does she remember waking up the next morning and going to the office. I kept a record of everything she posted, in case her stories morphed over time. So this is sad, which, for me, defies explanation.
Following the allegations published by Patheos, National Geographic and Fox, which air Cosmos, announced that they were launching an investigation into the claims. Tyson wrote on Facebook that he welcomes the inquiry.
“Accusations can damage a reputation and a marriage. Sometimes irreversibly,” Tyson said. “I see myself as [a] loving husband and as a public servant — a scientist and educator who serves at the will of the public. I am grateful for the support I’ve received from those who continue to respect and value me and my work.”