Oh, great…the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck is still making stops and picking up passengers. This time the target is Neil deGrasse Tyson who someone, actually several somones, decided was a powerful man too full of himself who needed to be taken down a peg or sixty, and thus he has been accused–Democratic Senators would say “credibly” accused—of two episodes of sexual harassment and one rape. This is no trivial matter for Tyson, whose carefully constructed image as the new Carl Sagan is now in real danger. So is his job, his celebrity, his reputation and perhaps his marriage.
The three accusations belong in two boxes. The two sexual harassment claims may bolster each other, for harassing is an attitude, a habit, and a form of ethics blindness. Real harassers never do it just once. Rape is something else entirely, and, obviously, far more serious, since it is a crime.
Let’s examine each of the accusations, and Tyson’s defense, which he issued in a long Facebook post over the weekend.
Workplace Harassment: Hostile work environment and Unwanted sexual advances (2018)
Ashley Watson, who began a job as Dr. Tyson’s assistant on “Cosmos” in the spring, told an interviewer that on one occasion he asked if she would like to come to his home to share a bottle of wine and “unwind for a couple of hours.” She agreed to come in for one glass, she said, believing that they were going to talk about work and her future assignments.
Once in the astronomer’s apartment, she said, he told her that “as human beings, we all need release,” and asked if there were any “releases” she needed. (Oh-oh!) As she began to leave a while later, and he asked if she would let her show her a Native American handshake.” This required clasping their hands together , finding the pulse on the other person’s wrist, and looking into each other’s eyes. (Super Oh-oh, and also “You’ve got to be kidding me.”) She says that it made her uncomfortable, and she broke it off after about 10 seconds.
As she was again trying to leave, she says Dyson commented, “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.”
Then, the next day, he told her, “You say you want to be a producer, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle for you because you’re too distracting.”
She says told a supervisor ,a line producer,about what had happened, and that she was quitting.. The supervisor, asked Watson if she wanted to file a complaint. She said no. The supervisor suggested she tell her co-workers that she was leaving because of a family emergency, which she did.
Comment: If accurately described, this is slam dunk sexual harassment. The apartment visit is an extension of the workplace. If it is a veiled “date,” Tyson has crossed a line because he is the woman’s supervisor with hiring and firing power. She cannot consent meaningfully. The release comment, depending on the delivery and context, is creepy and plausibly sexual in intent, unless he also said, “Me? I like to watch baseball. How about you?” The “Native American handshake” sounds like a nifty version of the old “shoulder rub.” Now there has been touching, and forced eye-gazing. Ew. The last comment at the apartment is also a sexual advance, especially in context with the rest.
Tyson’s Explanation: Not good. In his Facebook post, Tyson described the handshake as one he uses “in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.” He said that at work, Ms. Watson freely offered hugs, which he typically rejected, but that on a few occasions, he “clumsily declared, ‘If I hug you I might just want more.’”
“My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection,” he wrote.
He also wrote that . Watson had come into his office after the incident in his apartment and told him she had been “creeped out.” He said he had “apologized profusely” and that she had accepted the apology.
Comment: Tyson’s defense is essentially “I didn’t mean anything by it, she construed it the wrong way, and anyway, she accepted my apology.” Those are three excuses, none of which carried any weight in sexual harassment cases. It’s what the harasser did, and how the harassed felt about it. His apology and her acceptance of it, even if true, doesn’t undo the event. The encounter and his words made her uncomfortable working with him, and objectively, anyone can see why. It is also interesting that Tyson doesn’t deny the “release” conversation, or his later comment about her being a distraction.
Since Watson had to leave her job, this episode could justify a lawsuit for sexual harassment.
Accusation #2: Sexual assault (2009)
In the previous post, I discussed the position holding that scientists should be shunned, and even blocked from grants and research opportunities, based on their character flaws, statements, and workplace misconduct.
Operation Paperclip was a secret program of the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency that occurred between 1956 and 1959. The operation brought more than 1,600 Nazi German scientists, engineers, and technicians, most notably Wernher von Braun and his V-2 rocket researchers, plus their family members (bringing the total to over 6,000 Germans) to the U.S. for government employment in the effort to gain a military and scientific advantage over the Soviet Union in the post-war world. The Soviet Union took their own selection of German scientists.
The Ethics Incompleteness Principle states that…
…when a system or rule doesn’t seem to work well when applied to an unexpected or unusual situation, the wise response is to abandon the system or rule—in that one anomalous case only— and use basic ethics principles and analysis to find the best solution. Then return to the system and rules as they were, without altering them to make the treatment of the anomalous situation “consistent.” No system or rule is going to work equally well with every possible scenario, which is why committing to a single ethical system is folly, and why it is important to keep basic ethical values in mind in case a pre-determined formula for determining what is right breaks down.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Of The Week: Continue reading
On his own Reddit forum where readers are allowed to “Ask Me Anything,” Bill Nye the Science Guy, who has recently been making a pretty penny shilling for the climate change policy lobby, was made the target of this:
I have a great way you can start. Stop pretending you’re a scientist.
In science, we begin with facts. The facts show you have no formal science education beyond a Bachelors in mechanical engineering from Cornell. That’s it. Not even a Masters degree, let alone a Doctorate. You literally have no formal science education beyond an undergraduate degree. The facts also show that the whole “Science Guy” persona emerged out of a stand-up comedy routine you used to perform on local public-access TV back in the 80’s:
Good science requires valid data, so, here you go:
You’ve spent years parading around in a lab coat, even after your Disney series ended.. parading around in a way which makes most people, particularly children, think that you’re qualified to speak on matters you have no formal experience, education, or training on. For all intents and purposes, you’re a talented actor-comedian with an opinion who inserts himself into public dialogue…and that’s about it.
Good science also requires peer-review, so, here you go: Continue reading
I’m sure you have noticed that the scary Doomsday Clock, which tells us how long we have until “midnight,” aka. nuclear Armageddon, has been on the move again.
NBC News recently announced that the dreaded Clock was ticking like the soundtrack of “24 Hours, proclaiming: “Thirty seconds closer to global annihilation!” The New York Times, which now averages at least eight “President Trump is a menace to civilization!!! ARGGH!!!” columns, editorials or news stories every…single…day, duly announced, “Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight.” Across the pond, the UK’s Independent stated as fact, “We’re closer to doom than any time since the Cold War!”
Why? Because the Doomsday Clock says so!
Can we officially make that “The Ridiculous Doomsday Clock?” This has to be the most useless and malfunctioning timepiece in recorded history. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day: this damn thing is never right.
What sense did it make to have a clock already set at seven minutes to 12? Why wasn’t it at least a seven-minute stopwatch? What was its setting during the Black Plague? Did the dinosaurs have a Doomsday Clock? Did a wise Diplodocus and a precocious Stegasaurus see a meteor coursing through the Jurassic skies and conclude, “Oh oh. Eventually one of those is going to land here, and we’re all toast. Move the Doomsday Clock to 80 million years before midnight, let’s settle our affairs, and tell the rest of the gang that the mammals are coming…”?
The group of egg-heads devising the clock explained that it symbolized ” the urgency of the nuclear dangers that the magazine’s founders—and the broader scientific community—are trying to convey to the public and political leaders around the world.” OK, I can see that as a minor, fear-mongering news item in 1947—kind of like the climate change hysteria is now—but I would also say that when a group describes a peril as urgent and it hasn’t urged in 70 years, that isn’t just old news, it isn’t newsworthy at all. Continue reading
Old Dominion University has recieved a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on the pressing issue of whether lesbian couples drink too much due to stress. The grant states that
“Sexual minority women (i.e., women who self-identify as lesbian and bisexual) report more heavy drinking, more alcohol-related problems, and higher rates of alcohol use disorders as compared to heterosexual women. Despite this awareness, no studies have examined how relationship factors and partners’ alcohol use contribute to hazardous drinking among female sexual minority couples.”
Professor Jonathan Turley, who flagged this story, adds, “There may be a good reason for that.”
I almost made this an Ethics Quiz, asking if funding such research with taxpayer funds was responsible. I don’t present ethics quiz question when I am certain of the answer, though, and the more I thought about this, the more I began thinking of the late Senator William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Awards.
In 1975, Proxmire launched the award with a press release announcing that the National Science Foundation had “won”after spending $84,000 to fund a study on the origins of love. For more than a decade, the Democrat from Wisconsin used his awards, which were chosen by Proxmire’s hand-picked panel of budget hawks, scientists and others, to focus attention on frivolous spending by dozens of government agencies, including the Department of Justice, the National Institute of Mental Health, and NASA, on trivial issues and mysteries. He also got a lot of publicity for the stunt, and sometimes even managed to kill the Golden Fleece-winning projects with the public outrage they generated.
Naturally, scientists hated this, and had contempt for Proxmire, whom they called “anti-science.” One scientist he mocked even sued Proxmire for defamation, in a case that reached the Supreme Court. In another example of alcohol-related research being called into question, Proxmire gave the award to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 1975 for funding research into alcohol and aggression in fish and rats, stating that ” the most effective way to understand human conditions and problems is to observe human behavior.” University of California psychobiologist Harman Peeke, whose project was halted midstream by the fleece, bitterly responded, “I would really enjoy having Proxmire make a proposal to give people alcohol and ask them to fight. That’s simply unethical and immoral.”
There were and are five core objections to Proxmire’s awards, which shadow government research projects to this day: Continue reading
Every now and then, and it is never on a post that I am especially keen on or that I expect to catch fire, a link to an Ethics Alarms essay is suddenly being clicked on by a lot of people who have no interest in ethics, but a particular interest in a topic I happened to stumble into, as I am wont to do. Usually these waves of traffic contribute nothing of substance to our ethics colloquy, produce no new regular readers, and they depress me, as did the so-called “Instalanche” of a few years back when Glenn Reynolds deigned to link to a post. A bigger group of nasty right wing jerks I have never encountered before or since: I lost a bit of respect for Professor Reynolds that day (His avid followers maintained it was ethical to spread a web rumor that Harry Reid was a pederast in retribution for Reid’s “Romney hasn’t paid taxes” lie. It’s not.)
The current ‘-lanche’ has arrived courtesy of my post of a couple days back about an unlabeled hoax study published by The Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, a (formerly) respectable scientific journal. Of the few new readers who have commented, most have distinguished themselves by making the typical threadbare rationalization used for all web hoaxes, to wit: “Anyone who didn’t figure out it was a gag isn’t as smart as I am.” If these people typify the ethical acumen of scholarly journal readers, we have trouble my friends, right here in River City.
See, Brilliant Advanced Degree-holders, the problem with respectable journals (if there are such things) publishing inside jokes without proper labeling is that the false studies are read and believed by journalists, who spread the misinformation like an oil slick over the culture and public consciousness. It doesn’t matter if you got a chuckle out of it; what matters is that a lot of people were made to believe false information, and it is the purveyors of that false information, not the oh so gullible and ignorant victims of it, who are at fault. Continue reading