The Slatest

Neil deGrasse Tyson Denies Sexual Misconduct Claims, Welcomes Investigation

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks onstage during a conference on October 23, 2018 in New York City.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks onstage during a conference on October 23, 2018 in New York City. Craig Barritt/Getty Images

Astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson has disputed the allegations of sexual misconduct that were made public by three women. The famous scientist defended himself in a lengthy Facebook post shortly after Fox and the producers of the television series Cosmos said they had opened investigations into the claims that were first published by the website Patheos. The American Museum of Natural History in New York, where Tyson directs the Hayden Planetarium, also said it was looking into the claims.

In the Facebook post that Tyson published under the headline “On Being Accused,” the astrophysicist went through each of the accusations, noting that two of them were nothing but friendly gestures while he suggested that a third—and the most serious—allegation never took place.

Katelyn N. Allers, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, told Patheos that she felt uncomfortable with he way Tyson grabbed her and looked into her dress when he realized she had a tattoo of the solar system. Allers said Tyson became “obsessed” with whether her tattoo included Pluto. “He looked for Pluto, and followed the tattoo into my dress,” she said, noting that the action made her feel “uncomfortable.” Tyson said that he was interested in the Pluto question since it had just been declared it was not a planet and insists he had no idea Allers had been uncomfortable. “That was never my intent and I’m deeply sorry to have made her feel that way,” he wrote.

Another woman, Ashley Watson, said she quit her job as Tyson’s assistant after he made her feel uncomfortable with sexually suggestive advances. At one point that included Tyson showing her what he described as a “Native American handshake.” That involved holding hands, making eye contact and feeling the other person’s pulse. After she broke it off, he said he wanted to hug her but said it was better not to because otherwise he’d “just want more.” Tyson denies there was anything sexual about the encounter and said that when Watson told him she felt uncomfortable he “apologized profusely.”

The third allegation had been made before as Tchiya Amet El Maat has publicly accused Tyson of raping her in 1984. She claims this took place when they were graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin. Tyson never refers to any of the accusers by name but it seems pretty clear this is the case he writes about when he mentions he had been “intimate only a few times” with his accuser during his time as an astrophysics graduate school. Tyson points out that the allegation was only made after his “visibility-level took another jump.”

“Accusations can damage a reputation and a marriage. Sometimes irreversibly. I see myself as loving husband and as a public servant—a scientist and educator who serves at the will of the public,” he wrote. Tyson also recognized, however, that people have no reason to believe his version of events. “I’m the accused, so why believe anything I say? Why believe me at all?” Tyson wrote, before saying that this demonstrates “the value of an independent investigation.”