Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 97

I found an appropriate look-alike for University of California at Berkeley astronomer and serial sexual harasser Geoff Marcy:


31 Responses to “Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 97”

  1. I think your comparison is unfair to excrement, Marcy is far worse.

  2. What will happen to his current graduate students? I feel sorry for them myself.

    • telescoper Says:

      Well, unbelievably, he hasn’t been sacked. Yet.

      • Now that he’s resigned: I still feel awful about his graduate students. He had at least two.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        I really fail to see the problem here. Do you think their reputation has been tainted in a “the sins of the fathers” scenario? Certainly not. If anything, they will get some extra sympathy points. But as mentioned above, it is not uncommon for graduate students to be “left dangling” if the professor moves to another job, or dies, or whatever.

        Actually, it’s probably more of a problem to stay a long time with some famous person. It might be easy to do so because it’s easy for him to get grant money, but then one can become set in one’s ways. In the case of students as co-authors, the Matthew effect might lead to more credit going to him and less to the students. (And, if other anecdotes involving Marcy are anything to go by, he might just leave the students’ names off of the paper.)

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      If the students are any good, they can probably find the next job with ease, based on Marcy’s (still intact, of course) scientific reputation. If anything, there will be bonus points because of sympathy, especially for women who want to move away.

      Certainly one shouldn’t play down such issues for fear that some students might have a hard time. Even if they did, one shouldn’t play it down, but in this case, if anything the opposite should hold.

      • Sadly this is not how it works. People who complain tend to suffer damage themselves, both personally and professionally. It takes courage to come forward. Sympathy doesn’t compensate for the scars.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        I think the original comment was just concern for the careers of his students, presumably assuming that he will be sacked. What do you do when the boss leaves?* I don’t think it was referring to the students who complained. (I don’t know whether any or all of those complaining were students. In that case, there is the additional abuse-of-power angle, but even without that the accusation is bad enough.)

        *This can happen for other reasons, for example if the boss moves to another job. Not all students can or want to move with him (and it is rather arrogant to assume that if they don’t it is their own fault). This is usually not a big problem.

      • telescoper Says:

        Staff move around. It’s no big deal for students. Supervisors like to think they are indispensable but they aren’t.

  3. Phillip Helbig Says:

    In this case, there is essentially no doubt about the deeds, as Marcy has admitted them himself in his letter (and tried to justify them). Obviously, this went on too long, and there needs to be some system to prevent things like this from happening. On the other hand, such a system needs to be hard to abuse. I know personally of one case where a female student threatened a professor with a (completely unfounded) allegation if he didn’t write a positive letter of reference. (He called her bluff, but perhaps because he was sure that no-one would believe such an allegation against him, and in the end she didn’t make one.) Considering that I learned about this just by chance, and am usually not in a situation where such knowledge is easy to obtain, it is probable that there are other similar cases. As important as the issue itself is, one shouldn’t allow too much collateral damage to accumulate in the case of false accusations. In such cases, even if the suspect is completely cleared, one often hears “there had to be something to it, otherwise he would never have been accused in the first place”, which makes a mockery of the “innocent until proven guilty” principle.

    • telescoper Says:

      I know more about this than you can possibly imagine.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      There is a great story in a great book, the postwar classicist Gilbert Highet’s “Art of Teaching”. He tells of a female student who asked her prof (a colleague of his) to up her marks. He refused. She offered to sleep with him. He still refused. She threatened to jump then and there out of his (3rd storey) office window. He opened it for her. She didn’t jump.

  4. Phillip Helbig Says:

    I don’t know how long it has been there, but on his main page he has a link titled “Status of Women in Astrophysics and Planetary Science” which goes to a page on “websites on women in astronomy”. The usual suspects are listed. Although under his account, the page doesn’t appear to be written by him, and at the bottom has a link back to the AAS women in astronomy page.

    His definition of “women in astronomy” might be different from that of the AAS.

    There is a scene in The Last Waltz where Scorcese interviews one of The Band about “women in rock music” and the musician tells some stories about groupies, the promise of getting “more pussy than Frank Sinatra” when young were he to become a musician, and so on, then Joni Mitchell comes on and sings a song.

  5. Phillip Helbig Says:

    It’s interesting to contrast this to the case of Tim Hunt. With Hunt, some ties were severed based on a tweet. With Marcy, there was a formal investigations. With Hunt, it was public from the start. With Marcy, it was kept secret. Although seventh-hand accounts tend to be unreliable, my impression of Hunt is that at worst it was a joke which didn’t work. Marcy seems to have crossed some lines. Many women stood up for Hunt. Many women refused to lie down for Marcy. Hunt lost a lot of (admittedly adjunct, unpaid, honorary, etc) positions. Marcy hasn’t lost any yet (though he might have stepped down from some honorary ones, I don’t know).

    Although probably not relevant in these cases, people do move around in astronomy. There are some things which are forbidden in one country and obligatory in another. There are customs such that what is considered polite in some countries is considered an insult in others. It is not realistic to expect everyone to know all the customs in all situations. (Just read up on whom, when, why, and how to tip or not to tip people in various countries.) To some extent, this applies to things which can be considered sexual harassment. I’m sure that in some countries people would be insulted if they weren’t kissed on the cheek when meeting someone while in other countries they would consider it sexual harassment. Or shaking hands: it is not uncommon for some men to refuse to shake hands with women because they are “unclean”. There is a whole literature on Orthodox Jewish men who don’t want to sit next to women on airplanes. And so on.

    On the one hand, any code of conduct probably couldn’t be both universal and realistic. On the other hand “Don’t be a jerk” is not precise enough. The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” might be the exact opposite of what is appropriate in some cases. Better might be: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them”, but this is often difficult to know in advance.

    I’ve never met Marcy personally nor, as far as I know, any of his victims, thus can’t say anything about this. But I do think it is good to have an open discussion in the community about how to best avoid situations like this. One does have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. At some places, sexual relationships between senior and junior colleagues are forbidden, because of the possibility of abuse of power, a legitimate concern. On the other hand, I know several astronomer couples who are happily married and met at a time when one was senior and one was junior.

    It’s not easy. To quote former astronomer and now novelist Pippa Goldschmidt from her novel The Falling Sky (which concerns sex and astronomers but not sex among astronomers): “Understanding galaxy evolution is such a small thing to worry about, compared to the rest of her life.”

    • This particular case does not seem complicated at all. If this had happened at a school the response would have been automatic and obvious. Most companies would do the same. The only thing hard to understand is the response from Berkeley which makes itself part of the problem.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        “It’s not easy” was referring to coming up with some code of conduct which is both universal and realistic.

        If things are as clear cut as some are reporting, e.g. he put his hand on my thigh under my dress and slid it up to my crotch during dinner, then, yes, not complicated at all. Whether that is the case, of course, is difficult to judge from a distance. In general (but, again, in this particular case, I don’t know enough to form an opinion), even some sort of admission of guilt doesn’t necessarily prove said guilt. For whatever reason, Marcy does not agree with all charges. I can certainly imagine a situation where one might admit to something inappropriate if it is a question of whom to believe, in return for cutting one’s losses. Plea-bargaining is normal in some cases, and there does seem to have been some sort of agreement between Marcy and the university.

      • It sounds like a fairly typical case, to be honest. There is little dispute about the facts. There are the usual indications that the perpetrator is being protected. That may be because of a perceived status (nobel prize potential?) but it commonly happens wherever there is little risk of outside action.

        I have little reason to be sympathetic. A family member has been on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour. He lost his job, but she lost her life. It was a strong contributing factor in her death. Why do men, in position of power, think that human rights do not apply to women?

      • telescoper Says:

        The more I read the worse the case gets and any sympathy I had for Marcy vanished a long time ago.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      “I’ve never met Marcy personally nor, as far as I know, any of his victims, thus can’t say anything about this.”

      Reading this thread, I think you’re not doing a particularly good job of saying nothing about it!

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        My point was that I obviously can’t comment on the details of something I don’t know about directly, but of course can on the general issues it raises.

  6. Phillip Helbig Says:

    It looks like Marcy will resign.

    • telescoper Says:

      He should take some advice from Shakespeare:

      “Stand not upon the order of your going. But go at once.”

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Or Cromwell dismissing the Rump Parliament.

      • telescoper Says:

        Cromwell’s speech on that occasion, for the record:

        It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice.

        Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government.

        Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

        Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess?

        Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

        Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices?

        Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.

        Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do.

        I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place.

        Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

        In the name of God, go!

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I was going to post it, Peter, but then I found these words of caution at

        after learning that Parliament was attempting to stay in session despite an agreement to dissolve… Cromwell’s patience ran out. On 20 April he attended a sitting of Parliament and… stood up and harangued the members of the Rump. This speech does not survive but has often been paraphrased, for instance in the Book of Days: You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go! He then declared you are no Parliament and called in a troop of soldiers…

      • telescoper Says:


        I remember being taught the speech (in pretty much the form I posted it above) when I was at school. Obviously my history teacher should have checked his sources!

  7. Phillip Helbig Says:

    Some more tidbits such as:

    In 1987, Marcy’s colleague in the search for exoplanets realized that he had handed her a revised copy of their joint grant proposal. On the copy Marcy had given her, both their names appeared, his as main investigator and hers, as co-investigator. But Marcy’s official copy, the one he had submitted to the funding agency, bore only his name.

    She reported this to the department head, who fired her on the spot. Marcy was the rising star of his department. She then filed a formal complaint for professional misconduct against Marcy. But she was unable to recover her position and she left the field of astronomy. Following these events, a few people tried to draw the University’s attention to Geoff Marcy’s inappropriate behaviour with his female students.

  8. telescoper Says:

    I remind commenters that I do not accept anonymous comments from people who give fake email address.

  9. Not conventional sexual harassment (though perhaps in some sense), but certainly harassment, with a woman as the perpetrator. Apparently action was taken (in a way to sweep as much as possible under the rug) only when a non-foreign woman complained. Nevertheless, quite a big shake-up. Wrong on so many levels.

    It’s pretty easy to figure out who is behind the aliases.

    Comments (from those with tenure?)?

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