Weekend Postscript

The post I wrote on Saturday about the case of Bode versus Mundell had attracted a lot of attention on this blog over the past few days, and has led to a number of people sending me private messages and emails, mainly about wider aspects of the case.

Most of these have expressed thanks for bringing this matter to the attention of the astronomy community. Others have been extremely critical of my post. The rest have contents that I cannot possibly disclose here. Or anywhere else.

For the record I have no regrets whatsoever about writing what I did. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the libel action it seems to me that the publicity arising from its failure has revealed an apparent failure of process, in that a charge of sexual harassment was raised but never properly resolved.

After much thought I have decided not to accept the invitation by Dr Chris Simpson to discuss the harassment case in person via Skype. There are two main  reasons for this.

One is that I do not feel it would be appropriate to get only one side of the story and am clearly unable to talk to whoever made the complaint to see the other side. Their identity is rightly not in the public domain. In other words it is precisely in the interest of balance that I am not going to be drawn into further discussion of the original harassment allegations with one of the parties to the case and not the other(s).

The other reason is that the most important point I wanted to make in my post was not about whether the harassment complaint would or would not have been upheld (which was not an in issue in the court case either) but that the investigation ended before a resolution could be reached one way or the other. Lessons need to be learnt if we are to reach a situation in which bona fide complainants have sufficient confidence in the process to make it worthwhile coming forward.

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8 Responses to “Weekend Postscript”

  1. Seriously Peter?…….I suggest you read your own previous post

  2. Hmmm – I guess it is notoriously hard to critically review one’s own writing.

  3. My point should be obvious enough Peter. Today it is apparently important not to get drawn into making biased judgements because of lack of detailed information; that didn’t seem to be a problem before. Today it is apparently all about the failure to complete process, but searching through your previous post I could find half a sentence on that (at the end of paragraph 5) in an 8 paragraph post. If that was the main point of your previous post, then it was less than apparent amid all the other stuff.

    • telescoper Says:

      See not only the end of paragraph 5 but also esponses to comments.

      I had to cover the background to the case before making the point at the end of para 5: ” f greater concern to the wider community is the apparent failure of process in dealing with the allegations about Chris Simpson” which then leads onto the UUK report. That point is central in more ways than one.

  4. The legal document states that this fellow was accused of sexual assault and harassment by a student and resigned 5 months into the investigation.

    That is not in dispute.

    There is a big problem with this. If he is a sexual predator, he is getting passed along and will most likely hurt others. If he is not, there is no way to know he is innocent and put him in the clear to work with young students again.

    Offering private Skypes to clear his name (and presumably besmirch the young student who accused him) is not a ringing endorsement of professional conduct and neither is resigning in the middle of an investigation.

    In the States, perhaps as some kind of fatal optimism or arrogance, the sexual harassers in the sciences hang on until the bitter end, only resigning when the university has found them guilty on many counts (e.g. in astronomy, Geoff Marcy and Christian Ott, though Ott just had his suspension extended and has not resigned – he was over at twitter a few months ago following one of his accusers around and threatening her with libel – I am absolutely serious – his suspension was then extended and he deleted all those tweets and doesn’t mention either of his accusers ever. Bravo to Caltech as I assume they came down on him for harassing her after he had been found guilty of sexual harassment).

    But the investigation should conclude no matter the resignation.

    I have to add this – I do not like comments hinting at how innocent he is, implying dark circumstances which can only be told in private. Make it transparent and let each side defend itself.

    I realize Peter does not need a defender here, but I have to again thank him for his post and reiterate how helpful it is to see the legal document outlining the facts.

  5. […] thought a lot about this since I blogged about the Bode versus Mundell case (here and here). We should all agree that we need to strive to create working environments wherein harassment and […]

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