Perversion and sexual assault is what Geoff Marcy is accused of not “harassment” or treating a conference like a “dating market”.  In our collective zeal to protect women from unwelcome but otherwise ordinary advances let us not conflate asking someone at a cocktail party over drinks on a date with doing what UC Berkley Prof Geoff Marcy is accused of.   The short version is he reached for and touched women in places that you never touch someone without some form of asking consent.  Preferably explicit oral consent or at least with the typical progression of passion and enthusiastic consent when people are making out or something.   He went well below the equator and reached for the Tropic of Capricorn directly.   That is sexual assault, not sexual harassment.

UPDATE: October 14th 2015 8:20 Central US Time. 

Geoff Marcy has resigned from his position as a tenured faculty member at UC Berkeley due to the public outcry over the fact that he was not fired.  

Original article continues. 

For the layperson who wonders who Geoff Marcy is, he is the person responsible for the finding of most of the known exoplanets to date.   Either he directly found them or he was part of a large team that found them.  He pioneered the “wobble method” where the wobbling of a star (really Doppler shifts in the light from the star) were used to infer a planet orbiting said star.  He was co-investigator on the Kepler mission which has found numerous exoplanets by the transit method.  That is measuring the dip in brightness of a star as a planet moves in front of it. In short Geoff Marcy is a rockstar among scientist and science enthusiast.

He was a big name and UC Berkley wanted to protect a big name from potential slander.  However now he has been “punished” in a way that wasn’t even a slap on the wrist but more like a kiss on the cheek.   He had to post an apology letter.

I know what guys reading this are thinking thanks to a couple decades since Clarence Thomas of seeing sexual harassment accusations used against prominent men.   Oh sure he just asked some pretty young women out on dates and was turned down one too many times. He was too persistent, or they thought he wasn’t hot enough.    SNL even joked quite well about women who will accuse an average Joe of sexual harassment for saying hi while a Tom Brady can walk around the office in his underpants without issues (Sexual Harassment and you a handy guide to workplace etiquette SNL *).   This is not that.  

According to Buzz Feed:

According to [Complainant 3’s] account to Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, she was at a post-colloquium dinner with her graduate department at the University of Hawaii when Marcy placed his hand on her leg, slid his hand up her thigh, and grabbed her crotch.

She didn’t complain until 8 years later and after she left Astronomy.  The reason she says is that she and other female astronomers experienced sexual harassment. Marcy denies this even occurred but on a preponderance of evidence he was found to have acted as reported.  I have to admit I would like to know more about this case…. Like what evidence was pondered on to reach a conclusion.  There must have been more than he said she said there.

According to Science:

Meg Urry said in relation to one of these incidents occurring at an AAS meeting “We run a professional astronomy meeting, not a dating market. And one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen is when a young woman realizes that the extra attention she is receiving from an older, male astronomer is not related to her science.”


OK first off this is not harassment… these accusations are of sexual assault.

Sexual Harassment is asking a woman you have a position of power over for sexual or social favors with the implied threat that rejection will harm their career.   Sexual harassment can also be acts that if reciprocated would comprise courtship behavior.  harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. (Google)

Sexual assault is unwanted, non-consensual, and/or forced touching, groping, rubbing, of the erogenous zones of one person by another, especially with the hands or erogenous regions of the assailant.   Sexual assault takes many forms including attacks such as rape or attempted rape, as well as any unwanted sexual contact or threats. Usually a sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person's body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person's consent. (Wikipedia)


To see the difference compare what Marcy is accused of to the story of Marie and Pierre Currie (Ref1 and Ref2).    It is a little known fact now but Marie Skłodowska was about eight years younger than Pierre.   They met because Marie needed lab space and Pierre could give it to her.  Almost as soon as they met Pierre asked Marie to marry him more than once.  She said no, she wanted to move back to Poland.  She did move back to Poland. Pierre sent her letter after letter talking about how much he wanted to marry her and he would even give up his life in France to live with her in Poland.  She said no she wanted to live in Poland and did not want him to give up what he had.   Until that is she moved back to Paris because she had better prospects in Paris than in Poland.  

By definition Marie Skłodowska could have accused Pierre Currie of sexual harassment by 21st  Century standards. He had power over her, he pursued her in spite of her saying no many times.  They did get married a year and a half after meeting much of that time Pierre spent sending letters that if sent today may well be called harassing.  However, since the ended up married a potential Dahmer became a charming Lloyd Dobbler like love story (See How I Met your Mother “Dobbler Dahmer Theory” funny but true.)


Don’t conflate harassment which is bad with assault which is criminal.

The truth of sexual harassment is that it is a real serious problem in workplaces that are dominated by one sex over the other.  Usually the problems are caused when men in a male dominated field like science act as if women aren’t there or that women are only there for breeding purposes with no real respect for them as scientists.   

It has also become a by word for young women to use to describe being hit on even once by a man they did not find attractive or as a way to gain advantage in a post break up period of work place romance.   Those are all parts of human courtship behavior that the thinking parts of our brains find distasteful.  As much as coupling is bliss uncoupling is often ugly.   Those we once saw as wonderful we come to see as loathsome.

Sexual assault is on a much higher level.  It is rape’s perverted little brother. It is a criminal act and should be treated as such.  The accusations tested in a court of law, and if the burdens of civil or criminal proof are met, then a judicial punishment meted out. That is what Geoff Marcy should face. If he is innocent a trial will clear him. 

Let’s not conflate what Geoff Marcy is accused of with courtship behavior in a professional environment. One of the most common places people meet a spouse is work.

If it weren’t for persistent Pierre’s selecting magnificent Marie’s we’d all still be Australopithecines walking naked and hairy across the plains of southern Africa. Clearly when choosing who would be a good mate for marriage and child bearing we humans have always selected those of equal or greater intelligence.  So men and women at the cocktail reception(s) that go with conferences like the AAS or the APS can hit on each other without censure as long as both parties are consenting. It is their Darwinian duty to do so.  An utterly rejected advance asking for a date is not equal to sexual assault, ever.


TL:DR; Just don’t put your hands on anyone without consent. Certainly don't do what Geoff Marcy supposedly did without consent. This proves what many have said regarding sexual assault and rape cases on University and College campuses, that it is absurd that these things aren’t handed over to the judicial system for proper fact finding and punishment.


*Actually one of the things Tom Brady does in that video is like what Marcy is accused of. I also use the word "Alleged" in the title because as despicable as these accusations are they haven't been tested in an actual court of law.  In the spirit of innocent until proven guilty I say "Allegedly".

Further comment on the use of allegedly.

An administrative hearing did find that he did sexually harass a number of students.  This article uses Allegedly for the more  heinous and perverted things he is accused of, namely touching a students private parts.    That is sexual assault, not sexual harassment.  If the investigation found that he did that he would have just been fired not asked or pressured to resign.

  Furthermore, for strict legal purposes, an administrative investigation by a college or university is not equal to a court proceeding.  i.e. a similar administrative hearing found a young man did not rape a young woman at Columbia University... that didn't stop anyone who was so inclined from not branding the accused in that case as a rapist. we only care what an admin hearing finds when it fits a certain agenda?   For me the only standard that matters in a case like this is the standard set by the court system.  Until someone sues, and wins, or criminal charges are brought...legally speaking... these are allegations. 

An article by Meg Urry at scientific American  expands on and clarifies her stance on this. 
How to End Sexual Harassment in Astronomy
The case against Geoff Marcy must be a wake-up call to reform our field
 By Meg Urry | October 14, 2015

 Twenty years ago, people would say, “We shouldn’t interfere in people’s private lives.” Nowadays most institutions rightly have policies that recognize the power imbalance in these relationships. Professors should be forbidden from dating any undergraduate, full stop. Good policies concerning graduate students and postdocs reflect the growing maturity of young people but still aim to protect their careers from retaliation if things don’t work out. In particular, the relationships have to be acknowledged publicly. No dating on the sly and then, after a breakup, saying that her work “just wasn't that good.”
I think that this is important because many people were making out her position as dating in the STEM work place needs to be taboo.

  The gist of it is people in STEM need to be a bit more mature and emotionally intelligent about these things... the most likely outcome of any asking out is rejection and most relationships end in acrimony.  What Goeff Marcy did and I have said is on a whole other level...but this is a much more common problem.   How to handle it when no isn't taken for no in a world where feminist will speak of No not always meaning no.

My response as posted as a comment there is as follows. 

I can support what Dr Urry has said regarding sexual harassment and dating among faculty and various levels of student here.  When I wrote a blog post somewhat critical of a statement she had reportedly made (The Alleged Perversion of Geoff Marcy and Sexual Harassment, it was just one quote.  Something about treating a conference as a dating market.  It would be unrealistic to think that a single science minded man or woman might not try to chat up another attendee at one of the various cocktail receptions that happen at these things.

As for the notion that faculty should never date even graduate students and/or graduate students should not date undergraduate students.  Not to mention the idea that any dating behavior in the STEM workplace is somehow bad if I read this right, I am glad that a woman of Dr. Urry's stature does not think that way.  In my own writing I pointed out the many stories where that works out just fine.  For example John Nash and Alicia De-Larde Nash, Pierre Currie and Marie Sklowdowska Currie.   There are some who would completely ban such courtships.  (Both of which if the women hadn't been at least somewhat into it could have been seen as harassment, or unethical, if they occurred today.)

The way I see it the real problem is two fold.

It is not the dating among STEM workers it is when people don't approach it maturely.  If someone says no to a date that's it.  Unless they act like they are into you still after that leave it (sometimes men have to ask more than once.  Pierre Currie did.)  If someone ask you out and you are not into them and they accept your no... don't belittle them for having asked. I've seen that happen to others.  If you break up don't do a Jeckyl and Hyde act?   As Dr. Urry put it suddenly their scientific brilliance is now not so great etc.  I've seen that happen to me.   Above all as a general rule don't even try to date someone you work with in any field unless you think they are worth the risk.

The other problem is much of astronomy occurs in or in cooperation with universities and universities are being made to hold tribunals which really belong in the court system.  People who are balse about a admin hearing will FEAR a lawsuit.  People who touch peoples special places without explicit permission will FEAR prison.   In my opinion every College and University should have a Govt. judge holding court every day on campus to adjudicate these things.