Fox and National Geographic — the two networks at the helm of the Emmy-award winning Cosmos series, which is scheduled to premiere on March 3 — announced on Friday that they are investigating allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct by the series’ host, famed astrophysicist and TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson.
“We have only just become aware of the recent allegations regarding Neil deGrasse Tyson,” the two networks said in a statement to Variety. “We take these matters very seriously and we are reviewing the recent reports.”
On Friday, two women came forward to accuse astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson of sexual misconduct, according to a report by David McAfee of Patheos.
One woman, a physics and astronomy professor who knew Tyson through professional circles, said he groped her at a party in 2009. The other, a former assistant of Tyson’s, said he propositioned her for sex and told her she was too “distracting” to advance in her career.
These allegations follow a report from last year, in which Tchiya Amet told McAfee that Tyson drugged and raped her when they were both grad students in 1984. Amet had previously publicly confronted Tyson about this rape at an event in 2010, and blogged about it in 2014, 2016, and 2017. Earlier this month, Amet spoke to McAfee on the phone to tell her full side of the story.
The two new reports are not quite as serious as Amet’s accusation of rape. However, Dr. Katelyn N. Allers, an Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Bucknell University, told McAfee that her interaction with Tyson made her take Amet’s allegation seriously.
“My experience with him is he’s not someone who has great respect for female bodily autonomy,” Dr. Allers said. According to Dr. Allers, Tyson “felt [her] up” in 2009, at an after-party following an American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting.
Dr. Allers said Tyson was drinking and dancing at the party, and so she and a friend decided to get pictures with him. After the photo was taken, Tyson decided to “explore” a tattoo on her body, a solar system that goes from her arm to her back to her collar bone.
“After we had taken the picture, he noticed my tattoo and kind of grabbed me to look at it, and was really obsessed about whether I had Pluto on this tattoo or not… and then he looked for Pluto, and followed the tattoo into my dress,” Dr. Allers said. (Patheos published two photos of Allers with Tyson, including one where he began examining the tattoo on her upper arm.)
Dr. Allers didn’t report the groping at the time, but in 2013, she did tell Dr. Michele Thornley, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Bucknell, about the incident when he was scheduled to speak at the University — she did not feel comfortable attending the event.
After Dr. Allers’ disclosure, Thornley said she talked with the organizer of the event to make sure that Allers was not required to attend the event, and to recommend that Tyson not be permitted to meet with female students in small groups without supervision.
“I think that he is someone that could use his position of fame and power in a way to try and take advantage,” Dr. Allers told McAfee. McAfee also reported that Ashley Watson, a former assistant of Tyson’s, was forced to quit her job because of his inappropriate sexual advances.
One night, he invited her over to his apartment at 10:30 p.m. to “share a bottle of wine” and “unwind.” She felt pressured to attend because of the power dynamic, and intended to go in just for one glass of wine. However, McAfee reports, “Upon entering his apartment, Tyson allegedly took off his shoes and shirt, remaining in a tank top undershirt. Unfortunately, the night only got more awkward” with the scientist, who reportedly put on romantic music.
After “joking” about stabbing Watson with a knife, Tyson talked about how how human beings just need physical “releases.” When Watson said she was leaving, Tyson initiated an inappropriate handshake — which he called a “Native American handshake” — and told her that he wanted to hug her, but was afraid he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from taking things further if he did.
When she confronted him about his behavior the following day, he told her she wouldn’t succeed in that field because she was too “distracting.” Watson reported the story to a superior and a harassment hotline before quitting.
In the year since McAfee first reported on the rape allegation against Tyson, the world-renowned astrophysicist’s career has continued to soar. Only time will tell if these new allegations will impact Tyson’s career and stature — or if it will merely be, well, a “distracting” blip in the radar.
“The credo at the heart of Cosmos is to follow the evidence wherever it leads,” the producers of the show told Deadline. “The producers of Cosmos can do no less in this situation. We are committed to a thorough investigation of this matter and to act accordingly as soon as it is concluded.”