The culture that champions the voices of predators

245 – two hundred forty five! – astronomers and physicists have written a forceful letter to the New York Times objecting to its article on Geoff Marcy.

Dear NY Times Editors,

We are writing to give feedback on a story which appeared in the October 11 edition of the NYTimes, titled “Geoffrey Marcy, Astronomer at Berkeley, Apologizes for Behavior” by Dennis Overbye. Appended at the end of this letter is a Letter to the Editor to be considered for publication.

The authors of this letter are all professional astronomers and physicists, from across the world. Women are dramatically underrepresented in our field and other sciences, in part because of the sexism and misogyny that this article reinforced.

This article epitomizes the culture that champions the voices of predators and minimizes the experiences of survivors. Mr. Overbye’s piece repeatedly sympathizes with Marcy, portraying him as a misunderstood, empathetic educator. This viewpoint is captured in the title of the article, and it is reinforced by quotes from Marcy and his wife that Marcy was “condemned without knowing all of the facts” and “the punishment Geoff is receiving here in the court of hysterical public opinion is far out of proportion to what he did”. Not only are these statements false (see the next paragraph), but they employ the damaging tactic of painting female targets and their supporters as overly sensitive trouble-makers.

And we do know the facts. Berkeley undertook a formal investigation and found Marcy guilty of repeated harassment over almost a decade. Marcy abused his position of power, betrayed his responsibilities as an educator, and sexually assaulted students. Despite these truths, Marcy was not punished.

This article downplays Marcy’s criminal behaviors and the profound damage that he has caused to countless individuals. It overlooks the continued trauma that Marcy inflicts to this day as a Berkeley professor, and it implicitly condones his predatory acts. In doing so, it discourages women from speaking out when they have been violated, and it undermines the safety and learning environment of all students.

Mr. Overbye has a serious conflict of interest in reporting this story as Overbye has a longterm collegial relationship with Marcy and has championed Marcy’s work in previous NY Times articles ( Overbye’s bias is evident when Overbye refers to this situation as “Dr. Marcy’s troubles” and when devoting three paragraphs at the top of the story on Marcy’s wife’s opinions of the crimes.

I’ll just quote those three paragraphs for you; they are gruesome.

Dr. Marcy’s wife, Susan Kegley, a pesticide researcher, said she supported him, pointing out that he had cooperated fully with the investigation and apologized.

She defended her husband, writing in an email, “Others may interpret Geoff’s empathy and interest as a come-on. I can’t change their perspectives, but I think it is worth all of us examining how quickly one is judged and condemned without knowing all of the facts.”

“The punishment Geoff is receiving here in the court of hysterical public opinion is far out of proportion to what he did and has taken responsibility for in his apology,” Dr. Kegley wrote.

And yet, I venture to guess, she wasn’t there when Geoff groped his students, so how does she know “the punishment Geoff is receiving” is far out of proportion to what he did? How does she know what he did? Because he told her? And had no possible reason to lie or minimize?

What a clusterfuck.

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