Liberty for the sexual harassers

A pretty story from Inside Higher Ed:

Is there a backlash to the backlash against sexual harassment in astronomy? A group calling itself the Astronomy Underground sent an open letter to leaders of the American Astronomical Society on Tuesday alleging inappropriate, vigilante-style attempts to root out harassers in the discipline.

“We ask [the American Astronomical Society] Council and the [society’s Astronomy Education Board] to publicly explain how these actions have been allowed to occur for so long, and with what license [the society] has acted to investigate its members, damaging their careers, their personal lives and the health of the society in the process,” reads the letter.

The Astronomy Underground alleges that the society is somehow involved in such inquiries, and demands that it publicly explain how it intends to “1) repair the damage done to those who have been ‘investigated’ under the [society’s] name, 2) redirect the astronomy experience for our youngest members who have now spent their entire careers focused on these matters rather than on the science and 3) repair the reputation of astronomy on the national landscape, for the purposes of future recruitment and funding.”

Repair the reputation of astronomy by continuing to ignore sexual harassment? Brilliant plan, highly ethical, can’t possibly go wrong.

The letter follows several recent high-profile cases in which known harassers have been named and shamed by their peers and, in one case, by a U.S. congresswoman. In October, Geoff Marcy stepped down from his professorship in astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley after a series of news reports revealed that he’d been harassing women for years on multiple campuses. Many criticized Berkeley’s response to its own investigation — to warn Marcy not to repeat the behavior, or risk dismissal, rather than move to fire him immediately — and called the public pressure campaign leading up to his resignation a success.

A success if you want sexual harassment to stop. If you want it to continue, well then obviously it’s a disaster.

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