Monday, February 06, 2017

Astronomy Bleg

I don't know how many astronomers read my blog these days, but I imagine that it's more than were reading before I started writing about Geoff Marcy. This post is a simple request for assistance and information. Feel free to post anonymously in the comments below. Please don't post if you're not a member of the astronomy community. [You can interpret membership very widely, as in the first comment below.]

First, I'm curious to know how my work on sexual harassment in astronomy is being received by astronomers. Do you think what I'm doing is helpful or harmful? Or do you think it's just a waste of my time?

Second, how interested would you be in an official response to the sorts of arguments I'm making. Do you think university administrators, the AAS, the CSWA, science policy makers, etc. should engage publicly with my concerns? Or do you think that this would be a waste of their time?

Third, why isn't there a conversation about these things with more than one side? As I've put it before, where are the substantive disagreements? Where are the detailed discussions about how serious the problem is and what the best way to fix it might be? Do you think things are already going in the right direction, and all we need is a periodic reminder and something new to be ashamed of? Shouldn't serious questions like this be talked about seriously?

Finally, is there anything you can do to break through the silence I'm encountering from the "ally" community. I've reached out to most of the major and some of the minor figures in the movement to end harassment in astronomy. Very few of them seem willing to speak to me. On one level, that's fair enough, since I'm not really a member of the community. But what disappoints me, as I just said above, is that no one else is discussing these things either, at least not as something one might sometimes be wrong about. I seem to be the only who is engaging with the movement critically. What gives?

All comments and advice are welcome. I'm happy to stand corrected on my assumptions in this post. And I'll footnote this post with such corrections as needed. Please do circulate this bleg to other astronomers if you feel inclined. I really do want to learn how this looks from inside the field.


Anonymous said...

Not an astronomer but in a STEM field and on friendly terms with many astronomers.

I have never asked them about your blog because this topic is radioactive. "Allies" see disagreement as trolling and either don't engage or respond with scoldijg. Plenty of other well meaning folks simply buy the dominant narrative because harassment really is bad (if harassment is actually going on). And the skeptics are cautious if we want to survive.

Anonymous said...

I'm an astronomer. I think you are wasting your time, as you do not have status in the astronomy community, so there is no incentive for anyone to engage with your thoughts.

I think many members of the community, especially those who have been leaders on issues of sexual harassment, also are uninterested in a close reading of the Marcy case as they know about 10 or 20 more cases that are much more serious than the Marcy case. I am not close to any of this and myself know of at least 3 or 4 of them. Marcy is not the apotheosis of sexual harassment in astronomy, but it's the one that is public, so is the focus of discussion.

Jonathan said...

Because of the way the subject has been framed, you are going to come off as a harassment apologist, and thus easily ignorable, if most of your effort is directed toward saying

1) Things other people have already publicly defined as harassment aren't really harassment.

2) That things are not as bad as the public discourse on the topic maintains.

3) You aren't also denouncing any cases of severe harassment.

nuance = apology? I don't think so, but that is the interpretive frame being used.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how many hits you are getting on this site, but please don't stop writing! I am in astronomy and find that your blog posts bring sanity to an issue that has gone very far off the rails. There are other publications that explore the censorship that is going on, the failure of due process for the accused, and the lives that have been ruined, in particular:
-What's Happened to the University? A Sociological Exploration of its Infantilisation, by Frank Furedi
-The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities by KC Johnson, Stuart Taylor Jr.
-Twisting Title IX (Encounter Broadsides) by Robert L. Shibley

But as a previous commenter noted, it's absolutely radioactive to discuss among a random group of astronomers --- you WILL be branded as a harasser yourself if you show any sympathy to those accused, never mind that the prevailing view infantalizes women, treating them as if they are incapable of taking care of themselves. But those of us who disagree are starting to find each other. We welcome and share your blog posts and hope for sanity to re-emerge from the wreckage. Thank you for providing a different perspective. I don't think anyone in astronomy could get away with it.

Anonymous said...

I am an astronomer and I find your posts important. I do not know the details of the Marcy story but I find that having a counterpoint to the mainstream narrative is helpful and enriches the discussion. Any form of harassment is a problem but I agree with the other posters that at the moment it's hard for an astronomer to even question the mainstream stories without coming across as an harassment apologist. This is probably expected -- bad things happened and are happening -- but should evolve into a more balanced discussion. So your time on this is helpful to all and I urge you to continue.