Sunday, April 30, 2017

How Things Change

"I met and fell in love with radio astronomer, Gerrit Verschuur, at an AAS meeting in 1985. We got married a year later and have managed to move together from place to place." (Joan T. Schmelz, Past Chair, Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy, American Astronomical Society, 2015)

"[D]o not treat any AAS meeting or other event as a venue for finding a romantic partner. Yes ... there may ... be opportunities to make such connections at our events, but please, everyone, just shelve these inclinations for our conferences. Too much damage is being done." (Kevin Marvel, Executive Officer, American Astronomical Society, 2016)

The good thing about blogging is that it allows other people to contribute little details you might not otherwise have found. The above juxtaposition was suggested by a commenter to a previous post. I am going to assume that Schmelz is "on board" with Marvel's comment today, so this is a great indication of how the times change over thirty years or so. It would be interesting to hear both of their views (i.e., Marvel's and Schmelz's views) on this and I have of course notified them by email that their comments are welcome. I'll keep you posted.

In fact, it seems that the changes are coming quite fast. As recently as 2002, astronomers made no secret of their love lives with each other.


Anonymous said...

Small correction:

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is not an astronomer. She has a physics PhD from the Perimeter Institute, which she obtained in 2009. In her entire career, she has been co-author of 10 research articles (4 first author). She has 102 citations and an H index of 4. She now spends her time not doing physics, but complaining about intersectional social injustice on Twitter, the injustice that she has not been offered a faculty position for existing, editing a poetry magazine, and giving talks on women in physics/astronomy.

Anonymous said...

The interesting anonymous comment about Chanda P-W belongs below the post

I can imagine how it got placed here instead. I will comment here, but if you have the power to move comments, please move this one with that one.

tl;dr = I criticize the comment as ad hominem argument

I have a very broad minded view with respect to what one calls themselves. It's also not clear (even to oneself) when one becomes an astronomer. Simplest: when you feel like you've earned it. For me, the PhD was as good a phase transition as any to think, "OK, now I guess I am an astronomer." It comes from being employed, no longer a student, and having to respond on something like a tax form, "Occupation?"

I wish to respectfully push back on the method of counting publications and citations and producing merit functions from those, like an h index. I prefer that we would read some of them. As the anonymous comment has pointed out, the CP-W bibliography is not long, so let's examine just one of the first author papers.

The title sounds like it has relevance to cosmology. If you prefer to call her an astrophysicist, I don't think that would be unjustified and I suspect she would not object strongly. She is the lead author of a two author paper and the other author is Ed Bertschinger, who is no slacker (re-calibrate your understatement meter, it just got pegged off-scale). In a recent ranking, MIT is the best (aka #1) University in the world. Not only in the USA. (Take such rankings with a huge grain of NaCl or other similar substance).

The abstract name-drops (I'm kidding) four or more undisputed giants of Physics and Mathematics: Legendre, Poisson, Dirac, Landau, Hamilton(ian), ...

If your point is that it is a societal waste that such a capable person is now shunted into grandstanding about whether, for example, transracialism is a "thing" then I share that feeling somewhat. If you're simply trying to discredit the ideas of CP-W by citing a limited bibliography, please reconsider. The ideas (and actions) can be (and are being) discredited with logical discourse.

If your point is that she is similar to Jessica Kirkpatrick, in that she wishes to influence the field of astronomy sociologically without ever taking a serious residence in it intellectually, then I see that point and feel it has some merit. However, the field is extremely unforgiving in weeding-out even very people, and I feel some empathy is in order there. It's also true that it is very difficult for practicing astronomers to say some things that should be said but their conflicts of interest (think: peer review of all sorts) guide them to remain silent. That's true on all sides of many issues. Sad but mostly true. So having outsiders that lack those conflicts of interest could be good. The leader of this blog (T.B.) is one such example.

Anonymous said...

In the May 1, 2017 issue of the Ny Times, Dennis Overbye writes an obituary of astronomer Gary Steigman. Since I had just read your post about Schmelz-Vershuur's romance beginning at a AAS meeting, I found it interesting to read of Viegas-Steigman romance, in Overbye's words:

He was recruited to Ohio State in 1986 to found a cosmology center, which would include both astronomers and physicists.// Around the same time, he began a romantic, interhemispheric relationship with a Brazilian astronomer, Sueli Viegas, from the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of São Paulo, whom he had met at a conference in Rio de Janeiro. They married in 2004, after Dr. Viegas had retired from São Paulo.

In this case the record states that they MET at a conference, we can infer that it wasn't an AAS conference, and a couple minutes' Googling shows that they were both mid-career astronomers in their mid-40's by 1986.

I think the AAS official's essay prescribing that astronomers at AAS conferences should be very discrete is both good advice and "gas lighting." It is good advice, because if Kirkpatrick (a AAS councilor) sees a middle aged man's hand on a knee of a graduate student, Kirkpatrick could both feel very uncomfortable AND not know whether it was consensual. But she probably will feel an obligation to report it. And then we might find that it was consensual and did not violate any ACTUAL rules of behavior at AAS conferences. That's why the AAS official's essay is "gas lighting" - it's trying to confuse people into thinking that AAS policy forbids such behaviors when it does not.

Or maybe I am "mansplaining."

Thomas said...

(I'm going to leave the CPW comments here, where their ad hominem force can be isolated. I'm grateful for the input to both commenters and I've made the necessary factual correction to the post. I'm personally not big fan of using publication or h-index as a measure of either quality or seriousness, but I was happy to be able to link to a list of her work. The comparison to Jessica Kirkpatrick is, indeed, relevant, though I think CPW is less "outside" the field than JK. I'll definitely write more about these sorts of people -- as I already have.)

I'm going to have look into this "gaslighting" concept again. I think people are using it very differently than when it was first invented. I think it originally meant any attempt by an abuser to confuse an abused person into thinking (usually) she is not being abused. I don't think Kevin Marvel is abusing anyone.

That said, I think you're right to suggest that Marvel is strongly suggesting that there is a policy here, though one has not been formally made by the Council. Yet. It bears comparison to the 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter that intensified Title IX activity on US College Campuses. Some members of Congress did try to point that the OCR was exceeding its authority and "making law". (Here's a very good piece on that problem.) I think the AAS executive office is risking a similar problem, but I guess one would have to get oneself elected to the Council if one wanted to make a stink about it.

Anonymous said...

Re: Marvel's essay and his power

Much of the following is based on rumor, so take it that way please.

Marvel is said to be the single point of contact at AAS meetings - if you make a complaint of someone's behavior, it will go to him. Of course that isn't true: you could report to any AAS officer, but the idea, as I understand it, is that Marvel will act as the equivalent of the Title IX office's director at a University. So his opinion has some weight in these matters.

It seems that if a lawsuit ever referred to his essay, he would simply say it was an essay, nothing more.

The policy would be the AAS' new ethics policy.

Also, every AAS meeting attendee must sign a statement that they will behave in a professional manner.

Marvel's essay purposefully over states the AAS position. Its Puritanical, in loco parentis, prescription is designed to limit the number of cases Marvel himself has to deal with. The thought is, "tell everyone to stick to science and I don't have as many complaints" but humans being humans, there's gonna be some dancing, some kissing, some arms around the shoulders, and predictably, the paranoia bred by too much emphasis on this topic will lower the threshold to report an incident, and the rate of reports will rise. At least that's what has happened at Universities.

The AAS is not risking anything. Marvel's essay has no force except as an individual's opinion. I bet if it ever came to it, the AAS and he would deny that he posted it on the AAS website in his OFFICIAL capacity.

The US OCR issues a letter in 2011 without following the established rules, in particular, waiting for a period for public comment. Six years later the lawsuits making that point are only beginning to be heard.

Anonymous said...

In order to protect the disempowered at its meetings, the AAS should require all attendees at its meetings to register their romantic and/or sexual partnerships, much like some Universities do, in order to manage student-faculty relationships that otherwise would be inappropriate. A 24/7 web form could be electronically signed by two or more persons in each partnership. To maintain decorum, by default the partnership's duration would be indefinite, i.e. valid until revoked, rather than be valid only for the duration of a single meeting.

However, if the meeting is held in a "yes-means-yes" affirmative consent jurisdiction, the web form would time out automatically after a given period of time, at maximum 2 hours, and would need to be renewed to remain valid.

While Plan A above is excellent, a Plan B option is needed. Ambitiously amorous AAS members could print a special business card, which if signed with the time and date in wet ink by all parties, would suffice for 24 hours, and could be extended for the remainder of the meeting if and only if officially stamped by an on-site notary public or other authorized official of the AAS or local organizing committee.

Thomas said...

Yes, I think that would solve the problem. Nice work. It's a wonder no one had thought of it sooner.