Neil deGrasse Tyson gives disappointing answers when asked about the sexual harassment in science

Neil deGrasse Tyson gives disappointing answers when asked about the sexual harassment in science September 28, 2016
Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks as host of the Apollo 40th anniversary celebration held at the National Air and Space Museum, Monday, July 20, 2009 in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Neil deGrasse Tyson. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

As someone passionate about science and science communication, I’m a big fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s work. I haven’t seen Dr. Tyson speak much about social issues, but it was nice to see him call out this sexist question at a conference a few years ago. However, when Dr. Tyson was asked about sexual harassment and science, he gave some really disappointing answers:

“If you went to anyone — the women — in the field, at conferences, everyone’s got a story. I think if you part the curtains in any of the fields, you’ll find it.

“So the issue is not sexual harassment in science. The issue is sexual harassment in the workplace, which includes scientific workplaces. So I don’t see that there’s some special kind of solution to that problem needed to be invoked in a scientific community.”

While Dr. Tyson is correct that sexual harassment is a problem everywhere, we do know it is particularly bad in science. Basically, Dr. Tyson’s answer is similar to those who say “All Lives Matter.” Yes, all lives matter and all sexual harassment cases matter, but by making such broad statements, you are taking attention away from the issues people are trying to focus on. Some women in science responded to Dr. Tyson’s comments:

Dr. Tyson could have used his platform to elevate the voices of the women in science who have been impacted by harassment, but instead he deflected away from the issue. It’s fine if he didn’t have much knowledge in this area, but then he could have just said he wasn’t sure and that wouldn’t have been as dismissive.

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