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How Sexual Misconduct Allegations Could Cost Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson Millions

Allegations of sexual misconduct against Neil deGrasse Tyson by four women have placed the celebrated astrophysicist’s extensive media and book deals, which this year earned him an estimated $3 million before taxes and fees, in jeopardy.

Tyson, who has achieved fame by translating the complexities of the universe in a way that prime-time viewers can understand, has denied the worst of the charges — that he drugged and raped a former classmate in 1984. He’s apologized for other interactions, such as the recollection by one woman that he grabbed her in order to look at a tattoo that was under her dress.

Fox Broadcasting and National Geographic, which produce the show Cosmos, which he hosts, said they are investigating the allegations. “The credo at the heart of COSMOS is to follow the evidence wherever it leads. The producers of COSMOS can do no less in this situation,” said the Cosmos producers. The next season of the show is still currently scheduled to air in the spring of 2019.

The past year’s outpouring of accusations that high-profile men sexually harassed or assaulted women have resulted in some spectacular falls from power. For Tyson, the accusations put at risk his media, book sales and speaking engagements, from which he earns the bulk of his income but which are also highly susceptible to changes in reputation.  

In addition to Cosmos, Tyson also produces and hosts the show Star Talk, which airs on the National Geographic Channel. He makes numerous paid speaking appearances every year, with tickets typically starting at $50. He’s also the author of 15 books, including his 2017 book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which has sold over one million copies.

Tyson did not respond to a request for comment, but in a Facebook postdated December 1, he said that he welcomed an investigation into the allegations. Tyson’s primary employer, the American Museum of Natural History, confirmed with Forbes that it was also investigating the allegations.

The growing furor follows a series of reports alleging sexual misconduct by Tyson. The most serious allegation against Tyson comes from Tchiya Amet, who alleges that in 1984, Tyson drugged and raped her while they were both students at the University of Texas at Austin. Amet confronted Tyson publicly in 2010 in front of a live audience at a NOVA event, and was escorted out of the event by security. In 2014, she wrote a blog post detailing the incident, which received some attention from science bloggers but mostly went unnoticed.

Then in November 2018, Amet gave an interview with David G. McAfee, who writes the “No Sacred Cows” blog on the religious website Patheos. That interview caught more attention, and prompted two more women to tell their stories to McAfee, which he published later in November. On Tuesday, Buzzfeed followed up this reporting with its own article, giving the allegations a wider audience and also revealing that a fourth woman alleged misconduct.  

Tyson denies this allegation of rape. In the Facebook post he published on December 1, he stated that he knew Amet (though he didn’t mention her by name), and said that the two had had a “brief relationship.” “I remember being intimate only a few times, all at her apartment, but the chemistry wasn’t there,” he wrote. Amet denied ever having any consensual sex with Tyson, or ever being in a romantic relationship with him.

Tyson largely confirmed the details of a second allegation detailed in the same report. Dr. Katelyn N. Allers, an associate professor of Physics at Bucknell University, alleged that in 2009, Tyson grabbed her against her will in order to look at her full tattoo of the solar system, part of which was obscured by her dress. She described this to Buzzfeed as “him reaching into my dress and sort of looking down it. It was an invasion of my space, inappropriate and sexual.” In the Facebook post described the incident as “simply a search under the covered part of her shoulder of the sleeveless dress.” He denied any malicious intent and said he didn’t realize he had upset Allers. “I only just learned (nine years after) that she thought this behavior creepy.”

Tyson has also denied he acted in a sexually suggestive way to a third woman who was interviewed in the report—Ashley Watson, who worked as an assistant to Tyson during production of the second season of the show Cosmos, who said she quit her position because of his behavior. He has not responded to allegations from the fourth woman, unnamed, who said at a 2010 holiday party at the American Museum of Natural History (where Tyson works in the Hayden Planetarium), Tyson “drunkenly approached her, she said, making sexual jokes and propositioning her to join him alone in his office.”

The allegations against Tyson also come at a time when the sciences are experiencing their own #MeToo movement. Since 2016, women in the astronomy and astrophysics community have been telling their stories on social media using the hashtag #AstroSH. The initial outpouring of stories stemmed from two high-profile cases involving prominent astronomers, but served to highlight that sexual harassment was more pervasive than those high-profile incidents.

“Whenever someone with that type of visibility is tarnished in some way, it impacts the whole field,” said Dr. Christina Richey, a astrophysicist at NASA’s JPL who sits on the American Academy of Astronomy’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. “I’m hopeful that this continues the conversation towards real change, not just making the field more diverse but more inclusive.”

 

This article originally appeared on Forbes