Maybe John Yoo will have lunch with him? [see note at end of post]

[15/X/15: last word on this here]

Astronomer Geoffrey Marcy is a big deal in big science, apparently on the Nobel Prize short list.  A Sirius-level magnitude star in Berkeley’s constellation.  For  a decade, at least, he’s also been a serial harasser of women and on notice about it, in a field that has a big problem treating women as colleagues. Not a careless act or slipup: a long-time hobby. Everyone knew about it; women had a whole network to warn each other about him.  You will, however, be pleased to know that Cal deeply deplores this behavior, and after six months of finding out what, apparently, any one in the exoplanet trades could tell them, he has been given a sharply worded admonition and told to not do it any more! His department chair, who presides over a faculty of 21 men and 3 women, counsels them that the episode is “hardest for Geoff in this moment”.  No, really; this guy thinks this is something that happened to Marcy! and in case you think the god of irony is on travel today, that chair is also our Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion.

Marcy is so contrite and abashed that he has personally written a uniquely mealy-mouthed letter of apology and posted it on his own web page, where we can learn that even a Nobel Prize candidate can be clueless enough to need ten years of “deep and lengthy consultations” to figure out what any woman over the age of six could tell him, and indeed what many of his adult victims have been telling him in “complaints…going back more than a decade“.

Now, this is a good opportunity to all calm down and not get emotional, and do a little cost-benefit analysis.  And let’s be sure to keep our eye on the ball, which is doing more better science for the benefit of all humanity, plus getting more bigger grants at Cal.  How serious is this, really?  On the one hand, Marcy undoubtedly published more brilliant papers, and found more planets, on account of the emotional support he appropriated for himself from his female grad students. Sort of like the Japanese victories that wouldn’t have happened without the “comfort women” who nourished the soldiers’ morale, right? If he had been fired or driven away early in his tenure here by an administration more concerned for our own women’s dignity and morale than his comfort, he would have done famous things somewhere else, which is  at least as bad as doing less of it here.  So there was great scientific value created by letting him do his thing his way as long as possible.  Slapping his wrist gently, as we have, assures several more years of high-powered scientific achievement, maybe even that Nobel Prize, before having to upset him again, even if he should backslide immediately, because these investigations cannot be rushed.  Best of all, any women inclined to blow a whistle and upset Marcy or another Big Man groper will be suitably abashed and discouraged by seeing how little their abuse counts, and not make waves.

So the scientific benefits of letting this skeeze skate as long as possible are enormous, one could say cosmic.  On the other side, what were the costs?  Well, at least three of his victims dropped out of astronomy entirely, so whatever discoveries they might have made are gone.  There’s the science other women in the department aren’t doing day by day, because they are enraged, afraid, anxious, and demoralized as they see, year after year, that the senior people who are supposed to be taking care of them and mentoring them are OK with a big shot  treating them like toys [only one? I have no evidence, but I know organizational culture is usually a pervasive thing].

Some number of women who could be probing the cosmos in our shop didn’t come and are doing it elsewhere. And this is not just a “women’s issue”: every man on the Cal faculty, and in science everywhere, is suffering some degree of harm as women we work with, quite understandably, are giving us the fisheye because of stuff like this. Not to mention men being hit on by gay, or female, profs, and yes, that happens too.

On balance, I don’t think coddling Marcy had net benefits in science: we don’t even have to examine all that mooshy stuff about human dignity and a safe workplace and equal rights!

We have a Vice Provost for the Faculty in charge of this stuff. Obviously not VP for the students, as her office mission statement confirms, but one can’t do everything.  Janet Broughton is a philosopher specializing in theories of mind (to be fair, that might well leave little time for theories of heart, or ethics).  And when you’ve spent your career in the field with the smallest percentage of women faculty of any of the humanities, I guess you could get to think that’s the way it s’posed to be.

Now we have a PR disaster. When you cover up and enable outrage for the comfort of Important People, better wear a hat, because sooner or later It’s Going to Start Coming Down. [minor non-substantive edits 10/X/15]

[more here 12/X/15]

[added 10/X/15] If you don’t think it should be this way, there is a (very gently worded) petition you can sign here.

[added 12/X/15] a couple of people have criticized what they took to be an implication that John Yoo is a sexual harasser.  I do not mean that; as far as I know Yoo is a perfect gentleman in all his personal and professional relationships. I meant to use him as an example of a professor with whom no colleague should share so much as a cup of coffee. Yoo is a war criminal who enabled and justified torture in our name (that didn’t even obtain useful intelligence). As a government lawyer, he violated his professional obligations, dissserved his client,  shamed my country, and implicated me as a citizen in those crimes. To my knowledge, he has never retracted his torture memo.

The Berkeley law school dean’s office suite is decorated with paintings of Abu Ghreib.



Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

10 thoughts on “Maybe John Yoo will have lunch with him? [see note at end of post]”

  1. The Swedes may take this sort of thing a bit more seriously than Berkeley. There are always plenty of good candidates for a Nobel. Why risk a PR problem? Mind you, Professor Marcy might get on well with the King of Sweden.

    The exception is the Peace Prize. It’s inherently political, and any credible candidate will have cupboards full of skeletons. It’s selected not by scientists but by politicians, who deal with embarrassment every day.

  2. I really don't know what to say. I wouldn't have lunch with either of them. Evidently I wouldn't fit in well with at Berkeley since it would seem that the faculty and students do not share my values and perspectives. I really would like to hear from people at Berkeley why neither of these men is shunned and ostracized.

  3. They should fire him, or tell him he needs to "retire early" after making a genuine apology if he doesn't want to be fired in disgrace. The man is a career-wrecker and a near-certain risk that he'll start drifting back into his old ways again, and we don't need him.

    In fact, the beauty of science is that while there are geniuses, there are no unique geniuses – no one for which science has no replacement, because it's a product of its time and scientific culture rather than any one individual. If Marcy hadn't made his discoveries, someone else would have, and probably in the same time period.

  4. Well. The thing is, why would this surprise anyone? Academia gives individuals a huge amount of power, and the way science gets funded sounds even worse. (A fascinating subject of which I know little.) And as we know from other arenas, even highly educated professionals absolutely stink at policing each other and themselves (doctors, lawyers, etc). Why would we expect anything different? Primatology.

    Question: are there whistleblower rules for academics? I do think giving people a slice of the pie can be helpful, though not sure how it might transfer. Probably it can't.

  5. So disappointed to read this in the newspaper headline this a.m. Such an amazing new field of science, and one of the giants is driving women out of it.

    His wife, also a professor, seems to have drunk the Kool-aid.

    Maybe Marcy can work productively under the supervision of a woman astronomer, with minimum contact with students.

  6. “In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to commit murder, nor would anyone make such a claim for the artist, however gifted. If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear. And, after all, the worst crimes are not always the punishable ones. By encouraging necrophilic reveries one probably does quite as much harm as by, say, picking pockets at the races. One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other. The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, “This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.” Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.”

    ― George Orwell, Dickens, Dali and Others

    What if, we could protect little girls in railway carriages while allowing our proverbial Shakespeare to go on writing plays? What if, instead of ruining the lives of our criminals, we merely set out to protect others from them without destroying them?

    1. My pennyworth on virtue and genius is that they are completely uncorrelated. Some of the supremely talented are also admirable human beings: Darwin, Chekhov. Some are scum: Bernini, Carrel. Most are in-between, like the rest of us. It is characteristic of the scum that they think their talent entitles them to get away with anything.

Comments are closed.