Anonymous agents behaving underminingly

The stories about prominent harassers in the field of astronomy have been coming out a lot lately, and kudos to the field for taking steps to end a severe and chronic problem that impairs the advancement of half the members of the human race. But of course you knew the counter-reaction was coming. It's inevitable. Pointing out that prominent men have been doing bad things always leads to defensive shrieks of witch hunt!.

So here it comes: a "group" called Underground Astronomy is very concerned about the well-being of harassing astronomers. The women they've chased out of the discipline, not so much.

Is there a backlash to the backlash against sexual harassment in astronomy? A group calling itself the Astronomy Underground sent an open letter to leaders of the American Astronomical Society on Tuesday alleging inappropriate, vigilante-style attempts to root out harassers in the discipline.

“We ask [the American Astronomical Society] Council and the [society’s Astronomy Education Board] to publicly explain how these actions have been allowed to occur for so long, and with what license [the society] has acted to investigate its members, damaging their careers, their personal lives and the health of the society in the process,” reads the letter.

The Astronomy Underground alleges that the society is somehow involved in such inquiries, and demands that it publicly explain how it intends to “1) repair the damage done to those who have been ‘investigated’ under the [society’s] name, 2) redirect the astronomy experience for our youngest members who have now spent their entire careers focused on these matters rather than on the science and 3) repair the reputation of astronomy on the national landscape, for the purposes of future recruitment and funding.”

You may notice that I put "group" in quotes. I'm not sure it's the right word to use. I found the Underground Astronomy page on Facebook, and it currently has precisely 5 "likes", and it sounds like all the articles are written by one person, someone going by the pseudonym "Evelyn Beatrice Hall" (I'm pretty sure the real Evelyn Beatrice Hall is dead). A particularly nasty person.

They really don't like Alice Omstead, who has publicly said that we need to "take a stand" against harassment.

Breaking news: Outed on The Astronomy Underground for doubling down on her participation in the #AstroWitchHunt Alice Olmstead deletes her post on the Center for Astronomy Education. Too bad we took a picture of it first. Scroll down to view what it looks like when not-very-good-researchers attempt to build a career through social activism. News flash Alice Olmstead: if you had any research chops, youʻd be working with Slater, not his second-rate post-doc.#AstroTraSH Astronomy Magazine

Oh, yeah, cheap shots and petty sniping. That's persuasive.

This same person reposted this comment:

Don't expect to be able to stay in the astronomy field after graduation. I'm watching the field on Twitter and Facebook, and will not hire anyone who has showed out as an SJW. It's not "silencing" people, it's not wanting to hire someone who is going to be nothing but problems. Think about the future.

For some reason -- perhaps the tone -- whoever created this "group" sounds a hell of a lot like Louise Mensch, and that makes me doubt that they have much influence in hiring astronomers.

So I don't think it counts as a group. More like a lone crank.


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This does explain the strange friend request I got earlier this week.

By Ethan Vishniac (not verified) on 20 Jan 2016 #permalink

PZ above writes
“The stories about prominent harassers in the field of astronomy have been coming out a lot lately, and kudos to the field for taking steps to end a severe and chronic problem that *impairs the advancement* of half the members of the human race.”

But in his recent blog titled "But that’s not how science works!”, he says
“… the conclusions of evolutionary theory, which knock apart human exceptionalism and *argue against humanity as a product of purposeful progress*…”


By See Noevo (not verified) on 20 Jan 2016 #permalink

@See Noevo So PZ suggests that women want and deserve a fair chance to "advance" their careers in science, also suggests that evolution has no evidence that it has "purposely progressed" towards the goal of creating humans. Are you implying those two views are somehow in conflict? I fail to see how.