Thursday, October 15, 2015

Marcygate: the PC fanatics have to be confronted

Prof Geoffrey Marcy, the world's most famous single discoverer of exoplanets, found himself in the hot sea of jihad-style hostility and resigned yesterday. Over the decades of his successful career, aside from having discovered many new worlds including the very first exoplanet exactly 20 years ago these days (with Butler), the first Neptune-size planet, and many others, this natural hugger may have given a short neck massage (in his car, through the clothes!) to his friend who was undergraduate. He may have touched the leg of a student, hugged a few other students, kissed one or two, and done five more comparable things to several other female scientists.

Only indirectly related: Worlds Apart at Russia Today, a 30-minute interview with Czech ex-president Klaus about the fall of communism, political correctness, decline of the West, fallacies of the European integration, Ukraine, dissolution of Czechoslovakia, migration, causes of the Middle East mess, America as Socialist Europe Lite, wrong U.S.-EU analogies etc. I must say that Oksana Boyko, the host, obviously knows a lot about Klaus' ideas and the history of our country and in some points of the interview, she may have even looked like a sharper thinker than Klaus (just one example: her usage of Milton Friedman's F-twist as an argument was high-tech); I say it even though I am almost certainly closer to his views. If he reads these lines, and he often is, I am sure that he will survive – I still liked it. ;-)

Whether he has done anything that would go beyond these absolutely innocent acts is being disputed and even the University of California "panel" that has investigated those things admitted that the probability is only around 50% that something "worse" (like the motion of his hand from the thigh closer to the belly) has ever happened. But this complete absence of the data that would imply that he has done something unequivocally annoying hasn't prevented a certain community from a hysterical reaction that has, from many viewpoints, exceeded the anti-Jewish campaigns in Germany of the 1930s.

For us, the tolerant and non-Puritan people in the civilized Central Europe, the character of this witch hunt looks absolutely incredible. A good example of this consternation that the behavior of the bulk of Marcy's colleagues has caused in Europe may be seen in the letter by Géza Kovács, a successful astronomy professor at Konkoly University, Hungary.

Here is his full letter:
Dear Colleagues,

Due to my outrage concerning the disgusting attack of the (mostly) U.S. astronomical community against Geoff Marcy, and the apparent lack of any counter movement against this madness, I would like to draw your attention to the danger of remaining silent in this situation.

What we can gather from the newspapers and web sites discussing the issue, it is clear that the reaction of the community was disproportional, vicious, hypocritical and hysterical. The unleashed hate, clearly blowing out of proportion the weight of his behavior and leaving wide open space to any further accusation against anybody showing some level of casual interaction and furthermore, endanger normal and friendly contacts in the community and in the society, as a whole. I hope you recognize the great danger of accepting the total destruction of someone’s undeniable contribution to science because of the hypocritical attitude the community seems to accept these days.

Considering the pace of events, I think that the clock is ticking very quickly. If the mature and free-thinking part of the community does not act right now, I am sure that the game ends very quickly, and those who initiated this dirty, unethical and disgraceful attack, will win. Today Geoff, tomorrow you or me.


Géza Kovács, DSc
Konkoly Observatory

p.s.: You are free to circulate this letter to anybody you think might be willing to act. This letter has been sent also to other researchers.
Amen to that. If someone proposed to send the Czech army to Berkeley in order to defend the basic human rights over there, I could say Yes. ;-)

When this scholar was writing the letter, he may have been hoping that Marcy wouldn't lose his job at Berkeley. Well, after my years in the U.S. Academia, I've learned quite something about the mechanisms that operate there so I was sure it was a matter of hours or days when this assault would eliminate Marcy from the faculty list over there. It was unavoidable.

The atmosphere in that Californian hotbed of left-wing extremism became way too poisonous so even if it were in principle possible for his to stay there, he would probably want to leave himself.

I want to discuss comments by Ethan Siegel who has unfortunately supported the vicious insane witch hunt at – see also a somewhat interesting discussion at (I liked comments by a commenter named Wow over there).

Siegel tried to address the objections against the disproportionate reaction to the witch hunt and openly defend his dismissal and even the tarnishing of his legacy.
Objection: “He’s the leading exoplanet researcher, and the field will suffer without him.”

Siegel: He’s certainly a pioneer in this field, as he confirmed the very first exoplanet. His research has continued to be excellent, and he’s done massive good for the enterprise of science. But the reality is there are a great many good, smart, capable people at work in the field today, and there is no evidence that without Geoff Marcy, the field will in any way suffer.
The field will probably survive but that is surely not a sufficient argument to support the elimination of Marcy, is it? If Siegel thinks that it is, then he is justifying the same logic as the logic of the would-be argument "the mankind can survive without the Jews so why won't we exterminate them"? People like Siegel probably think that they're much better than the anti-Semites but there is no qualitative difference.

By the "argument" that the field will "survive" without Marcy which is why the destruction of Marcy should be the chosen option, Seigel is only unmasking his almost infinite prejudice against people like Marcy. No implication like that works. One could equally well argue that
There is no evidence that the fields of astronomy and physics would significantly suffer if the women were banned as researchers.
I am not defending the policy in the statement above but I am certainly pointing out the fact that the justification for Siegel's assertion is exactly as weak as the justification for the assertion above. Just because these sciences would almost certainly do just fine without all women, just like they pretty much did for many centuries, does not mean that the women should be eliminated. The survival of the world is not a sufficient condition for an act to be wise and just.

Civilized societies allow women to pursue their interests in science – and they also allow natural huggers such as Marcy to do the same thing!

Just to be sure, it is questionable whether the elimination of all women would be a bigger blow or a smaller blow for natural sciences than the elimination of all the male scientists who have been cursed as politically incorrect men. Would the discoveries of exoplanets really proceed without Marcy? Would the DNA be discovered without Watson? Would there be practical and entertaining courses of mechanics without Lewin? Would we have the data about the comets without Matt Taylor and his colorful T-shirt? Would we understand the cell cycle regulation without Tim Hunt? There's at least some uncertainty about these questions. Are you sure that you can find similar examples of events that depended on female scientists?

People like Siegel would love to ban any discussion about these questions. They only want to tolerate one attitude. Women and non-whites etc. are always great while men and whites are always bad unless they spend 1/2 of their lives by spitting on their sex and race and by displaying their (fabricated) guilt. Sorry, this is not compatible with a society where people have equal rights.
Objection: “He’s just an affectionate, hugger of a person; he never intended to harass anyone.”

Fortunately, the person doing the harassing doesn’t get to define what harassing behavior is in this world. If you make an unprofessional advance towards someone in your profession, that is harassment. If you make an unprofessional advance towards someone in your profession and you are their superior, that is criminal activity.
Oh, really? So the "suspect" never matters? Is it enough for a would-be victim to describe some human interaction as an "unprofessional advance" and the harassment has been established? Is it enough for a subordinate worker to talk about an "unprofessional advance" and the criminal activity has been proven?

Sorry, Ethan, but these ideas of yours have nothing to do with the way how the law may work in a civilized society – any civilized society. To establish that a crime has taken place, impartial enough investigators – including the police and/or courts – has to accumulate and verify the evidence that something wrong may have happened and carefully compare those established facts to the universal laws that are equally strong for everyone, regardless of his job or "power". The investigators and judges must have an impartial attitude to the would-be victims and the would-be culprits. The bias that Siegel wants to turn into the "default attitude" is absolutely unacceptable. As witnesses, people with Siegel's attitude commit the crime of a false testimony; as people, they suck as subpar human beings.

No legitimate court procedure like that has taken place. No court has really convicted Prof Marcy of any criminal activity. Only a self-appointed "panel" – a part of a broader "mob" within the U.S. Academia – has cursed Prof Marcy. You have no moral right to talk about harassment let alone criminal activity. These are big words and you are just a humanly small and dirty mob.
“The UC system will really suffer if they lose Geoff Marcy’s funding.”

Yes, it’s true that Geoff Marcy just received a $100 million grant over the next 10 years, and the University will lose their cut of that if they fire him. But the members of the astronomy department — contrary to the original statement put out by the chair — have put forth a letter calling for Marcy’s dismissal, as the UC system will suffer more if they make this an unsafe space for women or anyone not in a position of power.
Well, these arguments that "we don't care about those $100 million" only quantify the basic defect of Seigel's and the fanatics' thinking – they always place their hardcore ideology above science even though it is science that the are supposed to pursue in their jobs.

In communism, we would also hear that "our socialist ideals were always more important for us than a package of the imperialists' money". Except that the money is at least correlated with something that people consider good and care about. The $100 million grant for Marcy reflects his importance in the exoplanet research. To say that the university doesn't care about the money is very close to the statement that the university doesn't actually care about the research.

Of course, I don't have a doubt that even without Marcy-style discoveries, they will find a way to extract the money from the sponsors (probably taxpayers) so they really don't care about the money. The achievements don't really matter.

It is absolutely ludicrous for Siegel to suggest that 10 or so hugs or kisses or massages per 20 years create a "damage" to the university that exceeds $100 million. If those things were problems and they could be quantified via the equivalent amount of money, the amount would be comparable at most to thousands of dollars. But one hundred million dollars? Have you lost your mind completely, Ethan? Have you ever paid millions of dollars to avoid a hug? If you haven't, why do you write the obvious insanity that the avoiding of a hug has a greater value than these millions of dollars? Will your prestige in these fanatical circles grow if you write something more insane than others did?
Objection: “But that’s just Berkeley. What about the entire University of California system?”

They’ve issued an even stronger statement: [a letter follows]
Sorry but this UC statement was in no way equivalent to the letter from Berkeley. It was a letter by apparatchiks who don't faithfully represent the opinion of the UC faculty. They have been partly selected for their tendency to support similar witch hunts and earn some political profit from this disgusting behavior; unscrupulous careerists running towards the feeding troughs over the dead human bodies of others. The authors of the letter are totally analogous to a corporate committee of the communist party that we remember from the socialist world. The fact that a bunch of commies is more "ideologically clean" than regular people from another place doesn't mean that their company or street is more fanatical than another company or another street.

In the real world, Berkeley surely does belong among the most radical places if we consider the University of California campuses and the Western Academia in general. This special radical flavor of Berkeley dates back at least to the 1960s. Everyone who knows something about UC Berkeley is aware of many more details I don't want to mention here.

The support for the witch hunt is dramatically lower outside Berkeley.
And finally, the most maddening objection of all...

“But how can you prevent anything from being called harassment at all?”

Here’s a couple of tips that I think might help you out. If you’re of equal power to someone you’re romantically interested in, even though you’re in the workplace, you are free to ask, once, if the other person is interested in you. If you get a “no,” that’s the end of it; you don’t get a second ask.

If you’re of superior power to someone you’re interested in, you don’t get to ask. That doesn’t mean you never get to pursue it, but you don’t get to start it. If you’re a grad student acting as a TA and you’re interested in one of your undergrads, if you’re a postdoc interested in a grad student, a professor interested in a postdoc, etc., you need the person of inferior power to approach you.

That’s not law, that’s just the rule of being a decent human being.
Every statement above is just complete rubbish. Ethan is trying to impose some new strict laws that would be enforced in a stringently supervised concentration camp created according to his ideals. But the natural civilized societies that can survive just don't and can't operate like that.

First of all, it is just complete nonsense that people may only express the interest in every potential romantic partner once. In the real world, many people are surely displaying their interest in a given person 10 times or 20 times – although it may be by "not quite explicit signs" in most of the cases. Someone does it more often, someone does it less often.

Also, it is a statistical and biological fact that men are significantly more likely to play the "active role". The red symbol above is Venus, a representative of the female sex; the blue symbol is Mars, a representative of the male sex. You may see that the Venus is an ovum "sitting" on a cross which seems anchored; the Mars is either a sperm that is moving around in the direction of the arrow, or an erect penis pointing in a certain desired direction. Men are more active; women are more likely to play the passive role.

At some "totally social" level, the relationships and advances may be almost symmetric but they're not symmetric in the most general contexts. Ethan Siegel may have missed it when he was a schoolkid but I can teach him the classes he has missed, anyway. When it comes to sex, which is really one of the expected outcomes of a romantic relationship, the man has to get erect. If he doesn't, the event is simply cancelled. So it's this changed state of the organ that implies that the man is the first one who does a certain activity when it really matters. ;-)

The previous paragraph was meant semi-jokingly but it has a true and important core that could be described by a much more serious language. The point is that the asymmetry between the sexes is far more important for the character of "advances" than the occupations, jobs, and "power" of both human beings. It doesn't matter whether one is interested in a person who is his or her boss; or his or her subordinate. Whatever is the "professional" relationship, it's significantly more likely for the man to play the first active role!

It has been totally normal for men to become partners with women who are either younger or professionally "subordinate" or both. Statistics implies that this hierarchy has to dominate. Men in such relationships are generally older not because it's an arbitrary social convention but because they remain sexually active or driven throughout their lives while the "sexual career" of a woman is more limited in average. And men are more likely to be the "bosses in the workplace" simply because men are more likely to be bosses! The workplace is one of the most natural places where future partners meet (because they spend a lot of time there), you can't eliminate this environment from the list of sources of potential romantic partners, and when you don't eliminate it, the statistics of the bosses implies that there simply have to exist many men who become partners of "less powerful" women from their workplace.

These insights may be presented as "evil signs of a patriarchal society" or anything like that. But to a large extent, they are mathematical facts. It is batšit crazy for Ethan Siegel or anyone else to try to completely deny these facts.

There has been nothing indecent about men who have approached a woman who was "less powerful" at the workplace – and that's what most heroes of the history science, much like most famous men of their eras, have actually done in the recent centuries. I could tell you tons of examples. Just for fun, Eugene Wigner has donated his sister to Paul Dirac who has married her and everyone was happy. The indecency only begins elsewhere.

You can't demand a nearly complete suppression of interactions between humans in the sake of "decency". There is nothing decent about a society where the humans don't interact. Such a society would be inhuman.

Ethan Siegel spends several paragraphs with saying that there is a greater percentage of female astronomers in Santa Cruz than in Berkeley. Why is it important? Why does Siegel present that it's an advantage for Santa Cruz? Marcy is married – to an experienced biologist. If he has some idiosyncrasy, it's his favorite proximity to younger women. It's rather obvious that a higher percentage of female astronomy professors at Berkeley wouldn't have substantially changed his behavior.

Everyone who thinks logically must know that. Ethan Siegel's texts are just logically incoherent descriptions of his biases – he prefers a workplace without any human contact with students; and he prefers female professors over the male ones. But these biases are not only irrational – they are also largely uncorrelated to one another. Their only obvious relationship between the biases is that Ethan Siegel suffers from both of these biases.
Not just for her, and not just for astronomy, but for setting the tone for the culture of her department. Like it or not, representation matters.
Sorry but it shouldn't matter and it's complete and offensive nonsense to say that a department with a female professor wearing a hat is better than a department without a female professor wearing a hat.
And that means strong, smart, successful people of diverse races, genders, countries-of-origin, religions and all sort of other ways one can measure one’s background matters.
No, at a fair and meritocratic workplace, the race, gender, country-of-origin, religion, and similar features of people's background do not matter. By saying that those things matter and may make the workplace "better" or "worse", Siegel is only unmasking his racism, sexism, nationalism, and dozens of other -isms.

Equally importantly, people have different personalities (like the personality of a hugger) and these personalities are still compatible with someone's being a great astronomer, as Marcy's example (and many other examples) show us every day. These people must be allowed in decent departments as well and efforts to ban them or eliminate them may be classified as the most hostile and consequential attacks against the kind of diversity that is actually much more important than the superficial diversities whose importance was so much overstated by Ethan Siegel.
It matters for all the junior people who come through; it matters for making it not okay to treat the “different” ones like they don’t belong there.
It's truly ironic for Siegel to claim that he wants to prevent "different" people from feeling that they don't belong to the department. It's truly ironic because the very point of his whole tirade is to claim that people such as Marcy don't belong there! It is a clear logical defect in Ethan's thinking about pretty much everything.
Because the harassment, the sexism, the racism, the assault… it hurts us all.
What actually hurts us all is the shouting of these words and the demonization of the people – including top scientists – who have done nothing harmful at all. It primarily hurts these scientists themselves. But it hurts everyone else, too. People who agree with Marcy and his friends – and it arguably includes most of the signatories of the disgusting letters as well – are being constantly intimidated. They live in fear, they have to restrict their natural behavior that would make them and everyone else happier. This movement destroys the honesty and freedom in the scholars' thinking and the intellectual diversity across the U.S. Academia.
It makes the field worse, it makes the culture worse, and perhaps most of all, when we turn a blind eye — and do nothing and say nothing, and let it slide — it makes all of us worse, and it makes life worse for the next generation of scientists who’ll come along.
The witch hunters make the field worse, the culture worse, they cripple human lives. I haven't turned a blind eye to the story. I scream as loudly as I can. This vicious insanity has been getting worse in recent years and it has to be stopped for us not to become another clone of the Middle East.
It’s up to all of us to make it right, to stand up and say this is not okay.
"All of us"? Is Ethan Siegel really willing to say that it's a duty of everyone in the scholarly environment to join these witch hunts, and perhaps those who don't join should be punished for that if not expelled? It really looks like he is saying it. Does he really misunderstand why these calls leave civilized people in the free world speechless?
It’s not okay. And there’s nothing Geoff Marcy can do to fix it; it’s up to all of us to fix it by protecting everyone else out there from all the Geoff Marcys of the world. Because the Geoff Marcys have no place in it; all of science and all of us are better off without them.
This last paragraph of Siegel's rant is probably the most hateful one.

When Marcy has touched someone's necks, there is nothing he can do to fix it? Oh, really? Where's any evidence for any irreversible damage that has been done – except for the damage that has been done not by Marcy but by the fanatical witch hunters?

Who are "Geoff Marcys of the world"? Is it all the people who have touched the shoulder of a woman on their workplace who had a lower salary? Or all the people who have kissed someone they knew from their business world? People who feel it's natural to hug someone else? People who have randomly become victims of similar witch hunts? Are Géza Kovács and your humble correspondent also on the black list of "Geoff Marcys of the world" because we find this mass behavior towards the researcher unacceptable?

Did Siegel really say that Geoff Marcys have no place "in the world"? Is he joking? Unless you will murder him or them, he will and they will continue to live in the world. In fact, Marcy may very well continue with his exoplanet research – and outshine the rest of his ex-colleagues. He wasn't moved to the hell. He just broke his relationships with the UC Berkeley department.

But there is no unambiguous method to conclude that one side of this broken relationship is the "good one" and the other is the "bad one". If this resignation has separated the wheat from the weeds, Marcy is closer to the wheat and the fanaticized remained of the department is closer to the weeds. You may repeat to yourself that you are morally superior but I think that deep inside your soul, you realize that you are the ones who behave as nasty immoral vicious wild animals.

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