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By Daniella Silva
Famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson disputed sexual misconduct allegations made against him by three women after the broadcasters of his show “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” said they were reviewing the claims.
“Accusations can damage a reputation and a marriage. Sometimes irreversibly,” Tyson wrote in a lengthy post on Facebook addressing the three allegations Saturday evening. “I see myself as loving husband and as a public servant – a scientist and educator who serves at the will of the public.”
On Friday, “Cosmos” broadcasters Fox Broadcasting Company and National Geographic said in a statement they had “only just become aware of the recent allegations regarding Neil deGrasse Tyson.”
“We take these matters very seriously and we are reviewing the recent report,” they added.
The allegations were first reported by the website Patheos, which features writing on faith and spirituality. The site last month detailed claims by three women who accused Tyson of misconduct, unwanted sexual advances and assault.
NBC News has not independently verified the allegations.
Tyson said in his statement he welcomed the investigation by Fox and National Geographic.
The producers of “Cosmos” said in a statement that they are “committed to a thorough investigation of this matter.”
Katelyn N. Allers, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, told Patheos in a report published Thursday that Tyson allegedly grabbed her arm while looking at a tattoo she has of the solar system and reached into her dress while looking for the dwarf planet Pluto. The incident allegedly took place at an after party for an American Astronomical Society event in 2009.
Allers said that while the experience was not an assault, it showed Tyson was capable of “creepy behavior,” according to Patheos.
“My experience with him is he’s not someone who has great respect for female bodily autonomy,” she said, according to Patheos.
Allers confirmed in an email to NBC News the details of the encounter reported in Patheos. She said her hope in coming forward was that the allegations against Tyson would be investigated, particularly those of the other two women accusing him “whose lives and careers have been so very impacted.”
In his statement, Tyson said he has a “professional history with the demotion of Pluto, which had occurred officially just three years earlier.”
“And while I don’t explicitly remember searching for Pluto at the top of her shoulder, it is surely something I would have done in that situation,” he said.
“I was reported to have ‘groped’ her by searching ‘up her dress,’ when this was simply a search under the covered part of her shoulder of the sleeveless dress.
Tyson said he had only just learned that she found the behavior “creepy.”
“That was never my intent and I’m deeply sorry to have made her feel that way,” he said.
A second accuser, Ashley Watson, told Patheos that she quit her job as Tyson’s assistant this summer because of alleged unwanted sexual advances.
Watson said Tyson invited her over to his apartment one evening to share a bottle of wine and “unwind for a few hours,” according to Patheos. Watson said she agreed to go for a glass of wine because she felt pressure to impress him, Patheos reported.
Tyson allegedly told Watson that human beings need “releases” in life and asked if there were any releases she needed, according to Patheos.
As she got up to leave, Tyson allegedly stopped her and said he wanted to show her a “Native American handshake” that he knew, Watson said, according to Patheos.
That handshake involved “holding hands tightly, making eye contact, and feeling for each other’s pulse,” according to Patheos.
“Tyson then allegedly put his hands on her shoulders, and said he wanted to hug her, but if he did, he’d ‘just want more,’” the website said.
The incident led to Watson quitting her job, Patheos reported.
While Tyson did not name any of the accusers in his statement, he described various interactions with a female production assistant in the summer of 2018, including inviting her for wine and cheese “as a capstone of our friendship” during the final week of shooting “Cosmos.”
He said the woman later told him she was creeped out by the evening and viewed it as an attempt to seduce her.
Tyson said he did not touch her until he shook her hand as she was leaving, offering a Native American handshake he had learned.
“You extend your thumb forward during the handshake to feel the other person’s vital spirit energy —the pulse,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten that handshake, and I save it in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.”
Tyson said he “apologized profusely” to the production assistant at a meeting in his office and that she accepted the apology.
“I assured her that had I known she was uncomfortable, I would have apologized on the spot, ended the evening, and possibly reminded her of the other social gathering that she could attend,” he said, referring to a separate gathering of colleagues that same evening.
She quit that day with a few days left of production of the show, he said.
Tyson also said that at work Watson frequently offered hugs at work, which he rejected and said on a few occasions he “clumsily declared, ‘If I hug you I might just want more.’”
“My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection,” he said.
Patheos had earlier published a report from another woman who said Tyson drugged and raped her in 1984 when they were both graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1980s.
Tchiya Amet has publicly accused Tyson of raping her in the past, saying that in 1984 Tyson allegedly gave her a glass of water while they were in his apartment and the next thing she remembers is waking up naked in his bed. Amet has said on her website that she reported the alleged rape to police 30 years after it happened and has written about the alleged incident in the following years.
Watson and Amet did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Tyson denied the allegations and said in his statement that during his time at graduate school he had a “brief relationship” with a fellow student.
“I remember being intimate only a few times, all at her apartment, but the chemistry wasn’t there,” he said.
He said that more than 30 years later she accused him of the alleged rape “as my visibility-level took another jump.”
Tyson added that, according to the woman’s blog posts, “the drug and rape allegation comes from an assumption of what happened to her during a night that she cannot remember.”
“It is as though a false memory had been implanted, which, because it never actually happened, had to be remembered as an evening she doesn’t remember,” he said.
Tyson said he had previously declined to comment on the allegations “on the grounds that serious accusations should not be adjudicated in the press.”
“But clearly I cannot continue to stay silent,” he said.
Austin Mullen contributed.