Pretty much following the libretto of Carmina Burana (e.g.,
Fate – monstrous
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
), Geoffrey Marcy was celebrated by the New York Times in May 2014 as a Prius-driving save-the-Earth-from-a-comfortable-Berkeley-perch right-thinker (link). The same newspaper today reports that he must resign from his tenured job at UC Berkeley for “groping students, kissing them and touching or massaging them inside their clothes” and then failing to apologize properly (what would have been sufficient?).
Earlier this month I asked where Syrian and Afghan refugees would fit into a U.S. economy with a $15/hour minimum wage. But maybe a harder question is what does a pariah like Professor Marcy do next? Running an astrophysics lab is a pretty specialized skill and the field is small. Could he emigrate to a country where they don’t care about this kind of incident and are willing to set him up with an all-male lab? Presumably no big U.S. company would be enthusiastic about bringing in this kind of litigation risk even if Marcy wanted to debase himself by taking a Java-programming job or whatever.
This reminds me of what a tenured UC Berkeley professor once told me: “I can be fired for any reason… except incompetence.” But, more importantly, I wonder if this calls into question the value of corporate training and groupthink. My physics prof friend is required to spend hours of time each year learning about various things that he is not supposed to think or do around students and colleagues. Marcy grew up in California and received all of his education within the UC system, which is also where he has worked for most of his career. If Marcy didn’t get the message, what is the point of all of those hours that everyone is required to spend looking at PowerPoint slides?
Separately, I think that Marcy and Tim Hunt may be examples of how academic science is a crummy career. Marcy was getting paid about one third of what a competent dermatologist or radiologist might earn. Due to America’s desperate shortage of doctors in many regions, the dermatologist who was accused (but not criminally convicted) of sexual harassment in San Francisco could probably get a job in a Great Plains state at a substantial raise. Consider a 22-year-old contemplating investing in graduate school and 15 years of scrambling through post-docs and the tenure race. Perhaps he or she is confident that he or she will not commit any of the sins that are currently firing offenses. But how does that 22-year-old know that, upon reaching middle age, there won’t be some new ways to get fired such that it is impossible to work anywhere else within academia? [The “groping” accusation against Marcy is, of course, way beyond the apparently-not-funny words that ended Nobel laureate Tim Hunt’s career.]
So… readers: where does Dr. Marcy fit into the worldwide workforce now?
- Kary Mullis shows what a scientist could get away in fairly recent times (the Wikipedia article hints at only about 1 percent of his bad behavior; this 1998 nytimes article mentions a conference talk where “‘His only slides (on what he called ‘his art’) were photographs he had taken of naked women with colored lights projected on their bodies,”
- Tim Hunt
- Women in Science