Saturday, May 14, 2016

Space Ecology: The Final Frontier of Environmentalism

Mining Space? Space Tourism? Space Debris? ASAT Tests? Weapons in Space?

As humans venture into space to advance both commercial and government interests, it is vital that we also develop rules of the road to protect the environment and access to space for all inhabitants of the planet.  Pollution in circum-terrestrial space due to space debris is an international concern for all nations and corporations with space assets at risk and yet few binding international laws governing the protection of the space environment exist. There is also very little public oversight or participation in policy making for this booming new private business sector that enjoys tax breaks, liability indemnities and other government incentives and protections. is an information and news outlet dedicated to environmental and public policy issues related to space development. Here are some articles I have written on space issues.  More to come! 

Natural Living Magazine

Space Alert!

Peace Review, a Journal of Social Justice, 22.1, Spring 2010

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

US Gold Rush in Space Given A GO with the Space Act of 2015

By Lynda Williams
Published in Space Alert! Spring 2016

This past November 25, while US citizens embarked upon holiday festivities, President Obama quietly signed into law the US SPACE Act of 2015 (The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, H.R. 2262), granting property rights to materials that U.S. companies mine from asteroids, the moon and other celestial bodies.  With no public debate or international negotiation, the act unilaterally promotes and empowers the private US space industry to develop and test technologies for exploration and extraction of space resources with little regulatory oversight and tax payer economic incentives.

In addition to granting property rights, the act extends for another ten years the "learning period" for commercial spaceflight companies prohibiting the FAA from imposing any new safety regulations on the industry, the exception being rules that specifically respond to fatal accidents or near misses. The act also extends indemnification for space companies from third party claims in the event of a launch accident. Space companies must carry insurance to cover $500 million in damages but US taxpayers will cover any costs above that up to $1.5 billion. US private space flight companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Bigelow benefit from indemnity protection and claim that without indemnity the risks are too high to develop the private space industry. Other space faring nations such as the UK also cut liability caps with their private space and satellite corporations in order to keep them operating in their countries.

Experts in Space Law are debating whether the Space Act is in violation of international agreements such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) or if the space grab has a dangerous potential for fueling future conflict in space and on Earth.  The OST does not allow any nation to claim territorial sovereignty in space and establishes space as a global commons to be shared by all humankind.  In accordance with the OST, the Space Act does not allow U.S. companies to own asteroids, only whatever materials they mine from them.   The exact wording is:  "A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States."  How exactly the US will license asteroid claims or ensure the corporate entitlement to those claims is not spelled out in the Space Act and is yet to be determined.

With thousands of near earth asteroids containing possibly trillions of dollars’ worth of rare metals such as platinum, the industry celebrated the passing of the Space Act as a green light to start staking claims in space with the backing and protection of the US government and military which is expanding its space war fighting capabilities through the US Space Command. “This is the single greatest recognition of property rights in history,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc., an asteroid mining startup backed by Google billionaires Larry Page, Eric Schmidt and movie mogul James Cameron. “In the future humanity will look back at this bill being passed as one of the hallmarks of the opening of space to the people,” said Rick Tumlinson, Chair of Deep Space Industries, another start up with deep pockets.

Not everyone in the space business is as eager to celebrate. “Russia and China might consider using this as another example of the economic aggression of the U.S. and going ahead of the international law,” says Frans von der Dunk, a space law professor at the University of Nebraska.  In an interview with Bloomberg Law, von der Dunk laid out possible scenarios not covered by any existing law which could lead to serious international conflicts. “What if the company mining an asteroid inadvertently causes a part of that asteroid to get into the orbit of a valuable communications satellite from another nation? Does a liability regime which was not developed for those types of circumstances, apply? Or worse what if an asteroid where to change its original trajectory and starts heading to earth, is there any liability or responsibility involved with that?”   What would happen if a mining company from one nation jumps the claim of another? Who would intervene to resolve the situation? Looking to the future, space mining companies plan to set up factories on asteroids or the moon to manufacture goods or to electrolyze water for rocket fuel, which would very likely involve nuclear powered thermal and energy production. There are no laws in place to regulate or mitigate those risks. According to many legal experts, the Space Act is dangerously incomplete and by signing the act into law, Obama may be granting rights and indemnities to US corporations that he doesn’t have the legal right to give.

With hopes of hitting asteroid pay dirt, the nation of Luxembourg announced on February 3, 2016, that it will be funding research in space mining and directly investing in companies active in the field. The space race to enable private corporations to mine the heavens is now international.

The rush to profit from mining space puts the very legal framework of international space law at risk. Signatories to the OST can withdraw at any time with one year’s notice. If corporate and military interests lobby for the US to withdraw from the OST in order to claim space territories, what will be the consequences? We have seen the missile defense industry explode after the US withdrew from the Antiballistic Treaty (ABM) in 2002. If the US withdraws from the OST, which prohibits weapons in space, will it ignite an arms race in space?

It is yet to be seen how the other 102 signatories of the OST respond to the Space Act and it will surely be high on the agenda when the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) meets in June 2016 in Vienna, Austria.  With growing corporate high stakes in space and the willingness of the US government to unilaterally grant and protect those interests with its military might, it is more urgent than ever for the UN and COPOUOS to expand upon the OST and negotiate a space peace treaty like the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS). 

Friday, February 12, 2016

#AstroSH Part 1: Geoff Marcy and the Physics Showgirl

By Lynda Williams 

Geoff Marcy is a serial sexual harasser and I feel ashamed for not doing more to stop him for twenty years. 

Add Geoff Marcy and me at the premiere of my
 Cosmic Cabaret Show, 1995

Marcy’s deeds have only recently come to light, but the pattern started long before the current disintegration of his meteoric career, long before he was The Planet Hunter. Because we were friends and colleagues, I may have helped enable Marcy’s behavior, like many other women who don’t stand up and demand more than a slap on the wrist for what would be a criminal offense outside the academy. What follows is a kind of “I knew him when” tell-all of events only partially revealed on Buzzfeed. It’s an object lesson in what not to do if you realize a friend or mentor can’t keep his hands — or other body parts — to himself.

Marcy BUSTED by Buzzfeed
In case you haven’t heard the back story, Geoff Marcy enjoyed great fame and fortune as the world’s best planet hunter searching for exoplanets — planets outside our solar system. He was even on the short list for a Nobel Prize, but instead of winning this year, he was outed as a sexual predator. As first reported byBuzzfeed, Marcy was found guilty by the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) of violating sexual harassment policies with female students for more than a decade, dating back to 2001. In fact, it goes back much farther than that. Engaging in everything from flirting to kissing to crotch grabbing, Marcy was a known problem on campus and in the international astronomical community, but nothing serious was ever done about it. Senior women and men warned younger women to watch out for him while Marcy continued his douchebaggery without consequence. Even UCB, after finding him guilty, gave him merely a warning.

After the Buzzfeed article, Marcy published a lame non-apology, but thousands of astronomers signed a petition supporting the victims for coming out and a majority of his colleagues at UCB called for Marcy to be fired. Shortly after, Marcy resigned his position at UCB, as well his position as principal investigator of a $100 million SETI search paid for by a Russian tycoon. The blog- and twitter spheres went supernova with #astroSH emerging as the dominant hashtag and meme for astronomy sexual harassment. Almost immediately after the Buzzfeed story broke, several women, including myself, tweeted that Marcy’s sexual harassment went further back than the UCB incidents — back at least 20 years to when he taught at San Francisco State University (SFSU). And that brings us to my story.

Marcy at Lick Observatory during a field trip
with the SFSU Physics and Astronomy Club,
Photo by Lynda Williams
I met Geoff at SFSU in 1994 when I took “Introduction to Astrophysics” with him. While his student, I didn’t observe any inappropriate sexual behavior. He was a fantastic teacher, articulate and passionate, rigorous but fair, and he genuinely cared about his students and their successes. His lecture style had a theatrical flair that made me imagine him wearing one of those puffy Shakespearean costumes and writing with a feather quill pen. He was magnanimous and a little pompous in a classic way that I really enjoyed. Geoff gave me some of the best academic advice of my career: “Determine the time of day in which your brain works the best and study during that time. Arrange your whole life around maximizing your peak brain time for studying.” Not only have I followed that advice but have also passed it down to my own students for decades. Soon after the astrophysics course, Geoff and I became friends. He was only a little older than I and we got along really well, having a similar sense of humor and political ethos. He was friendlier than other professors, but I thought it was because we were becoming friends. As a woman in physics I have many platonic male friends simply because of the lack of gender parity in the field — another factor in the prevalence of sexual harassment. Geoff was no longer my professor nor my advisor and it seemed perfectly appropriate to become friends.

Performing Unilang,   
Berlin, 1988
An important side note: I was not your traditional nontraditional student. By the time I came to SFSU to pursue my MS in physics, I was, at 32, a mature, female re-entry student who had already spent almost a decade earning my BA in the avant-garde world of performance art where sexism and overt sexual crudeness are pretty commonplace. In that atmosphere, I grew a thick skin and told offensive people to fuck off. In the early 90s, I worked at The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) in the New Genre Department where I managed the media studios and taught production classes. At SFAI, faculty openly dated students, and sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll were just an ordinary part of the milieu. Seriously, I’ve seen it all under the guise of artistic expression and First Amendment protections: from a performance artist pulling toy soldiers out of her vagina to protest militarism and sexism, to a male student biting off the head of a live chicken and then ejaculating on it, because, lacking any artistic talent, he couldn’t think of anything better to do. By the time I landed at SFSU and met Geoff Marcy, I had seen quite a bit of the world and had some street smarts. My career goal was to produce and perform musicals based on science and politics, and I needed more knowledge and academic background to do it.

Cosmic Cabaret, 1995
So Geoff and I became friends. When he took interest in my artistic work and personal life, it didn’t seem inappropriate. His crude sense of humor seemed tame by comparison to my experience in the art world. I didn’t feel sexually harassed. He never copped a feel or transgressed my personal boundaries, and if he had I think he knew I would have bitch-slapped him. I thought Geoff was brilliant and progressive and clearly headed for great success. Geoff was always very supportive of my creative work, attending my Cosmic Cabaret performances and Planetarium shows. He was supportive of the Physics and Astronomy Club (PAC) I started and participated in educational events for the community. He hired me to build a website for the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Committee on the Status of Women (CSWA), of which he was a board member, on the history of women in astronomy. We worked closely together on that. I interviewed him several times for the school paper, on his discovery of a brown dwarf star and for his breakthrough detection of the exoplanet 51-Pegasus b. We joked about how astronomers struggle to find military spinoffs for DOE grants and we talked about the dual use of science in the military. We also talked about the challenges women face in STEM and he was genuinely concerned and working to make more parity in science. He asked about my personal relationships and I asked him about his too. I was thrilled with our blossoming platonic friendship and looked forward to future mutually rewarding collaborations, weaving together the worlds of art and science.
And then everything changed.

Elender Wall, Heather Hauser, & me, 1995
Heather Hauser was a fellow female graduate student who was working with Geoff Marcy. She was smart, arty, cool, and gorgeous, so I enlisted her to co-star in my video production of Einstein’s Angels, a parody of the TV show Charlie’s Angels. The short video starred Heather, myself, and SFSU physics undergrad and opera singer Elender Wall as crime-solving physics babes. Heather was much younger than I, but we became friends and I felt like a big sister or aunty to her and many other younger women in the department. As president of the PAC, I was a student leader and outspoken feminist in the department, and that is why I think Marcy’s victims approached me for help. 

Early in November 1995, Heather confided to me that Geoff Marcy was behaving towards her and other female students in overtly sexual ways that felt upsetting and inappropriate, as described in this Buzzfeed article. She was clearly distraught, confused and angry. She told me that she wondered what the fuck was wrong with him and why he was doing this to her. “I don’t want to come to school. It creeps me out to be in that small windowless lab with him. I can’t sleep. I’m sick. I don’t know what to do.” Suddenly I felt sick too. It is disturbing to learn that your friend is a sexual predator who is hurting people you care about. She knew I was friends with Geoff and hoped I could help. I told Heather I would talk to Geoff and try to find out what action could be taken through the school to make him stop.

I was reeling, rewinding all the conversations I had ever had with Geoff, re-evaluating and trying to assess if he had also transgressed with me, questioning my own actions and behavior. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. A few nights earlier, on Halloween, he had told me on the phone, “I wish you were a piece of chocolate so I could melt you in my mouth.” At the time I didn’t think much of it. I probably said, “Oh you are such a perv!’’ But with the new data his victims had just shared with me, his clever candy line made me cringe. It put all of his behavior towards me in an entirely new context. I feared I had unwittingly enabled a sexual harasser and I felt a personal responsibility to do something to put a stop to it.

I immediately called Geoff. What I said, as best I can recall after twenty years, is essentially that a few female students came to me for help about his sexual harassment. He denied it. He told me that they misinterpreted his actions. He was trying to be friendly, to make them feel comfortable. He was only trying to boost their self-esteem by paying attention to them. I explained to him what sexual harassment was and read him the definition. He dismissed it, claiming he knew all about it because he was on CSWA, after all!

I asked him why he was doing this, when he had just announced the detection of 51-Peg b, on the eve of becoming world-famous. I asked him if he suffered from imposter syndrome, or if he wanted to get caught because he felt he didn’t deserve his success, or if his success was triggering sexual misconduct or bolstering his sense of being invincible. I told him that no matter what the reason for his illegal and unethical transgressions, he needed to admit he had a problem, take responsibility, and get help. He continued to deny and dismiss my accusations. It was becoming clear to me that I would not be able to convince him to do the right thing unless I threatened him with legal action. The next day I sent him this email:

From: lwilliam
Date: Wed Nov 15 13:51:58 1995
To: gmarcy

After much thought, I feel very uncomfortable with our talk yesterday. I was so upset that I couldn’t really express myself. But I don’t think that I needed to apologize to you for being angry.

I know that I am not the first or the only one. I think you have a serious problem and you need to face it. I just don’t understand why at such a high point in your career you would carry on in such a negative and potentially self destructive way. You remind me of Bob Packwood…. you are such an active “feminist” and yet you sexually harass female students! Maybe you are not aware of what sexual harassment is.…

You know that you have done this and more and I think you don’t have a clue as
to what kind of emotional trauma this causes. I really think you are a great teacher and scientist and I think it would be a great loss to the community and to students if you do not deal with this behavior problem. I think that it is because I think so much of you that I was easily manipulated.

I am sorry it has come to this. I really enjoy working with you and looked forward to continuing to do so in the future. I hope that we can all grow and learn from this and move on. But you have to deal with it. You have to change. I know I have.


Heather and I decided to go directly to the sexual harassment officer at SFSU to make our complaint. I didn’t want to report Geoff to the chair of the department or to his colleagues because I didn’t fully understand how serious the problem was and I didn’t want to be a “trouble maker” or suffer any retaliation from other people. I was hoping the administration would be able to deal with Geoff and force him to face his problem and get help.

We met with Penny Nixon, the sexual harassment officer at the time, and made our complaint. She told us she would speak with Geoff. She explained the grievance process and that we could file a formal complaint, which involves a much longer process and investigation, or just stop at this point with an informal complaint. She assured us she would take our complaint very seriously. We trusted her and stopped at the informal complaint level.

It took several weeks for Penny to meet with Geoff. Interviews on TV and for the international press got in the way. As Penny says in the Buzzfeed article: ‘I distinctly remember sitting down and talking to him,’ said Nixon, who is now a reverend in San Mateo. ‘I told him, you can’t do this, and if you continue, your career will end — it’s that serious. I don’t remember how he responded to that.’”After the first confrontational phone call, Geoff and I continued to have a few more communications via phone and email. It’s clear from some of these that he was realizing that he had a problem, or at least he was pretending as if he did.

From: gmarcy
Date: Sun Dec 10 13:20:18 1995
To: lwilliams

Hi Lynda,

It is quite hard for me to reveal my thoughts to you at this time. The pain I am experiencing is intense, and I’m very scared. I also feel extremely vulnerable and quite powerless….

I am thinking very hard about my behavior with other female students. I promise to give this subject my most careful consideration, with a resulting change in light of your thoughtful reports and analyses.


(I stopped emailing him, preferring to talk on the phone instead. Oddly, he kept emailing me, not fearing that I might accumulate evidence.) A few hours later, after talking on the phone, this arrived:

From: gmarcy
Date: Sun, 10 Dec 1995 17:36:32 -0800
To: lwilliams

Hi LW,

Thanks again for your precious thoughts.
First, I do feel that I “have a problem” in dealing with female students. I promise to work very hard on it. Please trust me that I will dig deep to change and improve. I will be careful about initiating suggestive language or communication of any kind. I will look hard at the many other related subtleties too….

I do really understand that your respect for me deteriorated as you received complaints from others. I understand that, and empathize. You have behaved wonderfully, given the pressure you were under….
Please respond, as I couldn’t bear not hearing your feelings.
With many thanks for your honesty,


I suppose we talked on the phone again after that. The next day, I received his last email.

Date: Mon Dec 11 10:45:37 1995
From: gmarcy
Subject: Re: thanks
To: lwilliams

Hi Lynda,

Yes, I learned a huge amount from talking to you. 
I met with the sexual harassment officer, Penny Nixon, 
today and got good feedback from her. So, I’m on the road.


Apparently on the road to UC Berkeley to harass more women!

As far as I could tell, SFSU made Geoff watch a video on sexual harassment and let it go at that, because a month after his last email to me he was on PBS News Hour. He quickly became a media darling featured in Time Magazine, the New York Times, NOVA and all the astronomy and science press. Within a few years he would be offered and accept an endowed chair at UC Berkeley. His success was meteoric and global and, as we all know now, regardless of his confessions acknowledging his problem, his sexual predatory behavior continued. But at the time, I had hoped that he was dealing with it and was sincere about being “on the road” to recovery and rehabilitation. At the very least, I hoped that he would learn coping skills and behavior to keep his impulses under control.

At the time, I didn’t really understand the grievance process like I do now, after working in academia for nearly two decades. Had I known at the time that nothing substantial results from an informal complaint or that there is a statute of limitations on sexual harassment, I would have immediately proceeded with a formal complaint and I would have pushed Geoff harder to face his problem, possibly even publically, because I had many opportunities to do so in the following years. The thing about sexual harassment or any hostile work environment is that you don’t have to be the victim to be victimized by it. It has long been known that witnessing sexual harassment or any kind of discrimination in the work place constitutes a hostile work environment. I confess that for years I regretted ever confronting him because it didn't do him any good and mostly it negatively impacted my career.  And then there is never-ending fear of retaliation while remaining in the Astronomy Universe Marcy ruled over. That stress is real and has followed me for many years and still does to this day. Retelling this story now makes me sick to my stomach. 

In 1996, I started a PhD program in physics pedagogy as an NSF research fellow at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, during which time I invented The Physics Chanteuse and started doing custom cabaret-style shows for science conferences and events. After an unacceptable “bait and switch” from the director of the program at UNL, I returned home to SF and taught physics and astronomy classes part time at SFSU as an adjunct, while at the same time doing a lot of shows as The Physics Chanteuse for different physics organizations. I started getting press and more gigs. My career seemed to be taking off. Marcy was still an adjunct at SFSU while at UCB and we avoided each other.

During this time, my friend and colleague Ron Hipschman was invited to a party at Geoff’s house honoring Jill Tarter, the great SETI astronomer, who is a big hero of mine. When Ron asked if I wanted to tag along I jumped at the opportunity to meet my hero. Ron didn’t know about the sexual harassment at SFSU and I didn’t tell him. I think when Geoff saw me at his party he nearly shit his pants. It was very uncomfortable for both of us. I sang my SETI@HOME song acapella to the party but it was one of the most nerve-wracking performances I had done to date because I knew I was not welcome by Geoff, who must have been terrified I was going to say something about his sexually harassing ways. But I don’t know for sure. Should I have outed him at his own party? That would have been tacky and caused a scene, and women are taught not to make scenes.

In 1997, I was invited to perform at the Harvard-Smithsonian 10th Conference on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems and the Sun. I knew Geoff would be there and I struggled with how to deal with it, whether I should risk outing him in my show somehow, and just how to deal with him in this very public arena. I had a constant fear of his retaliating against me in covert or overt ways. I was the headliner act for the banquet and I would be in front of all his colleagues and the press. I tried to come up with jokes and double-entendres or someway to say something but I was afraid. I did have a moment on stage when I knew he, too, was terrified because I could have said something but I chickened out and instead sang a song praising his work. My career was taking off and I was afraid he would sabotage it. So I kissed his ass instead of outing him and I did not feel good about it.

The last time I spoke to Geoff was shortly after the Cool Stars Conference. Back at SFSU, the rumor mill in the Physics and Astronomy department was churning gossip about me. An undergrad astronomy student confronted me and told me that Geoff had told her that I made the sexual harassment complaint against him because I hit on him and he rejected me. She told me that everyone thought that. I was mortified. I called Geoff immediately and told him to fix the situation. I don’t know what he did, but she quickly apologized to me and promised to try to quell the rumors. I could have made another complaint then but decided against it because it seemed pointless — and perhaps dangerous, career-wise. Ironically, soon after Geoff was interviewed for a profile on me in the SFSU Science newsletter and said:

I guess one good ass kiss deserves another. Or maybe he believes what he said. I don't know. The problem is that you can never believe anything a sexual harasser tells you.

I had another weird opportunity to out Geoff in public. In 2000, I was interviewed by Claudia Dreifus for the New York Times. She persistently asked me to give her dirt on scientists: who was sexy, who slept around, and so on. I guess she assumed that because of the way I looked and what I did that I was a slut who slept with the scientists at my shows, which I never did. I could have told her about Geoff. I had the evidence — the emails. By then he was world-famous and I was being asked if I knew about anyone who was nasty. She was so persistent that I wondered if she knew about Geoff’s sexual harassment and was trying to give me an opportunity to out him. She even called me at one point and said something to the effect of: “Look, Lynda, I hate to tell you this but the story is looking pretty boring. Unless you give me something juicy I don’t think it is going to run.” It was bizarre. I told her no, I don’t have any dirt on anyone. I knew what a career changer a feature in the New York Times could be and I didn’t want it to be about sleazy male scientists; I wanted it to be about my work as a science entertainer and educator. Luckily the New York Times ran the story anyway.

Over the next decade, there were more conferences Geoff and I both attended but I avoided him. I did tell a few close friends and colleagues about what happened on a promise of confidentiality. I hoped that Geoff had rehabilitated himself, but I didn’t know because I was not privy to his world. Ironically, I received a lot negative criticism from women in physics for wearing cabaret style clothes in my shows, even being barred from performing at American Physical Society (APS) conferences by women leaders in APS. But that’s another story for another time.

It is difficult to convey in mere words the emotions that came up when the Buzzfeed story broke about Geoff in October 2015. Hearing all the awful stories of abuse, I felt sick to my stomach. Watching his stellar career disintegrate also made me nauseated. Such a waste. Rather than feeling vindicated, I felt ashamed that I did not do more to stop him and to help him stop himself. I regret not filing a formal complaint at SFSU and telling the chair of the department and the dean about Geoff’s abuses. Had I more skill and courage perhaps I could have helped Geoff get the help he needed to stop him from abusing more women for another 20 more years.

Although this is a classic mistake women make — blaming themselves for other people’s actions that they think they could somehow have prevented — we do have a responsibility to speak out, and the institutions we speak to have a responsibility to take action. But the abuser himself has the responsibility to change. When the problem arises between student and teacher, it can be terrifying and almost impossible to speak out, though. Scholarships, grants, careers are on the line. Which is why those senior professors who knew about Marcy’s behavior had a responsibility to do more than just warn the “fresh meat” on campus. The reports of victims don’t change the fundamental nature of the abuser, but repeated reports indicate a pattern of behavior that requires serious consequences, not a slap on the wrist or a warning to possible future victims. I wasn’t alone in being derelict in my community duty to do something about Geoff Marcy’s destructive predatory behavior. As John Asher Johnson shares in his blog in the post “The Long Con”:

Geoff’s inappropriate actions toward and around women in astronomy is one of the biggest “open secrets” at any exoplanets or AAS meeting. “Underground” networks of women pass information about Geoff to junior scientists in an attempt to keep them safe. Sometimes it works. Other times it hasn’t, and cognizant members of the community receive additional emails, phone calls and Facebook messages from new victims.

Why didn’t leaders in the Astronomical Community do more to confront and stop Geoff? I feel that the leaders are, to a small but significant degree, complicit in his crimes and must share in the responsibility. We can’t allow predators to prey on our students. The system failed Marcy's victims. And yet people will argue that he alone is to blame for his actions. Is he? 

Faculty are required by law to report any knowledge of sexual harassment. Why didn’t the leaders in AAS or CSWA file complaints, reports, and stop him? Were they afraid of retaliation or risk to their own careers? Why does the community allow it to go on? As one of his colleagues told me in confidence "It goes on because we are data-driven and extracting the data is really difficult - the women feel embarrassed and ashamed... He is vindictive and they are right to worry that he will use his power over them." 

So now what? Clearly the pervasiveness of sexual harassment (and racism and misogyny and other forms of discrimination) is not exclusive to the field of astronomy or STEM in general. As our society struggles with creating gender and racial equity in a culture that is based sexism and racism, we need to learn how to address behaviors that lead to hostile work environments so we can all be empowered agents of change.

We need to train people to defend themselves and not be victims. I know that is not popular either because, in theory, women should be able to walk down the street in a thong and not be catcalled, and women should be able to go college and not be welcomed with a dildo at the door. But that isn’t the reality we live in yet and until we do, we need to learn how to defend ourselves. And teachers need to learn how to behave.

We also need to learn how to use compassionate nonviolent conflict resolution to rehabilitate members of our communities who transgress social norms. I wish Geoff Marcy would use this as an opportunity to be an agent of positive social change. He could go cry on Oprah and then devote his life to making reparations to his victims and working for social justice. Instead, rumor has it that he is claiming to be rehabilitated and is marginalizing the recent complaints at UCB as being outdated and overblown.  That doesn't sound rehabilitated to me. 

We are so smart about science and technology but so utterly dumb when it comes to culture and society. As Martin Luther King said “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” Bringing parity and balance between scientific knowledge and social intelligence is perhaps the single most important problem we face as a species. With the technological capacity to destroy life on our planet we need to urgently develop a science and culture of peace and social justice.  We need a love boson more than the Higgs because the greatest mystery in the Universe isn't exoplanets or dark energy, it is how we as a species are going to live peacefully and sustainably on this tiny spaceship called Earth.  Lovon!

FREE LOVON Valentine Cards at

Next up in the series: #AstroSH Part 2: Tim Slater 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Gravity Wave Chirp Songs by The Physics Chanteuse

On Feburary 11, 2016, Kip Thorne and his physics team at LIGO announced the first ever detection of gravitational waves - elusive ripples in space-time predicted to exist over 100 years ago by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. What the physicists detected with their Laser Interferometer is a gravity wave 'chirp' that is produced when two black holes inspiral and collide with each other. The frequency of the gravity waves of colliding black holes are within the range of frequencies of audible sound waves (100-1000Hz). If you represent the gravity wave with a sound wave, you get a 'chirp' sound. If you want to learn more about the monumental discovery, check out this fantastic article in the NY Times written by my friend Dennis Overbye.

In 2000 I was commissioned to produce and perform a Physics Chanteuse show for Kip Thorne at his 60th birthday bash at Caltech, "Kip Fest" which featured all the great gravity physicists and other famous scientists like Kip's best friend Stephen Hawking. There was a group of us working on the event and GR physicist Scott A. Hughes gave me a computer simulated gravity wave chirp to use in my songs. I used that gravity chirp in three songs - two parodies and one original song. I also edited the back drop videos that are projected behind me when I perform. Most of the scientific visualizations were produced by NCSA/:CA – Potsdam – WashU International Numerical Relativity Group. I think these are the first songs in the Universe to be written using gravitational wave chirps! I They are karaoke style so you can sing and chirp along. 

All the science is correct in the songs and it was a lot of fun putting words like "perturbation" and "Einstein-Rosen Bridge" into songs for Kip. The best part of the Kip Fest was that Kip and I became fast and dear friends. I am so happy for him and the LIGO team! Join in the celebration and have fun singing along! Chirp! Chirp!

Black Hole Bird Gravity Wave Chirp Song

Black Holes spinning in the dead of night
Spiraling around, out of sight, until you collide.
We are waiting for your waves to arrive.

Black Holes singing in the silent night
dancing around space-time torques and tides
Until you collide
We are waiting for your song to arrive.

Black holes collide!Black holes collide!
Into the night little black holes collide!

(Chirp interlude- Chirp Along!) 

Black Holes spinning in the dead of night
Spiraling around, out of sight
Until you collide.
We are waiting for your waves to arrive.

Black holes collide!Black holes collide!
Into the night little black holes collide!

Black Holes singing in the dead of night
Spiraling around, out of sight
Until you collide.
We are waiting for you song to arrive.
We are waiting for your waves to arrive.

(Chirp! Chirp!)

Black Hole Disco

Gravity Waves Penetrate My Brain Black Hole Colliding Light years Away Gravity Waves Gravity Waves Give me infinite density Naked Singularities Charged and Spinning Groove Me with Gravity! At the Black Hole Disco! You'll never know where you'll go! But it will warp you mind! Playing flippy floppy with your Space and Time! Quantum Wormhole! Hyperspace Tunnel! Put your head into its mouth instantly you will pop out into the Black Hole Disco! You'll never know where you'll go! But it will warp your mind! Gravity Waves!

Gravity Wave Vibrations

A parody of the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” by Lynda Williams

I, I love the way they radiate
from a hundred million light years away. 

I hear the sound of two black holes 
as they do their final inspiral
I’m making simulations, gravitational radiation.
I’m making simulations, second order perturbations.
I’m doing simulations, analytical approximations.
I’m making simulations, quasi-normal excitations.

Close my eyes. I see them evolving now.
So slow and smooth into their ringdown.
I can see two black holes merge
and how the real data fits my Zerilli curve.

I’m making simulations, close limit calculations.
I’m making simulations, quantifying excitations.
I’m doing simulations, quasi-normal excitations.
I’m making simulations, gravitational radiation.

This is another song I wrote and performed for Kip.
No gravity chirps but one of my favorite songs!!! 

Kip Warp

 A Parody of Rocky Horror "Time Warp" by Lynda Williams for Kip Thorne. 

Science fact is stranger than fiction
when you work with Kip.
He'll warp your logic with matters exotic
and strip away your cosmic censorship!

Jumpin into Wormholes!
And hyperspace tunnels!
Building an Einstein-Rosen Bridge
with exotic matter made up of

Let's do the Time Warp with Kip!
Let's do the Time Warp with Kip!
You don't need a space ship!
Or go faster than light!
To take a time trip with Kip!
All you need is Einstein!
You'll remember your future!
Riding on a closed time-time curve!
Let's do the Time Warp with Kip!
Let's do the Time Warp with Kip!

It's all so dreamy
But the vacuum is seething
with a fluctuating quantum foam.
And if you are from a civilization
that is infinitely advanced and very, very quick
you can pull a wormhole right out of it!
Put your head into it's mouth
instantly you will pop out
into another space and time!
But you better take care on the other side
not to commit matricide!
Let's do the time warp with Kip!

Well I was taking a nap in my emedding sheet
when a mini-wormhole opened up next to me.
I could see on through to the other side
Kip was looking back and he was waving Hi!
The hole exposed my naked singularity
so I sewed it back up with some Super Strings!
Let's do the time warp with Kip!

You don't need a space ship!
Or go faster than light!
To take a time trip with Kip!
All you need is Einstein!
You'll remember your future!
Riding on a closed time-time curve!
Let's do the Time Warp with Kip!
Let's do the Time Warp with Kip!

More Photos from the Kip Fest. I have many more stories to share from that amazing event. Here are a few brief ones. More to come! 

Kip Thorne and his beautiful wife Carolee Winstein. They made a sash with badges for all his accomplishments on it because he is such a good boy scout of science. 

Kip with the 'family tree' of all his academic "descendants" or children - all his graduate students and their graduate students and so on. I am proud to say that this was my idea and I am also happy to know that this tradition has popular! I didn't make the tree, I just had the idea to do it. It is pretty amazing to see how many lives and careers one person can really impact. Kip was very moved by it, as we all were. 

 Kip's thesis adviser and mentor, the great late John Wheeler spoke a the banquet. I had a very interesting experience with Wheeler. The morning after the banquet we all had brunch in the Caltech dining hall. I was lucky to be sat next to Wheeler who was quite old (88) and a bit feeble at this time. Oddly, everyone got up and went on their way but I was staying put next to this physics genius hero. I was hoping to ask him about his work on the Manhattan project. I had been reading his autobiography and was disheartened to learn that he was an advocate for building and using the bomb on Japan. I hoped to respectfully talk with him about that.  An assistant asked if I would stay with him until his niece came and picked him up and of course I agreed. I asked him about his niece and he grabbed my hand and leaned in and became physically and emotionally upset and he said to me "I waited on that corner in NYC for my brother to come down the street in the parade but he never came. We had to build it! We had to end the war to save my brother!" He started weeping with shame and regret and I put my arm around him and let him weep on my shoulder. I wept with him. People swooped in and took him away. I had my answer to the question I didn't need to ask.

Big party at Kip and Carolee's house Friday night. What a party! More stories to come...

Getting cozy with Kip, Carolee, KC Cole, Elender Wall and someone else. Elender is a good friend I met in college. She is an opera singer, physicist and belly dancer. She has danced many times for Stephen Hawking at one of his favorite restaurants in Pasadena. 

Years later...back at Caltech for another show!

Kip is a super star of massive black hole proportions!