Neil deGrasse Tyson. Photo: Thor Nielsen / Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Famous scientist accused of sexual misconduct used 'Native' handshake

Neil deGrasse Tyson, a well-known astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, is denying accusations of sexual misconduct, including an incident involving his use of a so-called "Native" handshake.

In a lengthy post on Facebook on Saturday, Tyson acknowledged serving "wine & cheese" to a production assistant who worked on his television show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. As they parted ways, he said he offered the employee a "special handshake, one I learned from a Native elder on reservation land at the edge of the Grand Canyon."

"You extend your thumb forward during the handshake to feel the other person’s vital spirit energy -- the pulse," Tyson wrote in the post after, a religious oriented site, first published an account of the incident, along with two others. "I’ve never forgotten that handshake, and I save it in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships."

The assistant, who ended up quitting the show, felt uncomfortable with the "incredibly intimate handshake" and Tyson's other behaviors on the night in question, Patheos.Com reported. The incident occurred earlier this year in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Cosmos is produced.

Both National Geographic and Fox Broadcasting, which air the show, have said they are investigating Tyson's behavior as a result of the initial report on Patheos.Com.

The Grand Canyon in neighboring Arizona made an appearance on Cosmos in April 2014. There weren't any Native people on the episode, which was originally broadcast in April 2014.

But other than saying a "Native elder" taught him the handshake, Tyson was not specific about it. On the Navajo Nation, is it common to see people grasping hands in a manner similar to the way he described.

"Handshakes (when a hand is extended to someone) are a touching of hands as opposed to a firm handshake," Adria Lagasse writes on the website of Portland State University. Similar information was shared by nurses at Utah Valley University.

And some Navajos avoid "aggressive handshakes," according to research published in Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action in 2007.

In addition to the Navajo Nation, the Havasupai Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, the Hualapai Tribe and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe all have lands in and around the Grand Canyon. There don't appear to be any published accounts of Tyson meeting with any Native people when he was on location for the show.

Read More on the Story
Neil deGrasse Tyson, #MeToo, and the Celebrity Photo Op (The Atlantic December 4, 2018)
Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Response to Allegations of Sexual Assault Is Self-Defeating (Slate December 3, 2018)
Neil deGrasse Tyson Denies Misconduct Accusations (The New York Times December 1, 2018)

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