The Krauss Debacle: More Allegations Surface

Last February, Buzzfeed reported on “many wide-ranging allegations of [Lawrence] Krauss’s inappropriate behavior [toward women] over the last decade — including groping women, ogling and making sexist jokes to undergrads, and telling an employee at Arizona State University, where he is a tenured professor, that he was going to buy her birth control so she didn’t inconvenience him with maternity leave.” The article continues: “In response to complaints, two institutions — Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario — have quietly restricted him from their campuses. Our reporting is based on official university documents, emails, and interviews with more than 50 people.”

Note that this article was authored by three stellar journalists: (1) Peter Aldhous, PhD, who teaches investigative journalism at UC Santa Cruz and data visualization at UC Berkeley; who was previously a reporter for Nature; and whose articles have won numerous awards from the Association of British Science Writers and the Royal Statistical Society. (2) Azeen Ghorayshi, a science journalist whose work has appeared in the Guardian, Newsweek, New Scientist, and Wired UK; she also received the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award and the Clark/Payne Award for young science journalists. And (3) Virginia Hughes, whose writing has appeared in prestigious outlets like The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Slate, among others; multiple articles of hers have also won awards. Thus, claims that, as Sam Harris put it, “generically, BuzzFeed is terrible” are completely unwarranted. (Harris mentioned this as part of an attack aimed to undercut the veracity of the article, apparently unaware — or indifferent to the fact — that it commits the ad hominem fallacy.)

Since the article was published, even more evidence of bad behavior has surfaced, leading some major figures in the “new atheist” movement to sever ties with Krauss. For example, Jerry Coyne — hardly one to turn against a fellow atheist — wrote on his blog Why Evolution Is True:

After [the Buzzfeed] article appeared, I did some digging on my own, and came up with three cases that have convinced me that Krauss engaged in sexual predation of both a physical nature (groping) and of a verbal nature (offensive and harassing comments). The allegations that convinced me are not public, but the accusers are sufficiently credible that I believe their claims to be true. Further, these claims buttress the general allegation of sexual misbehavior made in BuzzFeed. In my view, then, Krauss had a propensity to engage in sexual misconduct. I therefore disassociate myself from the man.

Similarly, Harris — another member of the “new atheist” tribe who, despite claiming that he “believes women,” subsequently hosted the alleged serial sexual harasser and rapist Michael Shermer on his podcast — said the following about Krauss during a Waking Up episode:

… the fact that there’s this much chatter about how he’s behaved is certainly a cause for concern. And I can say in the aftermath of this article, I have since heard from people who have not gone on the record, who did not want to be a source for any public allegation about Lawrence, but who assure me that these kinds of stories are true. So, I can offer no defense of Lawrence here. … I can only hope that he makes some appropriate, and honest, mea culpa. … Saying that it’s all lies is almost certainly not going to work for him because it’s almost certainly not true.

Matt Dillahunty also recently wrote he “will not be working with Lawrence Krauss in the future.” As Adam Lee writes about this situation, “in a self-pitying podcast interview and a short Facebook statement, he says he won’t work with Krauss in the future — although not before complaining about how much criticism he’s been subjected to and all the other stuff he has to do, with the implication that offering an opinion on sexual harassment is an annoying distraction from important things and he’s doing it to get people off his back. Regardless, he did condemn Krauss … , so, yay?”

Furthermore, after I tweeted in early March that I personally know a woman who was assaulted by Krauss and whose story wasn’t included in the Buzzfeed article, several others responded on Twitter that they too know someone with one or more stories of unacceptable behavior. The initial tweet below from “Derek J. Ross” is almost certainly not referring to the woman who I know, because my contact had been in touch with Buzzfeed several months before the article was published. It’s unclear whether “Mags” was referring either to my friend or Ross’s — or someone else.

Somewhat astonishingly, Derek’s tweet was a response to several tweets from Nancy Dahl — Krauss’s wife! — who began tweeting for the first time in defense of her husband shortly after the Buzzfeed article broke. Among her first tweets was a personal attack on one of the women who spoke out in the Buzzfeed article about Krauss, namely, Jen McCreight. The tweet is now deleted, but a screenshot remains:

Dahl also accused Melody Hensley, one of Krauss’s named victims in the Buzzfeed article, of being a criminal whose credibility is “diseased.”

Even more recently, the atheist activist Cristina Rad released a YouTube video in which she discusses how Krauss once touched her miniskirt and thigh in an unwanted, sexually inappropriate manner. She also discusses why she didn’t come forward sooner and how ripostes about “due process” — often made by atheist men in an attempt to delegitimize the allegations put forth by women — miss the point. At least two commenters beneath the video claim that Rad mentioned her experience with Krauss to them after it happened.

Screenshot from Cristina Rad’s video.

Numerous atheist organizations have also spoken out against “credible” allegations of Krauss’s sexual misconduct. The list includes the Center for Inquiry (CFI)/Richard Dawkins Foundation (RDF), the American Humanist Association (AHA), and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). For example, CFI/RDF announced that they would be severing all ties with Krauss in the following tweet:

On March 9, AHA released a similarly strong statement in which they said the following:

The AHA Board has voted to:

  • Remove Lawrence Krauss from the AHA pool of potential speakers, writers, or presenters
  • Place Lawrence Krauss’s 2015 Humanist of the Year Award in an administrative review status (during this time references and recognition will be removed until a formal process for consideration is developed and a determination is made)
  • Improve the AHA Humanist of the Year awardee selection process to have a more in-depth inquiry into potential candidates’ personal ethics, reputations, and actions to ensure they are in accordance with humanist values as AHA states them
  • Create a new addendum policy that stipulates those circumstances under which awards already given may be revoked

And FFRF wrote on their website:

In light of well-documented allegations of sexual misconduct against Lawrence Krauss, and in keeping with FFRF’s commitment to feminist values, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Board of Directors voted on Feb. 22 to remove Professor Krauss from the organization’s honorary board.

Other organizations, both atheistic and scientific, have cancelled numerous events at which Krauss was scheduled to appear, including the 10 year anniversary of the Origins Projected after Arizona State University put Krauss on paid leave and banned him from campus. Mounting pressure also lead Krauss to resign from the venerable Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, where he was Chair of the Board of Sponsors. Gizmodo, Buzzfeed, and other news entities have reported such cancellations in detail, so I recommend that interested readers explore those articles.

Some two weeks after the Buzzfeed article, Krauss released a lengthy rebuttal. Unfortunately, his responses fell short in many ways, for reasons explicated by Thomas Smith of Serious Inquiries Only here. The award-winning Canadian podcaster and ex-Muslim Eiynah also posted an insightful discussion of Krauss’s allegations and the backlash from some atheists here. Other analyses (very much) worth listening to include one by Rebecca Watson and one by Godless Mama. Indeed, I have spoken with several women “in the know” who have insisted that a number of Krauss’s factual assertions about what really happened with, for example, the anonymous “A” who Buzzfeed interviewed are simply wrong. Untruths in Krauss’s response were, in fact, what galvanized Cristina Rad to make her video.

More generally, a survey of reactions to the news on social media from atheist activists, professors, scientists, and others further confirms that Krauss’s “creepy” behavior was an “open secret” within both the atheistic and scientific communities. For example, one article from late February references two scientists in New Zealand who were concerned about Krauss visiting: “Auckland University associate professor of microbiology Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, who regularly challenges pseudoscience and irrationality on her blog and other platforms, commended [Auckland University of Technology]’s decision [to pull it’s sponsorship of a public conversation between Krauss and Richard Dawkins] and said Krauss’ name was often heard on the whisper network as someone who was problematic and who young women should avoid. … Dr. Richard Easther, head of physics at Auckland University, believed the organiser was aware of Krauss’ reputation before it organised the event and thought it would be irresponsible for them to hold it given the allegations.”

A sampling of additional comments that I’ve collected about Krauss’s behavior and reputation are below, beginning with Pamela Gay:

Pamela Gay is an Astronomer and co-host of the Astronomy Cast Podcast.

Stacy Dianne Kennedy (Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles): “Another open secret finally coming to light. I first heard about Lawrence Krauss years ago. CFI certainly knew.”

Michael Cluff (President of South Jersey Humanists): “He hurt people I know. #metoo is not a political debate point or intellectual thought experiment. It’s real.”

Brendan Maher (Writer and Editor for Nature): “As far as whisper networks go, this was a roar loud enough for even me to have heard.”

Carolyn Porco (Planetary Scientist and Senior Editor of Astrobiology): “I’ve been wondering when this particular case would come out.” Also: “In case you missed it, long standing & recent allegations of sexual assault against astronomer Lawrence Krauss finally come to light” (referring to the Buzzfeed article).

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (Theoretical Astrophysicist): “I’ve spent my career avoiding places where Krauss was. I missed conferences, award opportunities, and job opportunities. The men around me didn’t have to. They didn’t have to worry. Women and gender minorities miss out on so many opportunities because of men they know to be harassers. Men continue to work with them.” Also: “I can’t stress enough how important this story is. Krauss is a theoretical cosmologist, and I’ve spent my entire post-PhD career afraid of him because of what he did to women.”

Laura Lopez is an Astronomy Professor. Anna Watts is a Professor of Astrophysics. And Julie Rathbun is a Planetary Scientist.

Mika McKinnon (Geophysicist): “So many people have been waiting so damn long for this one to come out of the whispers.” Also: “So grateful Buzzfeed tackled bringing Krauss out of the whisper networks. I’ve turned down a lot of Science and SciFi gigs to avoid working with him.”

Erin Griffith (Senior Editor at Wired): “Lawrence Krauss’s history of sexual misconduct — and the new atheism movement’s poor treatment of women — is disappointing, unsurprising, and extremely infuriating.”

DeeDee Baldwin (Assistant Professor at Mississippi State University): “I can’t believe some people are just now learning that Lawrence Krauss is a dirtbag. A brilliant scientist, but a dirtbag nonetheless.”

Michael Brown (Astronomer at Monash University): “Lawrence Krauss’ contribution to the ‘culture of science’ is why he has restricted access to Perimeter Institute and Case Western. His ‘culture of science’ is why I have to warn colleagues if they will be in Krauss’ company. #astroSH.” (Responding to a Richard Dawkins tweet.) Also: “Around that time [a few years ago] I heard about Lawrence Krauss’s alleged behaviour and I heard it from multiple people that I trust. I mentioned (to a fellow scientist) he has this reputation in the astrophysics community.”

Steve Shives (Managing Partner at The Normalize Atheism Campaign): “This is LOOOOOOONG overdue. It’s about goddamn time the #MeToohouse cleaning reached the atheist/skeptic movement. Can Shermer be next, please?” Also: “Sure, people like Lawrence Krauss and Michael Shermer have demonstrated repeated patterns of abusive behavior, been accused of offenses ranging from harassment to rape by multiple people over a period of years, but they make religious people look silly, so let’s stand by them!”

Jennifer Ouellette (Science Writer): “Lawrence Krauss is a famous atheist and liberal crusader — and, in certain whisper networks, a well-known problem. With women coming forward alleging sexual harassment, will his ‘skeptic’ fanbase believe the evidence?”

Stephanie Zvan (The Orbit): “And it’s out.”

Michael John De Dora (Committee to Protect Journalists): “As a friend and former colleague to Melody Hensley and several other women who were sexual harassed by Lawrence Krauss, and as a former employee of the Center for Inquiry — which, like some other atheist/humanist/secularist/skeptic-type organizations, continued to put Krauss front and center despite knowledge of these allegations, some of which were made in reports filed by their own staff and members — I am glad this rug has finally been lifted in a very public way.”

Jonathan Jarry (Associate at McGill Office for Science and Society): “It’s really sad, because I had the chance to see him speak in Vegas, and he is a formidable science communicator. His talk on the Sun was entertaining, educational, and mesmerizing. But I’m also glad the rumours I heard about him have been crystallized into a mainstream piece denouncing his abhorrent behaviour.”

Ian Bushfield (Executive Director at BC Humanist Association): “What’s surprising in here isn’t that Krauss faces sexual misconduct allegations, it’s been an open secret as long as I’ve been involved in physics and atheist circles that he’s a ‘womanizer’ and there’s a whisper campaign that follows him.”

Danielle Muscato (Civil Rights Activist and Former Public Relations Director at American Atheists): “I’ve known about this for a couple years & warned friends often. I thought it was common knowledge. I’ve never shared a stage w him & never would. However, I JUST realized that a pic of the 2 of us from 2012 was still on my website. I’ve removed it, & I apologize.”

Sean Carroll (Theoretical Physicist): “Another famous scientist — Lawrence Krauss — revealed as a sexual harasser. As a field we should be ashamed at the existence of such behavior.”

Signe Dean (Deputy Editor at Science Alert): “Finally” (in response to the Buzzfeed article being published). Also: “After seeing how the Krauss episode is being discussed by male skeptics in online skeptic forums, I think I’m finally fucking done with organised skepticism.”

Trav Mamone (Co-Host of The Biskeptical Podcast): “Wwwwwwhelp, looks like it’s official now! (Not that I ever dismissed the rumors, but that I didn’t know all the details.)”

E Madison Bray is a Software Engineer. Ophelia Benson is a Columnist for The Philosophers Magazine and Free Inquiry.

Leslie A. Zukor (First Vice Chair at Washington State Democrats Disabilities Issues Caucus): “I have to confess that the sexism so pandemic in the atheist movement is the biggest reason why I left.”

Don Lloyd (Atheist): “Really disappointing, since there’s so much of his work I admire… but not at all surprising given the rumors that have been circulating about him for years.”

Mike Slomka (Atheist): “This has been known about for years. Women in the atheist circles have talked about being careful around him since I started going to cons around 2011 or so.”

Ed Brayton (Humanist): “Buzzfeed has a long and detailed article that makes a compelling case against Lawrence Krauss as a serial sexual harasser, something for which he has long had a reputation for being in the atheist community. It isn’t a he said/she said, it’s a he said/a whole bunch of shes said, along with a bunch of witnesses to it in situations over the course of years and years.”

Jenn Ramirez (Humanist Activist): “It’s out. Right now I’m seeing more concern about how the atheist community is being bashed and how Krauss was just trying to “get laid.” Our community has a history of deniers, victim blamers, etc. So I’m not surprised. I’m not sad. I’m angry. Women have been coming forward for years only to be dismissed or threatened into silence. Stop supporting these men and stop defending them.”

I would argue that the evidence presented above is so sprawling, multifaceted, and extensive that no rational individual can simply dismiss these allegations as a vast conspiracy to tear down Krauss.

This is a work in progress. Please email me at philosophytorres@gmail.com if you notice any typos.