Another one

The BuzzFeed story is out at last.

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?

Or will it just continue ranting about “SJWs” and “Cultural Marxism” and “witch hunts” and “going too far”?

The authors (Peter Aldhous, Azeen Ghorayshi, and Virginia Hughes) start with Melody Hensley’s story of Krauss’s Harvey Weinstein routine – moving a dinner invitation to his hotel room and then assaulting her.

Krauss told BuzzFeed News that what happened with Hensley in the hotel room was consensual. In that room, “we mutually decided, in a polite discussion in fact, that taking it any further would not be appropriate,” he told BuzzFeed News by email.

But Hensley said that is untrue. “It was definitely predatory,” she said. “I didn’t want that to happen. It wasn’t consensual.”

Later that night, Hensley told her boyfriend, now husband, that Krauss had made her feel uncomfortable, her husband confirmed to BuzzFeed News. Years later, she told him — as well as several employees at CFI — the full story.

I heard the story from her too.

BuzzFeed News has learned that the incident with Hensley is one of many wide-ranging allegations of Krauss’s inappropriate behavior 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. 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.

It’s like Weinstein – it was secret but many many many people knew about it. It was secret but it wasn’t secret. But even though it wasn’t really secret, Krauss was still invited everywhere. Time’s Up?

Many of his accusers have requested anonymity, fearing professional or legal retaliation from Krauss, or online abuse from men in the movement who have smeared women for speaking out about other skeptics. A few allegations about Krauss made their way onto skeptic blogs, but were quickly taken down in fear of legal action. So for years, these stories have stayed inside whisper networks in skepticism and physics.

And Krauss stayed inside the world of celebrity skeptoatheists, while that world lost woman after woman after woman because No Thank You.

In lengthy emails to BuzzFeed News, Krauss denied all of the accusations against him, calling them “false and misleading defamatory allegations.” When asked why multiple women, over more than a decade, have separately accused him of misconduct, he said the answer was “obvious”: It’s because his provocative ideas have made him famous.


Krauss offers the scientific method — constantly questioning, testing hypotheses, demanding evidence — as the basis of morality and the answer to societal injustices. Last year, at a Q&A event to promote his latest book, the conversation came around to the dearth of women and minorities in science. “Science itself overcomes misogyny and prejudice and bias,” Krauss said. “It’s built in.”

Pause for incredulous laughter. Take as long as you need.

Online, you can buy “Lawrence Krauss for President” T-shirts and find his quotes turned into inspirational memes. He writes essays for the New Yorker and New York Times, helps decide when to move the hand of the Doomsday Clock, and has almost half a million followers on Twitter. He made a provocative (if criticallypanned) documentary, The Unbelievers, with the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, another celebrated skeptic.

The skeptics draw heavily from traditionally male groups: scientists, philosophers, and libertarians, as well as geeky subcultures like gamers and sci-fi enthusiasts. The movement gained strength in the early 2000s, as the emerging blogosphere allowed like-minded “freethinkers” to connect and opened the community to more women like Hensley. It acquired a sharper political edge in the US culture wars, as skeptics, atheists, and scientists — including Krauss — joined forces to defend the teaching of evolution in public schools.

But today the movement is fracturing, with some of its most prominent members now attacking identity politics and “social justice warriors” in the name of free speech. Famous freethinkers have been criticized for anti-Muslim sentiment, for cheering the alt-right media personality Milo Yiannopoulos, and for lampooning feminism and gender theory. Several women, after sharing personal accounts of misogyny and harassment by men in the skeptic community, have been subjected to Gamergate-style online attacks, including rape and death threats. As a result, some commentators have accused parts of the movement of sliding into the alt-right.

And many of us have largely abandoned the movement as a result.

Nevertheless, Science.

Krauss’s reputation took a hit in April 2011, after he publicly defended Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy financier who was convicted of soliciting prostitution from an underage girl and spent 13 months in a Florida jail.

Epstein was one of the Origins Project’s major donors. But Krauss told the Daily Beast his support of the financier was based purely on the facts: “As a scientist I always judge things on empirical evidence and he always has women ages 19 to 23 around him, but I’ve never seen anything else, so as a scientist, my presumption is that whatever the problems were I would believe him over other people.”

Uh…what? I missed a step there. Where’s the empirical evidence part? Especially where’s the empirical evidence part that demonstrates Epstein’s non-solicitation of an underage girl? Is it supposed to be the “19” part? Are we supposed to understand that as “Krauss has abundant empirical evidence that Epstein never solicits underage girls, to wit, Krauss has never seen him with women under the age of 19”? That’s the science part? And then what about “as a scientist I always believe him and not anyone else”? I’m not seeing the science part in that claim.

On her Skepchick blog, Watson slammed Krauss for not acknowledging his obvious bias — and thus violating a core value of skepticism. “Krauss’ statement is extremely disturbing and makes scientists look like ignorant, biased fools who will twist data to suit their own needs,” she wrote.

“I remain skeptical, and I support a man whose character I believe I know,” Krauss responded in the post’s comments. “If you want to condemn me for that, so be it.”

The dust-up was part of a broader discussion among feminist skeptics about what they saw as the misogyny of some of the old guard. In June 2011, Watson posted a YouTube videomentioning her experiences with men in the movement.

In the resulting furor, Watson was publicly mocked by Dawkins and received a torrent of online abuse. Over the next couple of years, she posted a sample of the abusive comments she received on her blog.

With these issues dividing skeptics, Hensley, by then executive director of CFI’s Washington DC branch, organized a new conference called “Women in Secularism,” which debuted in May of 2012. It was a space to celebrate the history and accomplishments of secular women, Hensley said, “but also to give a platform so that we could talk about the issues and problems we were facing.” In now-deleted comments on CFI’s blog post announcing the event, some skeptics argued that the movement didn’t have a problem with women, and that the event would amount to “man bashing.”

On one panel, Jen McCreight, then a biology PhD student, spoke out about the whisper network. Before going to her first big atheist meeting, she said, “unsolicited I got many emails from different individuals basically warning me which male speakers not to interact with as a young woman.”

I remember that. I was about six inches away from Jen when she said it.

panel women in sec

Some of us asked her to name names later, so I knew Krauss was on the list.

A. was an undergraduate who had first met Krauss in 2008 at the annual American Atheists Convention through her work as a student atheist activist. Three years later, when she and other students walked into the bar at the same meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, A. recalled, Krauss pulled over a chair for her and started running his hand up her leg under the table.

“I kind of shifted away,” A. said. “He put his hand on again. I crossed my legs. He put his hand on again. And eventually I had to like physically turn my entire body.”

A. was shocked, but didn’t want to make a scene, she said. “The last thing I need to do is, you know, yell at Lawrence and then have to deal with any potential fallout.”

Krauss denied A.’s account, and said that it was A. who had come on to him, inviting him to join her in the hotel’s hot tub. Robin Elisabeth Cornwell, a friend of Krauss’s and then executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, was also there, and backed his account. A. denied mentioning the hot tub or flirting with Krauss. Benjamin Wurst, one of her student companions, told BuzzFeed News that, as they left the bar, A. told him Krauss had put his hand on her.

Friends stick up for each other, don’t they. Krauss sticks up for Epstein, and Cornwell sticks up for Krauss. Result? Women leave “the movement” in droves and it moves ever more briskly to the right (and the mostly male).

There’s a great deal more, but I need a break.

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