I apologize in advance for the length of this month’s newsletter, but I feel as though there’s a productive discussion waiting to be had. Also, I would also like to apologize to you because I do not expect a single person to completely agree with me on this. My intent is not to cloud the situation or raise blood pressures. However, I encourage you to read it all the way through before responding or drawing any conclusions about me or the subject matter.
In this month’s issue, I recap our memorial service for Anne Mardick, why you can help save a life at Phoenix Pride, and the lessons to be learned from the BuzzFeed article about the alleged sexual misconduct of Lawrence Krauss.
A Truly Humanist Memorial
To open this month’s news update, I’d like to touch on our memorial service for Anne Mardick. We had nearly one-hundred people show up for Anne Mardick to celebrate her life, achievements, and friendships. Without invoking any deities, we came together as a community and did justice to Anne and her memory. Former co-workers shared scrapbooks and photos. Randy Jones choked me up twice doing his heart-wrenching demonstration of gratitude to Anne and her achievements. Eniko Nolan, through story and her excellent photo slide show, showed us a personal side of Anne many of us did not get to know.
I am truly honored to have been invited to speak to her life and how she helped me personally and the secular community here in Arizona and abroad. For example, I often host our Sunday Speakers at my home to help HSGP save money and to promote humanist and skeptical thought. I got that idea from Anne. Her courage and trust has become my courage and trust.
Good-bye Anne. You will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. #hugs
Please help keep Anne’s dreams and work alive. Contact me if you want to get move involved!
The Power of Humanism
Humanism can be a powerful force for good. We often take it for granted when we read and hear that and simply let it flow through our minds as we move to other things. But I’d like you to really think about how Humanism can really change the world, one life at a time.
Many of you know and love our former Program Director, James Fuchs. James is a trans-man. In 2016, we welcomed him to our community unconditionally and made him family. James came back to visit us at the end of March to describe how we Humanists and our penchant for acceptance and inclusion helped him through a difficult time and accept himself for who he really was. During his talk, he brought up the disturbing rates of suicide and violence against transgender people. James outlined how Humanism can change and even save lives, including his own. If you missed his talk, check it out on our YouTube channel! Don’t forget to like the video and subscribe! You can also watch any of our Sunday Speakers live on Sundays if you’re sick or cannot make it.
Now, it’s time for us to continue to change lives and help people who may be struggling with their identity and a world obsessed with it. The rainbows are back in town as the Phoenix Pride Festival is this weekend. Each year, HSGP rents out a booth to help bring Humanism and our community’s gift of friendship and acceptance to those who are most vulnerable. Our LGBTQ friends need to know that they are not alone and they have a home with us. As James’ said in his talk, this can literally save a life.
We need your help! Please sign up to join us to show your Pride and compassion this Saturday and Sunday, April 7 & 8th. Click here to sign-up today!
On Lawrence Krauss
I’d like to start by saying that these thoughts and reflections are my own and do not represent the official position of HSGP or it’s board or its members. I don’t want to speak out of turn.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions about Lawrence Krauss lately. I’d like to open this conversation honestly and recognize my biases: Lawrence is my hero.
When I realized that I was an atheist, Lawrence’s books especially A Universe from Nothing helped me understand this beautiful universe not through the lens of a divine hand, but through the telescope of the best minds and observations that are available today. His compassionate debates and conversations stressing equality for women throughout the world and honest, good-faith discussions about belief and reality were eye-opening and thought-provoking to me as a young atheist.
The Buzzfeed Allegations
As many of you have already discovered, in February of 2018, BuzzFeed published an article entitled: “He Became A Celebrity For Putting Science Before God. Now Lawrence Krauss Faces Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct.” I agree with many of your initial reactions: BuzzFeed is not as reliable as other publications with which we are familiar. BuzzFeed has made a lot of journalistic mistakes in the past and much of their publication history features clickbaity lists which have sullied their reputation for reliability.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t actually perform quality journalism from time to time. This article is not without faults. It’s clearly and unfairly painting with a broad brush when it implies through a leading question (JAQ’ing AKA Just Asking Questions off) in the sub-title that Skeptics and atheists will blindly and overwhelmingly defend Krauss against any claims. Obviously writing for non-skeptics and non-atheists, the authors spend a lot of column space on irrelevant details, desperately trying to tie an entire, largely unaffiliated, demographic to the faults of a single “leader.” These are all valid criticisms of the article.
Before I begin. I encourage you to read the original article, some additional allegations sparked by the article, and additional commentary on the allegations. However, for the purpose of this publication, let’s collectively acknowledge these criticisms of BuzzFeed and the article and set them aside to focus on the most serious components and how we can grow to be better people.
The BuzzFeed article cites several people by name and anonymously. I feel that the most important claims can be summarized thusly:
- In 2006, Krauss attempted to engage in sex with Melody Hensley using predatory techniques
- In 2009, Krauss was patronizing to an aspiring female scientist and journalist, “Nora”
- Krauss had been patronizing to other women before at Case Western Reserve. Krauss “expressed regret about having a negative impact on [Nora]”
- Krauss was not allowed to return to the Case Western campus until a colloquium in 2009
- October of 2009. At the Quantum to Cosmos Festival at the Perimeter Institute, a sexual harassment complaint was filed against Krauss
- April 2011 Krauss defended Jeffrey Epstein who was convicted of soliciting prostitution from an underage girl
- Krauss in 2008, felt up a woman at a bar
- Krauss in 2011, asked a woman on a cruise ship to join him and Krauss’ then companion–now wife–for sex
- Krauss in November of 2016, groped a woman’s breast while she was taking a photo with Krauss
- Krauss misrepresented the disposition from the universities about the claim made about the groping event
- Four former employees of Arizona State’s Origins Project called Krauss “sexist”
- Krauss inappropriately remarked on a student’s apparel
- Krauss suggested that an Origin’s staffer wear a revealing outfit to sell tickets
- Krauss admitted to an employee that “he understood why people didn’t like to hire women of child bearing age because it isn’t fair to have to pay maternity benefit”
- Krauss told an employee that “he’s going to buy me birth control so I don’t get pregnant and inconvenience him.”
- Krauss asked the same employee if she was planning to get pregnant
There are a few tangential but potentially circumstantial claims that were also included in the article, I’ve culled them to focus solely on the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
On March 7, 2018, after a couple of weeks of absolute silence and even skipping his appearance at the “Celebration of Science and Reason” event with Matt Dillahunty and Sam Harris which took place at the Comerica Center here in Phoenix, Krauss released a statement in response to the BuzzFeed article. Part of the opening dialog of that event discussed the situation with Lawrence Krauss and it was captured and recorded to YouTube.
Lawrence Krauss posted his response on his twitter feed which denied most of the allegations in the BuzzFeed article. Krauss offers a vigorous and blow-by-blow rebuttal of each of the major claims in the BuzzFeed article. It may surprise you to learn, however, that I found this letter largely unsatisfying.
Sam Harris also reflected on the situation a few days after Krauss released his letter and it was a careful but largely unflattering monolog about Krauss. Toward the middle of the recording, Harris admitted that “there is enough there to worry me.”
I encourage you to read Krauss’ rebuttal for yourself.
As a skeptical thinker, I’d like to reduce my biases as much as possible in order to avoid deluding myself in favor of conclusions which I like or already hold. I admit that I am not perfect and probably have gotten a lot wrong about this situation so far and will continue to get things wrong. However, I am open to having my mind changed based on the facts or, in lieu of hard data, making decisions as we humans always do, without enough information.
Maybe that’s the difference between me and a more rigorous skeptic. As an engineer by training, education, and vocation, I’ve learned that you must make decisions without all of the facts or knowledge. Mistakes do get made and your goal is to make a product safer or cheaper or more valuable with as little negative impact as possible. Time is, ironically, always the enemy of perfection.
The skeptic in me preaches loudly, “we don’t know!” And that’s true. These are just allegations. With the exception of Melody Hensley, these are anonymous complaints. Well, except for the actual complaints filed at the universities and organizations that have been formally filed. So, there’s that and they are not easily discounted, nor should they be.
I’m not saying that Krauss is guilty and I’m not confident in my ability to judge his guilt. Again, I don’t have absolutely unassailable knowledge of the evidence or claims. The section below are not accusations or assumptions that Krauss has done these things. However, I feel that these can be useful examples.
Melody Hensley & Predatory Pretext
Krauss has confirmed that he did attempt to engage in a sexual encounter with Melody Hensley. He claims it was consensual, she claims it was predatory. From the outside, this seems like a misunderstanding on Krauss’s part which caused him to make an unwelcome move. The part where Melody claims that he invited her up to his room under false pretense, smacks of similar behavior.
I think the more important part of this revelation is to provide what we in the programming business call “anti-patterns:” behavior that is not to be emulated. Luring somebody up to your hotel room is not OK. Before taking any sexual or physical actions, you must make sure that it’s OK with the person that you’re with. I’m not advocating the extremist position that is often conflated with consent, but I am advocating that one establish an understanding and agreement about expectations in these situations. That is completely undercut when you’re not upfront about a meeting’s pretext. Bottom line: be upfront about your intentions when meeting with people for sex.
The Patronization of Nora
In this incident, “Nora” claims that while speaking to Krauss about her experiences as one of the few female scientists in the department, that he joked about her getting a lot of male romantic attention. Taking this claim at face value, this seems to be an inappropriate joke or icebreaker at best. However, this comes off as condescending. Saying “it’s just a joke” is not an excuse. Women are under-represented in this field and when a prominent educator and leader in that field jokes that a potential bright side of educational or occupational difficulties is an increased chances of dating, it trivializes those challenges and fails to address them. A possible alternative may have been for Krauss to use his position and be a leader by inquiring further about how he could assist her with the difficulties she was presenting. There may be no ill intent with jokes like these, but they are not appropriate.
She was there to be a scientist, not to find a husband.
Bottom line: if someone approaches you in a professional or academic capacity or environment, do not trivialize their requests for assistance with a statement, even jokingly, that exemplifies their complaint. Generally, you can make jokes, but you need to chose your moment.
Jeffrey Epstein & Child Prostitution
In 2006, “Mr. Epstein pleaded not guilty in August to the crime he was ultimately charged with, soliciting prostitution.” He was charged in 2008. In 2011, Krauss defended Epstein in a Daily Beast article. Krauss, while simultaneously claiming a scientific and skeptical position based on facts, #believedHim. As a scientist, he should have taken the position of the null hypothesis, which is to reserve judgement about the situation until sufficient evidence is presented. Now, I’m not sure about you, but a grand jury indictment and guilty plea to a lesser charge to the contrary is quite persuasive.
Instead, Krauss defended a financial backer of his Origin’s Project and cited, essentially, that a lack of evidence is evidence of absence. Any good skeptic would reject this position even without a grand jury indictment and guilty plea.
Bottom line: If you’re going to claim to be a skeptic, be sure you’re equally skeptical about a position with which you are biased against as well as those to which you are biased toward, especially if that bias is likely colored by money.
Feeling up people in public
There’s not much I can say about this. Unless you have a person’s consent, keep your hands to yourself. Don’t touch people in public. Don’t touch their clothes or their hair. Don’t put glue sticks up your nose. Seriously, this is kindergarten-level knowledge.
Bottom line: Keep your hands to yourself unless you have consent.
Greek Cruise of 2011
This particular incident was difficult to interpret. Krauss denies that it occurred at all. Let’s be clear, inviting somebody to join you for a threesome is not, in and of itself, sexual harassment, offensive, or inappropriate. However, this is highly dependent on the context in which the proposition is made and the relationship between the parties involved. Unfortunately, the details of this are not made clear in the BuzzFeed article, so we are left without much basis on which to condemn him on his actions.
However, not all parties escape unscathed. Ronald Lindsey, if the BuzzFeed article is accurate, is depicted as exchanging the comfort and concerns of customers for sell tickets for CFI. If true, this is appalling.
Bottom line: Don’t put people at risk of sexual harassment for money, even if for a good cause.
Krauss is accused of groping a woman’s breast while she was taking a selfie with him. This claim seems incredible as I was personally expecting to see the photo in question. Though in the back of my mind, this decreases the credibility of the BuzzFeed claim, that is likely my own bias working against the truth. The claim may still be true without the photo being presented in the article. It’s hard to believe that the photo, which according to BuzzFeed, was “passed around” at the conference without anyone taking a photo of it or getting a copy of it. However, parts of this don’t really add up.
Krauss’ counter is that he doesn’t like being flashed when getting his picture taken. However, most phones do not have front-facing flashes for the camera for taking selfies. Furthermore, the flash lens on the models I had found through a quick Google search were so small that I am skeptical that Krauss would have noticed. Though, perhaps if he has many selfies taken with him, that he may have this special knowledge. Still, this seems unlikely at first look.
However, Krauss mischaracterized the conclusions of two of the universities. He over-stated their conclusions by impugning malice when the universities have denied this representation of their findings. This is likely either sloppy language from Krauss or a deliberate attempt to discredit the claims. I leave you to decide which for yourself.
Bottom line: See: Feeling up people in public above
The Jumper Incident
The woman involved in the incident was an undergraduate and Krauss is in a position of authority.
Bottom line: It is inappropriate to “check out” and comment on the apparel of a subordinate or a student at a university of which you are faculty.
Dressing in a revealing outfit to sell tickets
Bottom line: Don’t do this to a subordinate. Even as a joke.
This claim seems unusual to me. ASU offers paid leave for both men and women with equal benefits. The FMLA makes this a federal law for all states for businesses with over 50 employees. There’s nothing unfair about it, unless Krauss is under the impression that it only applies to women.
Bottom line: It’s not true for businesses with over 50 employees.
Talking About your Subordinate’s Birth Control
Bottom line: Don’t do this. Ever. It’s none of your business.
The Incident with Cristina Rad
The final nail in the coffin for these allegations and the motivation for me to write this article, was Cristina Rad. She was a very popular Vlogger back when I was learning about atheism through YouTube. I have always admired her insights and talent for taking complicated situations and reducing them to the bare elements and contradictions for all of the world to see.
Cristina shared her story after a very long hiatus from YouTube. Please take a moment to watch the video that tipped me, personally.
She describes her encounters–yes, plural–with Krauss’ inappropriate behavior. She has a history of avoiding drama and has always gone out of her way to explain nuance in the pursuit of truth. I trust her.
The Bill Cosby Threshold
A question that has been dizzying about my mind is whether or not I believe the claims or whether I believe Krauss. That question is flawed. Do I believe the claims? Not all of them, no.
But, consider the following. A fraction of David Hume’s work can be summarized as:
When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion. — AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (ORIG. 1748), SECT. 10, PART 1.
I believe this leaves us with the following dilema:
- Miracle 1: All claims Krauss denies are lies or misstatements or misunderstandings
- Miracle 2: Krauss is lying
Yes: Miracle 1 is possible, but less likely than Miracle 2. I leave you to decide for yourself which miracle you eschew.
The question on my mind is, “What now?” We Humanists must hold ourselves to a higher standard because we know that judgement doesn’t come from on high. Krauss was awarded Humanist of the Year by The American Humanist Association in 2015. That award has been placed under administrative review. I have also removed the photo of Krauss from our speaker hallway.
For us at HSGP whether you accept the claims or not, I’d like to make it clear that this alleged behavior is unacceptable.
Admittedly, I’ve had my own embarrassing missteps in life, even with regard to commenting on apparel. As I’ve grown and learned why this behavior isn’t appropriate, I’m committed to creating a better environment for everybody starting by working on myself.
This should not be a banishment for Krauss. However, I’m not sure what Krauss can do to make up for this and to be a better role model for Humanists. Apologies are good starts, but actions have always spoken to me more loudly than words. I’m genuinely confused as to why, as a faculty member at ASU, he didn’t take, or wasn’t required to take, or the the training didn’t cover this behavior as required by ASU for Title IX compliance. Are there appropriate training courses? Is this something for which he can seek counseling? I genuinely don’t know. I want to leave the door open to Krauss to restore our confidence in him as a Humanist, but it should not be an easy threshold to pass.
Statues of our Heros
Nothing in my article is intended or is even capable of taking away the scientific achievements of Lawrence Krauss and his team of researchers. I am grateful for all of their collective hard work to expand the frontiers of knowledge and bring them to the minds of everyday people. But allow me this quote from my favorite space-western TV show to summarize my thoughts on Krauss,
It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of ’em was one kinda sombitch or another. — Firefly. “Jaynestown” 2002.
I still honor his achievements. He is still my hero from a scientific standpoint. When reading his response to the BuzzFeed article, I expect him to affirm that the alleged behavior is not Humanistic or moral. While he rebutted some of the claims, I was disappointed that it was not affirmed for the other claims. I wish him the best as he deals with whatever drives this behavior, but we must do better.
A big thanks to HSGP event leader, Christina Hepler, for lending her thesaurus-brain and perspective to me while I was writing this article.
I’m a bit disappointed by my article. I wish I had more time to flesh it out and make it better, but my back is up against a deadline. Please send me your thoughts but mind you that I claim no special expertise, special knowledge, or authority in this writing.
All I ask is that you are just as skeptical of claims you like as those you do not.
2018-04-07: I have made some typographical and structural changes based on feedback from readers. Thanks to Jim Lippard for correcting my use of convictions vs. indictments for grand juries.