Lawrence Krauss: Dissecting the Buzzfeed Article on Sexual Misconduct

First off, do you know who Lawrence Krauss is? I’ve seen many comments with folks commenting that they’ve never even heard of him. His professional biography, published on Arizona State University’s website, may be found here:

http://krauss.faculty.asu.edu/

Secondly, on February 22, 2018, Buzzfeed published an article by By Peter Aldhous (BuzzFeed News Reporter) Azeen Ghorayshi (BuzzFeed News Reporter) Virginia Hughes (BuzzFeed News Science Editor). The article is titled, “The Unbeliever” and subheaded with the following:

“He Became A Celebrity For Putting Science Before God. Now Lawrence Krauss Faces Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct.

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?”

Here is a link to the full article:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/peteraldhous/lawrence-krauss-sexual-harassment-allegations?utm_term=.iwgqBEdxL#.imwGJEpQZ

Third, is Buzzfeed a reliable source? I like to use Media Bias Fact Check when I look at a publication. The website says Buzzfeed is classified as having a left-center bias with a Mixed rating on factual reporting but is “generally trustworthy.”

From the Media Bias website:
LEFT-CENTER BIAS

These media sources have a slight to moderate liberal bias.  They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor liberal causes.  These sources are generally trustworthy for information, but may require further investigation.

Factual Reporting: MIXED

Notes: Buzzfeed is an internet media company that focuses on entertainment, but does have content for breaking news and politics. Buzzfeed occasionally uses loaded words with a left bias in headlines/articles and has failed a fact check. Buzzfeed has also been known to rush stories that are not verified and then have to retract them. For the most part, Buzzfeed is factual and very well sourced. If not for a few minor blemishes Buzzfeed would be listed as High for factual reporting. Overall, Buzzfeed is a left leaning source that is almost always accurate in reporting, however our criteria dictates that a source that fails a fact check must be rated factually mixed. Buzzfeed is generally trustworthy, but it is recommended to check other sources to verify their stories. (6/30/2016) Updated (12/22/17)

Fourth, I found it odd that Buzzfeed put “skeptic” in quotation marks.

Let’s clarify the terms skeptic and skepticism:

Merriam Webster:

Definition of skeptic

1 : an adherent or advocate of skepticism

2 : a person disposed to skepticism especially regarding religion or religious principles

Definition of skepticism

1 : an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object

2 a : the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain

b : the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism characteristic of skeptics

3 : doubt concerning basic religious principles (such as immortality, providence, and revelation)

Skepticism also has more than one branch.

Examples of major types:

Philosophical Skepticism—final truths are unknowable. I include Moral Skepticism under this heading, although others might view it as a separate area of study.

Religious Skepticism—questioning faith-based claims. A religious skeptic is not always an atheist. The two terms are commonly misused as interchangeable.

Scientific Skepticism-applying scientific inquiry and scientific method to prove knowledge. This would include debunkers such as Martin Gardner, the Amazing Randi, Penn & Gillette or the popular “Mythbusters.” It also questions pseudoscience claims such as homeopathy.

So… that said, it appears that Buzzfeed uses the terms skeptic and atheist as the same thing, and that is simply incorrect.

So, back to dissecting the article:

Skeptics want evidence. Skeptics ask, “Is it true?”

Buzzfeed’s subhead quotes “whisper networks”:  “Lawrence Krauss is a famous atheist and liberal crusader — and, in certain whisper networks, a well-known problem.”

Are “whisper networks” reliable evidence? Nope.

The next line in the subhead reads, “With women coming forward alleging sexual harassment, will his ‘skeptic’  fanbase believe the evidence?”

Huh? Why wouldn’t skeptics believe reliable evidence, whether part of Krauss’s fanbase or not? But it’s got to be more than the whisper network. There is no secret oath among skeptics to deny truth or cover it up if someone is accused of sexual misconduct.

Fortunately, the Buzzfeed authors go on to present the evidence beyond just whispers and innuendo.

First up is the account of Melody Hensley. The details are in the full story so I won’t rehash them here.

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

Krauss: “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.”

Now what? In the classic sense of a “he said/she said” situation, the skeptic is going to look at this situation and say truth is unknowable. Dig deeper, please. (Hence, some skeptics, male and female, have been criticized for not fully embracing the #MeToo movement that asserts we must believe everyone, regardless of the evidence. The victim is always correct and truthful. No need to look under the hood.)

Ok, so that being said, things look a little more convincing when Buzzfeed claims the following: “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.”

That sounds like pretty damning evidence. The only documentation lacking would be independent verification by these institutions, which may happen, or a look at these documents and emails. But, clearly, this is moving in the direction of reliable evidence, which is all the skeptic wants to see. Buzzfeed fairly notes, “In lengthy emails to BuzzFeed News, Krauss denied all of the accusations against him, calling them ‘false and misleading defamatory allegations.’”

But then the article seems to take a weird turn, and it feels like an attack on the skeptic community in general:

First, it defines skeptics as rejecting all forms of faith:

“Although not a household name, Lawrence Krauss is a big shot among skeptics, a community that rejects all forms of faith — from religion and the supernatural, to unproven alternative medicines, to testimonials based on memory and anecdote — in favor of hard evidence, reason, and science.”

As illustrated above, this is not true. Case in point: Martin Gardner, considered by many to be the founder of the modern scientific skeptic movement, was a believer who wrote the essay, “Why I Am Not An Atheist.” Similarly, Carl Sagan disavowed atheism.

Next, Buzzfeed claims: “The skeptics draw heavily from traditionally male groups: scientists, philosophers, and libertarians, as well as geeky subcultures like gamers and sci-fi enthusiasts.” Traditionally male groups? Skepticism, questioning, inquiry, doubt—these are not the domains of males only. The suggestion that women can’t think critically with the best of them is insulting. Gamers and sci-fi enthusiasts? I don’t even know where that idea comes from. Skepticism has nothing to do with hobbies.

Then the article proceeds to pronounce the skeptic movement to be fracturing:

“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.”

Doesn’t fracturing mean falling apart? As a good skeptic, I return to Merriam-Webster:

Definition of fracture

1 : the result of fracturing : break

2 a : the act or process of breaking or the state of being broken; especially : the breaking of hard tissue (such as bone)

b : the rupture (as by tearing) of soft tissue kidney fracture

3 : the general appearance of a freshly broken surface of a mineral

Huh? So the skeptic movement is being broken apart by valuing and protecting free speech? The skeptic movement is broken for believing in discourse, debate and open-mindedness?

I’ll just leave you with this 20 minute talk on the value of free speech and free exchange of ideas by Christopher Hitchens. If you have time, it is wonderful.

Next, Buzzfeed goes with the anti-Muslim allegations so often leveled against religious skeptics. Oh brother. How many times does it have to be said. I’ll just quote Richard Dawkins here: “I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?”

Next, we get to a paragraph that levels so many accusations, I don’t know if I can handle them all in one sitting:

“Famous freethinkers have been criticized for anti-Muslim sentiment (addressed that with Dawkins), for cheering the alt-right media personality Milo Yiannopoulos (Milo does not identify as alt-right and yeah, free speech), and for lampooning feminism and gender theory (that’s the area of the evolutionary biologists and not all skeptics speak on this topic. It is extremely complex and academic in nature).”

Next: “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.” If that is true, it is not coming from decent human beings. Prominent faces in the skeptic community, male and female, black, brown and white, do not participate in name calling and certainly don’t threaten rape or death. Ridiculous. Look at Jordan Peterson’s Twitter. A British journalist recently claimed she was harassed after interviewing Peterson, and he absolutely denounced it.

And for the kicker: “As a result, some commentators have accused parts of the movement of sliding into the alt-right.” Bleh. This was recently addressed by Sam Harris, when folks who openly identified as alt-right co-opted Steven Pinker by clipping out some YouTube comment and making it seem like he was a Nazi or some other nonsense. The New York Times even ran an opinion piece called “Social Media is Making Us Dumber” about this silliness.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/opinion/social-media-dumber-steven-pinker.html

Clearly, sexual misconduct is everywhere, and coming from many sides. Smearing an entire community, though, is just plain—what’s the scientific word—goofy.

——

UPDATE: ASU has received no complaints from ASU students, faculty or staff related to Lawrence Krauss. The university has initiated a review in an attempt to discern the facts. We encourage anyone who has concerns about faculty, staff or students to report those concerns.

11:18 AM – 23 Feb 2018

Logical-LA to be held February 9-11, 2018: Scientific Skepticism Celebrated

In support of the scientific skeptic movement, LogiCal-LA creates a place for critical thinkers to meet face-to-face and to experience presentations from nationally recognized speakers who will share their knowledge and insights.

LogiCal-LA 2018 presents internationally known theoretical physicist and cosmologist Professor Lawrence M. Krauss as keynote speaker.

What is scientific skepticism?

Scientific skeptics believe that empirical investigation of reality leads to the truth, and that the scientific method is best suited to this purpose. They attempt to evaluate claims based on verifiability and falsifiability and discourage accepting claims on faith or anecdotal evidence.  Scientific skeptics often focus their criticism on claims they consider to be implausible, dubious or clearly contradictory to generally accepted science.

Scientific skeptics do not assert that unusual claims should be automatically rejected out of hand on a priori grounds—rather they argue that claims of paranormal or anomalous phenomena should be critically examined and that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence before they can be accepted. From a scientific point of view, theories are judged on many criteria, such as falsifiability, Occam’s Razor, and explanatory power, as well as the degree to which their predictions match experimental results. Skepticism is part of the scientific method; for instance, an experimental result is not regarded as established until it can be shown to be repeatable independently.

For further information, see this article about scientific skepticism.

For the full schedule:

http://logicalla.com/blog1/schedule/

Doomsday Clock: It is Now Two Minutes to Midnight #RewindtheDoomsdayClock

Update 1.25.18
It is now two minutes to midnight
2018 Doomsday Clock Statement
Science and Security Board
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Move Clock Ahead 30 Seconds, Closest to Midnight Since 1953; #RewindtheDoomsdayClock: Cool Trump Nuclear Rhetoric, Negotiate With North Korea, Stick With Iran Deal, Reduce US-Russian Tensions, and Insist on Global Action on Climate Change.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 25, 2018  Citing growing nuclear risks and unchecked climate dangers, the iconic Doomsday Clock is now 30 seconds closer to midnight, the closest to the symbolic point of annihilation that the Clock has been since 1953 at the height of the Cold War. The decision announced today to move the Doomsday Clock to two minutes before midnight was made by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board in consultation with the Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates. The full text of the Doomsday Clock statement is available at http://www.thebulletin.org and includes key recommendations about how to #RewindtheDoomsdayClock.

Video from the Doomsday Clock announcement at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., is available at http://clock.thebulletin.org/ and on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BulletinOfTheAtomicScientists/.

The statement explaining the resetting of the time of the Doomsday Clock notes: “In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II. The greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program appeared to make remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks for itself, other countries in the region, and the United States. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions on both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation …. On the climate change front, the danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now …. The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge.”

Fueling concerns about the potential of a nuclear holocaust are a range of U.S.-Russian military entanglements, South China Sea tensions, escalating rhetoric between Pakistan and India, and uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal. Contributing to the risks of nuclear and non-nuclear clashes around the globe are the rise of nation-state information technology and internet-based campaigns attacking infrastructure and free elections, according to the statement.

Also highlighted as an overarching global concern: The decline of U.S. leadership and a related demise of diplomacy under the Trump Administration. “… [T]here has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent U.S. actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its longstanding leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict U.S. actions or understand when U.S. pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surrealistic sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening.”

In January 2017, the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand edged forward by 30 seconds, to two and half minutes before midnight. For the first time, the Doomsday Clock was influenced by statements from an incoming U.S. President, Donald Trump, regarding the proliferation and the prospect of actually using nuclear weapons, as well as statements made in opposition to U.S. commitments regarding climate change.

Rachel Bronson, president and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes to midnight­­­­—the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.”

Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, Foundation Professor at School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department, Arizona State University, and chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Board of Sponsors, said: “The current, extremely dangerous state of world affairs need not be permanent. The means for managing dangerous technology and reducing global-scale risk exist; indeed, many of them are well-known and within society’s reach, if leaders pay reasonable attention to preserving the long-term prospects of humanity, and if citizens demand that they do so. This is a dangerous time, but the danger is of our own making. Humankind has invented the implements of apocalypse; so can it invent the methods of controlling and eventually eliminating them. This year, leaders and citizens of the world can move the Doomsday Clock and the world away from the metaphorical midnight of global catastrophe by taking common-sense action.”

Robert Rosner, William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago, and chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, said: “We hope this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant—as an urgent warning of global danger. The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now: #RewindtheDoomsdayClock.”

Sharon Squassoni, research professor of practice at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, said: “In the past year, U.S. allies have needed reassurance about American intentions more than ever. Instead, they have been forced to negotiate a thicket of conflicting policy statements from a U.S. administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals, suffering from turnover in senior leadership, led by an undisciplined and disruptive president, and unable to develop, coordinate, and clearly communicate a coherent nuclear policy. This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management, and global stability. It has made the existing nuclear risks greater than necessary and added to their complexity.”

Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute and co-leader of SEI’s Gender and Social Equity Program, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, said:  “2017 just clocked in as the hottest year on record that wasn’t boosted by an El Nino. And that matches what we’ve witnessed on the ground: the Caribbean suffered a season of historic damage from exceedingly powerful hurricanes, extreme heat waves struck across the globe, the Arctic ice cap hit its lowest winter peak on record, and the U.S. suffered devastating wildfires. And while this was happening, the Trump administration dutifully carried through on the campaign promise of derailing U.S. climate policy, putting avowed climate denialists in top cabinet positions, and announcing plans to withdraw from the Paris climate Agreement. Thankfully, this didn’t cause global cooperation to unravel, and other countries have reaffirmed their commitment to take action against climate change.”

#RewindtheDoomsdayClock is a major message of the 2018 statement, with the following action steps among those recommended:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump should refrain from provocative rhetoric regarding North Korea, recognizing the impossibility of predicting North Korean reactions. The U.S. and North Korean governments should open multiple channels of communication.
  • The world community should pursue, as a short-term goal, the cessation of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests. North Korea is the only country to violate the norm against nuclear testing in 20 years.
  • The Trump administration should abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran’s nuclear program unless credible evidence emerges that Iran is not complying with the agreement or Iran agrees to an alternative approach that meets U.S. national security needs.
  • The United States and Russia should discuss and adopt measures to prevent peacetime military incidents along the borders of NATO.
  • U.S. and Russian leaders should return to the negotiating table to resolve differences over the INF treaty, to seek further reductions in nuclear arms, to discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries, to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race, and to ensure that new tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons are not built, and existing tactical weapons are never used on the battlefield.
  • U.S. citizens should demand, in all legal ways, climate action from their government. Climate change is a real and serious threat to humanity.
  • Governments around the world should redouble their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so they go well beyond the initial, inadequate pledges under the Paris Agreement.
  • The international community should establish new protocols to discourage and penalize the misuse of information technology to undermine public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in the existence of objective reality itself.
  • —————-

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will host a live international news conference at 10 a.m. EST/1500 GMT on Thursday, January 25, 2018, to announce the 2018 time of the Doomsday Clock. Watch the announcement live atclock.thebulletin.org, or on our Facebook page through Facebook Live.

Speakers for the Doomsday Clock announcement on January 25, 2018 will include:

•    Rachel BronsonPresident and CEOBulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

•    Sivan KarthaBulletin Science and Security Board; Senior Scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute and co-leader of SEI’s Gender and Social Equity Program. Kartha served as a Coordinating Lead Author in the preparation of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

•    Lawrence Krauss, chair, Bulletin Board of Sponsors; director, Origins Project at Arizona State University; and Foundation Professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department, Arizona State University.

•    Robert Rosner, chair, Bulletin Science and Security Board; William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago.

•    Sharon SquassoniBulletin Science and Security Board; Research Professor of Practice at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University.

Explore our Timeline of the Clock’s past changes, and test your knowledge of the Clock by visiting “Doomsday Clockwork,” our special FAQ on the purpose and history of Martyl Langsdorf’s 1947 creation. You can see all this and more atthebulletin.org.

—————

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

2017: For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s. In its two most recent annual announcements on the Clock, the Science and Security Board warned: “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.” In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.

1947 issue of “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” when they debuted the Doomsday Clock.
[J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago]
Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains.

 

For 70 years, the Bulletin has bridged the technology divide between scientific research, foreign policy and public engagement. See more at: http://thebulletin.org