Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, the author of several science books and a vocal atheist who appeared with Richard Dawkins in a 2013 documentary called The Unbelievers, has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, according to BuzzFeed’s Peter Aldhous, Azeen Ghorayshi, and Virginia Hughes.
The piece opens with a story of him aggressively coming onto a woman who wasn’t expecting it and didn’t want it. When he took out a condom, she left the room. She later called his actions “predatory”; he says they were “consensual.” But it’s not just the single incident that forms the basis of this piece.
BuzzFeed News has learned that the incident with [Melody] 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.
Just because the charges aren’t rape or assault doesn’t make them any more defensible. At the very least, the piece suggests, he makes a lot of women uncomfortable — and for good reason.
Krauss denied all the allegations, chalking them up to people coming after him because of his “celebrity.” Which is… a strange response. There are plenty of niche celebrities who have his kind of fan base and who aren’t part of any whisper networks I’m aware of. And when you read the accounts of multiple women who have had disturbing interactions with him, it’s much harder to dismiss the emerging pattern.BuzzFeed, of course, also published the first full account of allegations against Skeptic publisher and author Michael Shermer in 2014. Many of the voices from that piece turn up in this one, too.
There will inevitably be people who dismiss the accusers, defend Krauss’ behavior, say everything was always mutual all the time, and argue that these incidents are nothing more than flirtation or jokes that have been taken out of context or misinterpreted in the worst possible light. But how many similar stories does it take before those people accept that this behavior is completely inappropriate, especially from someone in a position of power and influence?
No one’s suggesting Krauss shouldn’t be writing books about science or speaking out against the harms of religion. If there’s any simple takeaway from this, though, it’s that people who organize events and invite someone like Krauss as a way to draw a like-minded crowd should consider looking elsewhere. There are plenty of people who can advocate for a scientific, rational outlook who don’t have any of these incidents on their resume.
I’m sure there’s a metaphor to be made about the Doomsday Clock. Whenever the minute hand moves forward because of the impending threat of nuclear war, Krauss is one of the people delivering the message because of his work with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Now, after hovering around 12 for several years, it seems like Krauss’ own clock is inching closer to midnight.
(Screenshot via YouTube)