Skeptic and atheist organizations suffer a failure of leadership

In a total coincidence, I woke up this morning and notice a box of old magazines by the bedside that my wife was planning to throw out, and on the very top was the back cover of Free Inquiry, with this advertisement:

And then, this morning, this article appears: Science Organizations Cancel Lawrence Krauss Events After Sexual Harassment Allegations. Like lightning, within days of the big, thoroughly-sourced article documenting Krauss’s shenanigans, the speaking engagements are sublimating away, leaving nothing but a greasy smear on floor of his reputation. He’s lost the odd event with Sam Harris last night, NECSS has announced that they don’t plan to invite him to future events, MIT cancelled an event, the American Physical Society has dropped him from their annual meeting — he has been Harvey Weinsteined practically overnight.

There are a few exceptions. That infamous cruise:

The BuzzFeed piece also cites an alleged incident in 2011 involving Krauss that I previously detailed in a 2013 post I wrote for the Heresy Club, a now-defunct blog network of young writers in the skeptic community. The blog post, which was removed shortly after its publication following legal threats from Krauss, described a 2011 incident in which Krauss allegedly propositioned a woman to engage in a threesome with himself and another woman (the request was reportedly turned down). The woman was at the time a guest on a cruise sponsored by the Center for Inquiry, where Krauss was one of the featured speakers. I also wrote in my 2013 blog post—and the BuzzFeed article reiterates—that at least one CFI employee implored the then-president of CFI, Ron Lindsay, to not invite Krauss on a planned 2014 cruise, citing the “report of unwanted sexual attention” she had received from the woman and other past offensive behavior. The CFI nevertheless invited him.

CFI has known about these problems as long or longer than other organizations. Nevertheless, CFI has long supported him.

Once, Krauss was barred from making contact with an undergraduate student by his university or from entering the campus without permission, following her harassment complaint, the BuzzFeed article reports. In another instance, the article says, a prominent research institute placed Krauss on its do-not-invite list, following a complaint made during a 2009 event where he guest-spoke. The article also reported that another prominent secular and skeptical organization, the Center for Inquiry (CFI), continued to invite Krauss to events even after having been made aware of several allegations against him and CFI employees requesting that he not attend in light of them.

Universities, like Case Western Reserve, apparently dealt with him effectively after due process (universities are notoriously slow at handling these internal matters). Professional scientific organizations cut him off with remarkable swiftness. CFI, on the other hand, is still struggling to figure out how to cope at least 7 years after the problem first raised its ugly head. The Center for Inquiry doesn’t even have a comment on the matter on their website; neither does the Richard Dawkins Foundation, despite their long association with him.

It’s dismaying that the skeptical/atheist organizations still have their heads stuck up their butts while the rest of the world passes them by. It’s especially troubling because I know there are good people at CFI who are seething about all this, but management has them locked down.


  1. mnb0 says

    “a failure of leadership”
    I have never accepted any leader just because of his/her (un)belief and do not plan to change that attitude. “Skeptic organization” and “atheist organization” doesn’t feel any better to me than “christian organization” etc.

  2. lotharloo says

    An “Atheist Learder” is almost a meaningless term, specially when compared to religious leaders whose words carry much more weight. An atheist leader is basically just a famous atheist.

  3. says

    I wonder how long DIllahunty is going to hang onto these people and keep appearing with them, signal-boosting them (Harris, Shermer, Peterson, Dawkins). Maybe he identifies with their toxic aspects.

  4. =8)-DX says

    @Robert Westbrook #3
    He was supposed to talk to Krauss at some event that got cancelled. Maybe he’ll have something to say about it on the next AE? In general though Matt talks to pretty much anyone, he does debates with all sorts of horrible creationists, presuppositionalists, homophobes and all sorts of garbage people, but you’re right any positive associations with Harris, Shermer or Dawkins rather than a adversarial debate are off-putting.

    Also do you have a link on Matt signal-boosting Peterson? I’d be really surprised to see that =/

  5. Mark Plus says

    The atheist project of sexual freedom doesn’t work for unattractive men like Lawrence Krauss, Michael Shermer and the guy who tried to pick up Rebecca Watson in a hotel elevator a few years ago. That’s why there are so many atheist incels, like those neckbeards who show up at atheist gatherings who are clearly strangers to the experience of having a girlfriend.

    By contrast, the atheist Chads must be living the dream of a godless sexual utopia, where the women who have encounters with these men keep the knowledge to themselves because they don’t feel taken advantage of.

    I don’t know of any atheist who predicted this outcome.

  6. mountainbob says

    I finally dropped my subscription to FI this year… seemed that all the articles said the same thing in increasingly pretentious and strident terms. Too bad. They had a pretty good run.

  7. KG says

    I don’t know of any atheist who predicted this outcome.

    Do you know of any actual evidence that “this outcome” has taken place? Because you certainly don’t provide any worth taking seriously. Your claims about women not reporting sexual encounters with “chads” are by their very nature unsupported, predatory sexual behaviour by men is certainly not confined to atheism or to the unattractive, and there is no evidence that such behaviour, either in general, or in the specific cases of Shermer and Krauss, is a result of inability to attract consenting partners. And your reliance on such MRA assumptions, and use of MRA jargon (“incels”, “chads”) is rather telling.

  8. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    So if I understand #6 correctly, he’s making the radical, trailblazing proposal that women in the atheist community generally don’t consider sexual encounters they want to have to be unwanted sexual encounters.

    I dunno, it may take a while to wrap one’s mind around an observation so profound.

  9. jester700 says

    @ #3
    Robert, Though I follow Matt (and not the others mentioned) and like his work better than Krauss or Harris, I’d guess their fame exceeds his and he isn’t really providing much of a boost for them.

  10. says

    I was struck by the March ’18 Scientific American with an FFRF ad featuring Krauss’ face and quote, and 11 pages back a full-page editors’ Science Agenda commentary saying that sexual harassment is scientific misconduct.

  11. revmatty says

    CFI still declines to distance itself from Shermer, I don’t expect them to do anything right.