I thought this article by Marina Koren was very insightful. I was unaware of some of the stuff she brings up. For instance, how Krauss tried to brazen it out at a conference after the accusations were made.
In another way, it was surprising. Two months before the conference, several women had accused Krauss of sexual misconduct, describing behavior that went unchecked for over a decade. By the time Krauss stepped foot on Stanford’s campus for the gathering, he had been banned from three universities, removed from multiple speaking events, and was under a formal investigation by Arizona State University, his primary affiliation. But Krauss had denied the allegations, and refused to withdraw from public life. “He chatted with peers. He ate with prestigious scientists. In the conference hall, he sat in front, where there were two rows of cloth-covered tables for VIPs,” Jason Davis, a science writer who was there, reported. “He even challenged a nasa engineer after one talk, declaring a proposed propulsion drive to be based on bunk physics.”
Some attendees were flabbergasted by Krauss’s appearance, and chastised the Breakthrough Initiative, the host of the conference, for admitting an alleged harasser in the midst of an investigation of inappropriate behavior in a professional setting.
He was probably right about the propulsion drive — he’s a smart guy. But not smart enough to recognize a subtle distinction: you can and should be bold and refuse to be cowed if you are falsely accused of things you did not do. Being bold about things you know you did, but think are not important or wrong for you to have done is a whole different matter. It makes you look like you haven’t learned a thing and are just going to keep on doing them.
But then, some scientists see perfection as something that will just inevitably happen, not requiring intervention and struggle by human scientists to accomplish.
Some scientists, especially vociferously atheist scientists like Krauss, pride themselves in their ability to rise above certain biases, in their work and in social systems at large. They believe that science, as a concept, will safeguard against them.“Science itself overcomes misogyny and prejudice and bias. It’s built-in,” Krauss said last year during a promotional event for one of his books.
Interesting. But how will Science accomplish that? By learning to recognize and purge itself of error. Science tries and fails all the time, we just have a system for detecting and winnowing out mistakes. I wonder if Krauss realizes that the process that led to his dismissal is part of that process of overcoming misogyny and prejudice and bias that he is so proud of?
Probably not. One of the most interesting parts of this article is that she read Krauss’s book, Quantum Man, a biography of Feynman. There’s no denying that Feynman was an absolute genius, one of the most brilliant physicists of the last century. But there’s also no denying that he was a terrible person who, in his own charming way, treated women terribly. But Krauss tends to dismiss the importance of all that.
Quantum Man is a tremendous exercise in hagiography. Krauss documents Feynman’s bad behavior, but couches it in language that removes any responsibility the scientist may have possessed.
He had continued an intense long-distance courtship with her, and she was causing another woman in Ithaca to lash out at him in jealousy.
He often stayed with friends, usually married ones, and these visits frequently ended badly as a result of his sexual improprieties.
When he spent a year in Brazil, he actually devised a set of simple rules for seducing women, including prostitutes, at bars. He became famous for seducing women at conferences abroad.
Krauss failed to mention that in this game, Feynman considered women who did not put out after he bought them drinks as “worthless bitches.”
It is strange to read Quantum Man now, as waves of women continue to come forward to tell their versions of male behavior that went long unchecked, that existed only through carefully constructed whisper networks, that, if they hadn’t said anything, could be diluted into the silly actions of a brilliant and edgy man. It feels like a time capsule, a snapshot of unbridled adoration for geniuses in a time long before #MeToo. But it remains a cautionary tale, not just for women, or just for men, but for everyone, that some stories can be left behind in favor of others. That some evidence, even when it is corroborated and convincing, can still be dismissed and ignored.
Some of those “simple rules” are outlined in Feynman’s own autobiography. He cultivated misogyny.
All during the next day I built up my psychology differently: I adopted the attitude that those bar girls are all bitches, that they aren’t worth anything, and all they’re in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they’re not going to give you a goddamn thing; I’m not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches, and so on. I learned it till it was automatic.
Krauss idolizes Feynman. I can’t help but wonder if he thought that his kind of behavior is just fine: if you’re smart and valued for being smart, you can get away with being an asshole to women. Feynman wasn’t censured or dismissed by his university or the public (although he should have been), so how would they dare criticize Lawrence Krauss?
He failed to notice that society as well as science works to overcome misogyny and prejudice and bias. It often fails — way too often it fails, as we look out on American culture today. But Krauss should take pride in the fact that in his case, it actually worked. His story is a story of progressive success. Hooray!