Brace yourself for more allegations against a prominent atheist: Lawrence Krauss

I knew this was coming; in fact, I was interviewed several times for this article about misconduct by Lawrence Krauss. I had to tell the journalist that at most I’d gotten some second-hand echoes from the whisper network, but that I knew nothing directly about any accusations against him. But then, I’m a guy — I wasn’t at risk for being groped, so no one was going to pull me aside and warn me. Also, as a guy who was hanging out with Krauss now and then, there was no way to trust me not to spread the word to the accused…and whoa, but a lot of women were terrified of being alone with him, and of the effect he could have on their career.

Go read their stories. I believe them.

It’s a shame, too, because in theory, he’s an ally. He just seems to fall short in practice.

But Krauss says his movement is getting more diverse, not less. He is politically liberal, decrying sexism, racism, and “the fear of people who are different,” and is a vocal critic of Donald Trump. And yet, he’s not always politically correct, whether saying that religion drives xenophobia, dismissing burka-clad Muslims as “women in bags,” announcing that a statue looks like “Jesus on the toilet,” or tweeting articles arguing that #MeToo has gone too far.

And in his private life, according to a number of women in his orbit, Krauss exhibits some of the sexist behavior that he denounces in public. Now that these accusations are coming out in the open, some women have doubts that the skeptics will acknowledge the body of evidence about his behavior, and confront their own preconceived beliefs.

Once again, skeptics are afflicted with a curious blindness. There’s a psychology study waiting to happen here.

“Skeptics and atheists like to think they are above human foibles like celebrity worship,” Rebecca Watson, a prominent feminist skeptic, told BuzzFeed News. “In a way, that makes them particularly susceptible to being abused by their heroes. I think we see that over and over again.”

Women at skeptics meetings would often warn each other to avoid Krauss, she added, but conference organizers seemed reluctant to act. “He was a popular speaker,” Watson said. “None of them were interested in doing anything about what was happening.”

Krauss hasn’t done himself any favors, either.

But Krauss’s reputation took a hit in April 2011, after he publicly defended Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy financier who was convicted of soliciting prostitution from an underage girl and spent 13 months in a Florida jail.

Epstein was one of the Origins Project’s major donors. But Krauss told the Daily Beast his support of the financier was based purely on the facts: “As a scientist I always judge things on empirical evidence and he always has women ages 19 to 23 around him, but I’ve never seen anything else, so as a scientist, my presumption is that whatever the problems were I would believe him over other people.”

Oh, well, the cynic in me knows exactly how all this will turn out. Krauss will face no consequences, his popularity in the skeptic/atheist movement will be undimmed, and all the women who spoke out in that article will face an increase in the torrent of abuse they already get. It took a lot of courage for them to go on record, for which I know they will be punished.

James O’Brien sees right through them

Hate solves nothing, but as it fails, its proponents can only respond by escalating the hatred.

Just to add the cherry on top, there’s Marco Rubio pretending he hasn’t been bought.

Then the student closed in. “So, Senator Rubio,” he said casually, “can you tell me you won’t be accepting a single penny from the NRA?”

The crowd cheered like it was a slam dunkfest.

“People buy into my agenda,” insisted Rubio, ignoring the public disgust with buying and selling politics.

“So you won’t take more NRA money?” Kasky pressed on.

“That’s the wrong way to look at it,” Rubio said. “People buy into my agenda.”

OK, Rubio, so your agenda aligns with that of a radical terrorist organization, the NRA.

I could take up surfing!

I believe that the University of Minnesota, Morris is an ideal learning environment: small classes, good teachers, a real commitment to education. But I also have to be honest and tell you that it has one flaw — location. We really are on the edge of nowhere. I suppose I could spin it and say it has a kind of monastic atmosphere, free of distractions, but I often pine for a place that is a little closer to a real airport, maybe has some public transportation that can take me to someplace other than a grocery store, and has some of the amenities of a larger city.

Now I discover there is a solution. Invent a place! Alireza Heidari is an amazingly prolific ‘scientist’ who has published hundreds of papers and is on the editorial board of countless journals, and he does it all from his institution, California South University.

What? You’ve never heard of it? It’s just down the road from UC Irvine; it takes up 50 city blocks, has 39,000 students, and is one of the top 50 universities in the United States! I don’t know how you missed it.

Well, actually, Heidari has carried out the most extreme job of résumé padding ever. He invented a whole fictitious university, and built an entire web site to document its existence. Although, really, he simply stole the University of Alberta’s website, and through the power of search and replace, changed “Canada” to the US, and “Edmonton” to southern California. It’s a good trick. I’m sure Edmontonians are confused and uncertain whether to celebrate the better climate or be horrified to find themselves under President Trump.

I’m going to suggest to the administration that we edit our web page to say we’re the University of Hawaii, Morris, and relocate the campus to Kauai. I’m tired of being so cold all the time, and we could also fix up our ocean beach deficit at the same time.

I guess I just can’t be happy with bad data

I used to be a fan of Steven Pinker’s work. He speaks fluent academese, he just sounds so reasonable, and his message of optimism is something I want to be true. I’d love to be able to go to my grave thinking the world was going to be a better place for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and all the children of the world. I wanted to believe.

O sweet irony, that an atheist could be tempted by hope and faith.

But as I read more, I became disenchanted. Hope is great, but it has to be backed by reason and evidence, and as I read more, it became obvious that Pinker is kind of the Norman Vincent Peale of atheism, and that there wasn’t any substance to him — he starts with a happy belief and works to fill in the gaps in the evidence with cherry-picked data and his own indefensible interpretations.

So now he’s written a book about the Enlightenment, reviewed by Peter Harrison. It is not a good review.

The Enlightenment may seem an ambitious topic for a cognitive psychologist to take up from scratch. Numerous historians have dedicated entire careers to it, and there remains a considerable diversity of opinion about what it was and what its impact has been. But from this and previous work we get intimations of why Pinker thinks he is the person for the job. Historians have laboured under the misapprehension that the key figures of the Enlightenment were mostly philosophers of one stripe or another. Pinker has made the anachronistic determination that, in fact, they were all really scientists – indeed, “cognitive neuroscientists” and “evolutionary psychologists.”

In short, he thinks that they are people like him and that he is thus possessed of privileged insights into their thought denied to mere historians. The latter must resort to careful reading and fraught interpretation in lieu of being able directly to channel what Enlightenment thinkers really thought.

Uh-oh. This reminds me of that ghastly essay Pinker wrote that made me recoil in horror, it was so bad, so egocentric, so ignorant of the humanities and social sciences, I bet it was the foundation of his new book. The book that gets this summary:

For the sceptical reader the whole strategy of the book looks like this. Take a highly selective, historically contentious and anachronistic view of the Enlightenment. Don’t be too scrupulous in surveying the range of positions held by Enlightenment thinkers – just attribute your own views to them all. Find a great many things that happened after the Enlightenment that you really like. Illustrate these with graphs. Repeat. Attribute all these good things your version of the Enlightenment. Conclude that we should emulate this Enlightenment if we want the trend lines to keep heading in the right direction. If challenged at any point, do not mount a counter-argument that appeals to actual history, but choose one of the following labels for your critic: religious reactionary, delusional romantic, relativist, postmodernist, paid up member of the Foucault fan club.

For their part, historians have found the task of tracing the legacy of the Enlightenment more difficult, not least because even characterising what the Enlightenment was has proven challenging. It is now commonplace to speak of multiple Enlightenments and hence multiple and sometime conflicting legacies. Obviously, moreover, not everything that came after the Enlightenment has been sweetness and, well, light. Edmund Burke and G.W.F. Hegel, for example, drew direct connexions between the French Enlightenment and the reign of terror. In the twentieth century the German-Jewish philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer described what they called “the dialectic of the Enlightenment” – a mixed inheritance that included the technical mastery of nature along with a conspicuous absence of the moral insights that would prevent that mastery being turned to barbarous ends. In their view, this led ultimately to the horrors of Nazism.

That bit about picking things you like and stuffing them into graphs reminds me of someone else: maybe Pinker is actually the hybridized clone of Norman Vincent Peale and Ray Kurzweil.

I think, to be a good honest atheist and scientist, I have to respect the work of philosophers and historians and all those people who have deep domains of expertise that I lack, and recognize that when people who say things I wish were true, yet disrespect and don’t even acknowledge the historical breadth of humanity’s thought, they are probably full of shit. Or at least the living personification of the Alexander Pope poem:

A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

A little humility would help, and you don’t approach the Pierian spring with a sippy straw.

Oughta be better than Sharknado

Amazon is going to make a movie of Iain Banks’ Consider Phlebas. That’s going to be tough. Not only would I consider much of it impossible to film, but The Culture isn’t exactly capitalism-friendly, and it will be interesting to see how a mega-corp can develop a movie that is counter to its own ethos without mangling it.

Also, it’s kind of a downer of a story, don’t you know? There isn’t going to be a sequel or a series with the cocky, devil-may-care hero, and I don’t think they’ll sell many t-shirts or video games of Bora Horza Gobuchul.

At least they’re not trying to make Use of Weapons. I don’t think that one would be popular with the happy-clappy space hero crowd.

Well, that got icky fast

A doctor has lost his license to practice medicine after he was found guilty of fondling the breasts of patients during examinations. He was not, however, found guilty of pressing his penis against their legs because, as he himself argued, he was too fat to get that close to them. You might be wondering how that was determined. No. You’re not wondering that, because that’s kind of the last thing you want to know about this case. I didn’t want to know, either, but the article goes ahead and tells us.

Urological experts were hired by both the college and the doctor’s defence team to chemically induce erections in Kunynetz and then simulate patient examinations to determine if indeed his penis could be felt against a patient’s leg.

After conflicting results from the two experts and after consulting photographic evidence from one of the procedures, the discipline panel could only conclude “that the impossibility of contact between the doctor’s penis and a patient’s skin (through clothing) was not established.”

TMI! TMI! I don’t even understand why they needed to get to this level of detail, since he’d already been found guilty of sexual abuse and professional misconduct. Why should precisely determining which patch of skin touched which other patch of skin even matter, since the general violation of ethical conduct had already been determined?

Oh, well. The important thing is that he won’t be practicing medicine anymore, he has lost his appointment with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, he’s facing some massive fines, and he has still another court date at which he may be convicted of assault.