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A few months ago, a reporter for Buzzfeed got in touch with me asking if I would talk to them about an investigation they were doing on Lawrence Krauss. I get these sorts of things from time to time, because occasionally the real world wants a peak at what’s happening in the atheist and skeptic communities. I try to be helpful, but I do have to admit that over the years I’ve been less interested in talking generally about sexism in these communities because I feel I’ve said everything I need to say, nothing is ever actually going to change, and talking about it constantly bores me.
I agreed in this case, though, because it was a specific investigation on someone I’ve always known was extremely shady, and they seemed interested in doing a really thorough accounting of his actions. So I talked to the reporter on the phone for an hour or so, giving him absolutely everything I had and offering up every contact I had so that he could follow up with the people more directly affected.
When the story didn’t appear after several weeks, I figured it was dead. Then the reporter got back in touch with me just before the end of 2017 to say that the post was publishing soon. When many more weeks went by, I have to admit that I just forgot about it. Honestly, things like this rarely see the light of day. People with a modicum of fame who abuse and harass women for years know how to control the public conversation, and Krauss had allegedly already threatened to sue a blogger who posted about his sexual harassment accusations, so she removed her post and the general public (and Krauss fans) never really caught on.
So much of that harassment happens in private hotel rooms, and under bar tables, and empty cruise ship corridors. If a person is litigious, they can shut down claims of abuse by pointing out that the victims don’t have hard evidence and that they probably don’t want to deal with a defamation lawsuit, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars they may not get back even if they win. And of course, once a victim goes public, there’s the inevitable avalanche of male supremacists who come down on them with seemingly limitless threats and insults. For a lot of victims, it’s just not worth it.
Publications know that they will also face the inevitable lawsuit claims, so if they can’t verify every detail, and if they don’t have the money to keep good lawyers on retainer, it’s not worth it either, and the story gets killed.
So that’s what I assumed happened, and I was surprised to hear from Buzzfeed again last week, in which they were verifying a few things with me and telling me the post would be up the next day. I was doubly surprised when it actually was up, on time as promised.
If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do. It’s painstakingly researched, and it includes the testimonies of many women, all independent of one another, reporting the same kind of sexual harassment from Lawrence Krauss over and over, all over the world.
Despite how well-researched it is, of course there are people falling over themselves to defend Krauss. These people have taken Occam’s Razor and thrown it in the garbage, because they think it’s more likely that all of these separate women decided independently to lie about Lawrence Krauss sexually harassing and assaulting them, than that Krauss did it. They even apparently dismiss the photographic evidence in which Krauss has his hand over a woman’s breast — Krauss’s amazing explanation is that he was putting his hand up to stop the photo from being taken with flash. Because that’s what you do when someone takes a photo of you — you assume there will be flash and to combat it you put your hand on the breast of the nearest woman.
One of the people defending Krauss in the face of all logic and reason is his current wife, Nancy Dahl. And of course, if my husband were accused of sexual harassment, I too would want to defend him. But if my husband was accused of sexual harassment by dozens of people around the world, and if at least one of the incidences happened right in front of me where he clumsily propositioned a fan on an expensive cruise to try to get her to do a threesome, I might not start Tweeting my support for the first time ever.
And if I did start Tweeting my support despite all that, I certainly wouldn’t do it under my maiden name with absolutely no mention of my connection to my husband anywhere. And if I did do that, I wouldn’t start off by Tweeting insults at the women who spoke up about my husband’s abuse, like, I don’t know, telling them they’re too stupid to use birth control. And if I did do that, I wouldn’t go on to threaten to tell other women’s employers that they said something I didn’t like on Twitter (which was that accusations of misconduct don’t violate actual due process). And even if I did all that, at the end of the day I definitely wouldn’t try to start a hashtag thanking my husband, which is only then used by me and two people from his fan club.
It’s all incredibly cringey. And to be perfectly real for a minute, no, you don’t have to stick by someone whose abuses have been so clearly and carefully documented and reported. I know it sucks to realize you’re married to a monster, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to join him in harassing women to shut up.
So all of that aside, I’m really happy the article is out there. I’ve known about the cruise situation for a long time, in which Lawrence Krauss propositioned a woman and made her feel extremely uncomfortable to the point that she said she’d never attend another of his events. I’m glad that his behavior is out there, but even more importantly the behavior of Ron Lindsay, who ran the Center for Inquiry at the time. Lindsay was told about the incident, he called the woman up and heard it directly from her, and then he decided to book Krauss on another cruise. And on Buzzfeed you can read the email in which he says that he is booking Krauss unless doing so would be a bad financial decision for him. Because that’s what it’s about for most of the big skeptic and atheist organizations: selling tickets. One woman won’t book the next cruise, but a dozen other hapless people will. Simple math.
Well hopefully this convinces the majority to boycott organizations like Center for Inquiry. Lindsay is no longer there, but now it’s run by Richard Dawkins, who is best friends with Lawrence Krauss. It’s not going to get better until these organizations fail and we build new, better ones in their place. And while we’re at it, let’s get some better speakers who don’t grope conference attendees.