Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Who looks like shit now?

I’ve been explaining my disappointment and anger in regard to the sceptical movement for quite some time now, but even I am surprised at the depth of my current level of shock and disappointment in this often-arrogant section of society who endlessly advise us about what to believe and how to think, and exhort us to face facts, but who mostly lack the courage to face the very ugly facts of consistently unconscionable patterns of behaviour of at least two leaders of their movement. To hell with these pathetic hypocrites. Rational thinking deserves much better PR than this pack of tools.

I think I was dimly aware of the rape accusation in regard to Michael Shermer (prolific science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine) back when the matter blew up a foul stench among the blogs in 2013-2014, but even now I’m shocked at the stuff published back then that I’ve been reading recently. I had assumed there was only one incident/accusation. I had no idea, and I had no time nor inclination to delve deeper, as I'd already written off the skeptic movement as a bunch of jerks. I never thought I’d stumble across one of these rape accusations embedded within a suicide notepublished in a blog. Words fail me.

I’ve never had much time for Shermer’s mate Lawrence Krauss, so I was not so much disappointed as shocked by the sudden recent deluge of accusations of sexual misconduct that has swept Krauss’s career away like a tsunami of filthy brown seawater.  New accounts of episodes of his past misconduct continue to surface, and there's no telling when this wave of disclosures will end. Krauss has never been a hero of mine. I'm probably from a different generation than his fan-base. Nothing that I’ve heard him say has struck me as something that no one else could have come up with, and I don't like the way he seems to enjoy throwing in unnecessarily abrasive remarks. To most people I think the distinction would be lost, but I enjoy people who sometimes or even often can’t help but offend in their zeal for telling the truth as they see it, but I find it lame and offensive when some talking head tosses in an outrageous stab just for the sake of…asserting their dominance?...attention-seeking?

There is one thing that I feel compelled to write about Krauss after reading his response to the BuzzFeed article that blew the whistle on his misconduct – what an absolute gutless turd Krauss is for baselessly claiming in the very first sentence of his response (and repeating it later) that the accusations levelled at him defame not only himself but also defame the wider atheist and skeptic community. In my mind Krauss seems so much like the creep who doesn’t look so tough when his gang aren’t around, and he’s calling out for help while the blood drains from his face and his knees go weak. It wasn’t the whole atheist community who groped and propositioned and worse. Grow a spine and face up to your accusers, on your own two feet!

There’s not much that I can add to the accusations swirling around Krauss and Shermer as I’ve never met either, but I can state that I have been very disappointed by lack of media coverage of 2013-2014 accusations about Shermer and the associated reactions within the atheist/skeptic community at the time, and the recent accusations and fall from grace of Krauss. If I hadn’t taken an interest in these matters and done my own poking around on the internet, not seeking information beyond my usual reading of science magazines and newspapers, listening to Australian public radio and viewing of Australian news and journalistic television, I could well have missed the news that two American popularizers of science and major figures in the international skeptic/atheist community have had many very dark accusations thrown their way. Where’s the story on the Krauss scandal on The Science Show? Nowhere that I can find, but Krauss has been a guest many times over on ABC’s Radio National shows and has also appeared many times on ABC television shows such as QandA and Catalyst. Thanks for nothing, Robyn Williams and your cosy colleagues at the national broadcaster. It appears that the ABC only wants to be the bearer of nice news, and I can’t see any evidence of any other Australian TV or radio coverage of the Krauss affair or the Shermer controversy either. The Australian newspaper deserves the credit for covering Krauss’s fall, confirming my opinion that this much-maligned part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire cover negative stories about medicine, science and academia in Australia that no one else will touch (such as successful CFS patient activism exposing crooked researchers, and cases of academic misconduct in Australian universities). Another gold star to The Australian for journalism from Lili.

Did New Scientist give any coverage to the Shermer and Krauss train-smashes? I can’t find any. Two of the three journalists who broke the Krauss story have worked for New Scientist during their careers, but their story was published by Buzzfeed. I guess New Scientist is a science news magazine that collectively views its role as only a cheerleader and reporter of science. I guess I’ve been naïve to expect more of it. I should have noticed long ago that there’s virtually no overlap between the unsavoury matters covered by the website Retraction Watch and the stories reported by New Scientist. The science news weekly mag apparently has no time for the grotty underbellies of science, science popularisers or academia. I guess if the magazine focused on the fallible people behind science rather than just looking at their work, the faith of the readers might be challenged or their ire provoked. Do we really believe that the status of science in society is such a fragile enterprise that science journalism can’t risk reporting a few serious cases of misconduct of a small minority of rogue researchers and the misbehaviour of a couple of rogue science popularizers? Is it possible that this one-eyed coverage of science by science media actually feeds into the growing problem of public distrust of science? I imagine that after a while I’d come to distrust any news source that only reports the sunny side.

So, much of the media are ignoring the ugly matters of Krauss and Shermer, even though some important questions about these men and their deeds need to be discussed or answered. I’m not an insider within the atheist/skeptic communities, so I am wondering how many major figures in these communities have a history of misconduct. Is the problem limited to Shermer and Krauss? As early as 2012 at a conference on Non-theism and Feminism Jennifer McCreight spoke of a group of male public speakers in the community who were notorious in the whisper network as unsafe company for women. It is high time that the wider public was told exactly how large this list is and who is on it.

Someone needs to ask w
hat was the role of alcohol in their misconduct? Accounts involving Shermer and sexual misconduct include plying victims with alcohol so that they became easy prey. One could ask whether Shermer himself has or had a drinking problem. How about Krauss? Is there a hazardous drinking culture associated with skeptics events? I have no wish to suggest excuses for misconduct, but one cannot deny that the addition of alcohol generally erodes character.
Another question needing an answer is whether these men are safe around children. I’m not sure what the youngest age among victims of Shermer might be, but many of the allegations about Krauss involve undergraduates at his university so I figure at least some are likely to have been aged 19 or younger, and of course, there is an imbalance in power between both men and their victims. One alarming fact about Krauss is that he has invited and received criticism by speaking in support of his very wealthy associate Jeremy Epstein, a convicted paedophile, in relation to allegations of paedophilia that resulted in Epstein’s spell in the clink. A disturbing fact about Epstein is that many of his famous associates, such as Woody Allen, Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey, Prince Andrew, Donald Trump and Dustin Hoffman have themselves been the subject of accusations of sexual misconduct with underage people. So how does that make Krauss look? Shermer and Krauss are public figures and science popularisers. Without doubt they would have fans who are children. Would they take advantage of the esteem in which they are held by young fans, given a chance?
Another question worth pondering if whether the nature of their misconduct is limited to sexual behaviour. Accusations about Krauss misbehaving sexually while working as an academic are numerous, so one might wonder whether this lack of character extended to other varieties of academic misconduct such as falsifying data or plagiarism. Both men are authors of books. Is their work all their own?
In my opinion, the clear-out in the skeptic community won’t be done until Michael Shermer is cast into the wilderness to the same degree as Krauss’s recent ride to the margins, and their mate the legendary atheist and science writer Richard Dawkins apologises for his long-time support of these arseholes in words and in deeds. Perhaps Monday’s article about disquiet at Santa Barbara City College about a scheduled appearance at the campus by Shermer is a sign that after all this time he is being reviled for his misconduct by the wider community beyond the skeptic crowd.

Not so long ago secularist Australians such as Tim Minchin were demanding that Cardinal George Pell explain exactly what he knew and when he knew about child sexual abuse in the Catholic church to a royal commission (before this matter was overshadowed by the bombshell of allegations about Pell himself). One quite entertaining piece of Australian TV was an episode of QandA in which Pell and Dawkins were “head-to-head” in debate. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and today Dawkins is the leader who must explain exactly what he knew and when about sexual abuse within his “church”. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a man who was struck down by a stroke a couple of years ago. Maybe I’m unfair to expect any more from Dawkins beyond his books that changed the way so many people thought and lived in the 1970s and 1980s, myself included, but on the other hand, stroke or not, Dawkins always had more than enough smarts to understand the gravity of the misconduct of his associates. Is an atheist allowed to hope for a miracle?


Anonymous said...

Your speculation regarding scientific conduct is spot on. Krauss was always bullying graduate students to put his name on papers. He's also ethically compromised in the gravity wave field. Before the accusations, I don't think I ever heard anyone call him a distinguished cosmologist. Was always a straw reed in science.

Lili Marlene said...

One can never be sure of what to make of anonymous comments, and I'm not in any position to add to the content of the above comment, but I can observe that it looks literate and the kind of comment that an educated person might write.