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sexual impropriety allegations against Larry Krauss - Rounding up the Usual Suspects — LiveJournal
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sexual impropriety allegations against Larry Krauss

I haven't previously written on Livejournal about the flood of sexual misconduct allegations and revelations that have come to light since the Harvey Weinstein scandal opened up. It has actually been a long time since I've written about news.

But now there's a new name in the news due to allegations of sexual improprieties: Larry Krauss. Although Krauss has an abrasive personality, I admired his public persona. But now we find that he is (allegedly) another sexual harassment perpetrator.

Buzzfeed broke the story in an article titled "The Unbeliever: He became a celebrity for putting science before God. Now Lawrence Krauss faces allegations of sexual misconduct." (Peter Aldhous, reporter; Azeen Ghorayshi, reporter; Virginia Hughes, science editor; February 22). That's a couple of weeks ago, and I didn't see it.
  (I can just imagine some people sneering at "Buzzfeed", but although its name sounds pretty sensationalist, it does quite a bit of quality journalism.)

Krauss wrote a response to the allegations on his Facebook page. "J" saw that response and told me about it.

I've met Krauss

The reason I'm writing about him, and not all the others who have been accused of sexual improprieties is that I've met Krauss, and I have my own impressions to add to the news about him.

During much of November 2012, "J" and I were on a cruise that was both our honeymoon and a cruise to see the total solar eclipse of November 14. One of the featured speakers on the eclipse was none other than Larry Krauss. He gave six presentations during the cruise, which I list at the end of this message.

Besides being a featured speaker on the cruise, he was assigned to our dinner table on the cruise. Krauss was there with his then-mistress, who is now his wife. He was an excellent speaker, but disrespectful of people he disagreed with, not just while making speeches or writing editorials, but in face-to-face encounters.

I have personal experience with Krauss when he's disrespectfully disagreeing about something. It wasn't a big debating point like a scientific disagreement, or his vigorous opposition to religion. It was just a minor spoken mistake that he made memorable with an abrasive reaction.

Units of velocity

During a lecture titled "Exoplanets", Krauss was explaining how exoplanets can be detected through Doppler shifts in their light. He explained that because of Jupiter's gravitational influence, the Sun moves at a rate of about 10 meters per second. (That's 36 km per hour, or about 22 miles per hour.) By contrast, the Sun-like star 51 Pegasi moves at a rate of about 50 meters per second. (That's 180 km/h, or about 112 mph.)

Then came the slip-up: "This ship is moving about 30k meters per second." That's how I wrote it in my notes, but I don't remember the whether his spoken words were "thirty thousand meters per second" (the most likely interpretation of my notes), "thirty kilometers per second (an equivalent speed, plausible if he meant kilometers per hour), or something else.

The ship's top speed is 44 km per hour (24 knots, 28 mph, or 12 m/s), and its service speed is 41 km/h (22 knots, 25 mph, or 11 m/s). It's possible that the ship had slowed to 30 km per hour (16 knots, 18.6 mph, or 8.3 m/s) for maneuverability around navigation hazards. Saying the wrong unit is a small mistake, but it's odd that he would mix meters per second (for the Sun and 51 Pegasi) and any units per hour; he's a science professor and that's bad educational practice.

Unnecessarily argumentative

At dinner, I commented on his slip-up. I was polite about it, but I don't recall my words.

The way I would expect most people to reply would be something like, "Did I really say that? If so, nice catch." If that had been his reaction, I probably would have forgotten the incident to the point that I would not have reviewed notes I took in 2012.

Instead, however, Krauss angrily denied making the mistake at all.

Some of the others at the dinner table had heard the same thing I heard, and backed me. Even his then-mistress discreetly nodded at me that I was probably right. (She has supported Krauss in his denials of the sexual impropriety accusations.)

My impression from the incident is that he was an argumentative, disrespectful guy on that occasion. And his record of public debate suggests that he is often argumentative and disrespectful.

And back to the discussion of the accusations of of sexual improprieties, it's not a huge leap of speculation to think that if he's argumentative and disrespectful in response to observation of a minor wording mistake in a lecture, argumentative in public debates about science and religion, maybe he's also argumentative and disrespectful in matters of consent.

Allegations look credible

I find the allegations credible for a number of reasons:

  • There are quite a few, the on-the-record accusers who have no visible motives to lie.
  • His denials seem to be closer to assertions that his actions were not criminal than claims that he didn't do anything wrong.
  • He has defended other accused (and in one case convicted) sexual abusers, and his disrespectful disagreement style seems consistent with disrespect of consent.

Krauss lecture notes:

Pardon the messy state of those articles; I took notes on the lectures, but never got around to turning the notes about most of the lectures into prose. I've only cleaned up about half of the messages I wrote about the eclipse-honeymoon cruise, including only one of the lectures, by a different speaker. Maybe I'll clean them up; I have more of a reason to do so now.

One good thing about the raw state of my notes is that they're an intact record of what I wrote during the lectures. As a result, I'm able to quote my notes as written, rather than my cleaned up prose adaptation. Here's the relevant excerpt from the "Exoplanets" lecture:

The Sun's motion caused by Jupiter is about 10 meters per second, comparable to a human running very rapidly. It takes measurements in the parts per billion range to detect that motion.

(Diagram of 51 Pegasi.)

The planet of 51 Pegasi has a "year" of about four days, and motion of about 50 meters per second. This ship is moving about 30k meters per second. [Wrong!]

(The bracketed "Wrong!" is part of my original notes. I remember writing it during the lecture.)

If at some point in the future I get around to adapting my notes into clean prose, I'll make a point of leaving the notes around for the purpose of supplementing this message.

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