Here, Krauss’s story rejoins the narrative of others in similar positions, that of the potential comeback. Several men who had been accused of abusing their positions of power and sexually harassing female employees earlier this year have already begun to plot their returns.
Many science organizations have distanced themselves from Krauss this year, but it is not unfathomable to consider that he may find himself on stage again next year. Even though Arizona State found evidence of his sexual misconduct, it did not formally reprimand him. Krauss, as well as people who may want to hire him, can accurately say that, beyond what was reported in the press and detailed by the university, he was not formally sanctioned or terminated in relation to the allegations.
That some men, particularly high-profile ones, have reemerged from the cloud of the #MeToo movement, and with some success, is not surprising. It is another chapter in a very old tale, in which, as my colleague Megan Garber has written, “these men are seen as invaluable because the stories they tell are still understood to have disproportionate worth.” Their transgressions, the reasoning goes, matter little in the face of their successful bodies of work.
This is the culture that raised many of the alleged harassers of this moment. It includes not only Krauss, but also the scientists he idolized, like the theoretical physicist Richard Feynman.
Feynman was a brilliant thinker and a Nobel laureate. He was also, by many accounts, a lech, and well known for his poor treatment of women. Krauss was well aware of this, but it was secondary to Feynman’s scientific legacy. “Showmanship, while contributing to the Feynman lore, was not important to his work however. Neither was his fascination with women, which emerged later,” Krauss wrote in Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, his 2011 biography of the scientist. “The ability to concentrate, combined with an almost superhuman energy that he could apply to a problem, was.”
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.