Author: Lawrence M. Krauss

Why Climate Science Is Like the Rest of Science

Recent White House initiatives suggest that addressing climate change has risen to the policy forefront of government at the presidential level for the first time in US history. Last week President Biden convened an online international meeting of heads of state on the issue and committed the US to a dramatic effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level of 50 percent of emissions in 2005 by the year 2030, which will require unprecedented action and cooperation between government and major industries. By and large, the public’s mood has shifted from one of skepticism to support, but because the issue is so deeply embedded in scientific predictions whose details are often absent in popular discussions, statements from prominent scientists have great potential to influence the debate. As a theoretical physicist whose primary research has been in what is often called “fundamental physics” I am acutely aware that my colleagues can project an air of superiority in being dismissive of other disciplines and the scientists who labor in them. My late friend and colleague Freeman …

Science Goes Rogue

Social justice activists have been arguing for some time that scientific societies and institutions need to address systemic sexism and racism in STEM disciplines. However, their rationale is often anything but scientific. For example, whenever percentages in faculty positions, test scores, or grant recipients in various disciplines do not match percentages of national average populations, racism or sexism is generally said to be the cause. This is in spite of the fact that no explicit examples of racism or sexism generally accompany the statistics. Correlation, after all, is not causation. Without some underlying mechanism or independent evidence to explain a correlation of observed outcomes with population statistics, inferring racism or sexism in academia as the cause is inappropriate. One might have hoped for more rigor from the leadership of scientific societies and research institutions. Alas, this has not been the case. In the current climate, many have simply adopted popular rhetoric and the jargon of critical theory has begun to dominate communications by these institutions. Pandering and virtue signalling have begun to generate proactive initiatives …

Making the Profane Sacred

“By making a statute and by defining blasphemy, the church sought to prevent discussion—sought to prevent argument—sought to prevent a man giving his honest opinion. Certainly a tenet, a dogma, a doctrine, is safe when hedged about by a statute that prevents your speaking against it. In the silence of slavery it exists. It lives because lips are locked. It lives because men are slaves.” Robert Ingersoll, 1837 The second (or third in some variants) commandment in the Old Testament is “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” During the Hellenistic period, this commandment resulted in a taboo against pronouncing the name of God, Yahweh (translated as I am), replacing it with the word Adonai (my lords). In more modern times, for certain Islamic fundamentalists, misusing the name of the prophet Mohammed is deemed to be punishable by death. And even several Western countries still consider religious blasphemy as a punishable crime. Nevertheless, in most modern Western societies, blasphemy is not effectively prosecuted as a punishable taboo. Instead, we elevate secular …

Why Is Scientific Illiteracy So Acceptable?

In the mid-1980s, when I taught a Physics for Poets class at Yale University, I was dumbstruck when I gave the students a quiz problem to estimate the total amount of water flushed in all the toilets in the US in one 24-hour period and I started to grade the quiz. In order to estimate this, you have to first estimate the population of the US. I discovered that 35 percent of my Yale students, many of whom were history or American studies majors, thought the population of the US was less than 10 million! I went around campus interrogating students I met, asking them what they thought the population of the US was. Again, about one-third of the students thought it was less than 10 million and a few even thought it was greater than a few billion. How was such ignorance so common in a community commonly felt to contain the cream of the crop of young US college students? Then it dawned on me. It wasn’t that these students were ignorant about …

Racism Is Real. But Science Isn’t the Problem

In his June 9th eulogy for George Floyd, Reverend Al Sharpton said, “What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life.” The metaphor goes to the suffocation of hopes, dreams, and basic rights among many black Americans, in part because of inequities in American society, and in part because of direct experiences with racism. Several days later, the American Physical Society (APS), which claims to represent 55,000 physicists working in the United States and abroad, quoted Sharpton’s statement in announcing its solidarity with the “#strike4blacklives” campaign. The group declared that “physics is not an exception” to the suffocating climate of racism that Sharpton described; and that the APS would be closed for regularly scheduled business on June 10th, so as “to stand in support and solidarity with the Black community and to commit to eradicating systemic racism and discrimination, especially in academia, and science.” And the APS wasn’t alone. The strike was embraced by many scientific groups, national laboratories and universities. Throughout …