21 May 2011

Rebecca Watson Engages in Demagoguery, Embarrasses Skeptics Everywhere

Lawrence Krauss is a prominent physicist and skeptic who was raked over the coals by Rebecca Watson in April for standing up for what turned out to be a perfectly reasonable and rational opinion of the media circus that had developed around the Jeffrey Epstein affair.  Krauss, who was initially quoted on the Daily Beast website, had remarked that despite the exaggerated claims being made in the press and by lawyers representing alleged victims, he had not seen any empirical evidence to support those claims.

Krauss, too, had been attacked in the media, with allegations that a physics symposium that he had coordinated included extracurricular activities involving sex with all and sundry.  Rumors likening the event to the movie Eyes Wide Shut were reported as if they were true, with Epstein's comments that there was no agenda except fun (with a capital 'F') and physics, being taken to mean that the 'F' "wasn't just for fun."

Shortly after posting her blog entry railing against Krauss's defense of his friend, Watson's rabid supporters filled the Skepchick echo chamber, calling him a "contemptible hypocrite", not a "true" skeptic, and even implying that Krauss himself was a "sex offender".  Dozens of expressions of moral outrage by fans who took Watson's story at face value drowned out the few commenters who suggested that people look at the actual evidence before reaching their conclusions.  Those commenters were denigrated as "trolls" or "stupid."  And here's the kicker: Watson claims she was using skepticism, yet she got her facts wrong:

Jeffrey Epstein is the infamous media mogul who was jailed in 2008 for paying underage prostitutes who said they were recruited by his aides. Some girls were allegedly flown in from Eastern Europe, their visas arranged by his bookkeeper. Epstein only served 13 months in prison thanks to a sweetheart plea agreement which is now being contested by attorneys representing two of the girls, who were 13 and 14 when they were allegedly paid for sex. Both girls are part of a larger group of victims who have won monetary settlements from Epstein in civil cases.

More than 30 underage victims were listed in the plea agreement, and if it is dismissed, Epstein will face more federal charges. These charges may be backed up by even more evidence discovered since his plea agreement, like a diary he kept that, according to victims’ attorneys, contained the names and details of many of the underage girls he paid for sex.


Many of these girls described being "recruited" by friends and by Epstein's own aides and the modeling agency he funded.  They were brought to his house where they were given money after sex.  To say that they were already having sex for money goes in the face of the evidence we have.

It's bad enough when we hear skeptics making unsubstantiated claims in support of their pet causes, such as "suicide is equivalent to homicide," or "douching is like setting off an atom bomb in your vagina," but this a bold new frontier in bullshit.  If this were a science fair project, it would look like this:

Did Lawrence Krauss Embarrass Scientists Everywhere?


A respected scientist and skeptic happens to have a rich friend who was the center of a media controversy, but I think rich men are inherently evil and blameworthy, so I'll believe anything negative about him, even if it's made up bullshit, and spout it as the truth in order to manufacture a controversy and boost my website's ratings.


Krauss was blinded by money and besides, he's a guy, and therefore suspect.


I spent 18 seconds reading some on-line tabloids. Wait, let's say 19 because "18" sounds a little too short.  I paid close attention to all the salacious accusations and exaggerated claims.


All the articles I looked at totally confirmed my preconceived notions, so they must be true.


Lawrence Krauss is a sexist pig who sold out, just like I thought.


Lawrence Krauss should be publicly accused of turning a blind eye to criminal behavior, and hell, we should get as many sheeples to tar and feather him as we can.

Watson's statements are extremely disturbing and make skeptics look like ignorant, biased fools who will ignore data that doesn't suit their own needs.  It's great that newspapers and blog sites report on what a scientist says about a friend and benefactor, but that doesn't mean they're perfect.  It doesn't even mean they're not lying.  Skeptics should have the rationality needed to separate their personal feelings from what the evidence shows us, and Watson has publicly failed in that regard, bringing an enormous amount of embarrassment to skeptics and critical thinkers everywhere.

When some skeptics heard about Watson's blog post, they wondered if what they heard had been taken out of context - after all, Watson is admired for her blog, podcasts, and public outreach.  So when they actually read the blog post and the ensuing comments, a few of these skeptics posted some comments directly.  Watson confirmed her stance, and made the following comment, which I'm printing as is, in full:

@astrokid: Well that post must have taken an impressive amount of stupid.

A few points:

  • Epstein is not a "media mogul," he's a financier.  He went to jail after pleading guilty to exactly one count of soliciting an underage prostitute, although the only charge actually brought by the grand jury was one count of solicitation, and did not include "underage."  This was in spite of the police recommending that there was probable cause on four counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, and one count of lewd and lascivious molestation.
  • There was no list of "underage victims" in the plea agreement.  A list of individuals identified by the government as victims was not made public, and was provided to Epstein's attorneys after the plea agreement was signed.  Their ages, and the exact nature of the crimes of which they were identified as victims, were not released.
  • Federal charges had not yet been made against Epstein when the plea agreement was entered into.  So if the plea agreement is invalidated, he will not face "more" federal charges.
  • There is no evidence, other than allegations filed in one of the civil suits, that Epstein funded the MC2 modeling agency, and a spokesman for MC2 has publicly stated that they have no connection with Epstein whatsoever.
  • Krauss did not say that the girls in question were "already having sex for money."

Now I'm curious if other famous skeptics will publicly take a side.  Let's hope that if they do, they don't let their personal interests sway their opinions.

Note: It should be obvious that this post is a parody and intended as satire. For a serious post on this topic, see this post on the Skepticism and Ethics blog.