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John Safran ≠ Lawrence Krauss

May 14, 2018

I registered for the upcoming Think Inc. event Science in the Soul, which will be in Melbourne this coming Saturday night. It was to be a conversation between Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins. I was really looking forward to the event.

However, recently I received an email about this event from the organisers Think Inc:

Important Announcement: Science in the Soul Melbourne

This is a reminder that Lawrence Krauss will no longer be joining the Richard Dawkins: Science in the Soul and John Safran will continue the tour with Richard in his place.

I read the opening paragraph and was quite shocked. A reminder? I was unaware that Lawrence Krauss was no longer a part of the tour. This was the first I’d heard of it (and I’d had my ticket booked for some time).

I know that Lawrence Krauss had been under public pressure in recent months following allegations of sexual misbehaviour. So I was wondering what Krauss would do with this very public tour with Richard Dawkins given the shadow cast by these allegations. I’m not going to comment much on whether or not Krauss should have gone ahead with the tour (I don’t know enough about the allegations, but given the nature of the allegations, it was probably wise to stay out of the public space for a while). Yet I was not told anything by the event organisers until this email – which was apparently a reminder, but I don’t recall any previous direct communication.

I searched on Think Inc’s Facebook page and discovered a post on March 8th which announced:

Think Inc. wish to advise that Lawrence Krauss has stepped down from the Science In The Soul shows in Australia and New Zealand this May. The ‘Science In The Soul’ shows will continue with Richard Dawkins with a special guest co-host announcement forthcoming.

That is fair enough, but even though I follow Think Inc. on Facebook (and am a reasonably frequent user), I missed this announcement. I would have thought that an email to all people who had bought tickets (and spent quite a lot of money on them) would have been a proper courtesy to inform of the significant change to the advertised event. Perhaps Think could have offered a refund or revision of the terms of the original event?

I can appreciate that it would be difficult for Krauss to appear, but a clear and quick email notification of the change to ticket holders would have been much appreciated (and sufficient).

So when the email announcing John Safran as the host with Dawkins I must confess I felt quite disappointed. I was disappointed, not just about the manner of the way it was announced, but in the choice of Safran himself. Safran has his strengths and some interesting things to add. But Krauss is a world leading scientist and author of popular books on science and public engagement of science, whereas, a friend of mine described Safran as ‘a clown’ after his appearance on Q&A in 2011.

Safran is not anywhere in the same league as Lawrence Krauss. So it really has diminished the attractiveness of the event.

I can appreciate that it is difficult to get a replacement for someone like Krauss, but perhaps choosing an eminent scientist to converse with Dawkins, perhaps a local scientist, or a science educator?

I am willing to change my mind, but I must confess, I’m not overly enthusiastic about Safran on stage. I can see why he has been chosen, he has some public profile, done a couple of documentaries in the ‘religion and God’ space. But he hasn’t really done much in the way of science and I’m not sure how the chemistry will go with him and Dawkins. Dawkins is passionate about science and doesn’t suffer fools lightly, I’m not sure how he’l enjoy a conversation with Safran. Perhaps I have missed something about Safran that makes him a good choice? I’d be happy to be persuaded otherwise, I suppose I’ll find out on Saturday night.

I probably would still have gone to the event even if they had offered a full refund. I will probably still be stimulated by the event on Saturday night.

I don’t want to be too much of a whinger (though this post has a bit of a ‘rant’ feel about it) – I am still looking forward to seeing Dawkins (though I’m not overly excited about hearing John Safran – but I am willing to change my mind).  But this whole experience has left me with a slightly sour taste given the expense of this event and the way in which this significant change in line-up has been handled.



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