Jeffrey Epstein Scandal: Crisis at MIT
September 11, 2019 2:06 PM   Subscribe

News of Jeffrey Epstein's donations to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), more extensive than previously admitted, have led to the resignation of the Media Lab's director, Joi Ito. MIT is hiring outside counsel to investigate Epstein's involvement with the university. However, a former MIT administrator, now on leave from his post at Brown University, now claims that the donations were made with the "full knowledge of MIT central administration."

Meanwhile, other tech moguls are becoming implicated in the scandal. Bill Gates denies the New Yorker's report that Epstein facilitated a donation of millions of dollars from himself to the Media Lab, although he met with Epstein and flew on his plane after Epstein's conviction. Pictures also show Epstein dining at a party with the leaders of Amazon, Google and Tesla. LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, as well as a number of other supporters, have come to Ito's defense, in various ways.

The Moral Rot of the MIT Media Lab
The Epstein scandal at MIT shows the moral bankruptcy of techno-elites
Would we miss the Media Lab if it were gone?
Destroy the MIT Media Lab
He Who Must Not Be Tolerated

Previously
Previouslyer
Previouslyerer
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles (192 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
You know that Vince Staples song "Opps," with the woman's voice in the chorus going, "You're dead to me/you're dead to me/you're dead to me?" Every time I hit the apology of another of his highly-placed defenders, that's what goes through my head. Larry Lessig? You're dead to me.
posted by praemunire at 2:19 PM on September 11 [30 favorites]


Cool is the opiate of the classes.
posted by clew at 2:25 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Friday protest at MIT.
posted by medusa at 2:32 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Wow, that Larry Lessig essay is a very powerful account. I would be interested in seeing any standout responses to it.
posted by value of information at 2:40 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


elite education is a racket.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:51 PM on September 11 [24 favorites]


Ethan Zuckerman is leaving the Lab, while Kate Darling wants to stay and change the culture.

Darling's essay is also very interesting in the revelations about the connections between Epstein, literary agent and publisher John Brockman, digerati like Ito, and The Edge Foundation.
posted by chbrooks at 3:14 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Lessig's personal experience is heartbreaking, but he's built his defense of Joi on an inaccurate premise. He's built an argument that's all about moving numbers around in bank accounts. Epstein CAME TO THE LAB, even after the initial verdict. Joi and others had dinners and meetings with him. It's not just about whether it's okay to move X zeros from bank account A into bank account B if you're category 3 or 4. In Lessig's article, Joi never said Epstein was sorry, he said he was to scared to do it again. And it was up to Joi (and others) to decide whether he wanted to be pals with a pedophile and wanted to break bread with him and "network" with him and let him into their home. (And yes, academic work/life balance is its own completely messed up thing, but yes, our labs are our homes.)

And it's entirely effed up that this even occurred to me (and it pales in comparison to the damage done to the girls he hurt) but Epstein was also somehow managing to strengthen the patriarchal bullshit that hurts women in the academy. He did so by creating even more opportunities and spaces and connections and funding that uniquely benefited men. It's the equivalent of the after-work deal going down with the boys at a strip club. It's the piss icing on a shit cake.

Harvard. MIT. Rochester. Dartmouth. USC. Vanderbilt... And those are just the ones with national press. We're at the point in academia where someone will start ranting about the latest abuse/lawsuit, and we have to interrupt to find out which one it is this time, or whether there are even more names on the list.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 3:15 PM on September 11 [57 favorites]


value of information: I mean, it takes for granted that it's appropriate for higher education to depend on donations by wealthy donors--who get to deduct those donations from their taxes. And that places like MIT (and Harvard, Stanford, etc etc) need to be as obscenely wealthy as they are. Which honestly--they do not. A huge amount of the money spent at those places is only incidentally about education and only incidentally about producing new knowledge. Why not have more universities of moderate wealth funded more securely by taxing the wealthy?

Moreover, it's unclear, according to the Tech Crunch piece in the FPP, whether the Media Lab was really contributing anything of great value anyways, apart from being a cheerleader for industry.
posted by col_pogo at 3:19 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


hey. larry. larry my buddy my man. larry my silcon valley lawbro. mr lessig, if you're nasty.

there is another way.

larry, my friend, let me repeat your typology of moneys received by universities, and after which universities scramble:
  1. Type 1 is people like Tom Hanks or Taylor Swift — people who are wealthy and whose wealth comes from nothing but doing good.
  2. Type 2 is entities like Google or Facebook, or people whose wealth comes from those companies. These are people who are wealthy because of their work within companies of ambiguous good.
  3. Type 3 is people who are criminals, but whose wealth does not derive from their crime.
  4. Type 4 is entities and people whose wealth comes from clearly wrongful or harmful or immoral behavior.
you are missing one, friendo. you are missing one, buddy-pal:
0. type 0: the state.
the state the state the state.

the. state.

hey larry remember that one sketch comedy show from the 1990s? no, not the canadian one. the other one. the one that was on mtv. what was it called? oh yeah:

the state.

decisions about what types of research gets carried out, and what types of education are offered, and who gets the benefit of that education, should absolutely not ever be made by any fucking r.j. reynoldses or koch brothers or google bros or even tom fucking hanks or taylor fucking swift (and i say this as someone who loves both tom and tay). not even type 1 has any business making decisions about what research gets funded. and if we let the relatively benign (but, i must stress, totally unqualified) type 1 in, types 2, 3, and 4 come flooding in behind them.

these decisions need to be made by a public institution out of public funds with allocation being determined by people appointed by folx who have legitimacy derived from the people. which means, right now: the. state.

if we can get an anarchosyndicalist commune off the ground, that can fund academic research. if we can get revolutionary soviets established, well boy howdy they can fund some academic research for sure. but academic research funded by the goddamned bourgeoisie, even relatively benign bourgeoisie like tay and tom, is not a public good. it is a racket.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:22 PM on September 11 [119 favorites]


Wait, so Michael Ian Black gets to decide who gets into college? I don't get it.
posted by sideshow at 3:44 PM on September 11 [15 favorites]


and anyone who takes epstein's filthy fucking money is a tool or a fool or an epstein fellow-traveler, and should have no role making any complex decisions whatsoever.

and, larry. larry. my good friend lawrence, if you think owning a child rape island and a plane named the "lolita express" had nothing to do with how epstein's power and influence continually grew over time, you are even more naïve than i thought you were after your dumb fake presidential campaign. you are even more naïve than i thought you were after you fumbled the dmca case.

and, look, you might think i'm being mean to you, larry, but really i'm just using you as a synecdoche for the corner of our current ruling class that's organized around stanford and harvard and mit, all you very clever people. i am not the slightest bit stunned that you and your friends, all of you good liberals with your outsized influence and outsized naïvety, have found it within you even now to pretend that the missing stairs all around you, all those people with money in their pockets and exploitation on their minds, all those people upon whom your continued wealth and influence depends, are not in fact missing stairs at all.

omg the mit/epstein axis is like... basically it's like if someone rolled up all the things that make me see red into one tidy little package. and then that package exploded.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:50 PM on September 11 [38 favorites]


So I've been doing nothing but living and breathing this story for the past week and it's been heartbreaking and difficult. I'm not exactly in the middle of it, but I'm a Media Lab alum (from the 90s) and an old Internet buddy of Joi's. This post does a great job collecting all the various links.

It's a little weird reading the whole story at once. The way this story has dribbled out was tough. Joi got ahead of it with his initial apology letter, a lawyer-vetted not-saying-much bit of smarm. Then Ethan blew it up when he quit, which really stirred up the antihill and got people talking about whether Joi could stay. Then everyone freaked out for a week and there was the petition in support of Joi and it felt like some consensus had been reached that Joi fucked up but he should be the one to fix it, too. And then Farrow's article came out in the New Yorker, as well as the New York Times article the next morning, and that blew it all up again with evidence of many lies and ugliness. Many of Joi's friends felt betrayed in that moment. And now Joi's out. It's been a painful rollercoaster.

I gather morale in the Lab is OK now, if dented. There's a brand new year of students, plus a lot of faculty and researchers and students blamelessly doing good work. They don't deserve to get brought down by this, at least not the vast majority of them. The community including alumni is trying to come together and provide support. The Media Lab has a new committee of five people temporarily running things. And MIT says they're investigating, although the new claim about the parent institution being aware and agreeing sure complicates things. Up to now I think the biggest long term change likely to come out of this is the Media Lab looses some of its unusual independence.

Larry Lessig's essay is profoundly disappointing. He had days to think of an appropriate response and this is what he came up with? Also way too long and self-aggrandizing, but when he gets to his conclusion it's the wrong odious one. I like Sara Wachter-Boettcher's pithy subtweet
you know you can fit "i like money more than i care about women" in a single tweet, you don't even need a medium account.
I would like to add one more link, if I may, Signe Swenson on NPR. She's the whistleblower who is the key source in Farrow's article, also the Monday article implicating the rest of MIT. It's worth listening to the audio to hear the emotion in her voice, coming forward was very difficult for her. I admire her courage and am thankful for her role in getting the truth out.

I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop on Harvard now. They may just bluff their way through it though.
posted by Nelson at 3:51 PM on September 11 [43 favorites]


From Lessig's article:
Our conversations then were about his diligence to determine whether Epstein remained an abuser.
Fuck. That. I stopped reading there. This is just a bunch of mental gymnastics to convince yourself you're not a monster for helping a monster.

Burn the lab down.
posted by krisjohn at 3:52 PM on September 11 [35 favorites]


> Up to now I think the biggest long term change likely to come out of this is the Media Lab looses some of its unusual independence.

how about this how about we all make sure that the media lab loses most of its unusual influence? because it should not have influence now and it should not have had influence ever.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:56 PM on September 11 [14 favorites]


Lessig’s article was *so* disappointing. I used to admire that man. I mean, it wasn’t blood money, so what the hell, right? No. It was rape money, you jerk. I’ve been seething about that response all week.
posted by frumiousb at 3:57 PM on September 11 [21 favorites]


Epstein’s kink was corruption; he got off on corrupting little kids, sure, but also on corrupting institutions and people who damn well should have known better..
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:59 PM on September 11 [11 favorites]


seriously though congratulations to larry lessig for his upcoming appearance on jeopardy as the 400 dollar answer in the naïve liberals category
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:00 PM on September 11 [18 favorites]


Burn the Media Lab to the ground, sow salt around the ruins and erect a sign reading “THIS IS NOT A PLACE OF HONOR.”
posted by acb at 4:03 PM on September 11 [10 favorites]


then catch a plane to california and do the same to palo alto.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:05 PM on September 11 [11 favorites]


wow, there’s a lot of internet tough guys in here.
posted by valkane at 4:13 PM on September 11 [34 favorites]


you know you can fit "i like money more than i care about women" in a single tweet, you don't even need a medium account.

YES, and "I like money more than I care about ______" applies to most things in our current society.

(I'm not trying to devalue the specific meaning of this comment in its present context, but I can't help but be a pedant sometimes.)

I read the Previouslyerer article last night, and fuck, that was worse than any exploitative horror story I've ever come across. Those poor, poor girls.

#fuckcapitalism #fuckpatriarchy #accountabilityforall

How many other corrupt, corrupting, spoiled, and unaccountable monsters (men) are out there? How does one heal a society, a people, and a planet, for which this seems to be the norm?
posted by nikoniko at 4:15 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


apparently this topic gets me slightly angry.

i am going to take a break from the internet for a bit. walk around in the world. listen to the birds sing. pet a cat if i see one. i'll say hello to the folx at the corner store and to the older lady who hangs out outside it, maybe give her a buck or two. if my neighbors are in their yard when i get back i'll talk with them about how their day is going. they're good people and good neighbors. heck, they'll probably have their dog out there. i like their dog a lot.

there are many good and important people in the world, and there are many good and important things in this world, and i do not need to waste my limited time thinking about how mit toadies to rich men who rape children.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:16 PM on September 11 [15 favorites]


fwiw, I'm not sure burning the Media Lab to the ground solves anything...
posted by nikoniko at 4:17 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Lessig is the guy who ran for president three years ago on the platform of removing the corrupting influence of money on politics but he doesn't think that money can corrupt science?
posted by octothorpe at 4:20 PM on September 11 [52 favorites]


My first impulse was to make sure that Sherry Turkle has nothing to do with that dumpster fire - she is at MIT, but seems not to have much to do with Media Lab.

Which makes total sense - why would any thoughtful female engaging with and inquiring about the future of technology, go anywhere near the vanity project that seems to be the Media Lab?

Not quite sure what it says about MIT that it can contain such extremes.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:47 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


From the Moral Rot article by Justin Peters
I made my final emotional break with the Media Lab in 2016, when its now-disgraced former director Joi Ito announced the launch of its inaugural “Disobedience Award,” which sought to celebrate “responsible, ethical disobedience aimed at challenging the norms, rules, or laws that sustain society’s injustices” and which was “made possible through the generosity of Reid Hoffman, Internet entrepreneur, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, and most importantly an individual who cares deeply about righting society’s wrongs.
I appreciate that Peters shares their own emotional arc about Media Lab - from credulous shiny optimism to incredulous cynical revulsion. LinkedIn is whatever, it's not anywhere close to the worst of 21st century techno-capitalism, but to name the award the founder sponsored the Disobedience Award is. Is something. I want words to still matter sometimes, and to rhetorically set a halo (just borrow a bit of the shine from MLK Jr's civil disobedience) is argh.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:50 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


God, I'm so done with Lessig.
posted by gwint at 4:51 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Also via the Peters article, I landed on the website for the Media Lab's Affective Computing group. Its mission statement is blah blah but whatever: "We advance the latest affective technology and machine learning analytics with applications that improve lives."

But then at the bottom of the page is the hashtagged research topics and I just lost it again. Look at the last two topics. Visible, because they are last. And last, probably, because the projects they undertake use the idea of justice as a tasty coating of equity around tech-driven profit-making.
Research Topics
#robotics #human-computer interaction #artificial intelligence #cognition #consumer electronics #health #human-machine interaction #kids #learning #music #privacy #wearable computing #social science #machine learning #behavioral science #social robotics #affective computing #ethics #biology #technology #data visualization #public health #industry #gesture interface #wellbeing #autism research #physiology #human augmentation #racial justice #diversity
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:56 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Oh dang, reading another TFA, this one by Morozov, who also talks about their* entanglement with this insidious network.... their LITERARY AGENT (!!!!) was not only a public cheerleader for "third culture" b.s. but also the connector between Epstein and the world-famous scientists. $#(*&!(&^$*&!!!!!!#

* I am practicing the usage of the singular "they" for a week, bear with me grammar pedants.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:03 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


then catch a plane to california and do the same to palo alto.

Palo Alto is just a lot of nice old and close-to-retirement folks who just want to make sure you don't build anything taller than one story tall, I'm not sure what your beef is here. There aren't even any big tech companies there any more. Just Palantir really.
posted by GuyZero at 5:03 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Perhaps we can think even briefly about the current group of students/fellows/post-docs who have just joined the lab, and the students there who are completing their degrees? This is obviously a terrible sh#tshow with much yet to playout and the number one focus should be on the women trafficked and abused. I went there a long time ago, and yes, it was rough being a woman there. It's even easy for me to kind of enjoy hate-reading the online pile-on. However, calls for burning it down or labeling it a vanity project seem like over-projection. There is certainly plenty of whizz bang silliness, but also a lot of tremendous research that can be quantified and understood through all the usual academic metrics (citations, community leadership, h-index etc.). I get the temptation for pisstaking, revenge, and canceling, but as others note above, calls for destroying a place with about 1000 people involved, seems not the best current take.
posted by recklessbrother at 5:05 PM on September 11 [17 favorites]


Palo Alto is just a lot of nice old and close-to-retirement folks who just want to make sure you don't build anything taller than one story tall, I'm not sure what your beef is here. There aren't even any big tech companies there any more. Just Palantir really.

If you ignore everything south of El Camino, sure. HP, VMWare, Tesla, and SAP are all based in Palo Alto.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:08 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Excellent and informative post.

Smart people still thirst after money and status, and rich people still thirst after respect and status. The Epstein story is a lot of different things but I’m surprised and disappointed how few people are somewhat immune or even suspicious of empty flattery, adulation from an acquaintance, and other kinds of butt-kissing, even those who already get it on the regular from the entire world.

There must have been even a few genius scientists and celebrities who went “yeah, thanks for the offer but I’d rather hang out with my dog this weekend than fly to this shady guy’s private island.” Even before the conviction, the stories about Air F*ck One were everywhere.
posted by sallybrown at 5:18 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I struggle with two competing intuitions:

- Generally speaking, I would much, much, much, much, much, much rather the Doing Good Stuff foundation have 10 million dollars than Jeffrey Epstein.
- It seems sort of "morally degrading" in a way I can't easily break down to accept help from someone evil.

By reading about this event, I think I learned to understand something about my moral intuition; it's trying to express the risks of corruption, secrecy, and ulterior motives that you undertake when you accept help from someone evil, and those are actually really big risks to the moral compass and well-being of everyone involved.

I'm still tempted to think to myself, "well, if you just are really careful to avoid all the risks, then it's fine." But the more I think about it, the harder it seems. There's no case in which 10 million dollars can just disappear from the one bank account and appear in the other. There's conversations, negotiations, and written records. There's accurate beliefs generated about the prospect of future funding. There's also meta-disagreement about the nature and magnitude of the moral dilemma, requiring people to devote thought and energy to the matter. Basically, all the stuff in the New Yorker article, and more.

So I guess now I believe that you basically shouldn't accept help from people who you are at substantial risk of being corrupted by in this way, which probably at least means people who are influential, charismatic, or rich. (I don't see any problem with accepting money from your evil no-name brother-in-law, if he wants to donate you a hundred dollars and you are a big organization that would just tell him to fuck off if he wants to influence policy.)
posted by value of information at 5:23 PM on September 11 [10 favorites]


I get why people are pushing back on "salt the earth" reactions, but I also get Peters and Morozov's far-reaching transformative critiques (and the anger expressed by several folks in this thread).

I would suggest that whether people are in "burn it down" mode or taken aback by the desire for destruction, there is little utility in trying to determine the appropriateness of other people's reactions let alone try to control other people's reactions: You suck, you should be more angry! No you suck, you should be less angry!
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:32 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


I don't think of the Media Lab as a vanity project, but I find the defenses of the institution here more than a little misplaced. Me, I think of that scene in The Age of Innocence: ""And when she said: 'But my name, Auntie—my name's Regina Dallas,' I said: 'It was Beaufort when he covered you with jewels, and it's got to stay Beaufort now that he's covered you with shame.'"

Have no fear for Ito, he'll be on a speaking tour about the excesses of #metoo before two years are out. Lessig will experience no real consequences for demonstrating he can effectively be bought by a pedophile. Kate Darling and Signe Swensen will be deemed permanently "difficult to work with." It'll all be fine, institutional defenders, none of you will have to internalize the lesson about how bright people can rationalize anything that's convenient to themselves or how they can rely on their friends to turn out for them regardless.
posted by praemunire at 5:39 PM on September 11 [29 favorites]


I like his IP positions but Larry Lessig has always been highly naive - or just sort of embarrassingly ineffectual -around power, money and politics.
posted by atoxyl at 5:42 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


I'm not trying to control anybody's reaction or defend "the lab". I suggested thinking about the people who are getting it hard on social media/email etc. about their connections, however removed, to a rapist pedophile. I don't think it will be fine for many of the bad actors here. At least I really hope so. Believe me, there are many of us with experience there who are actively working on this as best we can. Ultimately, I am clearly not a defender of the place and indeed have been an active critic, even spending much of last week (as was Nelson) arguing with Ito defenders. I refuse the relativist argument that association means I am a defender or complicit. There is room for constructive nuance here. As a final update - Sherry Turkle was involved in/around the lab fairly often when I was there and co-taught several courses.
posted by recklessbrother at 5:53 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


> - Generally speaking, I would much, much, much, much, much, much rather the Doing Good Stuff foundation have 10 million dollars than Jeffrey Epstein.
- It seems sort of "morally degrading" in a way I can't easily break down to accept help from someone evil.


forget about the individual moral consequences or whatever. instead think of the broader societal consequences. the people who get to decide who gets to do research, and the people who to varying degrees shape that research, are specifically the people who are in epstein’s orbit. or if they’re not in epstein’s orbit, they’re in the koch orbit, or mark zuckerberg’s orbit, or larry page’s, or taylor swift’s.

we can pretend there is a firewall between researchers and people in development, but that’s a myth. especially when we’re dealing with research that touches on politics or the economy or political economy — and all research touches on these things — we are left acknowledging that the research that gets done is the research they find comfortable.

our institutions are beholden to the wrong people. it is, uh, rilly rilly bad, far beyond the badness of whatever moral culpability individuals in this system may hold, or whatever moral grime they now have on them.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 5:53 PM on September 11 [13 favorites]


RNTP: Above, when you wrote about this, I assumed you meant it very generally, since my understanding is that you think that the concept of wealthy and influential individuals who get to allocate resources is basically ridiculous and bad. Obviously if nobody except the state should allocate any resources at all, then nobody except the state should fund research.

But now I wonder if you mean something more specific. Is there something unique about directing scientific research which makes it especially bad for rich capitalists to be in charge of, as opposed to when they decide other random stuff, like how food is produced, or what businesses are located where?

If private capital did a really bad job of directing scientific research prosocially, I would expect to see that existing private universities produced less prosocial output than public universities (maybe when controlling for some stuff like how much money and time they spend.) I don't know if that's true. Do you?
posted by value of information at 6:01 PM on September 11


I personally loved the Lessig essay because it's great when people just up and admit how broken they are instead of making you guess.
posted by great_radio at 6:01 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


I suggested thinking about the people who are getting it hard on social media/email etc. about their connections, however removed, to a rapist pedophile.

I'm still working through thinking about the victims of the rapist pedophile. If your instincts direct you to worry about those other folks first, to think right away about "constructive nuance" while we're still trying to ascertain the exact extent of the damage and how things could have gone so very wrong (including the extent of broader institutional complicity), your instincts are not at all surprising, but they are wrong in a way somewhat analogous to the way Lessig's were wrong. Maybe give it a week from Farrow's article before you start fretting about how the people at the institution might suffer from the black eye Ito gave it?
posted by praemunire at 6:02 PM on September 11 [19 favorites]


Cesar Hidalgo, currently at the University of Toulouse, formerly at the Media Lab, has a great Twitter thread about what it was like to work with Ito:

I’ve known about Epstein’s involvement with the MIT Media Lab and Joi Ito from the moment Joi shared his public apology. I joined the Media Lab as faculty before Joi joined as director. I have a few thoughts to share...

Unrolled here if you prefer.
posted by great_radio at 6:09 PM on September 11 [13 favorites]


The more people tweet about it, the more I come to the conclusion that the Media Lab has been cruising on its reputation for a long time.
posted by GuyZero at 6:16 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


I'm going to skip the rest of this thread and focus on doing actual constructive work with other concerned graduates and colleagues. I don't have time to "fret" or be mocked or compared to an apologist.
posted by recklessbrother at 6:20 PM on September 11 [8 favorites]


Cesar Hidalgo, currently at the University of Toulouse, formerly at the Media Lab, has a great Twitter thread about what it was like to work with Ito:
“ I was an outcast in Joi’s plutocratic friendocracy.“
Love a boss who acts like a sixth grader dividing the team into who’s cool enough to hang with and who’s not. Good lord.
posted by sallybrown at 6:21 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Darling's essay is also very interesting in the revelations about the connections between Epstein, literary agent and publisher John Brockman, digerati like Ito, and The Edge Foundation.

To think that Edge magazine's only sin was its insufferable pretentiousness. That 'third-culture' pop science with celebrity scientists dining with literary agents and models always rang hollow.
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 6:26 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I don't have time to "fret" or be mocked or compared to an apologist.

This kind of social affiliation-based defensiveness is exactly the problem (once we step away from the crimes themselves, of course). It's very common, it's very human, and it's still very much the problem. All the horror of this story, and what's really exercising you is whether people are being too mean in talking about Media Lab. That's not right. It's just not right.
posted by praemunire at 6:52 PM on September 11 [27 favorites]


Oh it's clear people here are being too mean about the Media Lab. That's just part of the press cycle and to some extent the nature of Metafilter.

But say what you want about "social affiliation defensiveness", "I was a student at the place and spent many years being part of the community there" is a social affiliation. And those students and alumni are victims of Joi's breach of trust too. It's been very difficult watching the Lab go through this trauma the past few weeks, particularly for those of us who are connected to the place. (Me not so much, given I left nearly 20 years ago, but it still hurts.)

Of course Media Lab people are not directly as victims as the girls Epstein preyed upon, but then that's not the transgression Joi made either. He affiliated the institution with a very bad person, knowingly and for years, for the most cynical reasons. That affiliation now stains the whole place. It also contributed to a culture of sexism and awfulness that pervades most science research. Most of us are hoping that there's something recoverable from the damage. Despite the press (both old and new) the Media Lab is more than flashy demos and sugar daddies.

On the specific point of Edge Foundation and John Brockman, Evgeny Morozov put all that together a couple of weeks ago.
posted by Nelson at 7:02 PM on September 11 [10 favorites]


There's something deep in the Epstein (and Trump) arc about young women and girls as a form of wealth, even currency.

Epstein the Disaster Capitalist went to Eastern European countries whose economies had collapsed along with the Soviet Union, and constructed a pipeline to bring attractive girls back to the US where he gave wealthy and influential men sexual access to them in exchange for money and insider investment opportunities.

But Epstein himself seems to have been interested in money and status mainly because it allowed him to have sex with these girls and others, and I think that's true of many of his clients as well.
posted by jamjam at 7:03 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


I am going to repeat my suggestion that we don't tell people that their reactions are incorrect? We can disagree (vehemently!) about the implications and what matters, but our emotions and other reactions are not falsehoods that must be refuted.

I'm gonna go meta-argument for a minute and give two examples (from my perspective) of this dynamic that happens a lot on the Blue.

Example 1: Back in the Warren thread when I was linking to indigenous scholars whose critiques of Warren have been largely brushed off, I was getting irritated because it felt like some people in the thread were arguing that Warren's critics were wrong to think that way. For sure, disagree with them but their responses are situated in their frameworks of sovereignty and experiences of native erasure. Don't erase them again?

Example 2: Or even way further back, when I was getting frustrated in the thread about why many people of color get mad when asked "where are you from," it was frustration with people saying it might be an overreaction to an innocent question. Like I get that a specific person who asks me that question is not necessarily branding me as a perpetual alien, but please do not tell me that I am over-reacting when I get mad at the 349th time I am asked that question in my life?

[I don't know why I am uptalking all over the place in my comment here?]
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:29 PM on September 11 [16 favorites]


In RE Lessig, I don't get how "anonymous" contributions are ever more acceptable than publicly acknowledged ones. Clearly the quid pro quo here is that the donor gets to hobnob with influential people. That in itself is a form of reputation laundering. I mean, who cares what the proles think if you can casually phone up NYT board members?
posted by sjswitzer at 8:48 PM on September 11


Lessig's claims that if donations are anonymous, no one is harmed if they don't know. But that donation is an multi-million dollar tax deduction for Epstein. Tax deductions are expenditures from the treasury. Every taxpayer in America contributed to Epstein's tax deduction.
posted by JackFlash at 8:58 PM on September 11 [15 favorites]


Sure, but it's not really true that "no one" knows. Clearly a lot of people know. It's just officially "anonymous." And as a result, a lot of influential people are on speed-dial.
posted by sjswitzer at 9:18 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


How many other corrupt, corrupting, spoiled, and unaccountable monsters (men) are out there? How does one heal a society, a people, and a planet, for which this seems to be the norm?

When I read this, I thought, it's not that I can't count that high, it's that I can't count that fast. Not that I pretend to have the answer to that first question, other than, "Heartbreakingly, staggeringly high". But the second bit... sometimes I feel like it's a fight between a kitchen sponge and a fire hose. I used to admire Lessig once upon a time too, and now I'm left wondering how much I should feel like a naive idiot in addition to my massive disappointment.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 9:22 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Lessig has evidently never learned the Blue-Eyed Islanders puzzle
posted by polymodus at 9:34 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


It was an experience reading Lessig's essay first and then the Farrow piece.

I started writing a more detailed bit about the gap between the impression Lessig gives and what Farrow actually reports, but realized I can sum it up quite briefly: What a massive piece of self-serving sophistry.
posted by mark k at 10:12 PM on September 11 [8 favorites]


seriously though congratulations to larry lessig for his upcoming appearance on jeopardy as the 400 dollar answer in the naïve liberals category

i mean, tbh, that's been lessig's basic schtick since forever...
posted by kaibutsu at 11:44 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Maybe give it a week from Farrow's article before you start fretting about how the people at the institution might suffer from the black eye Ito gave it?

Maybe stop telling other people that you know more about their concerns or lack thereof than they do, and the degree to which they are misplaced and incorrect? This story didn't break today; many people connected with the lab have been thinking about it for far longer than a week already. To assume that their concern for students at the media lab somehow diminishes Epstein's original crimes and takes attention away from his victims is not based in any sort of evidence.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:24 AM on September 12 [13 favorites]


To assume that their concern for students at the media lab somehow diminishes Epstein's original crimes and takes attention away from his victims is not based in any sort of evidence.

This is a nonsense framing of something that is not susceptible of some kind of scientific proof. But from a rhetorical point of view, Lessig's redirection of attention away from the victims onto the good allegedly done by taking the Epstein money is the same sort of move, though for a less appalling reason, and is not being received well for the same reason.

Media Lab people, if you think it somehow makes your institution look better to turn out here to complain about how unfair it is that your institution is taking a public beating because its high-profile well-connected head decided to use it to whitewash a pedophile rapist...it doesn't. I know how long the story has been out; I also know that it has been less than a week since the full extent of Ito's conduct emerged (if indeed it even has), and up to that point a whole bunch of influential people were lined up to defend him and minimize his actions. If your chief concern really is Epstein's victims, now is not the time to be scrambling to do PR for your tribe. I think I'm starting to repeat myself, so that's all I'll say.
posted by praemunire at 1:16 AM on September 12 [15 favorites]


The thing that strikes me in all this coverage is that no one ever explains what the Media Lab actually does. There are academics, there are grad students, they clearly have research interests. But I can't help but be left with the impression that, for the institution, this research is secondary to being "The Media Lab" and having access to the corridors of power.
posted by hoyland at 3:07 AM on September 12 [11 favorites]


Trust Sarah Taber to start at her speciality of food/plant science and work her way up to a description of the systemic issues with the MIT Media Lab, the Epstein/Ito connection, and Sugar Daddy Science.

It's also funny. Epstein paid the Media Lab for sex work!

Strap in. It's a roller coaster of a thread:

https://twitter.com/SarahTaber_bww/status/1171895657872941056
posted by kandinski at 4:08 AM on September 12 [68 favorites]


I myself am not an old internet buddy of Ito's; all I really knew about him before this thing was from this old post of his, in which he responds to criticisms of him for getting what seems to be a cushy sinecure in Dubai, then under a lot of criticism for a lot of things. This generally seems to be of a piece with that, in which he's once again been found carrying water for problematic people, and once again seems likely to surf out of it with no real consequences to himself or his personal brand, whatever that really is.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:50 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


praemunire: "I'm still working through thinking about the victims of the rapist pedophile. If your instincts direct you to worry about those other folks first"

What makes you think they thought about the other folks first, and not that they thought about the victims, and now they're thinking about the other folks too?

praemunire: " All the horror of this story, and what's really exercising you is whether people are being too mean in talking about Media Lab. That's not right. It's just not right."

It's the thing that's happening in this thread. I don't see what's wrong about getting upset about comments being made in this thread, and I don't see why you're assuming that getting upset about comments in the thread somehow equates to not being upset about Epstein. I mean, if we had people saying "the victims deserved it" yet folks were getting upset about comments about low-level staff members instead, sure, I'd be right there with you. That would be "just not right." But everyone here is agreeing that Epstein was all kinds of fucked up. Voicing disagreement about ancillary comments about unrelated folks is not a sign of what is "really exercising you" in relation to the case, it's a sign of what is "really exercising you" about this particular conversation. I mean, by the same token, one could make the argument that since you've talked about this issue more passionately and at more length than you have about Epstein, what really upsets you about this case isn't that a guy raped children, but that a few MeFites are upset about how Media Lab is being seen.

That's ridiculous. I know you're more upset about child rape than you are about Media Lab apologists. We all know that. So extend the same courtesy to other people.

Social affiliation defensiveness is bad, but so is "if you disagree with me about any of my opinions about a bad person, that means you don't really care about the victims."
posted by Bugbread at 6:04 AM on September 12 [14 favorites]


The US decided that plutocracy would be a fine way to experience the 21st century.
Academia followed suit.
This Epstein-Media Lab story is one of the logical outcomes.
posted by doctornemo at 6:06 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Having known him (and a lot of these players, most of whom I haven't seen or spoken to since) about 15 years ago, I cannot believe Lessig actually thinks that crime money taken anonymously is better. That is cover his ass bullshit.

Repurpose the Media Lab to anti-trafficking tech and research.
posted by wellred at 6:24 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


Also, I want to put big flashing lights around that Sarah Taber link. It's so good.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:32 AM on September 12 [10 favorites]


It really is.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:34 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


I first saw the news about the failed grow-boxes several days ago, and in spite of not being an agricultural specialist like Taber, my first responses were pretty similar, namely: (a) how is this cutting-edge tech that can't be done reasonably competently with off-the-shelf hardware, and (b) that having been said, how do you manage to screw it up?

Seriously, tabletop hydroponics can be done pretty easily with grow lights, some tubing and pumps, and a few of those old electromechanical plug-into-an-outlet timers. If you want to get fancy maybe replace the timers with a Raspberry Pi and some SSRs.
posted by jackbishop at 6:42 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


As for Lessig's comment that Ito believed that Epstein was "too scared" to reoffend, CNBC is reporting accounts of Epstein bringing girls around 11-12 years old to his USVI estate:
An air traffic controller saw wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein getting off his private plane in the U.S. Virgin Islands with girls who appeared to be 11 to 12 years old in 2018, a year before Epstein was indicted on child sex trafficking charges, newly revealed government documents show.

Epstein, who is now dead, on other occasions was seen at the St. Thomas airport in the latter half of 2018 getting “off the plane with young girls,” including at least one other time when the air traffic controller saw him with a girl who appeared to be between 16 and 18 years old, documents show.
So either Ito didn't realize he was being sold a line, or didn't care. Either way made him unfit to ru and the Media Lab.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:10 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


For those saying we shouldn’t lambaste the Media Lab, could you provide some information about things of value it has accomplished? The reporting so far hasn’t been specific about what it actually does or creates, and the Sarah Taber thread certainly doesn’t make it seem worth defending.
posted by sallybrown at 7:30 AM on September 12 [11 favorites]


The US decided that plutocracy would be a fine way to experience the 21st century.
Academia followed suit.


Academia has been working through a growth model from 1945 onwards, and nobody seems able to grasp the implications for when its size crests.

American Academia's lowest point was during the war, when so many students and professors were conscripted, and Vannevar Bush wrote to the president to propose a plan to recover from the damage. ("Science, The Endless Frontier." ) From that point on, tertiary education in the US did nothing but grow.

First there was growth to accommodate returning soldiers who left school to serve. Then came soldiers who decided to use their GI benefits this way. Then came the baby boom. And the expansion of education access to women and minorities. And incoming enrollment from countries seeking to grow their own academic sector after decolonization and the fall of the USSR. Each of these gave universities the ability to operate on the basis of growth.

There was also the conversion of a bachelor's degree into a pre-requisite for so many jobs that an ever growing share of new adults enrolled not for the sake of an education but for the credential, something that should never have been allowed to happen.

But each of these trends was by definition finite, and bound to play out. And play out it has. And nobody is ready for it. Imagine being in a static academic sector. You're a university professor. You made it, got tenure, and you have the retinue of grad students. But in this world, you have to keep one thing in mind: out of all the grad students who cycle in and out of your office, only one, statistically speaking, only ONE will get a professorial chair like yours. All the others will have to find a different thing to do: get a college professorship, not university (so no grad student retinue, less research, more teaching), or go into industry, or, dare I say it, teach in a high school.

In a world like that, you can't sustain your grad students on ramen and beans in hope of that prize of a professorship. The reward at the end is more modest, so you might have to sustain your grad students with a living wage. Might even have to enable them to support a child! And far less of a line of credit for tuition loans. Nobody in academia in the US is ready for this world. Nobody knows how to finance and operate a university in this new world. Everybody is making obscene compromises to keep the party going. This scandal is just the foulest so far, but it's only the beginning.
posted by ocschwar at 7:40 AM on September 12 [19 favorites]


sallybrown: "For those saying we shouldn’t lambaste the Media Lab, could you provide some information about things of value it has accomplished? The reporting so far hasn’t been specific about what it actually does or creates, and the Sarah Taber thread certainly doesn’t make it seem worth defending."

Weirdly they've taken down their list of spin-off companies; it was there last week but is gone now. Here's the list on archive.org.
posted by octothorpe at 7:41 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Seriously, tabletop hydroponics can be done pretty easily with grow lights, some tubing and pumps, and a few of those old electromechanical plug-into-an-outlet timers.

Seriously, especially when they can be used to grow.... certain plants. When there is an entire subreddit full of people being successful at this, and you failed?
posted by zabuni at 7:46 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


The thing that strikes me in all this coverage is that no one ever explains what the Media Lab actually does.

It's sort of like Neverland Ranch only with computers, right?
posted by acb at 8:14 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


Nobody in academia in the US is ready for this world. Nobody knows how to finance and operate a university in this new world.

This perspective neglects to consider that most university-level teaching and learning in the U.S., by numbers, occurs at the undergraduate level. The growth problems that you outline are indeed at crisis level for those units within universities dependent upon graduate students and research assistants. But the vast majority are out there teaching undergraduates. In my state (California) the problem in public higher education (w/r/t to student populations) is impaction--too much demand from qualified students for too few seats--not the slowing or ending of growth.

Having said that, the ways that research and pursuit of knowledge and creativity in our most demanding and elite universities has become grossly entwined with the profit motive, and that eventually corrupts everything. MIT is clearly in the wrong here, as is any institution that ever puts itself or some version of "the collective good" above the welfare of individual human beings. There is no value or pursuit or prize that is worth ignoring actual suffering of real people. It looks like the people at MIT only asked themselves the questions that would allow them to rationalize accepting Epstein's money, and not the ones that really mattered: how much of their own institutional credibility would be transferred to Epstein if they accepted his money, how would that empower him with access and buttress his reputation (thus enabling him to keep raping girls), and how will that eventually make them culpable in what he's done?

Because MIT's Media Lab (and likely much of the whole institution) is to some degree culpable in what Epstein did after they accepted his money, because they helped to clean up his reputation by accepting it, which helped allow him to appear "rehabilitated" and then keep offending unchecked. Turns out they're very culpable, because he was a monster and kept on being a monster, and now they're actually partly responsible for that. MIT gave this monster some of their cultural credibility, and now they're learning that they can't unring that bell. Good.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:16 AM on September 12 [6 favorites]


sallybrown - I don't know if the media lab can take credit for his accomplishments, but neuroscientist Ed Boyden works there. He has legitimately been funded and honored by pretty much every award there is, had a rocketing career arc prior to his arrival at MIT, and has co-credit in developing optogenetics.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 8:21 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]



This perspective neglects to consider that most university-level teaching and learning in the U.S., by numbers, occurs at the undergraduate level.


And depends in large part on teaching assistance from grad students to do a lot of the scutwork, and to enable faculty to devote time to research.

In my state (California) the problem in public higher education (w/r/t to student populations) is impaction--too much demand from qualified students for too few seats--not the slowing or ending of growth.

And the financing of each seat is a settled and stable matter in CA? Color me dubious.
posted by ocschwar at 8:53 AM on September 12


… That's ridiculous.

I disagree. I find banal evil more upsetting, the idea that academics passively enabled this is itself a profound evil as well. It is more upsetting because it is closer; it's the idea that intellectuals are the most easily disciplined into rationalizing and enabling structural oppression. Take the whistleblower's NPR interview when she said that Cohen's rationale was, it wasn't his policy/decision/"not-up-to-him" and it was in the best interest of everyone to follow the director's strategy (I'm referring to the 5 min clip)—which had the consequence of leaving zero degrees of moral freedom for the whistleblower. This is an intellectual crime too. It goes against what MIT represents and is known for representing, amongst academics.
posted by polymodus at 9:52 AM on September 12 [7 favorites]


Quoting the end of Sarah Taber's thread:
I just want to make sure that if you think a lot of the high-profile science world seems to be useless, stupid crap,

YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.

This is my best take on why that is.

It's so much worse than it looks.

Sugar Daddy Science is a disgrace and it needs to die. Pronto. The end.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:58 AM on September 12 [16 favorites]


Message from Rafael Reif 12:55pm today:

To the members of the MIT community,
Last night, the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation and I received a preliminary update from Goodwin Procter, the outside law firm retained to ascertain the facts surrounding MIT and Jeffrey Epstein.
The fact-finding will continue to its conclusion, with regular updates to the Executive Committee and me. However, two basic facts have emerged that we thought were important to share with you now.
First, the Goodwin Procter team has found a copy of a standard acknowledgment letter thanking Jeffrey Epstein for a gift to Seth Lloyd – as far as we know now, the first gift received at MIT after Epstein’s conviction. I apparently signed this letter on August 16, 2012, about six weeks into my presidency. Although I do not recall it, it does bear my signature.
Second, it is now clear that senior members of the administration were aware of gifts the Media Lab received between 2013 and 2017 from Jeffrey Epstein’s foundations. Goodwin Procter has found that in 2013, when members of my senior team learned that the Media Lab had received the first of the Epstein gifts, they reached out to speak with Joi Ito. He asked for permission to retain this initial gift, and members of my senior team allowed it. They knew in general terms about Epstein’s history – that he had been convicted and had served a sentence and that Joi believed that he had stopped his criminal behavior. They accepted Joi’s assessment of the situation. Of course they did not know what we all know about Epstein now.
Joi sought the gifts for general research purposes, such as supporting lab scientists and buying equipment. Because the members of my team involved believed it was important that Epstein not use gifts to MIT for publicity or to enhance his own reputation, they asked Joi to agree to make clear to Epstein that he could not put his name on them publicly. These guidelines were provided to and apparently followed by the Media Lab.
Information shared with us last night also indicates that Epstein gifts were discussed at at least one of MIT’s regular senior team meetings, and I was present.
I am aware that we could and should have asked more questions about Jeffrey Epstein and about his interactions with Joi. We did not see through the limited facts we had, and we did not take time to understand the gravity of Epstein’s offenses or the harm to his young victims. I take responsibility for those errors.
While the fact finding will continue, we have already identified flaws in our processes that need to be addressed.
I am confident that, once Goodwin Procter submits its final fact-finding to the Executive Committee and me, and the Provost’s internal review is complete, MIT will have the tools to improve our review and approval processes and turn back to the central work of the Institute.
Sincerely,
L. Rafael Reif
posted by condesita at 10:02 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


So wait - your signature is on a letter thanking Epstein for his gift, but you can't recall signing it?

Reif needs to resign as well.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:08 AM on September 12 [10 favorites]


They must have a graduate level ass-covering class, I tell you what.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:10 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


I can definitely imagine Reif not recalling signing a letter 7 years ago, with the volume of signing that must occur. Not an excuse, though.
posted by wellred at 10:15 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


They thought about it hard enough to decide the donation had to be unacknowledged (or, um "anonymous"). It would be awkward to admit that happens so often that it's not memorable.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:20 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


He signed that first one before making that decision, though, according to the above. Again, not an excuse, but it's easy to forget signing a letter.
posted by wellred at 10:23 AM on September 12


Sure I might believe he forgot signing it, but there is absolutely no ambiguity about the fact that he did sign it, so you don't say "I apparently (as far as anyone knows or can see - hey, maybe someone forged it) signed this letter ..." you just say "I signed it."

Whether he remembers or not is totally irrelevant, except as some imagined excuse.
posted by JackFlash at 10:56 AM on September 12 [6 favorites]


...reads articles...

...reads comments thread...

Nope. Still don't think the lab is worth saving. I'm team #scorchedearth
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:58 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


There’s also this little turd in the punch bowl: Information shared with us last night also indicates that Epstein gifts were discussed at at least one of MIT’s regular senior team meetings, and I was present.

I think Reif may have flunked that ass-covering class.
posted by sallybrown at 11:00 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


He asked for permission to retain this initial gift, and members of my senior team allowed it. They knew in general terms about Epstein’s history – that he had been convicted and had served a sentence and that Joi believed that he had stopped his criminal behavior. They accepted Joi’s assessment of the situation. Of course they did not know what we all know about Epstein now.

All this says to me is that the members of the senior staff at MIT felt that being convicted of sex crimes wasn't a big enough deal to turn away money. So the question is, what is a big enough deal to turn away money? What donors have they said "No thank you." to? Are there any?
posted by teleri025 at 11:06 AM on September 12 [12 favorites]


Ah but it was big enough of a deal to keep it a secret, to not make it public, because they "believed it was important that Epstein not use gifts to MIT for publicity or to enhance his own reputation". So they did know enough. They just wanted to take the money anyway.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:20 AM on September 12 [10 favorites]


A lot of vetting happens first at low levels, from what I've seen in academia and nonprofit, so rejected things might not ever get seen by higher-ups. Even the org where I work now it's like, X category of company is an automatic nope. So the number of questionable things that get to the highest level is I hope pretty small.

This on the one hand all blows my mind, and on the other hand, acquiring such a huge donation is super juicy, and Joi is very capital-driven, no question about it.
posted by wellred at 11:27 AM on September 12


I mean, if they had taken all the money non-anonymously, as a public donation, at least it’d be a bit easier to buy the excuse that they really thought "that he had been convicted and had served a sentence and that Joi believed that he had stopped his criminal behavior". Taking the money as an anonymous donation and justifying it as not wanting him to "use gifts to MIT for publicity or to enhance his own reputation" means you did have issues with him as a donor. It’s a very convoluted, self-serving, poor excuse.
If you have a problem with someone trying to polish up his reputation, just don’t take that money.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:30 AM on September 12 [12 favorites]


Everything you need to know about the Media Lab is in that Taber thread. And all that shit was true nearly twenty years ago, too. You could get money for bullshit if you were the kind of person the people who controlled the money wanted to believe in, for whatever reason.

It's not that there aren't brilliant people at the Media Lab. It's that when there are, it's kind of incidental.

And anyone who thinks it's possible to salvage the culture of a place where everyone acknowledged that the young women accompanying a convicted rapist super donor might have been trafficked, and everyone was told to keep quiet or whatever the fuck and then actually did it...

You are very wrong. That is poisoned at the source. Burn it down. Maybe put some money towards rectifying the systemic inequalities at MIT instead.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:43 AM on September 12 [24 favorites]


I'm just, ugh, I know I already said this, but like what the hell is this "served his time" thing? (Rant not directed at you in particular, bitteschoen!) Like, who cares if he served time - how is that in any way relevant to whether he's someone who you want associated with your work? Usually those statements have a second clause: "he served his time, and wants to atone" or "is sorry and served his time" or "wants to repay society now that he's served his time" - nothing of that sort was true here! Those girls aren't magically okay now just because he "served some time!" They're serving time for the rest of their lives and they're the victims! If some guy killed a bunch of people in cold blood, was pretty clear about enjoying doing so, spent time in jail for doing so, and then wanted to come over for a party at your house, would you say "well, he served some time, and he's afraid of killing more people, so yeah, I'd love to have him as a guest?" Even if he promised he could bring a case of really expensive wine and pay for the catering?
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 11:48 AM on September 12 [6 favorites]


Yeah, it is revealing when people’s concerns in this kind of situation are about what’s “fair” to the man who harassed / victimized / abused someone in the past, rather than what’s fair for, say, the actual victims, let alone any of the women who might have to work with him going forward.

A convicted sex offender brings possibly trafficked women to your place of work and you’re supposed to keep silent about it. How is this not a hostile work environment? I mean, shit, can you imagine you’re trying to get some work done in your glass walled office, only to look up and find a convicted sex offender with the money to do whatever he wants staring at you?
posted by schadenfrau at 12:05 PM on September 12 [13 favorites]


Yeah, the whole "Of course they did not know what we all know about Epstein now" business is patently false. The facts of the case were clear for anyone who cared to know about them. A significant part of the Epstein Scandal is that such activity was overlooked by the authorities for such a long period of time, when it was happening in plain view. bitteschoen makes a good point that MIT probably knows that, as otherwise there would be no issue in taking the donations non-anonymously.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 12:06 PM on September 12 [5 favorites]


So wait - your signature is on a letter thanking Epstein for his gift, but you can't recall signing it?
I once had a job ghost-writing thank-you letters for University bigwigs to send to donors. I would be flabbergasted if they read any of them. Our office sent them a stack of letters, and they had five minutes blocked off on their calendars to sign them. Those letters are donor relations outreach, written by donor relations professionals, not anything that actually comes from the university president.

It's still fine by me if they fire him, though. Salt the fucking earth, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:09 PM on September 12 [8 favorites]


Seconding ArbitraryAndCapricious. I write similar letters and I doubt the President of the institution that I work at even reads them. He just signs them and moves on with his day. We give him huge stacks of letters to sign all the time. I would love to hear from the Advancement Services professionals actually involved in booking these transactions and processing the letters involved in this story to hear about their processes.
posted by all about eevee at 12:55 PM on September 12 [9 favorites]


He asked for permission to retain this initial gift, and members of my senior team allowed it. They knew in general terms about Epstein’s history – that he had been convicted and had served a sentence and that Joi believed that he had stopped his criminal behavior. They accepted Joi’s assessment of the situation.

This reads like someone who is prepared to throw Joi Ito under as many buses as is required for as long as the public's attention span demands it. And the "members of the senior team" are all scrambling to make sure they're not the sacrificial firing when someone asks, "Which member decided to accept Ito's assessment and felt Epstein was okay?"

Everyone associated with this is going to be fine. Nobody will lose a job or a career over this -- that sort of consequence is for whistleblowers.

This letter is organizational theater designed to fool an audience into believing the institution is Taking Things Very Seriously. And, to some extent, they are. The management is very serious about making sure they don't have to take ownership of any of this.
posted by sobell at 2:17 PM on September 12 [10 favorites]


Two bits of new journalism worth reading. MIT’s “disqualified” donors aren’t necessarily banned from donating, says Media Lab whistleblower, a detailed interview with Signe Swenson about how MIT fundraising works. (The linked magazine is an MIT publication but journalistically independent.) Also the Boston Globe has an article about President Reif's disclosure today: MIT president admits he signed 2012 letter thanking Jeffrey Epstein for donation.
posted by Nelson at 3:36 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


Hi. I'm a development officer for a Div IV University in New England. I really just want to clarify a few things in this conversation.

"I apparently signed this letter on August 16, 2012, about six weeks into my presidency. Although I do not recall it, it does bear my signature."

This letter is no doubt a pro-forma gift acknowledgment letter, prepared for the President's signature. I'm sure the President sends a thank you letter to everyone who makes a gift over a certain amount. At my University, we prepare a folder of these for the President once a week, he signs them, and we pick up the folder the next day. All the letters are generally the same, save for some personalize around the amount of the gift and the fund. It seems utterly normal to me that he doesn't remember signing it - he's probably signed hundreds of such letters, all basically the same. I suspect that "it does bear my signature" is because they're working with a scan of the letter and can't be sure if he signed it with a pen, or if it was an autopen or an image of his signature inserted into the letter. All of this is super routine stuff.

I'll also note that I doubt that signing a gift acknowledgement letter for a person named Jeffrey Epstein in 2012 would have been memorable as he wasn't as well known then. I would bet that MIT has several men with the same name in their database, including probably at least a couple of alumni.

From where I sit, I honestly would not expect a University President to be involved in conversations about gift acceptance. I believe that the failure here was in the Development office, who either failed to investigate Epstein (and remember that his 2008 conviction was for prostitution and soliciting prostitution from a minor - he was not NEARLY as well documented ten years ago as he is now, nor was the web as comprehensive. I can fully see a motivated or greedy someone spinning this as "he hired an escort who turned out to be 17") or knew that he was a registered sex offender but was gullible enough to believe whatever tale was spun in Epstein's defense.

The bottom line is, their gift acceptance policy said "we should not accept this gift." That is as far as it should have ever gone.
posted by anastasiav at 4:19 PM on September 12 [11 favorites]


Hey, Richard Stallman is still hanging around MIT as a Visiting Scientist at CSAIL. I wonder if he has something insightful to add? No, not really, he's still just as awful a human being as always.
posted by Nelson at 4:49 PM on September 12 [6 favorites]


I'm looking at that list of Media Lab spinoffs and they list...Buzzfeed? This seemed odd, so I looked into it, and while Jonah Peretti got his master's via the ML, he didn't start Buzzfeed for several years after he left. At any rate he doesn't mention it when recounting his own history, focusing almost solely on the influence his time at the Huffington Post.

I have to wonder how many of their accomplishments are puffed up. Does the lab have a claim on anything that former students do after they leave?
posted by rhizome at 5:51 PM on September 12 [7 favorites]


I read that Epstein also donated money to Harvard, who have confirmed they will not return it or donate the equivalent to charity (unlike MIT). Has there been much coverage of any blowback at Harvard?

Regarding the Media Lab’s success, it’s pretty obvious to me they wanted to model it on the success of Xerox PARC, an institution that really did invent a ton of unbelievably valuable and innovative stuff - and, I believe, a place with its own cultural problems - but I don’t know if the ML ever came close to the level of success of PARC. Perhaps that’s an unfair comparison but to be fair, it’s one they invite.
posted by adrianhon at 5:54 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


For those saying we shouldn’t lambaste the Media Lab, could you provide some information about things of value it has accomplished?

Some number of legit technical accomplishments, but maybe not on a different level from what MIT would be doing anyway. A lot of things that seem basically like art projects. Incubated a bunch of startups of varying degrees of silliness. Attracted a whole lot of, well, media attention...

I know I've been hearing academics in the various discliplines that the lab purportedly spans talk about it being a bit hype over substance for a long time - I think you can see some of that coming to the surface again right now as there's a more receptive audience for it - so I went to see if I could find some of those criticisms. One thing I found was this article from 2003, which is maybe not so unsympathetic but which I think has some relevance to the conversation about its relationship to money and to science.
posted by atoxyl at 6:15 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


> I'm sure the President sends a thank you letter to everyone who makes a gift over a certain amount.

I've always thought that was a bit messed up in a way that seems related to this whole issue, in that rich and powerful people can indiscriminately sign hundreds of documents a week and say "oh, that's just something we do around here."

But a poor, elderly person who signed an IOU or a cellphone contract or whatever that a family member put in front of them would probably have to fight through hell and high water to get out of it, potentially in front of a condescending local judge.
posted by smelendez at 6:24 PM on September 12 [10 favorites]


a poor, elderly person who signed an IOU or a cellphone contract or whatever that a family member put in front of them would probably have to fight through hell and high water to get out of it, potentially in front of a condescending local judge.

I get what you're saying, but the letter is just a thank you note. There is a separate document, called a gift agreement, that is the binding contract on how the gift will be used.

Who approved the gift agreement. That's my question.
posted by anastasiav at 6:30 PM on September 12 [4 favorites]


Exactly. The gift agreement is what’s important, not the acknowledgement letter. Was there a gift agreement? Who signed it? Was it a VP or a Director of Development? Was this booked on an Anonymous record in their database? I have so many questions.
posted by all about eevee at 6:47 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


Harvard has a statement out now that says on a first review, they took no Epstein money since his 2008 conviction. Still looking into connections. The specific questions around Professor George Church are not addressed in the letter. Stories: CNBC, Boston Globe.
posted by Nelson at 6:58 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


@all about eevee: There are a few scientific papers out of Harvard that specifically site "J. Epstein" as a funder, e.g., https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/03/punishment-doesnt-earn-rewards/

You can find more if you do a Google search for
site:news.harvard.edu "j. epstein"
posted by smelendez at 8:12 PM on September 12


Re: Harvard, President Larry Bacow sent this to the Harvard community earlier this evening:
Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

All of us have been horrified by the revelations regarding Jeffrey Epstein, and I write today to update our community on steps we are taking in view of current information about his philanthropy to Harvard.

Let me start by emphasizing the obvious: Epstein’s reported criminal actions were utterly abhorrent. They flagrantly offend the values of our society and this institution, and we condemn them. We also recognize the profound pain that Epstein caused to his victims and their families, and we commend their courage in coming forward to bring his crimes to light.

Epstein’s connections as a donor to this University, and other institutions, raise important concerns. With that in mind, two weeks ago I asked for a review of his donations to Harvard. Our decentralization makes such a review more complicated than it would be at some other institutions. I want to emphasize that this review is ongoing. Our review to date indicates that between 1998 and 2007, Epstein made a number of gifts to support various faculty and institutional research activities across the University. The largest of these was a $6.5 million gift in 2003 to support the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. The University received other gifts, which totaled approximately $2.4 million, based on current information. Each of these gifts from Epstein and his affiliated foundations to Harvard University predates his guilty plea in June 2008. To date, we have uncovered no gifts received from Epstein or his foundation following his guilty plea. Moreover, we specifically rejected a gift from Epstein following his conviction in 2008. We have also recently learned that Stephen Kosslyn, a former faculty member and a beneficiary of Epstein’s philanthropy, designated Epstein as a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Psychology in 2005. We are seeking to learn more about the nature of that appointment from Dr. Kosslyn, who no longer works at the University.

The majority of Epstein’s gifts were designated for current use, not as endowed funds, and nearly all were spent years ago for their intended purposes in support of research and education. Our ongoing review of these gifts has identified one current use fund and one small endowment designated to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with a total unspent balance of $186,000. After consultation with the Dean of the FAS, we have decided that the University will redirect the unspent resources to organizations that support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault. This is an unusual step for the University, but we have decided it is the proper course of action under the circumstances of Epstein’s egregiously repugnant crimes. The issue of the gifts given to institutions by donors at Jeffrey Epstein’s suggestion, is also one that has emerged in recent days, and we are looking into this as part of our ongoing review.

Epstein’s behavior, not just at Harvard, but elsewhere, raises significant questions about how institutions like ours review and vet donors. I will be convening a group here at Harvard to review how we prevent these situations in the future. I also hope to engage our peer institutions to consider how we can collectively improve our processes. We can all learn from each other.

Let me end where I began. Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes were repulsive and reprehensible. I profoundly regret Harvard’s past association with him. Conduct such as his has no place in our society. We act today in recognition of that fact. And we do so knowing that the scourge of sexual assault continues to demand our close attention and concerted action.

Harvard is not perfect, but you have my commitment as president that we will always strive to be better.

Sincerely,

Lawrence S. Bacow
This is the first official communication I can recall getting.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:46 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


I dunno, I know I have a warped view of things, having been up close and personal with men who pass girls around each other as a bonding ritual because they know -- probably get off on -- they have enough power, whether it's over a single kid in a basement or a few kids in a small town golf club, to avoid any consequences for their disgusting, sociopathic desires to dominate. Not just to dominate that individual woman/girl/child, but to have such social dominance as to do so openly.

Epstein gave money to MIT the same way he did everything else, it seems to me from the outside - he got MIT to transgress its own rules, and probably enjoyed it. He got the men (almost always men!) to ignore their own ethics or inner little niggling voices and become a part of his sick system. Because he was Epstein, because he had money, because he had influence. And so the men (largely) become an active, abetting part of a system that holds up ego and ambition in part by making others serve or suffer. The traditional relationships here are johns, pimps, and whores.

And yeah, it is hard to decide where the line falls here between victim and accomplice, just like a small-time dealer is caught up by a system that ends in massive cartels. But when individuals within MIT decided to go against clear guidelines, guidelines meant to protect not just the institution but its students, they really did pick a side.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:15 PM on September 12 [10 favorites]


It's not just the money surely? Epstein was visiting the lab and inviting the male faculty to elite gatherings, which is pretty much the opposite of being an anonymous donor. Many people in the lab knew he had power and were reminded of it.

Imagine what that felt like for everyone who wasn't down with courting pedophiles. Imagine what it was like for anyone with a history of abuse. Imagine what is like now for his victims to know he could be invited warmly into these spaces....

I am on team burn it down I fear.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:19 AM on September 13 [17 favorites]


Super-genius Richard Stallman decides that it's a good idea to defend child rape.
posted by octothorpe at 7:50 AM on September 13 [11 favorites]


Many people in the lab knew he had power and were reminded of it.

Yeah, I was trying to stay fairly detached in my comment but watching people defend the Media Lab because it does good work, etc....well, sure, and obviously students in the lab that had no say in things are not responsible for this mess.

But I mean...as a kid or a young person you're treated like a commodity, either by straight-out abuse or just in general in terms of which gender or race or socioeconomic group you're in, and then you go to university and the power brokers are...the abusers, walking around openly being courted with their possibly trafficked trophy girlfriends on their sleeves.

So you make yourself smaller...to not attract the wrong attention, because you're skeeved out, because you don't know how to get your voice at the table -- basically don't want to -- when the table involves that kind of dynamic. Not just because as a woman, for example, I would not actually know how to get the respect of this type of man (although I might well know how to get that man's attention to my body) and it might not ever actually be possible, but because standing at the donor event next to the trafficked woman I might actually just...not be able to speak up and network because of the vibe. Like, I would go home. And I would not go to the next event. And I would not get the big grant. This is what actually happens.

You can bemoan the impact on good work now that this has come out, but what you are missing is that SO MUCH good work has GONE MISSING already. From the woman on Epstein's sleeve. From the girls he touched. From the women that skirted these donor events because EW. From the people who just get sick of it and go for "work-life balance" which means "I don't want a big dream job if it comes with sitting across from a guy I watched hang out with a pedophile."

The money doesn't magically become clean, it is used within the system that got it.

This is not theory, this is how this works. I worked in a company where every Friday we all averted our eyes going past the CEO's door because he was in there jerking off. I can tell you I never brought my best ideas to that guy. I thought I was making a conscious choice, and I was, but at that age I wasn't aware of what that choice would actually mean for my career, to just keep my head down. Never mind the wear and tear on me and everyone else in the office. #MeToo etc.

And now that we are having the conversation...the BUT is kind of getting me. "Well it's unfortunate that some people knew this BUT the Media Lab does great work." Sure, maybe? But when you place that BUT in there, and I say this with all compassion for the women and some of the men caught up in this grossness we call power right now in history*, you are reinforcing that there can be a BUT. Well, we took money from a trafficking pedophile after he was known to be that guy. In the new world order to come, there should never be a BUT in there.

I'm glad people have resigned and I hope more do, and I hope they end up in kinda shitty jobs where so many actual victims have ended up because they were not only suffering from PTSD but also still encountering, every day, every academic move, every grant...this system where it's okay to be a shit human being IF you have enough money.

*The good thing is, this is a moment we're actually addressing it and despite the gross slime, I actually feel optimistic that some small progress is being made.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:09 AM on September 13 [26 favorites]


Super-genius Richard Stallman decides that it's a good idea to defend child rape.

When people ask why there are so few women in open source? This here is Exhibit Fucking A.

What about tech attracts these assholes, and how do we kick them out?
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:18 AM on September 13 [23 favorites]


Super-genius Richard Stallman decides that it's a good idea to defend child rape.

Quoting the author for truth: “There is no single person that is so deserving of praise their comments deprecating others should be allowed to slide. Particularly when those comments are excuses about rape, assault, and child sex trafficking.
posted by sallybrown at 8:27 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Beyond the fact that his statement was revolting, there's also the fact that Stallman is just wrong - you don't need to batter someone to commit violence against them (especially sexual violence), consent should never be assumed (especially when dealing with someone like Epstein), and women routinely put on a facade of compliance for fear of being harmed (especially when they are being fucking trafficked.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:36 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


JFC. I in general try to avoid being infuriated by the words of a dude who I had never heard of before the moment their awfulness has become wider knowledge, but Stallman really, really just....

Content note: misogyny and rape culture
We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that
she presented herself to him as entirely willing. Assuming she was
being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her
to conceal that from most of his associates.
I’ve concluded from various examples of accusation inflation that it
is absolutely wrong to use the term “sexual assault” in an accusation.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:08 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


And of course the the highest-rated comment is from a Stallman groupie, 'he's so smart, so obviously the child-rape fan is right and you are wrong.'
posted by tavella at 9:36 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


What about tech attracts these assholes, and how do we kick them out?

MIT kicked Lewin. Stallman is untenured, more awful, and hasn't actually needed access to MIT for a long, long time.
posted by ocschwar at 9:52 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


MIT kicked Lewin. Stallman is untenured, more awful, and hasn't actually needed access to MIT for a long, long time.

And yet I have the suspicion that if MIT kicked him, there would be a violent reaction in response from both certain sectors of the school body and the open source community.

And I read the comments on the article - the number of people defending Stallman was disheartening. Even worse were the defenses - things like "why didn't you talk to him" (guess what - she doesn't have to), "he's just trying to be precise" (no, he has a history of using words as weapons, this being yet another example), "don't you know his background" (what does that matter - there's a long, ignoble history of assholes and predators using social movements as a shield), etc.

This is just so fucking old. Why is it so hard to believe that Stallman's statement was utterly inappropriate and was more focused on protecting a peer rather than the women who were victimized by him?
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:19 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


hey wouldn't it have been nice if the commie-leaning founder of the free software movement had in fact not been a massive rape apologist asshole that would have been pretty nice.

i mean wouldn't it be just the bee's knees if said commie-leaning free software dude who designed a license that would over time have freed all software by obsoleting all non-free software didn't have a pattern of behavior that resulted in anyone in his presence with half a brain twigging to how he's extremely not right in a way that results in most people recoiling from him (and by extension his ideas) in horror? gosh that would be sweet.

like for reals though we have this dude who back in the day cooked up a legit no fooling workable plan for seizing the means of digital production, decades before anyone else realized the importance of seizing said means, and he consistently sabotaged the implementation of that plan by being unable to recognize how his personal actions affect others.

i hate it.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:24 AM on September 13 [20 favorites]


This is just so fucking old. Why is it so hard to believe that Stallman's statement was utterly inappropriate and was more focused on protecting a peer rather than the women who were victimized by him?

That requires thinking that there was an actual purpose to Stallman's blathering, and that's, how to put it, at odds with precedent.
posted by ocschwar at 10:25 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Why is it so hard to believe that Stallman's statement was utterly inappropriate and was more focused on protecting a peer rather than the women who were victimized by him?

Might also have something to do with his his previously-stated, uh, views about age and consent, though I guess his stated reasoning here is more "if it's possible to construct a tenuously plausible argument that you didn't know you were doing anything wrong or criminal it shouldn't count." Not sure that's how it works! Especially if we're talking after Epstein's conviction!
posted by atoxyl at 10:34 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


And yet I have the suspicion that if MIT kicked him, there would be a violent reaction in response from both certain sectors of the school body and the open source community.

MIT alum here, and I really doubt that would happen. There was a lot of advocacy on his behalf back when he was actively engaged in world changing work and could only perform it by accessing resources on campus. Those days are over in every possible sense.
posted by ocschwar at 10:39 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Yet another take, with a call to action and so much more, from danah boyd - Facing the Great Reckoning Head-On
posted by griffey at 10:48 AM on September 13 [8 favorites]


There was a lot of advocacy on his behalf back when he was actively engaged in world changing work and could only perform it by accessing resources on campus. Those days are over in every possible sense.

Even if there's no advocacy, the comments show that there's a good deal of support for him as a community leader. If he was removed from his position, especially over something that his supporters consider to be a situation where he is in the right - yeah, I can see things getting ugly.

Do not underestimate the power of misogyny and privilege to inspire violence - especially violence directed at women.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:50 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


There hasn't been much discussion here about Reid Hoffman's role in things. FWIW he spoke to Axios: Reid Hoffman apologizes for role in Epstein-linked donations to MIT. He shifts a lot of the blame to Joi Ito, which is a bit strange given their friendship and how much Hoffman has been defending Ito behind the scenes.
posted by Nelson at 12:06 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Lessig's comment that Ito believed that Epstein was "too scared" to reoffend

I have performed mandated risk assessments for sex offenders and sexually violent predators. For some of these people, if they re-offend they could lose everything. If they were to end up in prison, they would at a high risk of torture and death. For some of them, even aware of the outcomes, that is still not enough to dissuade them. There is a methodical process for doing these kinds of risk assessments that relies on specific education, experience, and expert training. And after all that, there is still a huge element of uncertainty where you know the current predictive science falls short. That someone without a background in this domain of risk assessment thinks they or similar others could half-ass it seems like a classic example of engineer's disease.
posted by meehawl at 12:59 PM on September 13 [17 favorites]


A sordid relationship with Jeffrey Epstein threatens MIT Media Lab’s future, a Boston Globe op/ed about the Media Lab's funding and reputation as a research lab.
posted by Nelson at 2:20 PM on September 13


MIT was Established for advancement and development of science and its application to industry arts agriculture and commerce.

Departments and appendages that retard the institute's purpose can and should be wound up and shut down. Persons who do so should be let go
posted by ocschwar at 2:45 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I mean, I don't want to pile on, but with the assessments of "so, what would you say...you do here?" tells me that what's probably missing most is reasons to keep it open. Maybe people involved are hoping it blows over, and maybe it will (probably with much smaller membership in the future), but as an after effect of Epstein, which may have killed it anyway, the shine sure seems to be off the rose.

Another thing about this is: boy, we sure aren't hearing about other Epstein clients, are we? Between this and the college admissions bribe scandal, the rich-creep's PR industry is really raking it in this year. Getting Epstein critics and investigators to focus on only donations is a work of art, isn't it? Not even a peep about where the donation cash came from! That's a top-price firewall, right there.
posted by rhizome at 6:26 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


MIT professor and Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman (a.k.a. RMS) weighed in on the Epstein scandal. This has prompted a renewed examination of RMS's own issues.

Edward Ongweso Jr, Vice: Famed Computer Scientist Richard Stallman Described Epstein Victims As 'Entirely Willing.'

MIT alum Selam Jie Gano (one of the sources for the Vice article): Remove Richard Stallman (Medium)

RailsBridge founder Sarah Mei: Hey @fsf - fire your President and Board Chair. (Twitter thread)

Wes Frazier on Mastodon:
Its suddenly occurred to me how ive been tripping over backwards for years to try and always call linux by stallman's preferred gnu/linux monicker but he wont use 'they' as someone's preferred pronoun.
A number of long-time free software developers/advocates are cancelling their FSF donations and memberships.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:00 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


I mean, I don't want to pile on, but with the assessments of "so, what would you say...you do here?" tells me that what's probably missing most is reasons to keep it open.

I am by no means defending the lab nor even a mild fan of it prior to the scandal. And if anyone wants to break up the lab to destroy a bureaucracy they consider hopelessly corrupt and tell the researchers to find new homes I'm not going to argue with them.

But it's really unsurprising that you can walk into an academic research environment and find stupid half-assed projects and unclear answers to "why should you exist?" Lots of research stuff doesn't work, people trying stuff out of their disciplines make stupid mistakes and you're often five steps removed from a practical application you can point to. Hell I've been in a for profit research environment for over twenty years, which you think would be necessarily focused, and it could be hard to explain to an uncharitable lay person why we're getting money. This is why anti-intellectual exercises like Proxmire's old Golden Fleece awards are so easy.

(I really don't like the clickbaity style of the lab so I didn't follow it but the Slate article talks about research assisting people with autism and I know Dan Ariely, a notable researcher on the deficiencies of classical economics models, was there for a while.)
posted by mark k at 7:04 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Right now is clearly not the right time to assess the academic legacy of the MIT Media Lab. As an alum I could gladly give you an earful on both the good and the bad about the place, but that's the not the conversation of the moment. There's a more pressing immediate problem.

Please do read Facing the Great Reckoning Head-On; griffey posted the link earlier. The author danah boyd is a Media Lab graduate (and Metafilter's own, many years ago). It talks about the Epstein / Media Lab scandal but in the larger context of fighting sexism in tech. I particularly admire her sense of optimism; I've been feeling profoundly discouraged these past couple of weeks.
posted by Nelson at 7:20 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Kaia Dekker on RMS: "When I got to MIT, upperclassmen told me that if I ever had to be in proximity to the professor discussed in this article, I should make sure I had a houseplant on me." Continued in this Twitter thread.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:20 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


(oops, I missed that one of my RMS-related links was already posted earlier, by Nelson)
posted by mbrubeck at 7:24 PM on September 13


What is it with Lessig and Stallman deciding to just wade in here with some glib musings? Is there some correlation with their views on IP, or is that just a coincidence?

Like, even beyond Epstein's original crimes, people are hurt and devastated about this situation. Scientists who had nothing to do with Epstein are deciding whether to leave their professional home.

Why are you writing like it's an interesting abstract puzzle on the final exam?
posted by smelendez at 3:39 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Because these are people complicit in at the very least the system which considers a trophy wife/nubile young girlfriend an appropriate reward for achievement.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:56 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


Kaia Dekker on RMS: "When I got to MIT, upperclassmen told me that if I ever had to be in proximity to the professor discussed in this article, I should make sure I had a houseplant on me."

What I have heard from fellow MIT alumnae is to tell him you use vi.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:13 AM on September 14 [13 favorites]


More disclosures on MIT's ties to Jeffrey Epstein in the Boston Globe:
A meeting with Jeffrey Epstein led to a gift — and, now, regrets
“It’s not just Joi, or Neri, that made a mistake. It was all of us, down to the students like me who knew”
posted by bitteschoen at 6:32 AM on September 14


There doesn't seem to be any way to read Boston Globe stories without a subscription. Can you summarize?
posted by octothorpe at 7:08 AM on September 14


Sorry I don’t have a subscription either, I read it with Pocket - it’s difficult to summarize as it’s ALL full of interesting details but here’s a short twitter thread with some screenshots. And here’s some bits from the article itself - hope it’s okay -

It’s about a professor at MIT, Neri Oxman, who was asked with other profs to present her research and work in a meeting with Epstein in October 2015 in Ito’s office. Oxman received $125,000 and was told it would be kept confidential because MIT did not want the disgraced financier to use the gift to help rehabilitate his reputation.
The 2015 meeting offers a window into how the Media Lab was at once concerned about the optics of taking money from Epstein — a convicted sex offender who had by then served a 13-month sentence for soliciting a minor for prostitution — and also tempted by his potential to donate and encourage others to give to the research center.

“This is the first and only time I met Epstein,” Oxman said in a statement. “Joi assured me that Epstein was an approved donor who wished to devote his fortune to science and technology, in part to make amends for wrongs he committed earlier in his life.”

After the meeting, Oxman told the Globe, Ito twice asked her to write notes thanking Epstein for his contributions. [...] And in 2017, Ito requested that her design lab, which often produced donor gifts for the university, send a token of appreciation to Epstein: a grapefruit-sized, 3-D printed marble with a base that lit up.

[...]

Oxman, 43, who is currently on maternity leave, said Ito and some of the brightest minds at MIT seemed to have given their endorsement of Epstein. At the time, she was trying to win tenure in a male-dominated world by showing she could publish significant research, produce enough groundbreaking work, and raise enough money to support the lab’s mission. Oxman became a tenured professor in 2017.

But former students say that Oxman may have been in a better position than most to raise concerns. [...]
And at least one student raised concerns to Oxman about Epstein’s ties to the lab in 2017.

That’s when Oxman asked those in her lab to prepare and send a gift to Epstein, according to documents shared by an MIT employee.

A graduate student, seeing Epstein’s name, flagged him as a potential problem.

“Have you read the articles about this Jeff Epstein? He seems pretty shady. . . . Just wanted to point it out in case you weren’t aware,” the student wrote to Oxman, who was in Barcelona at the time.

“Joi and I are aware,” Oxman wrote back. “I’ll share more in person when I return.”

In the e-mail string, Oxman added that “Jeff E.” should always be “confidential.”

But she also told the graduate student “do not worry, we are *not* sponsored by him, per my direction,” according to the e-mail.

Oxman said that she met with and spoke with the student who raised concerns, and she believed that the student was comfortable with sending the gift.

In Oxman’s statement to the Globe, she said MIT required that Epstein’s gifts to her lab be kept confidential, “so as to not enhance his reputation by association with MIT, and with the understanding that he would not be considered a sponsor of our group’s research or have any involvement in how the funds were spent.”

But the 2017 Epstein episode stuck with the student. After Ito apologized in August for taking money from Epstein for the Media Lab and his own venture funds, the student sent a lab-wide apology of her own. She said she had raised the issue of Epstein’s reputation but still felt complicit.

“Accepting gifts is different than having students make and give them,” the student wrote on Aug. 16 in an e-mail shared with the Globe. “I knew it was wrong. I tried to speak up, but I was more concerned about getting a degree and staying in favor than with what is right. I let myself down as much as anyone. I am so, so sorry.”
and here’s another interesting part at the end:
In recent weeks, journalists have asked questions of MIT about Oxman’s lab sending the gift to Epstein.

According to e-mails obtained by the Globe, Ito asked Oxman how she wanted to respond to media questions. Oxman’s husband, William Ackman, a hedge-fund billionaire, in a phone conversation and e-mail to Ito raised concerns about Oxman’s name being tied to the Epstein situation, according to multiple people aware of the situation.

“I don’t want to see her forced into a position where to protect her name she is required to be transparent about everything that took place at MIT with Epstein,” Ackman wrote in the e-mail. “Once her name appears in the press, she will face a barrage of questions, and anything other than perfect transparency to the media will make her look like she is hiding something. This has regretfully become a witch hunt.”
posted by bitteschoen at 7:34 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]


Oh my god. Why is there a situation where a scientist's (extremely rich and connected) spouse has a meaningful voice in her relationship with her boss? Like how does the existence of that relationship, and his presumption that his wishes will influence Joi, not raise everyone's eyebrows in the first place? And if she's apologizing anyway WHY IS HE AFRAID OF TRANSPARENCY?
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 8:54 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


it's because academic research is directed by private wealthy individuals. of course the billionaire spouse of an mit media lab researcher has influence over said researcher's boss. like, duh.

oh also it's because the only people who can sanely and safely run the risk involved in trying to get an academic job are people who don't actually need to work for a living, so the children of the rich and the spouses of the rich are way over-represented in academia. it's easy not to notice though, because one of the norms of academia is to never ever ever ever ever talk about how you pay for food and rent.

and the reason you never ever ever ever do that is because if you do, the non-connected grad students and adjuncts and postdocs who do most of the real work in academia — work that is, again, directed by people in the billionaire orbit, people who palled with epstein's gang — will realize that academia is a racket.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:20 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


I mean, Arthur Mattuck used to just straight up say “women can’t do math,” and everyone was fine with it, so there’s that. MIT has never cleaned house, except when they wanted to minimize the liability from undergrad deaths. Maybe it’s time.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:12 AM on September 14 [9 favorites]


Arthur Mattuck used to just straight up say “women can’t do math”

Holy crap I didn’t want to know that.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 11:17 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Even more tendrils and connections to various groups in the ML are still emerging - A meeting with Jeffrey Epstein led to a gift — and, now, regrets
posted by griffey at 11:36 AM on September 14


For a bunch of people just trying to do the right thing, there sure is a lot of, "I'm your special friend. Don't tell anybody about this, or..." Pretty telling that Epstein got them to buy into it.
posted by rhizome at 12:20 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


Seems like Stanford is the latest institution caught with Epstein money, after previous denials
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 4:04 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


lol right stanford only took 50k from epstein that sounds totes believable
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:24 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


I think that Stallman was clearly focusing on objecting to media coverage saying "A" by trying to explain "We don't know if A", and then other MIT people took that as "not A". I think it's reasonable to criticize the media (or individuals) for such distortions. But it kind of blew up from there because the back and forth arguing couldn't reconcile what each side meant by the word assault. The Minsky situation has the complication that Epstein is alleged to routinely blackmail his guests by instructing sex trafficking victims to seduce them. A problem arises in that legal definition (as opposed to folk/mainstream definitions, or the meaning as used in social justice circles) of assault requires intention, which a plausible deniability scenario of this sort breaks, since the burden of proof shifts to demonstrating that Minsky personally had not reasonably tried to discover what was really going on.

So I think a social justice lens would argue that the legal understanding of assault is too narrow-minded, and try clarify the range of culpability and responsibility that should be assigned to anyone put into Minsky's situation. It is not surprising that we often lack the common vocabulary to describe harms in more complex situations, especially since we can't take the law's definitions for granted. I think Stallman's mistake was that, too, and ironic because he is otherwise for social justice.
posted by polymodus at 5:13 PM on September 14



I mean, I don't want to pile on, but with the assessments of "so, what would you say...you do here?" tells me that what's probably missing most is reasons to keep it open.


The Media Lab's OWN credo is "demo or die."
posted by ocschwar at 6:50 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


...because he [RMS] is otherwise for social justice.

If you overlook his long history of being a sexist douche-canoe and creeping on women.

Also, anyone arguing that Epstein isn't a pedophile because the children were post-pubescent is a bad look, and as much of a red flag signalling 'bullshit contained' as the use of the term 'ephebophile'
posted by rmd1023 at 6:56 PM on September 14 [12 favorites]


I almost punched someone at the dinner table the other night. It was a woman who started defending Ito and Stallman with the argument that since the girls were over 15 it wasn't pedophilia and was only "technically" rape. Her big thing was that schools can't turn down any money, no matter the source.
posted by frumiousb at 7:56 PM on September 14 [7 favorites]


Just to emphasize the "demo or die" business. We (grads in the late 90s) were given Swatch watches with Nicholas' face on them and the words demo or die printed across them. They came in a package that positioned the watches on a shirt cuff featuring blue and white stripes (like NN usually wore in late 90s/early 2000s). No cult of leadership there. No not at all.
posted by recklessbrother at 8:07 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]



Kaia Dekker on RMS: "When I got to MIT, upperclassmen told me that if I ever had to be in proximity to the professor discussed in this article, I should make sure I had a houseplant on me."


What I heard is that RMS has a perfect record of promptly complying when told to fuck off, and that is the only defense I will offer for him. 30 years ago, he was doing something world changing that could only be done with access to networked computers, meaning access to the MIT campus, when he was just about living in his car. It's 2019, and the world has changed. RMS doesn't need MIT, and MIT doesn't need RMS, and so the overarching question is just "who needs this?"
posted by ocschwar at 8:38 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


There’s an interview with Lessig in the NYT, with yet more awful, convoluted excuses:
A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein’s Money, Do It in Secret – A conversation with Lawrence Lessig about Jeffrey Epstein, M.I.T. and reputation laundering.
posted by bitteschoen at 4:23 AM on September 15


From the above NYT article:
Joi seems to me to have genuinely believed, after doing really extensive due diligence, that the guy was terrified of the world coming down on top of him if he crossed the line — that he wasn’t going to cross the line of pedophilia. Now, that doesn’t mean he was going to get into a monogamous relationship with a 45-year-old woman for the rest of his life, but it was plausible that he was not going to be sleeping with — trying to seduce — 16-year-olds and 14-year-olds.

And then on the basis of that judgment, Joi continues to work with M.I.T. to bring in money that’s not going to be identified. Because it’s not identified, he’s not whitewashing Epstein’s reputation with M.I.T. That seems to be a virtue, not a vice.
Jesus that's some weak sauce. It's plausible that he might not go back to raping teenagers so we'll just quietly take his money?
posted by octothorpe at 6:22 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]


Lessig's still at it on Twitter. He's not going to stop digging that hole for himself until he hits magma.
posted by octothorpe at 6:31 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]


And he wrote another Medium post too... claiming he’s been misunderstood because his argument is too "overly complex". Ugh.
posted by bitteschoen at 7:28 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]


So according to Lessig this was terrible and such but now he has got a job to do, and so he is off to leave us to ponder his genius and complexity.

I get the feeling this will be the response of many people caught up in this scandal. Well the famous ones at least. And in an year they will have a new book out on the event which they will happily flog as their redemption narrative.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:56 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Lessig really needs to just stop talking. But he's incapable of that, he's got his wisdom he has to share with us. And so the hole gets deeper.

One of his tweets references Joi "openly and forcefully and repeatedly and emotionally apologizing". Does anyone know what he's talking about? Part of what's so personally disappointing to me is the only apology I've seen of Joi's is the terrible lawyer-vetted August 15 letter. I mean I'm sure Joi feels terrible, both for what he's done and for getting caught, but his strategy has been to say nothing in public and just work his networks in private instead.

What makes me so mad about Lessig's myopia is he's pretending it's possible to take money anonymously, with no consequences. It's just not true. Joi more or less tried to do that but instead we have professors doing dog & pony shows for Epstein, admins worried about how to make escape plans for Epstein's escorts. Not to mention the larger context of a whole intellectual circle corrupted by his nastiness.
posted by Nelson at 8:43 AM on September 15 [11 favorites]


I'm beginning to wonder if Lessig and/or Stallman went to some of Epstein's "parties" themselves. Because boy oh boy they certainly seem very anxious to assure us that it was all a big nothing and anyway it was just seductive 16 year olds at fault. And they are exactly the sort of person Epstein liked to have a hold on.
posted by tavella at 10:35 AM on September 15 [8 favorites]


I mean, yeah, I tend to assume anyone who comes to the voracious defense of a sexual predator or assailant has very similar skeletons in their closet. Sometimes you can even get them to admit that’s the case, like when the Aziz Ansari thing broke and a bunch of dudes just compulsively told on themselves (and a bunch of women were like, “well, then I guess I’ve been assaulted too” in varying tones ranging from sarcastic to revelatory).

So I make mental lists every time this shit happens. Lots and lots of mental lists.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:57 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]


Because boy oh boy they certainly seem very anxious to assure us that it was all a big nothing and anyway it was just seductive 16 year olds at fault.

Oh but nooo what he said was that Epstein was the one "sleeping with — trying to seduce — 16-year-olds and 14-year-olds" - he was the seducer! and the teenagers were being seduced! by his notorious affability and charm and charisma, no doubt... But he’d been to jail already and then it was suddenly plausible that he wasn’t going to do it anymore, of course, not plausible enough to allow them to openly and proudly take his money, no, but just enough to take it confidentially and nickname him Voldermort. Because the confidentiality is what made everything ok there.

It’s such an overly complex argument! We cannot possibly begin to understand how these were all very clever very good people only motivated by the highest ideals of science, you know? We’re too stupid to understand.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:09 AM on September 15 [12 favorites]


Given what I've seen of the crowd, and him, there is absolutely no way RMS got invited to Epstein parties.
posted by rhizome at 11:45 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]


> but it was plausible that he was not going to be sleeping with — trying to seduce — 16-year-olds and 14-year-olds.

for reals though anyone who uses this language has just told everyone who they are. anyone who uses words starting with ‘s’ to describe this situation is letting the world know that they don’t think the word that starts with ‘r’ applies.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:08 PM on September 15 [14 favorites]


MIT alum and former staffer here. I'm just going to point something out from above:

An air traffic controller saw wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein getting off his private plane in the U.S. Virgin Islands with girls who appeared to be 11 to 12 years old in 2018, a year before Epstein was indicted on child sex trafficking charges, newly revealed government documents show.

If this is true, then the girls are now 12 to 13 years old right now. And barring any police report specific to these girls, it is safe to assume that if this is true, then these 12 to 13 year old girls are probably STILL in the hands of traffickers. Right. The. Fuck. Now.

Epstein got off on bringing other men down to his level, and those men have only themselves to blame. True enough. What's more, MIT is the kind of place where if you take along two models to be your arm candy, you'll just get bewildered and disgusted looks from everyone you pass by. And if you're actually swayed by someone flashing money and flesh like that, then you don't belong there. Sorry, Mr. Ito, but Duke's a better fit for you. But there are worse things in the world than what goes on in cozy old academia.
posted by ocschwar at 6:59 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Marvin Minsky's no prize, and Epstein apparently still thought it useful to provide him girls to rape, so I don't really see Stallman as beyond the pale for Epstein.
posted by tavella at 7:09 PM on September 15 [4 favorites]


...because he [RMS] is otherwise for social justice.

If you overlook his long history of being a sexist douche-canoe and creeping on women.


No, no. I was saying that other than feminist issues, he was for social justice. Which is not praise. I am not in MIT circles, and even I know, from articles and talks, that Stallman has been lacking in that area.
posted by polymodus at 11:29 PM on September 15


That Slate article Nelson posted pretty much squares with the view that men who are courting power will ignore or even support the idea that it's an acceptable norm for powerful men to have women-as-commodities around.

The backflips are amazing. "They were all college aged!" (Because that's okay!), that it's okay to start a meeting with making out with young women on the couch at the back (imagine a young female scientist starting a meeting that way!), that young women who don't seem that young must be okay (because girls who are traded around for sex definitely don't develop a way of seeming wise beyond their years!).

Burn it down.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:19 AM on September 16 [18 favorites]


Dan Davies had the evergreen observation that good ideas do not need lies told about them to seem like good ideas.

Really, any time you consider a course of action and think "this will be universally criticized if people know about it" you should be giving serious consideration to the possibility that the universe is correct. When you come up with a rationalization that includes ". . . I just need to keep it secret from the people who will criticize me" there's a pretty good chance you've fooled yourself.

Others have pointed this out but Epstein's donations weren't actually anonymous. He tours the lab, people send him hand crafted unique thank you gifts, he gets letters of thank you--just because there's not a publicly displayed plaque doesn't mean there's no reputation laundering. And since Ito's hitting him up for funding individual projects: Epstein is influencing the research at the lab, since projects Epstein is going to like are more like to get funded. And he's creeping out employees of the lab.

I guess these things didn't occur to Ito as possible downsides to taking all that money. If he did it publicly people could have warned him though!

One of his [Lessig's] tweets references Joi "openly and forcefully and repeatedly and emotionally apologizing". Does anyone know what he's talking about

Lessig also claimed that Ito did "really extensive due diligence" to make sure Epstein wouldn't abuse more girls. It's hard to imagine what due diligence someone could do at all, so like the apology I think adding adverbs and adjectives (really extensive openly forcefully repeatedly emotionally) is supposed to make you not notice what weak sauce the claim actually is.
posted by mark k at 7:00 AM on September 16 [9 favorites]


30 years ago, he was doing something world changing that could only be done with access to networked computers, meaning access to the MIT campus, when he was just about living in his car. It's 2019, and the world has changed. RMS doesn't need MIT, and MIT doesn't need RMS, and so the overarching question is just "who needs this?"

This is a bad argument, because frankly, Stallman has been doing this sort of shit for 30 years, and the community turned a blind eye because he was doing "world changing" things, which in turn forced (and continues to force) women out of the open source community. As was pointed out in a Twitter thread posted above:
Once more for the folks in the back:

“FREE AND OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE IS NOT WORTH MORE THAN ACTUAL WOMEN AND GIRLS”
If the argument for kicking Stallman out is predicated on his presence at MIT no longer having purpose, I daresay that it misses the point.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:27 AM on September 16 [16 favorites]






In continuing news on this story (at least connected news) - Evidently RMS resigned from both the presidency and Board of Directors of the Free Software Foundation.
posted by griffey at 7:43 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]


Wow, was RMS a jerk: Remove Richard Stallman: Appendix A by Selam Joe Gano.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:43 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


I agree that Stallman deserves a reckoning, but Gano's writing is not that great here. Section 1 puts forth the claim that Stallman has a pattern of behavior, and that this new dispute fits into that pattern ("This is not an isolated isolated incident"). But the rest of that goes into the social justice rationale of not justifying ourselves from the frame of the oppressor. But that is on technical grounds the wrong argument. The burden is not, as Gano thinks, whether marginalized people should "argue why these opinions are problematic". The burden is showing that the new instance is actually a repeat of historical behavior, that Stallman hasn't learned. These are two very different argumentation warrants; the former is arguing why X is wrong, the latter is arguing why person Y doing Z is an example of Y doing X. The latter does not require an assessment of the problematicness or morality of X.

I looked at the emails again and noticed that in the dispute about the word assault, neither side acknowledged that legally, assault requires intent. Stallman, for instance, was using the naive (and male-centered) definition that assault requires violence or force.

I feel like if people in high-end STEM were taught to be more careful about their arguments, had better reading comprehension skills, and overall be more well-rounded outside the narrow purview of their technical production, they would've been more reflective about these sorts of gaps and mistakes so others don't have to point them out in the aftermath.
posted by polymodus at 3:28 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


But the rest of that goes into the social justice rationale of not justifying ourselves from the frame of the oppressor. But that is on technical grounds the wrong argument.

No, it's not, because a routine defense of the sort of behavior like Stallman's (and we've seen it on display with this furor) is something I've called in the past the "difference of opinion fallacy" - reduce the argument down to a "difference of opinion" and ignore the actual points of contention, then use euphemistic language like "controversial" to paint the argument as being one where one side is trying to silence the other for holding an "unpopular" position. Stallman's defense of Minsky falling into the same pattern of behavior is easily demonstrated by showing that previous behavior - the problem (as we keep seeing over and over) is that the tech community keeps turning a blind eye to it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:41 AM on September 17 [5 favorites]


> I feel like if people in high-end STEM were taught to be more careful about their arguments, had better reading comprehension skills, and overall be more well-rounded outside the narrow purview of their technical production, they would've been more reflective about these sorts of gaps and mistakes so others don't have to point them out in the aftermath.

Sorry, but this is horseshit. I work as a software engineer in a research unit of another university with a highly-ranked CS program. I work alongside many other engineers, researchers, statisticians, and the like, all of whom know how to make arguments, can comprehend the written word, and are well-rounded outside of whatever specialized research interests they may have. None of them are Richard Stallman-level in terms of their notoriety, but many of them are quite accomplished in their fields, present regularly at well-regarded conferences, etc.

This idea that being a computer nerd, or a nerd in general, crowds out any understanding of how social interaction works is nonsense, and is generally only marshaled to rally around a revered figure who's suddenly Milkshake Ducked himself. There are plenty of brilliant minds out there who could do just as good of a job as Stallman has throughout his lengthy career without being a fucking creep.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:42 AM on September 17 [21 favorites]


I agree that Stallman deserves a reckoning, but Gano's writing is not that great here

Oh god if I had a nickel for every time justice was denied because of some subjective tone-policing or "if you'd only reported it this *this* way" argument.

You agree he deserves a reckoning. What the heck does someone else's writing have to do with getting justice for Epstein's victims or Stallman being held accountable for his longstanding malignant sexism?

I feel like if people in high-end STEM were taught to be more careful about their arguments, had better reading comprehension skills, and overall be more well-rounded outside the narrow purview of their technical production, they would've been more reflective about these sorts of gaps and mistakes so others don't have to point them out in the aftermath.

If only. Frankly, what we're learning is that there's no "right" way to accuse powerful men in any institutionally sanctioned position of power of being okay with sex trafficking, rape and other wonderful things that men are privileged to muse and pontificate about in the abstract.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:11 AM on September 17 [16 favorites]


One of the specific ways in which this is nonsense is that Gano should never have been the one to do this. There have been countless safe, comfortable men, with tenure, across twenty years, any one of whom could have been the one to pull the fire alarm. Instead it's coming out because an alum who's been out of school for one year couldn't take it anymore and just started writing because, as she said at the top of her first post, she was too angry to work. I'm not interested in any criticism whatsoever of her style or argumentation method; the fact is that she never should have been in a position to write the post in the first place. That's the fault of 20 years of other people failing to take action, not her.
posted by range at 8:47 AM on September 17 [15 favorites]




A letter to President Rafael Reif & Provost Marty Schmidt regarding Epstein
This letter originated with a small group of senior women faculty in SHASS and SAP at MIT. A group of tenured women faculty members from across various schools were invited to comment and contribute. We understand that senior women faculty and others at MIT have a range of thoughts, opinions, and feelings about this situation. Please read this as a partial beginning to a larger conversation and collective plan of action.
Signed by over 50 women faculty members (current and emerita) of MIT.

Mentioned here: MIT faculty responds to Epstein scandal, calling for a culture change and greater accountability (Susan Svrluga, Washington Post), which discusses the letter and a contentious faculty meeting on Wednesday.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:28 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]




How Brock Pierce from The Mighty Ducks (who is now a cryptocurrency billionaire) is connected to Epstein as well as Ito, the MIT Media Lab, Bryan Singer, Steve Bannon, Trumpworld, the SoulCycle guy, and on and on.
posted by sallybrown at 9:53 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


MIT Media Lab Dumped Chemicals In Excess Of Legal Limit, Keeping Regulators In The Dark. Presumably unrelated to Joi Ito and Epstein except the project is that stupid "food computer" thing that was also the subject of Sarah Taber's tweet thread.
posted by Nelson at 8:08 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


Prince Andrew was an abuser, Epstein accuser says in TV interview (Guardian)
Virginia Giuffre claims prince was participant in disgraced financier’s exploitation of her
posted by bitteschoen at 11:48 AM on September 20


Guess Alan couldn't get this interview quashed with a phone call.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:17 PM on September 20


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