Update (September 9): The New Yorker reported on Friday (September 6) that Jeffrey Epstein made more contributions to the MIT Media Lab than previously disclosed, and that they were deliberately concealed so as to sidestep Epstein’s status as a disqualified donor. Epstein reportedly also facilitated millions of dollars in donations from other philanthropists, including Bill Gates, to the MIT lab. Following the news report, Media Lab Director Joi Ito resigned.
After learning that the MIT Media Lab and its director had accepted money from the billionaire and accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, two researchers at the institution have quit in protest.
“My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view,” Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, wrote in a blog post August 20. “It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship.”
Then yesterday (August 21), J. Nathan Matias, a visiting scholar at MIT from Cornell University who studies digital governance and group behavior, followed suit.
I have also informed the Media Lab that I am also leaving and am transitioning CivilServant's remaining systems and staff out of the lab. We do research on protecting vulnerable people from online abuse, so the choice was straightforward. More here: https://t.co/ehYGJFBd3K— J. Nathan Matias (@natematias) August 21, 2019
As Zuckerman explains in his blog, he learned of Epstein’s financial involvement in the Media Lab through Joi Ito, its director. Epstein had donated funds to MIT and invested in Ito’s businesses. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ito had visited Epstein’s properties numerous times.
Epstein died earlier this month by suicide. He was in jail awaiting trial for charges of sex-trafficking children. A decade ago, he served a year in prison for soliciting sex from minors. In documents related to the recent charges, a victim claims Epstein arranged for her to have sex with MIT Media Lab founding member Marvin Minsky, who is now deceased, when she was a teenager.
Ito met Epstein five years after he was incarcerated. According to the Miami Herald, Ito wrote in a statement that he regrets accepting Epstein’s money and denies seeing or being involved in the “horrific acts” Epstein is accused of.
Correction (August 23): Minsky was a founding member, not founder, of the MIT Media Lab. The Scientist regrets the error.
Kerry Grens is a senior editor and the news director of The Scientist. Email her at email@example.com.