My connection to Jeffrey Epstein

Blake Stacey had to remind me.

It’s kind of a wacky roundabout connection, but there it is. I was sued by a crackpot name Stuart Pivar for $15 million (It happens. I’m getting more than a little tired of the bullshit) because I’d pointed out that this guy’s self-published pseudoscientific book, Lifecode, was complete garbage. He didn’t like that, and he had lots of money — he was some kind of rich septic tank magnate — so he blustered and threatened and threw lawsuits at me, which he eventually dropped at the last minute when I didn’t back down. It was unfortunate, too, because I’d just done a couple of interviews with major newspapers when he withdrew, taking with him all interest by the press in the story.

Now Mother Jones interviewed Pivar about Epstein, in one very strange rambling conversation (at the end he threatens to sue over the interview if it is at all misleading, so I suspect MJ decided to go with a literal, complete transcript of everything Pivar said). And there’s my name! Yikes!

Some evidence of the tension between Pivar and Epstein is lying in public view. In August 2007, Pivar sued a science blogger named P.Z. Myers and Seed Media Group, which hosted his blog, alleging defamation. Myers had lit into Pivar’s work, calling him “a classic crackpot.” In his complaint, Pivar made a point of mentioning by name two prominent members of SMG’s board: Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. The lawsuit was later dropped.

I should have known — Seed Media Group was based in NY, was tightly focused on connecting science and media, and of course Epstein and his crony, Maxwell, would have been attracted to it, and it could well have been the recipient of Epstein money. So yeah, some of those blogging fees I was paid back then could have been stained with the Epstein taint, although I knew nothing about him at the time, never met him, and darn, never got invited to fly on the Lolita Express or visit his private island for sexy times. So while you might be able to draw a connection between us, my name would be in tiny print with only a thin red thread to tie us together.

Of course, when you read the Pivar interview, you have to take into account the fact that he really is a delusional kook. He says this, for instance, which is kind of nuts.

I’m a scientist, and I saw all the incredible, wonderful things he did for science, which nobody’s managed to have the intellect to understand.

In Pivar’s case, no, we did understand his “science”, and it was trash.

By the way, one additional thing I have to bring up is that lately a number of the scientific associates linked to Epstein have been slinging a bit of mud as a distraction. In particular, they’ve tried to accuse the late Stephen Jay Gould of also being guilty of playing around with Epstein. Unfortunately for them, and the New York Times’ reputation for fact checking, Gould has a rock solid alibi.

That’s really dirty pool, NYT. You should be ashamed.


An additional fact: Seed definitely got some funding from Epstein!

Now have to go wash my hands.

One down

David Koch is dead.

One more malignant, poisonous criminal whose sole contribution to history is bringing the end of civilization a little closer is gone. Jane Mayer’s review of a book documenting the Koch brothers’ perfidy is appropriate reading today.

“Kochland” is important, Davies said, because it makes it clear that “you’d have a carbon tax, or something better, today, if not for the Kochs. They stopped anything from happening back when there was still time.” The book also documents how, in 2010, the company’s lobbyists spent gobs of cash and swarmed Congress as part of a multi-pronged effort to kill the first, and so far the last, serious effort to place a price on carbon pollution—the proposed “cap and trade” bill. Magnifying the Kochs’ power was their network of allied donors, anonymously funded shell groups, think tanks, academic centers, and nonprofit advocacy groups, which Koch insiders referred to as their “echo chamber.” Leonard also reports that the centrist think tank Third Way quietly worked with the Kochs to push back against efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which could have affected their business importing oil from Canada. Frequently, and by design, the Koch brothers’ involvement was all but invisible.

Others have chronicled the cap-and-trade fight well, but Leonard penetrates the inner sanctum of the Kochs’ lobbying machine, showing that, from the start, even when other parts of the company could have benefitted from an embrace of alternative energy, Koch Industries regarded any compromise that might reduce fossil-fuel consumption as unacceptable. Protecting its fossil-fuel profits was, and remains, the company’s top political priority. Leonard shows that the Kochs, to achieve this end, worked to hijack the Tea Party movement and, eventually, the Republican Party itself.

He will be remembered. Unkindly.

Maybe we need to think more deeply about the ethics of science funding

Most of the scientists I know, including myself, live in a world of scientific poverty, constantly struggling to scrape together the funds needed to do their work. Some of us, again like me, consciously select research topics that are doable on a tiny budget; others lock themselves into their offices and write grant proposal after grant proposal, watching most of them get rejected, and hoping that one or two get funded so they can pay their students to do the science while they lock themselves back into the office to start writing again in preparation for the next grant cycle. That’s the real life of your typical scientist.

Except for some who manage to get noticed enough to attract celebrity money. There are millionaires who look to gain a little prestige and a reputation as a patron of the sciences by splashing money at high profile research projects. There is no glory to be earned by tossing $10,000 to an obscure spider biologist at a small liberal arts college, even though that’s a sum that would have him reeling deliriously with joy and fund some major upgrades to his lab. That’s not something you could brag about to your millionaire friends! On the other hand, being able to say “I gave a million dollars to an already incredibly well funded lab at Harvard” is going to earn you admiring glances and plenty of back-slaps from your cronies.

Hmm. Somebody ought to do the experiment of handing some massive money, like a million dollars, to some weird little biologist in Minnesota, just to see what kind bragging rights they’d get. No, don’t; I wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of money, I’d probably just hand it over to administrators to turn into teaching projects, and no one brags about enhancing teaching. I also kind of like the small science I do, and don’t want to end up obligated to some smug investment banker.

You know, like Jeffrey Epstein. Suddenly, a lot of big money scientists at high-toned institutions are finding themselves scrambling to back away from the cash they received.

Epstein called himself a “science philanthropist”, and donated handsomely to prestigious organizations such as Harvard, MIT, and the Santa Fe Institute. At one point, he was allegedly giving as much as $20m a year to fund scientists. Some institutions and researchers continued to take Epstein’s money even after his 2008 conviction, like MIT, according to BuzzFeed News.

Epstein called himself a ‘science philanthropist’ and donated handsomely to prestigious organizations
Joi Ito, the head of MIT’s world-famous Media Lab issued an apology last week for having accepted donations for the Media Lab and his own tech startups. In his open letter on the MIT Media Lab’s website, he said: “I take full responsibility for my error in judgment. I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab, and to the MIT community for bringing such a person into our network.

You can read Ito’s odd little apology — it’s strangely evasive. He disavows any knowledge of Epstein’s actions, despite receiving money after he was convicted. Hey, somebody gives him money, he’s not going to question where it came from. He doesn’t say how much money it was, either, although he promises to raise an equal amount from other donors and donate it to non-profits that defend survivors of sex trafficking. So…he’d be a middle man, taking donations to the MIT Media Lab and redirecting them to a completely unrelated charity? Is that ethical?

And wait — who is he taking money from? Ito is stumbling all over himself in embarrassment over having taken money from a slimy multi-millionaire, but isn’t he just setting himself up to take more money from more millionaires? I don’t think we can assume subsequent donors will be non-slimy. They’re millionaires, by definition they’re contemptible parasites who have exploited others to obtain their excessive wealth. He wants to find donors who stole their money by means forgivable by capitalists and who haven’t tainted their cash by raping children. Cash smeared with the blood of exploited workers, or by manipulation of capital, why, that’s OK.

Now I’m wondering, though, why we tolerate science philanthropy at all. Was Jeffrey Epstein a competent judge of the quality of science being done to make those who received his largesse proud of the donation? All you’d be able to say is that you superficially impressed a fool with a bucket of loot into giving you some. You haven’t earned the grant, you’ve just been handed money for being a great glad-hander and schmoozer, not for the science. Your donor is going to use your acceptance and your friendliness at parties to inflate their ego some more.

I’m not going to pretend that grant review at our funding institutions is perfect, but I’d be far more impressed with a donor who recognized their limitations and and handed their $20 million to the NSF, and asked them to distribute it to the most qualified research applications. I’d also be more impressed with scientists who won awards by the assessment of their peers than their ability to chat up bankers at cocktail parties.

But then, I’ve just admitted to being a guy who does small science on a shoestring, so nobody cares what I think. Maybe if I could woo some wealthy financiers with irrelevant stories, then my opinion might matter.

Here we go again, another predatory professor

Dr D. Eugene Redmond of the Yale Medical School had a research facility on St Kitts — how nice, to have a tropical retreat for your work — where he studied vervet monkeys, and where he brought many students to work with him. There’d been rumblings of problems in 1994, which led to the shutdown of an internship program there, but did not cause any perturbations in Redmond’s employment, or his research practices, and he kept on flying off to St Kitts with students. He had some odd research requirements.

Yale President Peter Salovey ordered the investigation of Redmond on Jan. 28, hiring former U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly, now an attorney with Finn Dixon & Herling in Stamford, to lead it. According to the 54-page report, delivered to Salovey on Aug. 14, Daly’s team found at least 16 instances of sexual abuse or misconduct involving Redmond.

“Based on our investigation, we have concluded that Redmond sexually assaulted five students in St. Kitts while he was a Yale professor. These assaults occurred on five separate occasions, when he initiated and engaged in nonconsensual sexual contact with each student,” the report states. “Each of these incidents occurred in a bedroom that Redmond required each student to share with him and after each of the students had been drinking with Redmond.”

The investigation also found Redmond had conducted three “purported medical exams of students that included inappropriate genital and/or rectal exams” and other acts “involving at least eight other undergraduates or recent graduates and one high school student in St. Kitts, New Haven, and other locations. Two of the assaults and two of the exams occurred in the early 1990s; the remaining three assaults and the third exam occurred between 2010 and 2017. Most of the other misconduct occurred after 2005,” the report states.

He required students to drink with him, and share his bedroom? The alarms are blaring right there. I’m trying to figure out what rationale a guy who studied vervet monkeys used to insist on genital examinations of his students. There was funny stuff going on there.

Not just at St Kitts, either. He seemed to be perving everywhere.

New Haven and Yale police also informed St. Kitts police about Redmond’s alleged misconduct. Inappropriate conduct also took place in Redmond’s home in New Haven, on Yale’s campus and other off-campus locations, according to the report.

The report also slaps Yale on the wrist. Administrators conveniently looked the other way for years.

“More concerning, however, was [Yale Medical School’s] failure to implement any meaningful monitoring mechanisms to ensure ongoing oversight of Redmond and student activity at the St. Kitts facility. Redmond’s false representations … that he had terminated the program created a false sense of confidence that his misconduct had stopped. In fact, at least by 2001, Redmond returned to recruiting students to work with him in St. Kitts, and required some of them to share a bedroom with him.”

The investigation found that 20 students worked with Redmond in St. Kitts between 2001 and 2017, three of whom he assaulted.

“Redmond failed to honor his representations to Yale after the 1994 complaints; breached a policy the St. Kitts facility put in place after the 1994 investigation, which required separate housing for students and faculty; and violated a Settlement Agreement he entered into with a student that required Redmond to eliminate the program, to cease all recruiting and supervision of students in St. Kitts, and to abide by the separate housing policy,” the investigation found.

“We found no evidence that any faculty, staff, or administrators at Yale had actual knowledge of Redmond’s sexual misconduct before it was reported,” the report states. “Nevertheless, it is equally clear that if Yale had implemented a longstanding monitoring program after the 1994 investigation, Redmond’s ongoing misconduct might well have been detected and stopped. In addition, at various points after 1994, several members of the Yale community had concerns about Redmond’s [three] subsequent interactions with certain students, which, if they had pursued, might have prompted Yale to further scrutinize Redmond’s conduct and potentially uncover his misconduct.”

They are, presumably, making some policy changes now, but it’s damning that they let this wealthy professor frolic for a quarter century before bringing the hammer down. Also, unsurprisingly, once the investigation turned serious, Redmond neatly retired, escaping any penalty for his actions.

I would like to point out that working with spiders in Minnesota seems to provide few excuses for sexually harassing students, but apparently if an industrious, motivated professor could find a way to turn studying vervet monkeys into an opportunity to get into students’ pants, it could be done. Except that I have no interest in treating students that way. I guess that’s why Redmond was at Yale, while I’m at a small state school — I lack that kind of ambition.

Spearheads of revolution!

I love the awesome badassery of this woman. Pia Klemp has been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean, and on one side she faces a trial and possibly 20 years in prison for her gallant work, and on the other side people are praising her courage. Paris wants to award her a medal for her work. She turned it down!

THE CITY OF PARIS IS AWARDING PIA KLEMP THE MEDAILLE GRAND VERMEIL

Paris, I love you. I love you for all the free and solidarian people that live in you. Fighting for their freedom everyday, standing shoulder to shoulder, distributing blankets, friendship and solidarity. I love you for those who are sharing their homes, love and struggles everyday – regardless of their nationality, regardless if they have papers or not.

Madame Hidalgo, you want to award me a medal for my solidarian action in the Mediterranean Sea, because our crews ‘work to rescue migrants from difficult conditions on a daily basis’. At the same time your police is stealing blankets from people that you force to live on the streets, while you raid protests and criminalize people that are standing up for rights of migrants and asylum seekers. You want to give me a medal for actions that you fight in your own ramparts. I am sure you won’t be surprised that I decline the medaille Grand Vermeil.

Paris, I’m not a humanitarian. I am not there to ‘aid’. I stand with you in solidarity. We do not need medals. We do not need authorities deciding about who is a ‘hero’ and who is ‘illegal’. In fact they are in no position to make this call, because we are all equal.

What we need are freedom and rights. It is time we call out hypocrite honorings and fill the void with social justice. It is time we cast all medals into spearheads of revolution!

Documents and housing for all!
Freedom of movement and residence!

Wow. Now that is living up to your principles, and is something we all need to do. More spearheads for social justice!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaieee!

Classes start next week, but the administrative burdens began today: a two hour division meeting, followed by a one hour discipline meeting, with paperwork to do this afternoon. But first, I’m going to go assess spiders. Fortunately, my diligent student came in while I was locked in a room with a seething mass of academics, and he fed everyone, so I just have to measure mortality for a while. Spider mortality, that is…all of the academics emerged alive, with only a few scars.

Then…keyboard pounding for a while. Then…university-wide social at the horticulture gardens, although I’m bringing my camera and might do more socializing with the spiders while I’m there. Then…last night with my granddaughter, before I have to take her to the airport tomorrow. I’m thinking maybe I can arrange a swap with our cat (don’t tell Skatje).

She’s been learning about finger-painting! She can’t leave now!

When did we become jaded?

Orac writes about an anti-vaxxer, Austin Bennett, who walked up to a California senator on the street and shoved him because he was insufficiently appreciative of his conspiracy-theory ravings. That that movement is working itself up towards more violence is troubling (they’re following the trajectory of the anti-choice movement, right down to screaming that they’re killing to protect the children), but what also bothers me is that the rhetoric is so unhinged. He has a collection of Austin Bennett videos at the link, and I listened to bits and pieces of a few of them, and my god, he’s nuts. In the one in which Bennett shoves Senator Pan — he’s so shameless, Bennett recorded it and posted it on YouTube — and Orac summarizes it neatly.

Bennett encounters Sen. Pan around the 9 minute mark, and he shoves him around the 9:50 mark. The rest of the video reveals a profoundly scary guy ranting about chemtrails, toxins, and taking action right into the camera. I have to give Sen. Pan a lot of credit. I’m not sure I could have remained as calm as he did if someone like Austin Bennet came up alongside me and started ranting about aluminum, toxins, and chemistry. Before Bennett encountered Sen. Pan, he spent nearly a solid nine minutes ranting about chemtrails, the wickedness of the world, and a variety of other disturbing religious things.

A disordered kook can ramble on for years with increasingly disturbing, weird, unhinged from reality ideas, and we let it go on and on, gathering momentum, acquiring followers, and we do nothing until after it crosses the line into violence. I am not saying contrarian ideas should be suppressed somehow, but I’m just thinking that if this guy cares so much about chemistry and toxins and immunology, maybe he should put his effort where his mouth is and actually get educated on those subject…and maybe if he’s unwilling to invest in learning that ought to be at the forefront of our conversation about him. It’s the same with the creationist I encounter — their understanding is an inch deep, they’ve grabbed onto a few sciencey-sounding buzzwords and a tiny number of rhetorical points, and they repeat them tediously. It’s enough to persuade people who are even more ignorant.

Fortunately, creationists haven’t resorted to much violence. The anti-vaxxers are working themselves up to it.

The patriarchy has deep roots, it’s going to hurt to dig them out

Jeanette Ng won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and this is how her speech began:

John W. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist. Through his editorial control of Astounding Science Fiction, he is responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists. Yes, I am aware there are exceptions.

Welp, that set a few people’s hair on fire, but she’s right. Corey Doctorow agrees.

I think she was right — and seemly — to make her remarks. There’s plenty of evidence that Campbell’s views were odious and deplorable. For example, Heinlein apologists like to claim (probably correctly) that his terrible, racist, authoritarian, eugenics-inflected yellow peril novel Sixth Column was effectively a commission from Campbell (Heinlein based the novel on one of Campbell’s stories). This seems to have been par for the course for JWC, who liked to micro-manage his writers: Campbell also leaned hard on Tom Godwin to kill the girl in “Cold Equations” in order to turn his story into a parable about the foolishness of women and the role of men in guiding them to accept the cold, hard facts of life.

So when Ng held Campbell “responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists,” she was factually correct.

It reflects my experience as a reader of science fiction, too. I got hooked on this stuff as a boy in the 1960s, and initially read all the old classic authors — Asimov, Clarke, etc. — and was fascinated with all the robots and spaceships and hyper-advanced gadgetry that they wrote about, but failed to notice that they weren’t very good at writing about people. Then I stumbled onto New Wave writers, and Ursula Le Guin, and Joanna Russ, and all these other amazing writers who had escaped the orbit of the John W. Campbell school, and discovered that the JWC stable tended to be not-very-good writers, period, because that wasn’t what he cared about, which is a strange characteristic for an editor.

Also, when I finally discovered Heinlein in my mid-teens, I freakin’ hated his books. They were long-winded exercises in self-indulgent misogyny. I don’t think he needed JWC’s coaching to be an asshole, he was one naturally.

Here’s another take on Campbell.

Ng’s assessment of Campbell is undoubtedly informed by Campbell’s personal politics and beliefs and those who have written about him. Campbell argued that African-Americans were “barbarians” deserving of police brutality during the 1965 Watts Riots, as “the “brutal” actions of police consist of punishing criminal behavior.” His unpublished story All featured such racist elements that author Robert Heinlein, who built upon Campbell’s original story for his own work titled Sixth Column, had to “reslant” the story before publishing it. In the aftermath of the Kent State massacre, when speaking of the demonstrators murdered by the Ohio National Guard, Campbell stated that “I’m not interested in victims. I’m interested in heroes.” While difficult to presume where Campbell’s beliefs would place him in modern politics, it is apparent that Campbell would disagree with many of the beliefs held by modern America.

I’ve read enough Campbell to guess he’d be cheering for Trump — the pseudoscientific racist genetics, the anti-immigration stuff, the contempt for anyone who rocks the boat, he’d definitely be a Trumpkin.

Doctorow continues.

Not just factually correct: also correct to be saying this now. Science fiction (like many other institutions) is having a reckoning with its past and its present. We’re trying to figure out what to do about the long reach that the terrible ideas of flawed people (mostly men) had on our fields. We’re trying to reconcile the legacies of flawed people [Harlan Ellison, fantastic writer, not such a nice person] whose good deeds and good art live alongside their cruel, damaging treatment of women. These men were not aberrations: they were following an example set from the very top and running through fandom, to the great detriment of many of the people who came to fandom for safety and sanctuary and community.

It’s not a coincidence that one of the first organized manifestation of white nationalism as a cultural phenomenon was within fandom, and while fandom came together to firmly repudiate its white nationalist wing, these assholes weren’t (all) entryists who showed up to stir trouble in someone else’s community. The call (to hijack the Hugo award) was coming from inside the house: these guys had been around forever, and we’d let them get away with it, in the name of “tolerance” even as these guys were chasing women, queer people, and racialized people out of the field.

Those same Nazis went on to join Gamergate, then take up on /r/The_Donald, and they were part of the vanguard of the movement that put a boorish, white supremacist grifter into the White House.

He’s talking about the Rabid Puppies, but I don’t think SF fandom was specifically responsible. We saw exactly the same phenomenon in skepticism/atheism with Elevatorgate and the slymepit. It’s everywhere. It’s like we entered the 21st century and scumbaggery blossomed everywhere. Arthur Clarke could predict geosynchronous satellites, sure, but he completely failed to anticipate the effect of selectively amplifying the voices of arrogant white male dudes, as SF, and science, and atheism, and everything had been doing for decades. What we’re seeing now is the effect of a patriarchal culture being shaken up, and the reactionaries fighting back.

This stuff matters. It’s deeper than any fandom, and it reflects a world-wide pattern of necessary change as the old order resists its slow, painful demise. Ng brings it right back to reality.

So I need say, I was born in Hong Kong. Right now, in the most cyberpunk in the city in the world, protesters struggle with the masked, anonymous stormtroopers of an autocratic Empire. They have literally just held her largest illegal gathering in their history. As we speak they are calling for a horological revolution in our time. They have held laser pointers to the skies and tried to to impossibly set alight the stars. I cannot help be proud of them, to cry for them, and to lament their pain.

Yes. The fascists and capitalists and corporate goons and colonizers have been running the world for a few centuries now, and it’s time to overthrow the old order. There will be great pain in the churn.

The National Embarrassment humiliates us all again

No one can keep up. Here’s an attempt to list the lunacies expressed by Trump just today.

So far today, Trump has called himself:

  • The Chosen One
  • The King of Israel
  • The Second Coming of God

Just thought you might like to know that the person with his finger on the trigger of America’s nuclear arsenal appears to be losing the last of his marbles.

He also called American Jews disloyal if they voted for a Democrat, threatened to turn captured ISIS members loose on Europe, claimed that victims of shootings in El Paso and Dayton loved him, suggested that suicidal veterans could be treated with a stimulant, and suggested once again that he’d run for president again after his second term.

But he wasn’t done!

Later, President Bone Spurs says he thought about giving himself a Medal of Honor.

How much longer must we suffer with this babbling boob running the country into the ground? I know. For as long as Moscow Mitch controls the Senate.