The take-home message of this article is that scientists who took money from Jeffrey Epstein should give it back, and I kinda sorta agree…but first I have to mention this annoyance.
Giving away the money would begin to clean up the gross, topologically complex web of influence trading that Epstein helped weave. Before and after his year in prison, in 2008, Epstein lavished money and attention on scientists—biologist Stephen Jay Gould, biochemist George Church, evolutionary scientist Martin Nowak, linguist Steven Pinker, physicist Murray Gell-Mann, physicist Stephen Hawking, and AI researcher Marvin Minsky, among many others.
Why is Stephen Jay Gould in there? He was dead in 2008! He died 6 years before that, as a matter of fact. There is no sign that he accepted buckets of cash from Epstein, unlike Nowak, who received $6.5 million (which Harvard refuses to return). Gould was both a SJW before the term was invented, and so deathly sick with cancer that the idea he might have participated in Epstein’s sleaze is ludicrous.
But back to the topic at hand — returning or reinvesting the money in socially aware programs is a band-aid. Yes, if you were a scientist who turned a blind eye to the creepy guy who was giving you all that money, you should be punished appropriately, and taking away your ill-gotten gains seems like an entirely reasonable and fair response. If somebody just hands you a million dollars, would you just pocket it without asking where it came from or what was expected in return? If an authority comes along later and takes away that free pile of money you accepted, no questions asked, you’ve got no grounds to complain…especially not when they tell you what you should have inquired about in the first place, that it was given to you by a criminal.
It’s only a start, though. The system is broken. When we’re dependent on the generosity of billionaires to get any science done, that skews the outcome — your funding is no longer coupled to any measure of merit, but on your skill at schmoozing and pandering to fat cats, and on your association with over-hyped organizations like Harvard. Taking money away from scientists does not fix the system. What we need to do is take that power away from the billionaires, and nothing in this solution is going to discomfit the unearned prestige and influence of the criminally wealthy.
Look around your university. See all those fancy buildings named after well-off alumni? That’s the problem, that we rely on the whims of assholes who inherited or stumbled into or stole great wealth, and they use science as Epstein did, as a cosmetic to cover up their crimes and make themselves look better than they are.