How’s MIT doing lately?


MIT seems to be having a bad day week month year, and new horrors keep tumbling out all the time. Thanks, Jeffrey Epstein, the one good you did in your life was to make corruption visible!

  • You know, Richard Stallman has always been an egotistical jerk, so he had to poke his head up and demonstrate it once again. His latest is to claim that Epstein’s “harem” — I guess that’s his word for “victims” — were “mostly willing”. Ugh. You aren’t helping, rms. Crawl back into your hole.
  • Joi Ito pressured other faculty, like Naomi Oxman, to participate in rewarding Epstein for his “anonymous” gifts, and they in turn pressured their students to create and send gifts to him. What’s interesting is that the students were the ones to immediately question the whole process, and to feel guilty about succumbing to pressure afterwards. I guess MIT hadn’t had enough time to pound the ethics out of them yet.

I’ve noted elsewhere that the rich get richer, and colleges with already massive endowments tend to be the recipients of more corrupt gift giving…so they inherit all the filth that comes with the filthy lucre. I suspect our small liberal arts colleges would be just as guilty if billionaires were trying to impress their peers by giving us money.

Comments

  1. Becca Stareyes says

    ‘Mostly willing’ is a pinnacle example of ‘damning with faint praise’. Even setting aside that we accept that children are not able to give informed consent, one doesn’t get credit for ‘only some of the people I’ve stuck my dick into were raped’, any more than ‘I don’t steal everything I acquire’ or ‘I have only murdered less than 1% of the people I’ve ever met and that’s practically 0 when you think about it’.

  2. PaulBC says

    For all kinds of reasons, I would like to like rms, but I’m sick of making excuses. He’s off my list.

    Stallman’s not quite the same as convicted murderer Hans Reiser (here I go anyway, trying to be nice), but it’s easier to avoid ReiserFS than everything released under GNU GPL. But gimme a break. Stallman should just shut up or at least crawl out of his hole and learn about the many cultural changes in the past 45 years before opening his mouth again. Austin Powers at least had an excuse for his ignorance.

  3. F.O. says

    I’m very disappointed in Richard Stallman. What else did he do to deserve the “egotistical jerk” title?

  4. garnetstar says

    The article says “MIT required that Epstein’s gifts to [the] lab be kept confidential, “so as to not enhance his reputation by association with MIT.”

    Paradoxically, the opposite occured: MIT’s reputation has been degraded by association with Epstein.

    Funny how often that happens.

  5. Matt Cramp says

    #5: luckily, the ’emacs or vi’ holy war has been settled for a few years now: use something that does code completion instead. Don’t subject yourself to the arcane and terrible user interfaces of these old tools, and don’t listen to the old farts who are too inflexible to change.

    Which kind of describes Richard Stallman, as well, doesn’t it. An old fart who never changed, who’d long since burned through any goodwill he had in the field (the fact he had any after the toejam incident is surprising).

  6. says

    Stallman has always been a creep. And it’s not just on social issues, he’s a jerk on his computer-related stances, too.

    He’s not actually all that great of a programmer — all the stuff he gets credit for is stuff he inherited or copied from other people, like vi, and his big project, the GNU Hurd, never took off because even with help from others via open source, he couldn’t get it working. (In much the same way that Windows was originally only meant to be a stopgap while IBM got OS/2 working, the FOSS crowd spent years claiming that Linux was only stopgap while they got Hurd working… Hurd is now nearly 30 years old, having been started in 1990, and I doubt one computer user in a hundred has even heard of it, no pun intended; I think I saw an article a few years ago saying they finally got it to reliably boot. That’s Stallman’s engineering and programming skill, that is.)

    And then there’s the GPL. Although I hate to agree with Steve Ballmer, GPL really is like cancer — once it “infects” a product, it has to take over the whole thing, and that’s by design. Once you go with the GPL, you’re pretty much stuck with it — it’s essentially impossible to switch licenses afterwards, to the point that the Linux kernel started off on GPL version 2 and can’t even switch to version 3 of the same license, because the terms are too restrictive. Way to go! IIRC, in a radio interview in the 1990s, Stallman admitted that the terms of the LGPL (the supposedly “safe” version of the GPL for inclusion in larger projects which are not GPL) are deliberately vague in hopes that a large software corporation like Apple or Microsoft will make the mistake of using an LGPL product in commercial software and can be forced to make everything in their entire project open-source. So trustworthy!

    Which sounds great — who likes large corporations? — but it applies equally to small programmers as well. GPL hasn’t killed off Windows or the Mac OS or Adobe, but it has destroyed “shareware”. There used to be a lot of small, independent programmers making a living by writing usually fairly high-quality code, and the open-source movement has completely killed that by producing a mountain of garbage projects which may not work very well but which are free, which may not eliminate all the customers for shareware but successfully make independent software development economically non-viable as a profession. Stallman said, somewhere back in the early 1990s, that he would like programming to be a job which pays as well as burger-flipping. He did not mean that in the leftist “there is no unskilled labor/fast food workers should be paid a living wage” sense, but rather in the sense of “programming should not pay enough to make a living”. And he said, furthermore, that the GPL was in part an attempt to make that happen. As with many FOSS people, Stallman de facto wants computers to become something that upper-class people who are already rich play with as a hobby, and if you aren’t already rich enough to keep up with that, then you should be locked out.

    (And then there’s the other half of the answer to the question “who likes large corporations?” Stallman may not want people to make a living being programmers, but he loves it when large corporations use FOSS products and charge just as much for services as they did when they weren’t using FOSS products. He crowed about IBM adopting Linux for quite a while. What a hypocrite.)

  7. hemidactylus says

    I am not sure whether Torvalds is verboten but he does have some personality issues. His infamous middle finger toward NVIDIA is priceless. Is he as bad as Stallmann. I use a Jobs mobile product derived from Darwin OS derived from BSD now almost exclusively and cringe.

    No heroes?:

    https://youtu.be/_36yNWw_07g

    Conflicted!

  8. dangerousbeans says

    After that comment, someone should probably have a close look at Stallmann too. That sounds awfully like someone trying to justify their actions…

  9. colinday says

    #9

    GNU Hurd was designed as a microkernel, which is tricky to implement. Linus just used a macrokernel, which is easier to implement.

  10. anbheal says

    It’s revealing on how all the fan-boy commenters below the article who start blasting away at MIT women, whom they claim are inflating the charges and not being fair to the poor pedophile-enabler genius, do not publish comments under their real name. Almost as if they lack the courage of their convictions, but are simply Incel/MGTOWs lobbing grenades at the evil of women not wanting to be assaulted or harrassed.

  11. PaulBC says

    colinday@12

    GNU Hurd was designed as a microkernel, which is tricky to implement.

    Apparently too tricky to see the light of day in any usable form. I’m a software engineer, and I know that saying “Well, it would have been really impressive if I got it to work.” is rarely received with as much satisfaction as a working deliverable.

  12. maeve57 says

    So I clicked on the Richard Stallman link and read through the whole thing. He never said the victims were “mostly willing.” He actually said the opposite, they were coerced, but may have acted as if they were consenting adults. Have I missed something? Why is pointing that out that (obvious?) fact bad?

  13. John Morales says

    maeve57, you have a minor technical quibble, but you’re spinning it wrong, for it was not opposite. It was risible speculative exculpation.

    The actual quotation is: “We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing.”

    Since it also suggests the (ahem) presentation was taken at face-value and the age was not apparent, it’s an attempted exculpation but actually a tacit admission. Worse than futile.

  14. John Morales says

    [pedantry to address your actual quibble]

    So, he could have written “the most plausible scenario is that she was entirely willing”, but instead wrote “the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing.”

    From that it follows that she was not entirely willing, given the otherwise otiose qualification.
    So, since it was not entirely willing, but willing enough to present, “mostly willing” seems an entirely accurate summation, actually the opposite of opposite.

  15. Andrew Dalke says

    #9: emacs development started a few years before vi so I don’t know what Stallman could have inherited or copied from it then.

    Most programming is “inherited or copied” from other systems. Bill Joy says that “Most of the stuff [in vi] was stolen”, at https://web.archive.org/web/20120210184000/http://web.cecs.pdx.edu/~kirkenda/joy84.html .

    While the viral nature of the GPL is by design, the GPLv2-only nature of the Linux kernel is because Torvalds does not like GPLv3 because of its prohibitions on DRM, see https://www.cnet.com/news/torvalds-no-gpl-3-for-linux/ .

    The Linux kernel copyright notice could have said “either version 2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version”, allowing users to switch to v3 if desired. Torvalds decided to not include that option. This can be by design; it depends on how much trust you have in the FSF, because you are giving them complete control over your project’s license.

    I have no idea about the vagueness of the LGPL in the 1990s. LGPLv3 is the GPLv3 with additional permissions, and was reviewed by many people.

    I don’t think GPL has destroyed ‘shareware’. The iPhone app store prohibits the GPL, which gives an idea of what an no-GPL world looks like – it’s still hard for an ISV to make money. What’s changed since 30 years ago is that a lot more people know how to program now, so we’re competing against each other.

    In the GNU Manifesto, Stallman writes: “Probably programming will not be as lucrative on the new basis as it is now. But that is not an argument against the change. It is not considered an injustice that sales clerks make the salaries that they now do. If programmers made the same, that would not be an injustice either. (In practice they would still make considerably more than that.)”

    I find it hard to think that 10 years later he was saying programming would “be a job which pays as well as burger-flipping.” Is there any more concrete evidence that he’s changed his views than your memory?

    I agree with your characterization of many FOSS people. I believe that Stallman and the GPL are on the lower end of that scale. Zed Shaw, who is highly critical of FOSS in https://changelog.com/podcast/300 , had an essay about why he uses GPL over non-viral licenses, at https://web.archive.org/web/20111117123713/http://zedshaw.com/essays/why_i_gpl.html . It was strongly in resistance to working for free for other companies.

    Stallman has no problems with people making money from free software. At https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html he comments “if you are redistributing copies of free software, you might as well charge a substantial fee and make some money”. And he would have crowed about IBM was using GNU/Linux.

  16. uniquediagonal says

    #16:

    The actual quotation is: “We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing.”

    The quote is part of an argument in defense of Minsky from a “sexual assault” accusation.

    In that context I don’t believe the statement is so damning for Stallman. He’s merely saying that presenting as willing means no violence and therefore no assault.

  17. PaulBC says

    @19

    In that context I don’t believe the statement is so damning for Stallman.

    It’s damningly tone deaf for Stallman to think anyone is interested in hearing a qualified defense of Marvin Minsky. I for one am not. Obviously Minsky is an iconic figure in AI and people will try to defend him, so it’s unsurprising, particularly for someone close to him.

    I would have patience to hear an actual defense that cleared Minsky from all accusations. About the last thing I’m interested in hearing is spin and minimization. My working assumption is that despite his accomplishments, he was a big creep like so many other powerful men. (And spare me the speechifying about the burden of proof; this is not a criminal trial.)

    I have absolutely no interest in lowering standards, particularly for those who are going to benefit from strong positive perception in the first place. Anyway, died several years back. I care about his victims, not his posthumous reputation.

  18. PaulBC says

    And to be a little more objective about where I stand on this, Stallman has a different take on the nature of consent in sex between adults and minors. If part of his defense is effectively “he didn’t know she was underage” that is no defense at all. Clearly, it’s the adult’s job to know. If the adult fails at this, they are culpable, not the minor who might have a weaker understanding of consent (one reason they can’t give consent).

    Am I correct that Stallman actually doesn’t agree with me on most of what I just wrote and simply has a different idea of minor consent? (Correct me if I’m wrong here.) If so, I am entirely uninterested in his spin on these accusations. We’re looking at it from different base assumptions.

  19. F.O. says

    @colinday #4: being strident about software it’s more or less Stallman’s job, so I’m fine with it, I tend to use GPL for my personal projects, but even just shifting the overtone window is good IMHO.
    Also, I’m a professional developer and use vim as my code editor.

    The defense of Epstein, the mysoginy, the ableism however are completely unacceptable and I am extremely disappointed with him.

  20. maeve57 says

    John Morales,
    I don’t think inverting the truth is a minor technical quibble. Stallman says the girls were coerced, full stop. But, since Minsky didn’t do the coercing, he may not have known what was going on. From his perspective, he may have seen a completely willing adult female.
    There’s a huge different between Stallman saying someone “is” willing and saying someone “presents themselves as” willing. You can’t just gloss over that and assume they’re the same thing..

    Also, PZ didn’t say he was summing up Stallman’s view, he put “mostly willing” in quotation marks, indicating a direct quote. That’s not true, and he should correct it.

  21. John Morales says

    maeve57:

    I don’t think inverting the truth is a minor technical quibble.

    Neither do I, but that did not occur. And I’ve shown you why @17.

    (Stallman did not say that in so many words, but it’s certainly the gist)

    Stallman says the girls were coerced, full stop.

    Really. Then you should be able to adduce a quotation to that effect from his exculpation.

    (Care to attempt the feat?)

    From his perspective, he may have seen a completely willing adult female.

    Yes, that’s the gist of the speculative exculpation at hand. Which you apparently find convincing.

    There’s a huge different between Stallman saying someone “is” willing and saying someone “presents themselves as” willing.

    I already noted that #17. Thing is, it’s a difference that is revealing.

    And again, Stallman is purely speculating, picks what he considers a plausible scenario, adds an assumption or two, and presto: Minsky was just naively partaking of a host’s generosity, nothing more.

    Also, PZ didn’t say he was summing up Stallman’s view, he put “mostly willing” in quotation marks, indicating a direct quote.

    Quotation marks have more than one use; you yourself used “is”, above, and you weren’t quoting.
    More notably, the term is the anchor to a hyperlink, so it’s clearly being used as shorthand for the content of the linked article.

    That’s not true, and he should correct it.

    You mean you think that’s not true and that he should correct it.

    (Not the same thing)

  22. John Morales says

    uniquediagonal @19:

    In that context I don’t believe the statement is so damning for Stallman. He’s merely saying that presenting as willing means no violence and therefore no assault.

    But he doesn’t know either way, does he? He says as much.

    Specifically:
    The word “assaulting” presumes that he applied force or violence, in
    some unspecified way, but the article itself says no such thing.
    Only that they had sex.

    (Even then, it’s just language-games.
    Like saying the casting couch is not sexual assault, basically)

    So, what’s damning is the attempted but speculative defence based on a terminological technicality. As I noted (and as is evident from the existence of this very OP), worse than futile. He’s put himself on the radar, and not in a good way.

  23. Owlmirror says

    FWIW, there’s now a Remove Richard Stallman: Appendix A, which does include:

    I would also like to clarify that in some headlines, including this Daily Beast one, Stallman is said to have defended Epstein, which is not technically true. Rather, Stallman was defending Marvin Minsky. I directly emailed and corrected reporters who used that language if I myself had given them any comments or information. I say this to show that I never intended to “inflate” anything, because there was absolutely no need to.

  24. PaulBC says

    John Morales@24

    And again, Stallman is purely speculating, picks what he considers a plausible scenario, adds an assumption or two, and presto: Minsky was just naively partaking of a host’s generosity, nothing more.

    Digressing here, but how plausible is this? I’m sure I am at least as naive as Marvin Minsky. Yet if I was in that situation and not fully aware of my host’s intentions, I would probably assume I was being set up for blackmail. Epstein had enough money not to do it for monetary reasons, but there are other reasons he might want to have some dirt on someone of Minsky’s stature.

    What I find most disillusioning is that I would have considered someone like Minsky a serious, responsible person, and here he is his acting with wild abandon, potentially throwing away a life’s reputation (this is the point aside from harm to the victim). The other side of it is that he was probably so accustomed to be treated as a VIP above any normal level of scrutiny (that’s for the little people) that maybe it never even would have occurred to him that there was the slightest risk.

    Anyway you slice it, it stinks. There is a privileged class that believes it’s above the law and above public scrutiny.

  25. maeve57 says

    John Morales:

    Stallman said: Epstein coerced women into having sex with Minsky, but Minsky may not have known.

    PZ Myers said: Stallman said Epstein’s harem was “mostly willing”.

    The second claim is the inverse of the first. There’s really no getting around it. Stallman wrote: “Assuming she [the girl who had sex with Minsky] was being coerced by Epstein he would have had every reason to conceal that from most of his associates.”

    https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/9ke3ke/famed-computer-scientist-richard-stallman-described-epstein-victims-as-entirely-willing

    The point of the OP was not to parse what Minsky was or was not thinking when he had sex with the victim. The point of the OP was to point and laugh at Stallman for saying something incredibly stupid, that the victims were “mostly willing”.

    So what happens when it turns out Stallman doesn’t say that at all, but in fact said the opposite? You play word games and try to invent a scenario where PZ wasn’t wrong. How about just calling him out? He was, and is, wrong about what Stallman wrote. As are you.

  26. John Morales says

    maeve57:

    Stallman said: Epstein coerced women into having sex with Minsky, but Minsky may not have known.

    Ctrl-F indicates that is not a quotation. Try again, or admit you are incorrect when you assert “Stallman says the girls were coerced, full stop.”

    (He didn’t, you won’t find that there. Closest you will get is yet another speculative claim: “Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein”)

    PZ Myers said: Stallman said Epstein’s harem was “mostly willing”.

    Well, yes. This is also incorrect, he only said it of one member, and speculatively at that.

    The second claim is the inverse of the first.

    The second claim has only one clause, the first has two, so it can’t possibly be an inverse.
    More to the point, it is possible to both be coerced and mostly willing; be aware that ‘mostly willing’ can be expressed as ‘somewhat unwilling’ without loss of meaning.

    Stallman wrote: “Assuming she [the girl who had sex with Minsky] was being coerced by Epstein he would have had every reason to conceal that from most of his associates.”

    Interesting elision. Let me click-and-paste from the original: “Assuming she was
    being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her
    to conceal that from most of his associates.”

    (Who is supposedly doing the concealing?)

    The point of the OP was to point and laugh at Stallman for saying something incredibly stupid, that the victims were “mostly willing”.

    You think so? Heh.

    You play word games and try to invent a scenario where PZ wasn’t wrong.

    Word-games? Might as well call mathematics number-games.

    So what happens when it turns out Stallman doesn’t say that at all, but in fact said the opposite?

    You obstinately persist in making this claim, and so we return to the beginning of this comment.

    (Done like a dinner, you are)

  27. maeve57 says

    John Morales,

    Is this what you do when you’re wrong? Dig in like a tick?

    I can understand someone making a passing read of Stallman’s comments and thinking he might have said Epstein’s victims were “mostly willing”. But for someone, like yourself, who claims to have read the comments in detail, it’s either clear bias or wilful ignorance. The premise of Stallman’s comments was that Epstein had coerced his victims. He didn’t say, like a someone pontificating on a hypothetical, “let’s assume the earth is flat for a moment.” If Epstein were NOT coercing his victims, little else of what Stallman wrote about Minsky would make sense.

    Again, to claim, as PZ and yourself have, that Stallman claimed even a single victim of Epstein’s was at all willing to have sex with Minsky is a lie. What he wrote is in black and white.

    You’re not going to listen to me, I’m sure. Like any good skeptic you’re so invested in your theory that no amount of evidence will likely sway you. But everyone else reading this knows you’re wrong. Is it so hard to just admit it? Is it so hard to just say, “you’re right, I screwed that up?”

    I’d have some respect for you if that were the case.

  28. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    oooh! FERENGI! The long stalled one filled out to near completion a table’s worth of skeezeball bingo cards, then maeve57 swooped in to finish them off.

  29. John Morales says

    maeve57:

    Is this what you do when you’re wrong? Dig in like a tick?

    You’ll never know.

    Is it so hard to just admit it? Is it so hard to just say, “you’re right, I screwed that up?”

    The irony is palpable.

    I’d have some respect for you if that were the case.

    <snicker>

    I’d like your respect about as much as I’d like a turd in my pocket.

  30. colinday says

    @FO
    #22

    Yes, it’s Stallman’s job, but his stridency (along with his conception of software freedom) rubs some people the wrong way.

  31. maeve57 says

    John Morales,

    I thought I was done, but I’m not. Your point is even stupider than I first thought.

    “More to the point, it is possible to both be coerced and mostly willing; be aware that ‘mostly willing’ can be expressed as ‘somewhat unwilling’ without loss of meaning.”

    Whatever point you’re trying to make with this particular definitional game is irrelevant. Stallman assumes coercion, as is more than aptly demonstrated by the text. He makes no other judgement about the victim at all. He doesn’t question whether the victim was somewhat or mostly or fully willing, he speculates on that not a bit, except to assume she was coerced. He only speculates about how the victim presented herself and about what Minsky perceived. One can be coerced to present oneself as willing, right?

    Or are there any more silly word games you’d like to play?

  32. John Morales says

    maeve57:

    I thought I was done, but I’m not. Your point is even stupider than I first thought.

    Heh.

    Stallman assumes coercion, as is more than aptly demonstrated by the text.

    And yet, you could not (and cannot) sustain that claim. Rembemer how I challenged you to adduce an actual quotation, and you could not?

    He makes no other judgement about the victim at all. He doesn’t question whether the victim was somewhat or mostly or fully willing, he speculates on that not a bit, except to assume she was coerced.

    So, you hold he assumes she was coerced, but simultaneously hold that is not at all indicative of whether the victim was “somewhat or mostly or fully willing”.

    Whatever point you’re trying to make with this particular definitional game is irrelevant.

    Your blustering is most satisfactory. You can’t dispute it, thus the “sour grapes” defence is your only solace.

    Or are there any more silly word games you’d like to play?

    Game is done, but sure; chewtoys like you don’t come along all that often, these days.

    (You squeak most satisfactorily)

  33. PaulBC says

    maeve57@34

    He only speculates about how the victim presented herself and about what Minsky perceived.

    As I said (more or less) earlier, Minsky, as the only adult present had the sole legal responsibility of being correct in assessing whether he was with a minor or another adult. He should have considered the possibility he was with a minor and acted accordingly. So it’s no defense at all, and really shows poor judgment on Stallman’s part to bring it up at all. What is his point?

  34. John Morales says

    PaulBC,

    What is his point?

    You know what the point is. That the Lolita express, the harem, the very circumstance would not have sufficiently informed Minsky, who was just a well-meaning naif who indulged in a bit of young flesh provided by his host. Mere hospitality. Nothing to see here, move on.

    (OK, technically, the point was that Minsky was not to blame, it was all (deceased) Epstein’s doing. All of it. And Minksy was just an innocent who did not understand what was going on)

  35. F.O. says

    @colinday #33
    Being an asshole to oppressed groups is a moral failure.
    Not taking a strong, clear stance against sexual violence of minors is a moral failure.
    Even just behaving like an asshole or a creep is a moral failure.
    Stallman did all of the above, and this reduces the respect I had for him to below zero.

    But “Rubbing people the wrong way” is not a moral failure.
    You can’t challenge the status quo without “rubbing people the wrong way”.

  36. isochron says

    And Stallman has resigned from MIT citing people pressuring MIT due to a misconstruing of his statements. I think he should have kept his foolish nose out of things about which he can merely speculate without knowledge.

  37. John Morales says

    PS pullquote:

    Stalman’s resignation comes just days after Motherboard published an email thread in which Stallman suggests that “most plausible scenario” is that Epstein’s underage victims were “entirely willing.”

    Makes PZ look far better than that publication, his characterisation is justifiable at least.

    Pretty obvious the article was written by people synthesising secondary sources.

  38. KG says

    I’m nearly a decade younger than Minsky at the time of the sexual exploitation Giuffre recounts, and (at least in my own judgement) somewhat less physically unattractive. But if a teenage girl or young woman appeared to be willing to have sex with me, I’d be absolutely certain it wasn’t because she found the prospect appealing. (I know power or fame are supposedly a turn-on for many, but a professor of AI not one person in a thousand has heard of? Srsly?)

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