Failing upwards

Bill Ackman is a hedge-fund billionaire who was very concerned that an MIT professor allowed a student to promote a pro-Palestine rally. He’s more worried about denying Palestinian civil rights than he is about known sexual harassers in the classroom, though.

Ackman is a major supporter of David Sabatini to the tune of millions of dollars per year. Sabatini, you may recall, was fired twice from major institutions and his attempt to be hired by NYU was aborted by huge demonstrations by the faculty and students there. He is not a good guy. He ran a party lab for dudebros.

In 2021, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute fired Sabatini, and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research forced him out after an investigation by an outside law firm found he violated the institute’s sexual harassment and relationship policies. That investigation found that Sabatini conducted a clandestine sexual relationship with a woman scientist and asked her to meet him for sex on institute grounds. At the time, he was mentoring her in a program he directed while she launched a lab at the Whitehead. The investigation also found, among other behavior, that he created a lab culture that rewarded sexualized banter; implicitly threatened a faculty member who refused to make a place in his lab for a visiting woman scientist whom Sabatini later married; and created a “pervasive” fear of retaliation, for example implying there would be career consequences for lab members who reported unfavorably on him to the outside investigators or who discussed rumors that he was sexually pursuing a woman undergraduate from another institution.

I figured that with three strikes he was finally out, no matter how much money a rich boob threw his way. I even made a prediction: “He’ll go get a job in construction or pharmaceutical sales and we won’t have to worry about his unpleasant influence on academia anymore.”

I was wrong, so wrong. He’s starting up a new lab in Prague.

David Sabatini, the high-flying biologist who lost positions at three prominent U.S. institutions after breaching sexual misconduct policies, last month began a new job as a senior scientist at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry Prague (IOCB), a powerful arm of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS). The hire has divided Czech scientists and is likely to ignite debate about whether and when institutions should give second chances to those who commit sexual misconduct.

He’s like an antibiotic-resistant venereal disease. He keeps flaring up when you least expect it, and when you think you’ve finally beaten it back.

IOCB Director Jan Konvalinka said in a statement: “We believe that [Sabatini] has been punished enough for his previous actions and that the research community will be served best if this brilliant scientist returns to research.” He added that IOCB “will require that Dr. Sabatini follows the same high standards of conduct and respectful behavior that is expected from every other principal investigator.”

Yeah, that’s what the Whitehead, MIT, and NYU all said, too. When will people learn that “high standards of conduct and respectful behavior” aren’t in his repertoire?

Probably about the time that rich Republican jerks stop bankrolling him, I bet.


  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    You know, back when I was a right-wing Catholic shit, assholes like Sabatini would have revolted me regardless of their personal ideology. Sure, my objections would have been based on sexist concepts like “chivalry” and the Catholic’s moronic taboo against premarital sex, but back then I would think that conservatives would be quick to ditch this lecher.

    Boy, was I wrong.

  2. deadbolt says

    As someone who works in construction, please don’t pawn him off on us. Send him to one of Elon’s Mars colonies instead. He’d probably be like Musk and demand the end of well-tested safety protocols like brightly colored hazard indicators and equipment that helps with visibility. Such trifles that help the expendable to stay alive can’t be allowed to impede progress. If you don’t believe Musk does that sort of thing, read articles like this one:

  3. says

    I’m not disparaging construction work. I’ve had a couple of colleagues who got fed up with the whole academic rat race and left to go into construction, because it paid well and left them feeling productive.

  4. says

    What’s this guy working on, that IOCB can’t find anyone more credible to do? It can’t be something copyrighted, because any work he’d done for any employer would be owned by the employer, not him — which would make him LESS desirable to hire, not more so.

  5. Artor says

    Perhaps Sabatini is taking career advice from Andrew Tate? “Go to Eastern Europe, where they won’t bother to prosecute you for sex crimes.” Let’s hope it works as well for Sabatini as it has for Tate.

  6. chrislawson says

    ‘…has been punished enough…’???

    Regardless of one’s position on the how sufficiently Sabatini has been punished, it’s not the point. What matters is the risk he poses to colleagues and students.

  7. gijoel says

    @6 The downside to that is some poor woman (more likely dozens) will be harassed and bullied by him before anyone in Prague will do anything.

  8. John Morales says

    gijoel, maybe, maybe not.

    Not like he doesn’t have history, not like women around him are likely to be unaware of it (or be made aware of it if so).
    Also, I doubt women in Prague are particularly diffident.

  9. Matt G says

    He’s done this at three other institutions – surely he won’t do it here (despite the fact that he experienced zero consequences)….

  10. wzrd1 says

    Maybe it’s a plot to bring Prague back into the Russian fold.
    After all, rape porn largely originates in Russia, as I learned horrifically via a badly botched search on a specific cultivar of grape.
    Amazing what missing a g gets you, no need for an emetic that day.
    Upside was, wearing glasses and not missing the g got my grape.

    Alas, I’m not joking.

  11. gijoel says

    @9 I don’t doubt that Czech women are any more diffident than any other women in the Western World. But there seems to be some powerful people in the IOCB willing to go out on a limb to hire him. Those people will also drag their heels when the inevitable complaints about Sabatini’s behaviour come streaming in.

    Even if all the women he cracks on to are on to him, and know how to deal with it, they still have to put up with misogynistic comments, and sexual harassment, and the long delays that powers that be take with dealing with him. And that’s something no one should have to put up with.