September 18, 2019

2 Prominent Academics to Cut Ties to M.I.T. Media Lab Over Epstein Link

2 Prominent Academics to Cut Ties to M.I.T. Media Lab Over Epstein Link


Two educators affiliated with the M.I.T. Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that they would end their relationships with the research institute over its ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy financier who was facing federal sex-trafficking charges when he killed himself this month.

The planned departures of the educators, the associate professor Ethan Zuckerman and the visiting scholar J. Nathan Matias, follow an apology last week by Joichi Ito, the Media Lab’s director, for letting Mr. Epstein donate to the lab through foundations he controlled and to invest in outside funds of Mr. Ito’s that support start-ups. Mr. Ito is also a member of The New York Times Company board.

Mr. Epstein was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan on Aug. 10 after hanging himself. He had long faced accusations that he sexually abused girls. He pleaded guilty in 2008 in Florida to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor, several years before he and Mr. Ito met.

In a deposition unsealed this month, a woman testified that, as a teenager, she was told to have sex with Marvin Minsky, a pioneer in artificial intelligence, on Mr. Epstein’s island in the Virgin Islands. Mr. Minsky, who died in 2016 at 88, was a founder of the Media Lab.

Mr. Zuckerman wrote in a post on Medium on Tuesday that he planned to sever his ties to the Media Lab. He is the director of the M.I.T. Center for Civic Media, a collaboration between the Media Lab and the university’s comparative media studies program.

He wrote that he had spoken to Mr. Ito about Mr. Minsky and the Media Lab’s connections to Mr. Epstein on Aug. 9, and that he had learned that Mr. Epstein had visited the lab and that Mr. Ito had visited Mr. Epstein’s properties. On Aug. 10, Mr. Zuckerman told Mr. Ito that he planned to stop working with the lab by May 2020, the end of the academic year.

“My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view,” Mr. Zuckerman wrote. “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.”

Mr. Zuckerman wrote that his conversation with Mr. Ito this month about Mr. Epstein was the first time the two had talked about Mr. Epstein since 2014. At that time, Mr. Zuckerman wrote, he declined an invitation from Mr. Ito to meet with the financier and he urged Mr. Ito to do the same.

In a separate Medium post on Wednesday, Mr. Matias said that he, too, would be splitting with the lab after the academic year. In his role as a visiting scholar over the past two years, Mr. Matias worked on a project that involved research on protecting women and other vulnerable people from online abuse and harassment, he wrote.

“I cannot with integrity do that from a place with the kind of relationship that the Media Lab has had with Epstein,” he wrote. “It’s that simple.”

Mr. Matias wrote that he had not been aware of Mr. Ito’s ties to Mr. Epstein and that none of Mr. Epstein’s money was funneled to him or his project.

A 2005 doctoral dissertation by an M.I.T. graduate student in computer science thanked Mr. Epstein as one of many “sponsors” of the Media Lab, “for supporting our work.” The author of that dissertation died in 2006. The technology writer Evgeny Morozov surfaced the dissertation on Twitter.

In 2015, M.I.T. denied Mr. Epstein’s claim that he had helped fund a media lab project, Reuters reported at the time.

M.I.T., Mr. Ito, Mr. Zuckerman and Mr. Matias did not respond to requests for comment.





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