MIT Media Lab director Joichi “Joi” Ito resigned this week after a New Yorker investigative story detailed how he took undisclosed Media Lab donations and other funding from Jeffrey Epstein. In an opinion piece published yesterday in STAT, GPSW director Seth Mnookin outlines how colleges, labs, and cultural institutions can use Ito’s many mistakes, as well as other instances where MIT’s fundraising do not match the Institute’s mission, to critically examine the ethics and politics of accepting research funding.
In addition to outlining what is known about Ito’s relationship with Epstein, Mnookin also covers MIT’s other ethically dubious funding sources, including the famed climate denialistsDavid and Charles Koch, who have two buildings on campus named after them, and the Saudi Arabian regime, which came under fire in the wake of the murder and torture of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Epstein, the Kochs, and the Saudi government all used generous research funding to burnish blatant immorality. Mnookin argues that MIT and research institutions worldwide should take these instances as impetus for starting a much-needed conversation about standards for research funding and what role institutions play in covering sins for bad actors.
You can read Mnookin’s article here. It ends with this: “At the GPSW we solicit donations, but not if you are a pedophile, climate denier, or a member of a murderous regime.” We stand by that.