Epstein-Linked MIT Media Lab Offered Award for Breaking the Law

Bebeto Matthews/AP

A report by Slate revealed that the MIT Media Lab, which solicited donations from sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, offered an award for students and faculty that engaged in civil disobedience and lawbreaking.

A bombshell report published this week by Slate revealed that the MIT Media Lab had a history of bizarre practices beyond their relationship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

According to the report, former MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito launched the “Disobedience Award” which rewarded employees and students that engaged in “ethical disobedience.” In other words, Ito wanted to reward people for breaking the law. Ito resigned in disgrace last week after a New Yorker report revealed that he had funneled in massive donations from Jeffrey Epstein.

I made my final emotional break with the Media Lab in 2016, when its now-disgraced former director Joi Ito announced the launch of its inaugural “Disobedience Award,” which sought to celebrate “responsible, ethical disobedience aimed at challenging the norms, rules, or laws that sustain society’s injustices” and which was “made possible through the generosity of Reid Hoffman, Internet entrepreneur, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, and most importantly an individual who cares deeply about righting society’s wrongs.” I realized that the things I had once found so exciting about the Media Lab—the architecturally distinct building, the quirky research teams, the robots and the canisters and the exhibits—amounted to a shrewd act of merchandising intended to lure potential donors into cutting ever-larger checks. The lab’s leaders weren’t averse to making the world a better place, just as long as the sponsors got what they wanted in the process.

The report makes the case that the MIT Media Lab as a whole is marked by corruption. The report claims that a significant portion of the research is conducted for the benefit of corporate donors. What does this mean? Researchers at the MIT Media Lab may only receive research funding if their conclusions align with the financial interests of the lab’s donors.

In this, the Media Lab has apotheosized the capitalistic philosophy of its parent institution, which in the 20th century pioneered the now-common nexus between academic science and private industry. In 1919, MIT president Richard Maclaurin developed a document called the “Technology Plan” that sought to create clear ties and channels between the school and corporate America in order to forge “an alliance between [MIT] and certain of the industries in the solving of such technical problems as might be presented and as [MIT] might properly undertake.” The Technology Plan ran counter to the old-fashioned notion that scientists ought to pursue research in order to add to the common store of knowledge, not so that they or their patrons could realize financial gain. The academic scientist’s reward for good work, instead, is acclaim and stature within her community. Theoretically, at least, professors are salaried and tenured so that they can conduct research pursuant to this communal scientific ethos free from any profit imperative.

Breitbart News reported last week that the founder of the MIT Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte, defended their use of Epstein’s funds.

“We all knew he went to jail for soliciting underage prostitution,” said Negroponte. “But we thought he served his term and repented. I even discussed this new leaf with him.”


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