Epstein's science posse

I have been following the story of the late Jeffrey Epstein very closely. The combination of politics and money for this billionaire alleged child sex trafficker continues to command huge press and public attention. I have been appalled by the sheer number of prominent scientists and intellectuals who have been revealed to be on Epstein’s private plane flight logs, or guests of his salons privées, or grantees of his various charitable foundations.

The Observer has an article by Luke Darby that looks at this aspect of the Epstein story: “Private jets, parties and eugenics: Jeffrey Epstein’s bizarre world of scientists”.

Lawrence Krauss, a physicist who retired from Arizona State University, even continued defending Epstein after his 2008 conviction, telling the Daily Beast in 2011: “As a scientist I always judge things on empirical evidence and he always has women ages 19 to 23 around him, but I’ve never seen anything else, so as a scientist, my presumption is that whatever the problems were I would believe him over other people.” He added, “I don’t feel tarnished in any way by my relationship with Jeffrey; I feel raised by it.”
Other scientists seem to have been drawn to the attention and spotlight that Epstein gave them. Evolutionary biologist George Church, one of the few researchers who has apologized for having contact with Epstein, which he attributes to “nerd tunnel vision”, told STAT News that “he is used to financiers, technologists, and celebrities seeking him out, and has become a quasi-celebrity himself”.

A year ago, I was in a discussion with a number of prominent science journalists about how universities monitor conflicts of interest. One thing that they emphasized was the vulnerability of the enterprise of science to the appearance of being bought by moneyed interests. There is no shortage of people and companies looking to buy credibility.

In the case of Epstein, it seems clear that one reason he paid the bills for various scientists is to buy himself social respectability in a certain circle. The list of scientists willing to sell themselves for this purpose is depressing.