Carsten Agger on Wed, 25 Sep 2019 23:06:42 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> MIT's nearly complete disgrace

Things have really been looking bad for MIT and the "cool tech",
WIRED-style tech-optimist movement in the last weeks (or months).

First, it turns out several professors at MIT and Harvard have been
closely connected to the deceased billionaire and alleged trafficker and
convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Among the accused of either
complicity of rape and trafficking or, *at the very least*, enabling and
reputation-washing in exchange for money, are as renowned scientists as
Marvin Minsky, George Church and Steven Pinker.

After this, it turns out that Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab,
Mecca and bonanza of the WIRED-style technotopian movement, has secretly
been taken Epstein's money. The secrecy is allegedly so that it won't
help launder Epstein's reputation, but soon it seems to be much more
related to the embarassment of it all. Not only was Epstein a secret
donor - he was also a very important fundraising collaborator and even
showed up for meetings at MIT with his very young paid female
companions, raising eyebrows and concerns not least among female staff
and students.

Apparently, Ito had received this money and concealed its origin in
violation of MIT's rules on people like Epstein. But then it turned out
that MIT president Rafel Reif had just as secretly OK'd the deal; not
only that, he had signed receipts for at least one other donations from
Epstein in 2012, when Epstein was barely out of probation for his 2008
conviction for soliciting a minor for prostitution. 

And *then*, it turned out that one of the Media Lab's absolute flagship
creations of later years, the much-hyped food computer, never actually
worked. When they had to demo it, programme lead Caleb Harper had an
assistant fetch some lettuce or lavender plants in the supermarket and
dust off the dirt from the roots so it'd seem they were grown
hydroponically. This did not, however, dispel them from wasting several
schools' time by sending out assembly kits for the botched things for
the students to assemble.

And as if all of this wasn't enough, the MIT Media Lab and the Food
Computer programme consistently violated regulations by dumping toxic
waste from said non-functional food computers with far too much nitrogen
in it.

I honestly don't know what to say anymore.



"This is not about Open Agriculture, per se, or Caleb Harper," he said.
"This is a bigger issue… I took every action I could, to go through the
right channels to address it. I came to a point that I realized that the
institution, apparently, has made a decision not to address this."

In January 2019, Joseph Cerutti, a DEP employee who handles its disposal
well program, emailed Carter, the EHS officer, asking for the monthly
reports her office was required to send to his agency the previous year.
Carter had told him the lab hadn't discharged anything into the well
from April through June of 2018, but there were still nine months of
missing reports.

After a month without a response, Cerutti wrote back with a terse
reminder, adding Harper to the email. If Cerutti didn't get answers
within the next two weeks, he would issue a notice of noncompliance,
followed by possible fines and revocation of the permit.

Harper responded quickly, writing, "We have been following the protocol
agreed with EHS which was for any agricultural effluent was to be spread
in the open field and NOT put into the UIC system."

Cerutti seemed unaware of this. The lab's permit only allowed MIT
researchers to use the well. "When was the protocol to exclusively
discharge the hydroponic growing solution to the open field rather than
to the UIC well implemented?" he wrote back.

After a phone call with Carter in April, Cerutti was still left with
basic questions. In June, he asked for copies of all nitrogen water
sample results since January 2018. Carter responded in early July,
attaching results since July 2018, but not the samples from March that
frequently showed concentrations more than 10 times the limit.

State regulators did an on-site inspection of the facility in July. The
investigation is ongoing."

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