Culture & Ethics
#10 of Our Top Stories of 2019: Jeffrey Epstein and the Silence of the Scientists
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The following article was originally published here on September 24, 2019.
Literary scholars have an adage about the interpretation of texts. They point out that the really important things in a text are often what is not said, more so than what is said. To really understand a story, you have to read between the lines. What should be in the story, but was left out? What was the motive for the omissions? This often reveals deep purposes and themes that are obscured in the explicit words on the page. It’s analogous to Sherlock Holmes’s dog that didn’t bark. Silence is often the real meaning in a story.
The scientific scandal involving pedophile Jeffery Epstein is horrifying, but it’s vital that we understand the real meaning of the collaboration between Epstein and the science elites. The most important meaning in that partnership between Epstein and leading Darwinists and computer scientists isn’t in the depravity of the man and his elite scientific friends. The most important meaning is in the silence in the scientific community in the midst of this atrocity. It is, I believe, a revelation about our scientific culture and particularly about the trust we should place in a “science consensus” that should shake us to our bones. It is what didn’t happen in the Epstein story, even more than what did happen, that reveals the most.
What Didn’t Happen
What didn’t happen is this: there was no dissent in the scientific profession about taking guidance and money from a convicted pedophile who was obviously trafficking children for sex. Not a word. At every stage of this repellant saga, from Epstein’s early forays into scientific patronage twenty years ago through his conviction for child prostitution in 2008 to his largesse as a patron of elite Darwinists and computer scientists at MIT, Harvard, the Santa Fe Institute, the transhumanist project Humanity Plus, and many others in the decade that followed, there was, from the scientific community, abject silence. Thousands of elite and pedestrian scientists benefitted from Epstein’s philanthropy and camaraderie. Thousands more knew of Epstein’s courtship rituals — with scientists and with children — and said absolutely nothing. What happened on the Lolita Express and Pedophile Island, while probably known to many of Epstein’s elite science pals, were known as well (at least in outline) to the thousands of ordinary scientists and administrators who cashed his checks and worked in his labs.
Only Whispered Questions
There were whispered questions, undeniably. Obvious questions. There must have been daily whispers in labs and hallways and coffee rooms. ‘Why is Dr. So-and-So taking trips with this guy?” “What do you think is happening with all of those little girls?” “Where does the money come from?”
The answers were in broad daylight. Epstein’s life was an open Internet page. Thousands of scientists and administrators — even those not directly involved with Epstein and the children he trafficked— asked these questions and knew the answers.
No one said a word. Why?
A Pariah for Life
Some years ago, at a scientific conference, I had a private chat with a colleague from another university. His research was in a rather obscure topic in biology, but he was a scientist of the first rank. He was a superb investigator, and quite senior and widely respected. He told me that he knew that I was involved in intelligent design, and he thanked me for what I was doing. He told me that he was a Christian. He said that a lot of scientists know that Darwinism is a charade, and he was thankful for scientists who were speaking out, but he couldn’t do so, although he desperately wanted to. He said his wife was sick, and that if he spoke out, he “would never get another grant.” A single public statement endorsing ID or critiquing Darwinism in any meaningful way would make him a pariah for the rest of his life. “My career would end the day I spoke out,” he told me. He said that his wife’s life depended on her current medical care, and he would be unable to afford her care if he lost his position. He said he felt terrible that he couldn’t speak out publicly, but he had a responsibility to his family and they would suffer if his career went into the abyss.
Scientists, especially scientists in academia, are uniquely vulnerable to professional destruction if they stray from the herd. Their life hangs on peer-review. Just look at the vituperation — the ostracism, ridicule, and even hate — rained upon Mike Behe or Jonathan Wells or Guillermo Gonzalez or Bill Dembski or Richard Sternberg or any of the other courageous scientists who had the integrity to question the Darwinian “consensus.”
As the Epstein scandal shows with striking clarity, dissent on matters of importance is forbidden in the scientific community. Scientists will engage in or tolerate all manner of lie and vice to protect their careers. They “go along to get along.” They join the consensus that Jeffrey Epstein is a wonderful patron and his money is untainted, just as they join the consensus that Darwinian evolution is a “fact.” Many — perhaps even most — do not do it because they believe it. They do it for professional survival.
The profound revelation from the Epstein scandal is that the scientific community is silent in the face of obvious lies, criminality and moral atrocities. Scientists at MIT and Harvard and the coterie of institutions on whom Epstein rained largesse obviously knew enough about Epstein to know that association with him was immoral and his money probably came from child sex trafficking (they could know with a mouse click that Epstein had no college degree and sketchy experience in finance — his primary enterprise seemed to be making little girls available to rich men), but they stuck with the consensus and said nothing. Their scientific careers came first.
Kept in the Club
There was a scientific consensus — held by thousands of scientists at all levels of the profession — that Jeffrey Epstein was a great patron. Any doubts — and there must have been agonizing doubts for twenty years — were kept in the club. There is also a scientific consensus that nothing makes sense except in light of Darwinian evolution. Held, as it turns out, by many of the same scientists who cashed Epstein’s checks. There was, and is, no dissent.
This is the lesson from the Epstein scandal. Scientists are first and foremost devoted to their own professional survival, and they will toe any line to survive. The will lie, cheat, and steal for professional security. They will even tacitly endorse child rape and child sex trafficking — and personally profit from it — to avoid the professional abyss. Science is conducted under a code of omertà. Dissent is punished, mercilessly.
As a measure of scientific (and moral) truth, scientific “consensus” is worthless.
Photo: Little St. James Island, aka Pedophile Island, where Jeffrey Epstein showed his appreciation for science and scientists, by Navin75, via Flickr (cropped).