The science world's connections to the now-deceased disgraced financier and alleged child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein came to light at the end of July when the New York Times revealed he'd surrounded himself at various times with scientific luminaries like George Church and Stephen Hawking, in an effort to sell them on his ideas about populating the world with his own progeny. Now, an analysis by Buzzfeed News shows that Epstein gave even more money to scientists after his 2008 conviction for sex crimes than was previously known.
Epstein's scientific friends, including Harvard mathematical biologist Martin Nowak and physicist Lawrence Krauss, introduced him to other leading scientists after his release from jail. The full extent of his donations to various scientists and academic institutions may be millions of dollars higher than the sums recorded by his foundations in filings to the IRS because Epstein's philanthropy is entangled with that of his billionaire associate Leon Black, BuzzFeed says.
Still, Epstein's entaglements in the science world are deep. Nowak seems to have been Epstein's favorite scientist, BuzzFeed says, and was regularly mentioned in press releases issued by his foundations. The financier donated $6.5 million to launch Nowak's Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard in 2003. Nowak told BuzzFeed that this was the only donation he ever received from Epstein and that "the money was spent by about 2007."
However, Nowak also thanked Epstein for financial support in his 2011 book, Supercooperators, on the evolution of altruism, and in at least six scientific papers published between 2009 and 2012 on topics including the spread of cancer through the body and the evolution of HIV, BuzzFeed reports.
Nowak also facilitated meetings between Epstein and other academics at Harvard and MIT. Pictures from one meeting in 2012 show Epstein at Nowak's office with a group including the Broad Institute's Eric Lander and Harvard's David Gergen. Lander denies knowing Epstein's history, telling BuzzFeed, "Martin invited me to an informal sandwich lunch at his institute to talk science with various people. I was glad to do it. Martin didn't mention who’d be attending. I had not met Epstein before, didn't know much about him, and learned that he was a major donor to Martin's institute. I later learned about his more sordid history. I've had no relationship with Epstein."
BuzzFeed reached out to dozens of scientists who had previously been connected to Epstein, some more deeply than others. Many didn't comment. Some disavowed Epstein. Some, however, said they had no regrets.
Jean-François Gariépy was a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at Duke University in 2014 when his nonprofit, NEURO.tv, received $25,000 from Epstein to make a series of YouTube interviews with experts in psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. Since posting those videos, BuzzFeed says, Gariépy has gained a following as a far-right YouTuber.
Gariépy tells BuzzFeed he has no regrets about taking Epstein's money. "I'd cash a check sent straight from the devil if it could allow me to advance science or science education," he said. "I did know about the earlier conviction of Epstein when I accepted the money. I didn't know of the most recent allegations though, which are worse than I thought. In any case, I do not regret taking the money. Evil people are not just evil."
George Church has apologized for his ties to Epstein after his online calendar revealed a series of meetings and phone calls with Epstein in 2014.
"I certainly apologize for my poor awareness and judgment," he told STAT. "There should have been more conversations about, should we be doing this, should we be helping this guy? There was just a lot of nerd tunnel vision."
He didn't respond to requests for comment from BuzzFeed.
In IRS filings, on his foundations’ websites, and in press releases, Epstein described contributions to many universities and scientific or medical organizations, including MIT, Harvard, Mount Sinai, and many others.
After previously declining to comment on donations from Epstein, MIT has now acknowledged that it received a total of $800,000. In an email to staff, MIT President Rafael Reif shared responsibility for taking the money, saying he regrets taking the money, BuzzFeed reports. Reif apologized and said "we will commit an amount equal to the funds MIT received from any Epstein foundation to an appropriate charity that benefits his victims or other victims of sexual abuse."
BuzzFeed said it couldn't confirmed record of a donation to Harvard after Epstein's conviction, though he claimed he gave the university money from 2010 to 2012.
Epstein's foundation Gratitude America did file a $10,000 donation to the Icahn School of Medicine with the IRS in 2016, BuzzFeed says.
"[W]e will be contributing a sum equal to the donations we received from Mr. Epstein and his foundation to a charity focused on preventing human trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as providing financial support for the work of our Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program," the Mount Sinai Health System said in a statement to BuzzFeed.