The other day I posted Steve Pinker’s discussion of his connections with convicted sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, now facing additional charges in New York that will likely put him away for the rest of his life. Pinker, who had been accused of consorting with Epstein—indeed, of being complicit in Epstein’s crimes by ignoring them or not publicly criticizing the man—dispelled this idea, saying that he finds Epstein’s behavior, as revealed by the media and court documents, reprehensible.
Pinker added that he never liked Epstein, never took money from him, but did do one small task interpreting a statute for Alan Dershowitz, who was defending Epstein in his first set of charges (a task that Pinker now says he regrets). And Pinker sometimes found himself at meetings with Epstein, like Lawrence Krauss’s Origins Project anniversary celebration.
Pinker’s explanation, of course, was deemed insufficient, and I should have predicted that. Those determined to dislike Pinker whatever he says—and they are unaccountably many—had additional questions and accusations. Why did he fly on Epstein’s plane? Why didn’t he denounce the man publicly after his first conviction? Why hasn’t he pronounced the names of any of Epstein’s victims? (This last accusation baffles me.) And why, especially, did he help out Epstein by doing a legal task for his lawyer? (BuzzFeed, the intellectual’s National Enquirer, had a field day with that one.)
There were, of course, calls for Pinker to issue not just an explanation, but an apology. Shades of the Cultural Revolution! I think people wanted him to wear a cone-shaped paper hat and a sign around his neck confessing his crimes. But of course even that wouldn’t suffice.
Steve’s post also reanimated those who have gone after his conclusions about moral progress in his last two books, although the quality of Steve’s scholarship had nothing to do with this incident. Such are those who look for any opening to attack the man.
I’m not going to write back to Steve to pose these new questions, for it’s palpably clear that nothing he ever says will be good enough; nothing he says will ever free him, in the minds of the Offense Brigade, from the supposed taint of being associated with Jeffrey Epstein. This is often the case with such matters, and many have decided that responses to social-media mobs are useless and futile. When you’re demonized once, you become an Unperson forever. (Well, there’s not much chance of Pinker being an Unperson to the general public given his renown, but I’m making a general point here about social media mobs.)
The rancor also devolved on me. I was accused on websites, Twitter feeds and other venues of shielding Pinker simply because he’s a friend, of not dealing with other people’s criticism of his work, and even of being complicit myself in protecting sexual predators—by not mentioning Lawrence Krauss. The last barb was sheer lunacy, for over a year ago I publicly disassociated myself from Krauss after my own investigations revealed instances of Kraussian sexual predation beyond those revealed by the media. After this pushback, I can only imagine how Steve feels, as he’s been subject to far more opprobrium than I. It’s remarkable that, in the face of such (unwarranted) criticism, he’s kept his cool.
Okay, well if Pinker is reprehensible for doing a small job for Alan Dershowitz, who was working on Epstein’s defense, then I must be far worse. For, as I’ve mentioned on this site several times, I was on O.J. Simpson’s defense team in his famous trial for killing Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. Yep, it’s all true: I was recruited to look at the prosecutors’ DNA evidence against Simpson—specifically, the calculated probabilities of a random person matching the DNA evidence taken from blood. (That’s a population-genetic matter that I can speak to.)
I didn’t do much for the defense team, I didn’t testify, and I refused a fee (I didn’t take money for any of my expert-witness help on DNA statistics). But I did do something—surely more than Pinker did for Dershowitz.
Why did I do it? Because, I thought, the government’s feet needed to be held to the fire to ensure that DNA evidence was used accurately and fairly. I had no love for Simpson, but the principles of judicial fairness were at stake. If DNA calculations were misused against Simpson, they could be misused against anybody.
Simpson, of course, was found not guilty, though I think that he was indeed culpable, as was determined in the subsequent civil trial. But my job was not to adjudicate his guilt, but to analyze the government’s statistics. And I do not regret helping with the defense.
That, I think, should make me worse than Pinker to the mob who went after him, for most people—and the law—regard a gruesome double murder as a more serious crime than sexual assault. Further, je ne regrette rien. But I helped out an accused murderer! I am complicit!
If that weren’t bad enough, I was at several meetings with Lawrence Krauss, and sometimes hung out with him. I’d heard rumors that he pursued women, but didn’t know any details about that nor about any sexual malfeasance. Still, you could accuse me of being complicit because I was in his presence, talked to him, and even (horrors) was photographed with him. Should I have known what he was doing? I don’t see how I could have. After the accusations came out, I then did my own research. But that doesn’t matter: people can say that I should have made my inquiries much earlier.
Would I go to an event attended by Simpson now? (Remember, he was found not guilty.) I don’t know; it depends on the event. I certainly would have nothing to do with the man or be photographed with him.
Of course I reject all such innuendo about me, just as I reject suggestions that Ronald Sullivan at Harvard was coddling a sexual predator when signing on to help defend Harvey Weinstein. Everyone deserves a fair trial, even a rich person accused of heinous crimes.
I expect that people who like me on this site will find reasons why what I did was somehow different from what Pinker did vis-à-vis legal help. But that is a distinction without a difference. If Pinker is to be faulted for helping a lawyer defend an accused sexual predator, than I must also be faulted for helping a team of lawyers defend an accused double murderer.
If you want to point out any differences between Pinker’s legal help and my legal help, or accuse me of complicity in getting Simpson “off”, then do so in the comments. But I will not be kind to people who somehow find me guilty, and my tolerance for those who insist on using my site to unfairly tar Pinker is waning.