The very title of this VICE Motherboard piece (click on screenshot below) is part of a multifaceted attempt to smear Steve Pinker, calling him a “free speech crusader” who nevertheless has blocked people on Twitter who connected his name with Epstein.
And the smear continues in the first paragraph, implying that somehow this blocking is abrogating people’s free speech:
Harvard professor and author Steven Pinker, who previously railed against “cancel culture,” is blocking anyone on Twitter who mentions his connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who was charged with organizing a child sex trafficking ring before being found dead in his jail cell shortly after his arrest last year.
Note the double mention already of “free speech” and opposition to “cancel culture,” all of which is meant to imply that Pinker is somehow hypocritical in blocking people on his Twitter feed. But that is ludicrous. Favoring free speech does not mean that people have the right to defame you on your own Twitter site, or say whatever they want on your platform. For that’s what the tweets connecting Pinker and Epstein are all about—just another attempt to take down Pinker by implying that he was complicit in Epstein’s sex trafficking and abuse of underaged girls.
Pinker explained his connection to Epstein earlier on this site, and it wasn’t a very close connection. He also explained one thing he did for which he is sorry:
In the interests of full disclosure, there was another connection. Alan Dershowitz and I are friends and colleagues, and we taught a course together at Harvard. He often asks me questions about syntax and semantics of laws, most recently the impeachment statute. While he was representing Epstein, he asked me about the natural interpretation of one of the relevant laws, and I offered my opinion; this was cited in a court document. I did it as a favor to a friend and colleague, not as a paid expert witness, but I now regret that I did so. And needless to say I find Epstein’s behavior reprehensible.
As someone who was on O. J. Simpson’s defense team as an expert witness (also unpaid), I can’t be arsed to criticize this: everybody deserves a fair trial, even those accused of odious crimes—especially those accused of odious crimes.
At any rate, a colleague of Steve’s offered to flag accounts that connected Pinker and Epstein, and then manually blocked the flagged ones. Pinker notes that “the colleague doesn’t block anyone for criticizing or disagreeing with something I’ve written.”
And as far as the “right” to defame Pinker on his own Twitter site, Steve responds this way, and with a classic Jewish joke:
“I’ve been told that people are now bitching and moaning about this, but no one has a First Amendment right to post something on Steven Pinker’s Twitter feed,” Pinker wrote to Motherboard. “If someone wants to smear me personally, they have plenty of channels; to whine that I’m not offering them my platform has to be a new definition of “chutzpah,” after the man who killed his parents and threw himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.”
Then the article continues the smear:
Pinker’s numerous interactions in Epstein’s orbit have long been the subject of reporting and speculation.
. . . In 2019, Pinker tweeted that in 2002 his literary agent introduced him to Epstein, who cultivated a network of elite intellectuals and academics. Sometimes those intellectuals spoke or appeared at Epstein-financed Edge Foundation events, other times they hung out at Epstein’s island (or estates), and other times they entertained Epstein’s hare-brained schemes like freezing his head and penis and “seed[ing] the human race with his DNA.” Pinker seems to have been involved with Edge speaking events as far back as 2011, and appears in a photo from one of the Edge “‘Billionaires’ Dinners,” which Epstein has attended, in 2003.
The Edge Foundation events are run by Steve’s agent (and mine), John Brockman, who invited Pinker and Epstein to some of them. Steve’s involvement with Edge is because Brockman is his agent, and that has nothing to do with Epstein. Notice, though, how VICE tries to use Edge to connect Pinker and Epstein (yes, they did appear at the same event and were photographed together). But as Steve explained on this site:
But Epstein had insinuated himself with so many people I intersected with (Alan Dershowitz, Martin Nowak, John Brockman, Steve Kosslyn, Lawrence Krauss) and so many institutions he helped fund (Harvard’s Program in Evolutionary Dynamics, ASU’s Origins Project, even Harvard Hillel) that I often ended up at the same place with him. (Most of these gatherings were prior to the revelation of his sex crimes, such as the 2002 plane trip to TED with Dawkins, Dennett, the Brockmans, and others, but Krauss’s Origins Project Meeting came after he served his sentence.) Since I was often the most recognizable person in the room, someone would snap a picture; some of them resurfaced this past week, circulated by people who disagree with me on various topics and apparently believe that the photos are effective arguments.
I haven’t asked Steve how many times he actually met Epstein at Harvard, but VICE doesn’t know either; it just implies that they were connected because Epstein had an honorary position in Martin Nowak’s evolution group at the school (Nowak’s being investigated for this). Pinker and Epstein were at one of Nowak’s events, and that’s all I know. As VICE notes:
There are more [photos] in 2004 of Pinker with Epstein at an event at Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics (PEDS). Pinker wrote to Motherboard that “[t]he director of the Program, Professor Martin Nowak, invited me, and he also invited Epstein. I had nothing to do with Epstein being there.”
According to a report by Harvard University, Epstein visited the campus over a dozen times, was a visiting fellow at one point, and had an office there—after he was convicted of procuring a minor for prostitution in 2008—and donated $9.2 million to the university, $6.5 million of which went to PEDS.
The “over a dozen times” is irrelevant to Epstein’s connection to Pinker, as it’s certain that Steve didn’t see Epstein constantly on campus, much less interact with him.
And there’s the fact that Pinker flew on Epstein’s jet to a TED conference and a dinner held by John Brockman in Monterrey, California. Note that they give the plane the name “The Lolita Express”, as it’s been dubbed by the media. But Epstein was accused of trafficking in underaged girls and having sex with minors in Florida (where he was convicted), and in New York, New Mexico, and the Virgin Islands, not California. But there’s no flight record that Pinker went to those places on Epstein’s dime, nor visited Epstein’s private island in the Virgin Islands.
Finally, VICE mentions this from an unsealed manuscript by one of the underaged girls trafficked by Epstein:
In an unsealed manuscript written by Virginia Giuffre—one of the main survivors of Epstein’s trafficking ring to come forward—Giuffre says she was forced to sleep with a Harvard professor named “Stephen,” his last name redacted, and described him as “a quirky little man with white hair and a mad scientist look about him.” Pinker’s name is spelled “Steven” with a ‘v.’ Another Harvard professor, Stephen Kosslyn, who once taught Pinker, has been tied to Epstein; Kosslyn is bald, with white hair on the sides of his head. Kosslyn does not appear in any known Epstein flight logs.
Pinker said he is not the “Stephen” in Giuffre’s manuscript and wrote “This was not me. I’ve never set foot on Epstein’s island nor any of his other properties. I spell my name ‘Steven,’ and there are Harvard professors named ‘Stephen’ who do have a connection with Epstein. This is not to say that Giuffre’s accusations are true, just that they are not about me.”
I downloaded the pdf file of Giuffre’s manuscript, and, unwilling to read 72 pages, I searched for “Stephen”, “quirky little man” and “mad scientist”, and didn’t find anything. Perhaps readers can find the part that VICE mentions. At any rate, yes, Pinker has white hair, but he’s not “quirky”, and I, at least, don’t think he looks like a “mad scientist”. If this incident took place in the Virgin Islands, Pinker apparently didn’t go there. If it did and he did and is guilty as charged, well, the law will find that out, but I’m betting against it.
So what we have is evidence that Pinker was at events that Epstein attended, gave unpaid legal advice in a case against Epstein (which Pinker regrets), and flew on Epstein’s jet once, but only to California. The rest is speculation without evidence. Why is VICE indulging in this? I suspect mainly because VICE is woke and the woke media dislike Pinker intensely.
Epstein was of course an odious sexual predator (he killed himself in prison). But there’s no evidence that Pinker had anything more than a tangential connection with the man. As the evidence against Epstein continues to accumulate, now through his associate Ghislaine Maxwell, imprisoned and awaiting trial, we’ll find out what happened. Until then, the smearing will continue.
I’m often jealous of Steve, and have told him so, as his brain just keeps pouring out excellent books, and he writes like a dream. But it’s at times like these that I don’t think I’d want to change places with him. It can’t be fun to have people going after you all the time, either with no evidence or for things so trivial—like the tweets mentioned in the infamous letter to the Linguistics Society of America—that they’re like gnat bites: annoying but not serious.