Harvard severely disciplines evolutionary biologist Martin Nowak for his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, closes Nowak’s evolution institute

March 27, 2021 • 1:45 pm

This has been in the air for some time: after a few years of pondering, Harvard has rendered its judgment on evolutionary biologist Martin Nowak for his connections to Jeffrey Epstein.  I haven’t been a fan of Nowak, particularly his work with Ed Wilson and Corina Tarnita on group selection, but I don’t take any joy in a well known and highly productive biologist—even if some of the product was dubious—meeting his downfall. The gist of it is reported in this new Guardian article (click on screenshot):

The only thing I guessed wrong was in thinking that Harvard would fire Nowak. They didn’t. What happened to him, however, is nearly as bad:

Harvard University’s program for evolutionary dynamics is to close after an inquiry into ties between its director, Martin Nowak, and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

According to the university, the mathematics and biology professor violated several university policies through his contacts with Epstein, including giving the disgraced wealthy financier an office on campus which he visited more than 40 times between 2010 and 2018.

Epstein, 66, was charged with sex trafficking in 2019, shortly before he was found dead in his cell in the Metropolitan correctional center in New York. Epstein had faced an indictment accusing him of running a sex-trafficking ring of underage girls, some as young as 14.

Nowak will be barred from starting new research or advising students for at least two years, according to the university. The sanctions come almost a year after Novak was suspended following a university review that found he had extensive, previously unreported contact with Epstein. [JAC: Nowak was suspended on paid leave.]

The review of Nowak’s connections to Epstein found that the professor had facilitated Epstein’s efforts to use ties to the prestigious university Harvard as a tool to rehabilitate his image.

The review also found that Nowak devoted a page to Epstein on the center’s website that included links to the financier’s websites. The university received $9.1m in gifts from Epstein, including a donation of $6.5m to the evolutionary dynamics faculty in 2006.

According to the Harvard Crimson, the University took over $9 million from Epstein, but didn’t take any more money after his conviction for sex offenses in 2008 (Epstein committed suicide in jail while being held on a more severe set of charges). And Harvard did donate an unspent $200,000 of Epstein’s gift to victims of sex trafficking and sexual abuse. But Nowak continued to give Epstein perks, though who knows if that was to “rehabilitate his image.”

After conviction, Epstein remained a visiting fellow of Nowak’s Program in Evolutionary Dynamics (PED), had a visitor’s office and a key card, and visited the office over 40 times before he was taken into custody again. He also participated in several PED events. Given that Epstein had no credentials in the field, and his favor was being curried because of his enormous wealth and the perks that came with knowing him, this was deemed a violation of Harvard’s policies.  And there was this, which seems to me quite serious:

[The Harvard review] cites an incident in which Nowak falsely informed a grant-making foundation that matching funds for a PED grant came from a foundation run by Epstein, suggesting that Harvard report the incident to FAS’s Faculty Affairs Office.

Did Nowak know of Epstein’s conviction for sexual trafficking in 2008 (he was convicted of procuring a woman under 18 for prostitution)? I can’t imagine he didn’t, as it was public information.  So, at the very least, Nowak is guilty of spectacular misjudgment: giving a convicted sex offender without credentials in biology a position with his biology institute. I doubt that the same punishment would have been handed out had the recipient of Nowak’s largesse been a nonspecialist who hadn’t been convicted of sex crimes.

But this is not mine to reason why. All I know is that Harvard will be very careful in vetting its visiting fellow in the future! And I’m pretty sure that Nowak, who has a worldwide reputation in evolutionary biology, will find a job somewhere else, as I can’t imagine that he’d want to stay at Harvard.

Martin Nowak

20 thoughts on “Harvard severely disciplines evolutionary biologist Martin Nowak for his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, closes Nowak’s evolution institute

  1. Epstein used his wealth and largess to ingratiate himself with a variety of notables who at first could have hardly known better. But then there came a time when one would think they should know better when his darker nature became known. But I guess my question is: How would one necessarily know? Unless you accidentally stumble on the accusations or reports from social media, how would you know?

    1. Epstein seemed truly interested in evolutionary biology. I wonder what attracted him to Nowak’s research in particular.

    2. I concur Mark. There is no accusation that Nowak was in any way complicit in Epstein’s depravity. If that were the case we’d be talking something different, of course.
      I mean, I’ve been supporting many people whose personal life was/is unknown to me. (although support not for financial or fiduciary reasons, but professional ones). Some of them may have been sex offenders or murderers, I would have no idea. I do not investigate the personal life of those I lend my support to, only professional life and achievements (admittedly maybe not very wise nowadays). I find it not completely incredible Nowak was unaware of Epstein’s convictions.
      Unless it is proven that Nowak was aware, we should not assume he was.

    3. I suppose it’s possible to have hung out with Epstein and to have remained completely in the dark about his sexual proclivities. But anyone who ever flew on his private jet, known as the “Lolita Express,” or hung out at his stately pleasure dome in the US VI or at one of his manses in New Mexico or the Upper East Side or Palm Beach or Paris, and who at the time found themselves in the company of nothing but grown-ass men and teenage girls, should’ve probably been put on some duty of inquiry.

    1. All those rich and powerful men / organizations that funded, enabled or looked the other way so long, and didn’t even wonder…? How nice for them to be to have lawyers who allow them to comfortably outraged now.

  2. “…the University took over $9 million from Epstein, but didn’t take any more money after his conviction for sex offenses in 2008…And Harvard did donate an unspent $200,000 of Epstein’s gift to victims of sex trafficking and sexual abuse. ”

    Well gee wiz, how generous of them! Giving $200,000 of the $9 million they got from a sex offender and, as they later found out (and some of the elite there almost surely knew), a sex trafficker. For all these institutions talk about justice and equity, you’d think they would do a little more. And they surely knew after his conviction in 2008 of his repeated use of campus facilities and his continued connection to their institution, but they did nothing until their hand was forced.

    Of course, if a place like Harvard really gave even the slightest whiff of a fart about justice, equity, etc., they’d donate a hefty amount of their endowment to programs for impoverished people in the Third World, but we know that’s never going to happen. I guess they’d rather have an endowment fund that’s greater than the total wealth of half the countries on this entire blue marble than give up a significant portion of it to do some good. And while their administrators and a significant portion of their professors whine about the injustice of, say, male-bodied people playing in women’s sports leagues and divisions, they keep shtum about far greater injustices that their institution’s enormous funds could actually assist in ameliorating.

    1. Harvard’s endowment is something like $41 billion, or so sez the internet. It is ironic that Epstein was financing Nowak’s PED laboratory.

      1. And growing! But they’d rather we focus on things like forcing students into CRT training and such. “Nobody look at the enormous pile of cash over there, much of it from people we’d rather not discuss. It’s not important.”

  3. Perhaps there is more to this but it seems to me that the ethical issue is cronyism and giving prestigious gifts and offices to your pals. If I gave a position to someone I thought was qualified and they ended up being evil, is that really my fault?

  4. Hmmm, I’d suggest that there is an element of virtue signalling in Harvard’s action. Allowing someone onto campus and giving them office space is not that consequential, and charges such as: “facilitated Epstein’s efforts … to rehabilitate his image” are vague and anyhow not that much out of the norm — isn’t about half of giving to charities and arts institutions and other causes all about boosting ones image? Bad judgement by Nowak, but no worse than that.

  5. Did Nowak know of Epstein’s conviction for sexual trafficking in 2008 (he was convicted of procuring a woman under 18 for prostitution)? I can’t imagine he didn’t, as it was public information.

    Epstein did 13 months in stir following his 2008 conviction (albeit with his own wing in the Palm Beach County jail, so he wouldn’t have to mingle with the usual jailhouse riff-raff, and was permitted to participate in a work-release program otherwise legally verboten to sex offenders) followed by a year on house arrest (again with perks not ordinarily granted sex offenders).

    So at the very least, you’d think Nowak would’ve been on notice that something out of the ordinary, resulting in his ol’ buddy Jeff’s disappearing for a couple years, was up.

    1. I ask the question at the top about how one would necessarily know about Epstein, even after his activities became ‘public knowledge’ (as if one would automatically get an email or something).
      I now realize that Harvard sure has hell knew pretty quickly, but then I wonder if they passed the word on to the faculty: Do not associate with this man. Or, You there. Dr. Nowak! Have nothing else to do with this guy! I don’t know if they did that.

  6. It is disturbing how many prominent scientists were sucked into Epstein’s circle, some even after 2009. Church, Lloyd, Trivers, Krauss, Nowak and others. Even Steven Hawking was lured to his island. Unlike Nowak’s millions, they were often lured for piss ant sums of money. I think Epstein could “groom” these scientists the way pedophiles groom their victims.

    I am happy Pinker had the integrity and good sense to avoid the guy. I bet Epstein would have liked to have Pinker in his coterie.

    Why did Epstein like evolutionary biology? I think in his warped mind he thought it supported his dream to seed humanity with his DNA.

      1. I’ve read Pinker’s version of what happened. I have no reason to question its veracity and, based upon it, I accept that he did nothing legally or morally questionable. But he does seem to have gotten a bit too close to the flame for his own comfort.

        1. Basically agree, but some would argue that he has reshaped history a bit to extend his distance from Epstein. Not that I care much 😎

  7. This story would be catnip for journalists at the Guardian. It keeps the Epstein narrative going and it affirms the Guardian’s distaste for evolutionary biology. The correct lens for viewing society is the Oxbridge English literature degree.
    According to a parallel article in Guardian, the money donated by Epstein is to be transferred to victim groups. If receipt of this money is of itself evidence of malfeasance then surely these groups are now similarly tainted.

  8. I enter this debate with some trepidation but with great interest, and some observations. Before I go further, let me just say that I spend 5 years in prison; as a sex offender; and was deported to France in 2018, after living half a century in the US. You can find me easily enough on google, not that you should have a right to. But it continues to ruin my life. For how long must I pay for my crime after prison? Having only 600 words, let me scatter some remarks. I’ve been dinged before for being too wordy.

    Let me begin here, with a question: Is it not worth noting – discussing even – that his lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, is long on public record defending the notion that maybe the age of consent should be lowered to 15? I note that it is alleged Epstein had “victims as young as 14”. Could it be that Epstein was guilty of less than you might think, and that had laws been slightly different, this could have been just a civil matter? Could it be that many intellectuals see things more the way his lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, does? Could Dershowitz be right in suggesting that “statutory rape” laws need to be reformed? Whose interest do they really serve? I’ve seen many men in prison on “statutory rape” charges which I had trouble seeing 10 years in prison as reasonable punishment.

    Before my own life spiraled out of control into addiction, porn addiction and worse, I was trying to finish my Ph.D. thesis; on what subject you ask? On evolutionary psychology! Among other things I was reading up on evolutionary game theory, which naturally led me to reading things by Prof. Nowak.

    Some people are puzzled that Epstein took an interest in Evolutionary biology, but that’s right next door to evolutionary psychology, so I am not really surprised that he would be interested. Could it be that Epstein wanted some insight into his own mind? And insights into why sexual morality is as it is today? Might he perhaps have wondered why human beings more resemble murderous chimpanzees rather than the more peaceful Bonobos? Now, that’s a loaded question!

    I note with some concern that some comments lump together “sex offenders” and “murderers” all in one breath. Is that necessary? I notice that on the one hand some here accuse Harvard of “virtue signaling” but all the while also talking about Epstein’s “moral depravity”. This demonizing is all done so casually by some readers, as if, of course Epstein is “evil” incarnate. His behavior is categorized as “sex trafficking” of children, and so on. I don’t have the full story about Epstein, but I’m wary of how the media is apt to report on this delicate subject.

    There are interesting issues to discuss here about Epstein. I have mostly questions. Too many here think they have “answers”. But this subject is so full of land-mines that it’s next to impossible to have a rational discussion about it, but very easy to just blindly condemn. Many do.

    Let me be clear that I do not defend nor excuse my own particular crime. But I have also paid dearly for it, with prison and deportation, to a country I hardly remembered. Yet I feel lucky to be back in France and not in your country. But we live in times when even these comments, mild as they are, might be considered to cross the line. It’s not too surprising to me that Prof. Nowak had to be let go.

    I did it. 600 words, exactly!

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