Grassroots Oversight Policy

The Sculpting Evolution group has adopted new policies to cultivate wisdom and safeguard our lab. Our actions are a direct response to the recent revelations of MIT relationships with at least two individuals credibly accused of being moral monsters. These revelations have severely damaged trust in our institution. Our primary concern is for the victims who suffered from abuse, but also for our colleagues in the MIT community who have experienced emotional trauma over the past months.

These associations occurred without an opportunity for most of the community to have a voice. Those who knew and spoke out should be recognized for their courage. Of those who did not, some may not have known of the accusations, been unaware that MIT was accepting funds, correctly believed that MIT central administration approved of the association, trusted their colleagues’ judgment, or some combination. What we can say for certain is that the system failed and needs reform.

Our group has identified three overarching lessons from these events:

First, we should strive to do nothing that places others at risk without giving them a voice in decisions. It’s why we’ve called for transparent research in many fields, and the same principle applies to associations.

Second, we should avoid placing too much power and responsibility in the hands of one person, however wise they may appear. Everyone makes mistakes.

Third, our group should not rely entirely on our PI, on the Media Lab Director and grants team, on the MIT development office, or on MIT central administration to vet our donors or associations.

To address these challenges, we have developed a simple review process that can be adopted by any laboratory. All proposed associations must be made available to the entire group. Three rotating volunteer group representatives, chosen by lottery, will share the burden of scrutinizing them in depth and listening to feedback. Any proposals that do not receive unanimous support by secret ballot can still proceed at the discretion of the Principal Investigator, but only if a public note is posted indicating that at least one member of the team opposed the decision.

Should circumstances preclude a public note due to an information hazard, the note may be deposited privately with a trusted third party and made public whenever the information is revealed. By requiring that the community be aware of all proposals and that representatives review them, our system ensures that the PI is shielded from outside pressure and gains the benefit of others’ wisdom in deciding whether to move forwards, yet retains the power to proceed. Group members gain a voice in decisions that would otherwise go undiscussed and cannot be involuntarily implicated should things go badly.

We don’t know whether our reforms represent the best solution. We do know that systemic change is needed, that MIT now has a strong incentive make those changes, and that we intend to do our part by taking steps within our group to pioneer reforms.