Hey, there! Log in / Register

Jeffrey Epstein not the MIT Media Lab's only problem

WBUR reports state environmental officials are looking into allegations that the lab dumped polluted wastewater into a well in Middleton as part of its attempts to build "food computers," a program already under fire for other reasons, such as that the "computers" didn't work.

Neighborhoods: 
Free tagging: 

Ad:

Do you like how UHub is doing? Consider a contribution. Thanks!

Comments

listen, im no socialist by any stretch but Marx had it right when he described (this is lazy paraphrasing btw) how capitalism eventually eats away at everything from government and education to eventually the bulwark of capitalism, the middle class.

up
Voting closed 15

1980s: Let's go get Sushi and not pay!

2000s on: Let's be disruptive, avoid appropriate planning and ignore health and safety rules!

up
Voting closed 2

Before they got involved with running interference for billionaire pedophiles, the folks at the Media Lab were best known for blowhardery and vaporware. It's good to see them returning to their strengths.

up
Voting closed 31

I'm sure that a certain someone will be here with his combative rationalizations about it all being cancel culture soon enough.

up
Voting closed 6

Yes, a whole range of techie-sounding baloney, shielding themselves with the "it must be real, it's at MIT!" mantle... but also outstanding for sheer jerkery. That toxic culture didn't come out of nowhere... Nicholas Negroponte, a co-founder of the Media Lab, was one of the most obnoxious people I ever had the misfortune to meet.

up
Voting closed 20

Did anyone read the alleged story in the alleged journal -- before getting excited about this story? I doubt it.

MIT Media Lab Dumped Chemicals In Excess Of Legal Limit, Keeping Regulators In The Dark
September 20, 2019
Lisa Song, ProPublica, and Max Larkin, WBUR

https://www.wbur.org/edify/2019/09/20/open-agriculture-initiative-middle...

This is all about a disgruntled former employee [Babak Babakinejad] trying to dig some dirt on a project involving hydroponics [i.e. growing plants without soil] in which he had a small role and which with he then got disillusioned with the project and its leader. [my highlights in BOLD]

The lab responsible for the dumping is the Open Agriculture Initiative, one of many research projects at the Media Lab. Led by principal research scientist Caleb Harper.....

The information comes from dozens of emails and lab results shared by Babak Babakinejad, a former researcher in Harper’s lab. Babakinejad said he decided to speak out because he’s worried about the health and environmental impacts of the dumping. Babakinejad’s account of the lab’s actions was confirmed by two other sources with knowledge of the experiments, who asked for anonymity.

Babakinejad told ProPublica and WBUR that he warned Harper and MIT’s Environment, Health and Safety Office (EHS) about the situation after he realized their hydroponic solution exceeded their environmental permit, which limited the wastewater to concentrations of 10 parts per million (ppm) for nitrogen.....

The type of disposal well used by MIT is part of an Environmental Protection Agency program that handles industrial and municipal waste, said Carl Reeverts, former deputy director of the EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division. There are more than 650,000 of these “Class V” wells across the country. They are designed to protect underground sources of drinking water, but only if the well is properly built, maintained and regularly inspected.

The wells are considered a lower priority for enforcement than others that store hazardous waste from mining, oil and gas, Reeverts said. In general, Class V wells are “most likely to be mismanaged. … It’s the one that may be monitored least of all.....

The lab had a well installed, and in December 2017, Massachusetts regulators granted a permit with restrictions. The permit lists Harper as the well operator and the head of MIT’s EHS office as the well owner. As part of the permit, MIT can only accept about 1,300 gallons of water per month, and must notify regulators within 10 days if it exceeded the 10 ppm nitrogen limit. Finally, the lab was required to provide monthly reports throughout 2018 showing the nitrogen content of the water discharged into the well.

Babakinejad said he joined Harper’s lab about half a year before it got the permit. He had a Ph.D. in neuroscience and nanotechnology from London’s Imperial College, and saw the Open Agriculture Initiative as a chance to work on food science projects that could improve health care.

He began spending time at the Middleton site, called Bates, in October 2017, overseeing research on cotton and basil. The plants were set up in two shipping containers, each filled with 10 to 12 racks of plants floating in pools of water enriched with fertilizer. All together, the experiments could hold more than 500 gallons of the nitrogen-water mix at a time.....

The water had to be changed regularly, both to run new experiments and to prevent the tanks from filling with algae, Babakinejad said. A valve on the bottom of each tank allowed scientists to drain the solution into the well, before replacing it with a new fertilizer mix. Lab workers took regular water samples to track the experiments’ progress. The samples were sent to an outside lab, which analyzed the water for nitrogen and other compounds.

Emails and lab notes from early 2018 show the experiments were in full swing. They were changing the water every two weeks, including on March 23, draining it to “flush” the crops. Documents show samples taken that day had nitrogen levels reaching 222 ppm, which is 22 times the allowable concentration....

Babakinejad said lab officials met to discuss the problem, but never resolved it. He left in mid-2018, disillusioned both by the nitrogen pollution and concerns that Harper had oversold the lab’s capabilities to funders, when it was struggling with a basic ability to grow plants. He said he felt pushed out, and that Harper retaliated against him for expressing concerns by giving him a work improvement plan that required him to document, in 30-minute increments, how he was using his time......

In January 2019, Joseph Cerutti, a DEP employee who handles its disposal well program, emailed Carter, the EHS officer, asking for the monthly reports her office was required to send to his agency the previous year. Carter had told him the lab hadn’t discharged anything into the well from April through June of 2018, but there were still nine months of missing reports.

After a month without a response, Cerutti wrote back with a terse reminder, adding Harper to the email. If Cerutti didn’t get answers within the next two weeks, he would issue a notice of noncompliance, followed by possible fines and revocation of the permit.

Harper responded quickly, writing, “We have been following the protocol agreed with EHS which was for any agricultural effluent was to be spread in the open field and NOT put into the UIC system.

Cerutti seemed unaware of this. The lab’s permit only allowed MIT researchers to use the well. “When was the protocol to exclusively discharge the hydroponic growing solution to the open field rather than to the UIC well implemented?” he wrote back.

After a phone call with Carter in April, Cerutti was still left with basic questions. In June, he asked for copies of all nitrogen water sample results since January 2018. Carter responded in early July, attaching results since July 2018, but not the samples from March that frequently showed concentrations more than 10 times the limit.

So lets put this into perspective -- this is not industrial waste pouring from some pipe into river -- nor is it the discharge from a combined sewer overflow into Boston Harbor.
While no specifics are provided as to the well itself [e.g. how deep, how well it is connected to underground aquifers and any flows into near-by streams] -- and as a result we have no idea of what actually became of the water containing fertilizer [that's what we are talking about] which was disposed by pouring it into a well. We also don't actually have any details on the total volumes of nitrate and nitrite containing water which is involved in the disposal of the hydroponic fluids.

Despite the specificity -- the amours seem trivial --- a few hundreds to a couple of thousands of gallons of water and the stuff itself is which sounds pernicious [Nitrates and Nitrites] is Fertilizer. Its source is that it bathed the roots of plants -- and then its poured into a well designed to handle the discharge of waste water. This is very similar to the Fertilizer -- dumped in vastly greater quantities on lawns, gardens, golf courses, parks, athletic fields, etc. throughout Massachusetts and especially immediately adjacent to the MIT Facility. Note that the water from fertilized ares then enters either the surface runoff to local streams or percolates into the ground to join the ground water -- with no measurements whatsoever!

The only issue here involves some permit for some arbitrary concentration of fertilizer in the water and whether it was exceeded. So we have a case of someone complaining to a superior -- not getting satisfaction and taking it upon himself to Warn the Authorities and then going to the compliant and un-critical media.

Give it a Rest -- the the lab in Middleton is using the site of the now decommissioned Bates Electron Linear Accelerator
https://bateslab.mit.edu/sites/default/files/featured/featured_about.jpg It is very near to the Ferncroft Golf Club, Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School, Essex County Sheriff's Department [County Jail], Department of Youth Service - Northeast Regional Office, North Shore Community College -- all of which together have hundreds of acres of land undoubtedly fertilized and generating run-off and groundwater percolation of water containing lots of nitrogen compounds -- none of which are monitored.

The lab's only mistake was to hire a consultant and then listen to what was recommended

But with plans to expand to the school’s more rural Middleton facility, which lacks a public sewer system, questions arose about how to dispose of the water.

In August 2016, a consultant emailed the Media Lab’s director of facilities to explain that the best option was a disposal well if the nitrogen in the lab’s hydroponic water stayed below 10 ppm.

The setup would be easy, requiring just a onetime registration to install it with the EPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, he wrote.

They should have just taken a hose and a sprinkler and sprayed the fertilizer containing water on the lawn near the parking lot -- there is nearly 80 acres of land on the site which is in the midst of hundreds of acres of other fields and forest. No one would have noticed anything!

Finally -- This whole story wouldn't even raise a blip of interest if not for the connection between the Media Lab and the sex pervert Jeffrey Epstein.

up
Voting closed 8

Not some carcinogen. But nitrogen's not really something you want to dump into aquifers. And if you read the WBUR story, the issue is not just the dumping itself but the refusal to cooperate with state investigators trying to find out what was going on (it's always the coverup).

As for the "food computers" not being an issue without the glare of Epstein, I don't know. The Chronicle of Higher Education, not one of those journals prone to sensationalism, has been researching the food computers for awhile and finding the same sort of problems as the article linked above.

For years the lab has drawn fire from critics who say it has privileged what The Baffler once called “techno-futurist propaganda” over rigorous scholarship. In the case of food computers, people connected to the project insist, image won out over substance.

Then again, maybe you're right that the whole Epstein affair is bringing a new light to the lab's other practices: The problem with sugar-daddy science (the author of that piece describes her interactions with the Media Lab and its "food computers" in more detail in this Twitter thread).

up
Voting closed 19

Get back to work.

up
Voting closed 17

Q-anon just posted something entirely new! You should go read that rather than be so bothered by fact-based reality!

up
Voting closed 3

Rise so high, in mud you lie. - Karnus au Bellona. Magoo.

up
Voting closed 9

Minor point, but why is a "media lab" -- presumably concerned with the internets and communicationStuff and things like that, y'know, "media" -- why is it dabbling in agricultural research in the first place?

up
Voting closed 3

The idea was that the climate piece of farming could be reduced to a program ("data") for a specialized food computer with a bunch of specialized peripherals (lamps, CO2, nitrogen, temp, etc). Optimal crops become a matter of seed selection and parameter optimization. Disseminate a better program, improve crop yield globally.

Pretty awesome idea. How much truth is in it is now a big question.

up
Voting closed 4

It's not a new idea. The only thing new about it is that the Media Lab rediscovered it and in the techbro circles it revolves around that means it could pitch this as revolutionary when, in fact, it isn't. See this thread (referenced above) by a food scientist.

up
Voting closed 5

MIT Media Lab is mostly unlike the sound of the name

in their own words

The MIT Media Lab at a Glance
The MIT Media Lab transcends known boundaries and disciplines by actively promoting a unique, antidisciplinary culture that emboldens unconventional mixing and matching of seemingly disparate research areas.

Organization
The Lab is supported by more than 80 members*1, including some of the world’s leading
organizations. Our members provide the majority of the Lab’s approximately $80 million annual operating budget, and their businesses range from electronics to entertainment, fashion to health care, and toys to telecommunications. We conduct research in a highly collaborative and antidisciplinary environment.

Research
The Lab creates disruptive technologies that happen at the edges, pioneering such
areas as wearable computing, tangible interfaces, and affective computing. Today,
faculty members, research staff, and students at the Lab work in over 25 research
groups and initiatives on more than 450 projects that range from digital approaches for
treating neurological disorders, to advanced imaging technologies that can “see around
a corner,” to the world’s first “smart” powered ankle-foot prosthesis. Lab researchers are
committed to delving into the questions not yet asked, whose answers could radically
improve the way people live, learn, express themselves, work, and play.

Additional initiatives and programs
Centers and joint programs combine the work of Media Lab researchers with collaborators throughout MIT, while smaller, more focused programs and initiatives deal with particular subject areas.

  • Advancing Wellbeing, funded by a $1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, combines academics with on-the-ground ideas to promote better health at MIT and beyond.
  • CE 2.0, is a collaboration with member companies to formulate the principles for a new generation of consumer electronics that are highly connected, seamlessly interoperable, situation-aware, and radically simpler to use.
  • The Center for Civic Media, a joint program with MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, creates and deploys technical and social tools that meet the information needs of communities.
  • The Center for Extreme Bionics is an interdisciplinary effort at MIT which challenges current assumptions about serious physical and mental impairments.
  • Community Biotechnology researchers are developing tools and technologies to enable the broadest possible participation in biotechnology. Projects include the creation of low-cost enabling hardware, infrastructure for sharing, and new interfaces for artistic expression with biology.
  • The MIT Digital Currency Initiative (DCI), based at the Media Lab, brings together global experts in areas ranging from cryptography, to economics, to privacy, to distributed systems to explore the many issues involved in blockchain and bitcoin technology.
  • Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence explores global applications to advance AI research for the public good.
  • Knowledge Futures Group (KFG), a joint venture of the MIT Media Lab and the MIT Press, develops and deploys technologies that form part of a new open knowledge ecosystem.
  • Laboratory for Social Machines, funded by a five-year, $10-million commitment from Twitter, develops new technologies to make sense of semantic and social patterns across the broad span of public mass media, social media, data streams, and digital content.
  • Media Lab Learning, exploring learning across dimensions–from neurons to nations, from early childhood to lifelong scholarship, and from human creativity to machine intelligence. The initiative is designing tools and technologies that change how, when, where, and what we learn; and developing new solutions to enable and enhance learning everywhere.
  • Open Agriculture (OpenAg) builds collaborative tools and platforms to develop an open source ecosystem of food technologies that enables and promotes transparency, networked experimentation, education, and local production.
  • Open Ocean researchers work at the intersection of science, technology, art, and society to design and deploy new ways to understand the ocean and connect people to it in novel ways, empowering a global community of explorers.
  • Space Exploration aims to drive innovation at the frontiers of space exploration, from the holy grail of “life in space” to widespread societal involvement in “open space.”

Discover our most current research at media.mit.edu/research
www.media.mit.edu

There used to be an initiative called Bits and Atoms*2 which was kind of a play group for Gnurds -- So you can see why OpenAg might fit right in

*1 Members:
a quite diverse group which does in fact include some companies traditionally associated with media
https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/member-companies/

*2 -- the CBA seems to have graduated to enough autonomy that it now has its own website
http://cba.mit.edu/
and a most impressive set of tools [essentially a Hardware-Gnurds ultimate wish list] which are available to its favored

MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms manages a research facility for making and measuring things on length scales from atoms to buildings. Rather than requiring user fees, it is funded by CBA's research programs for use by participating researchers, with additional available time shared with collaborating programs. The tools are grouped by nano, micro, meso, and macro feature sizes, and instrumentation, biology, computation, and communication capabilities

some of the tools are the product of several 3D Printing equipment companies [Mark Forged, Form Labs] which began as part of the CFA

http://cba.mit.edu/tools/index.html

up
Voting closed 5