Leading American scientists have apologised for taking money from Jeffrey Epstein, as the academic community became engulfed in the scandal.
As more details of his predatory activities came to light, several leading universities and respected figures were struggling to contain the backlash.
It saw one prominent laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the firing line with its director apologising and pledging to return the money paid by Epstein.
Another Harvard academic has apologised for meeting with Epstein after the billionaire’s Florida conviction on child prostitution charges.
More scientists are likely to find themselves under the microscope over the next few weeks as critics demand to know how much Epstein’s beneficiaries knew of his activities, including his interest in eugenics and plans to “improve” the human race by impregnating 20 women at a time.
Scientists faced a dilemma, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communication and the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Scientists need funding for important work and many forms of it are underfunded.”
“If the funding is for legitimate scientific work, there is nothing wrong with accepting support from a billionaire.”
"However it would have been wrong for scientists to accept his funding if they were aware that he was planning a eugenics experiment that might draw legitimacy from his association with them. Epstein reportedly had plans to do things which were highly problematic, such as creating generations of himself.”
And if scientists were aware that Epstein was engaged in criminal forms of exploitation, "they were legally and ethically required to report him."
Epstein was a generous benefactor to scientific institutions for many years, in particular, Harvard.
Despite never having completed a college degree, Epstein prided himself on his association with the university, even being pictured wearing a Harvard sweatshirt.
The vehicle for many of the donations was the Jeffrey Epstein Vl Foundation, which was established in 2000 with the mission to “support cutting edge science and science education around the world”.
According to the Foundation’s website, its donations included a $35 million gift in 2003 to establish the Programme for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard. Other sources suggest the figure was a more modest $6.5 million.
He wined and dined some of the world’s most eminent scientists, including Stephen Hawking and George Church, a geneticist at Harvard.
Prof. Church has issued a public apology for meeting Epstein when he completed his 13-month sentence after pleading guilty to charges of soliciting and procuring a person under 18 for prostitution.
In an interview with STAT, a health and science website, he admitted that he had shown poor judgement.
“There should have been more conversations about, should we be doing this, should we be helping this guy? There was just a lot of nerd tunnel vision.”
The controversy has caused considerable damage to the reputation of the Media Lab at MIT whose achievements include developing robotic prosthetics capable of imitating the human gait has been badly hit by the scandal.
The donations received by MIT were modest compared with Harvard. One estimate suggests that the figure was “in excess of $200,000”.
Joi Ito, its director, issued a public apology admitting he had both allowed the Lab to accept money and allowed Epstein to invest in his personal fund for tech start-up companies.
“I was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of,” he wrote.
“That said, I take full responsibility for my error in judgment. I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab, and to the MIT community for bringing such a person into our network.”
He has promised to return the money as well as raising an equivalent amount which he will direct towards supporting the victims of trafficking.
The group was also deserted other figures including Ethan Zuckerman, director of the lab’s Center for Civic Media, who severed his connections with the institution, even though he had no dealings with Epstein himself.
“My logic was simple,” he wrote. “The work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalised individuals and points of view. It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship.”
Nathan Matias, a visiting scholar, also ended his association with the lab on Thursday night.
The Telegraph approached both MIT and Harvard for comment.