As many of you will know, David Sabatini, “mTORman” and a former star of cancer, ageing and diabetes research, has been sacked by the Whitehead Institute and HHMI for sexual harassment. An investigation by his academic employer MIT about a possible revocation of tenure is still ongoing.
Whitehead Institute recruited a law firm in January 2021, their Title IX investigation concluded in August 2021. Incidentally, a year before that, on 31 January 2020, yours truly informed MIT of the massive evidence of data manipulation in Sabatini’s publications, days later MIT’s Vice President for Research Maria Zuber announced to follow that up. On 20 August 2021, Sabatini was fired by Whitehead and HHMI for sexual harassment, the news leaked to media.
In October 2021, Sabatini hit back: he lodged a defamation lawsuit against the Whitehead Institute, its director Ruth Lehmann and a female mentee who charged him with sexual harassment. The latter point is quite chilling, also because the same woman is currently serving as witness in the active disciplinary proceedings on Sabatini’s tenure at MIT.
All victims and witnesses have now been warned what they can expect if they dare to speak out. Money is not an issue for the rich science entrepreneur Sabatini who has nothing to lose anymore, but can afford to sue everyone. And his lawyer eagerly informed the press of the defamation lawsuit, this is how the lawsuit became a public affair. In USA, court documents are available online for those who know how to find them. With the help of my readers, I obtained Sabatini’s court filings, plus the rebuttals by the Whitehead Institute and the mentee X, who is now a group leader at MIT herself and whom I will not name here.
It seems a complicated affair, but maybe it isn’t really. Sabatini, who is clearly a diva narcissist unable to see any flaws with himself, plays a victim of harassment on any occasion, his critics are openly addressed as “failed scientists” when he is in good mood and as “steaming turd” when he isn’t. The great mTORman openly admits to have had sex with various female members of his lab, apparently he even specifically recruited some women in order to have sex with them. A privilege of an elite professor, you see.
Now Sabatini even boasts in his court brief to have lifted several female mentees into group leader positions, as proof that he can never be a sexual predator, but actually a staunch supporter of women in science who “helped many female members of his lab launch successful careers in academia and elsewhere” while offering them “opportunities and workplaces free from discrimination or harassment“. Very inclusively even, or so Sabatini’s lawyers claim:
“Of the 36 post-doctoral fellows and 18 graduate students who have completed their time in the Sabatini lab at the Whitehead, 29 are currently running their own academic labs at distinguished research universities or institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, Rockefeller, NYU, Yale, and MIT. […] The Sabatini lab trained a wide diversity of members, including a significant number of female lab members. In the 24 years since it started, 71 post-doctoral fellows and students have worked in the Sabatini lab. Of these students, 29 (40%) are racial or ethnic minorities.”
Seven female scientists are then named, some of them incidentally also prominently featuring on PubPeer as Sabatini’s co-authors (please see my earlier article and its comment section for details). Here, I share some of the newer PubPeer material, like this:
Yasemin Sancak , Carson C. Thoreen , Timothy R. Peterson , Robert A. Lindquist , Seong A. Kang , Eric Spooner , Steven A. Carr, David M. Sabatini PRAS40 is an insulin-regulated inhibitor of the mTORC1 protein kinase
Molecular Cell (2007) doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2007.03.003
Sabatini’s lawsuit filing begins with educating the court at length what a great genius the discoverer of the mTOR is and how his “pure scientific research“, “at the cutting edge of scientific research in a laboratory singularly devoted to the truth” saves lives, by delivering “groundbreaking scientific discoveries that impact the world“. Sabatini, the court must know, has been busy curing “cancer and diabetes” , while his mTOR “research also has implications for obesity, aging, and neurological disease“. Of course the main audience of this drivel is the public, since Sabatini’s lawyers handed the filings to every journalist they contacted.
The audience is also informed that
“Dr. Sabatini has published over 247 articles during his career, 174 of those as a senior author. Dr. Sabatini’s articles are published in prestigious academic journals such as Nature, Science and Cell.”
There is a concept of “Genius“, a superhumanly hyper-intelligent and visionary saviour figure, which dates to late 19th/early 20th century, most prominently espoused by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. We all know where this genius cult lead. Did our society learn to never worship the genius again? Nope. At least not in science.
A genius stands above the laws and rules, which apply only to simple mortals; a genius is entitled to do as he pleases and to take whatever he desires (yes, he, a genius is always male). This is also how Sabatini’s lawyers apparently argue, using the modern definition of science genius as someone who publishes in Nature/Science/Cell and gets all big grants and awards. These young women were rightly Sabatini’s to take, and they should thank the great mTORman on their knees instead of complaining of sexual harassment.
But sure, mTOR research is a huge money machine which generates big papers, big funding projects, big awards and a lot of big empty promises. Because the field is full of research fraud, as it happens, and Sabatini’s own papers are no exception.
For some reason, the data forgeries in Sabatini’s genius science haven’t been the subject of this court exchange yet. Hopefully they will be.
And this is how Sabatini’s lawyers describe the affair which led to his dismissal from Whitehead institute:
“Beginning in April 2018, Dr. Sabatini had a consensual sexual relationship with a friend, colleague and peer, Defendant Dr. [X]. At this time, Dr. Sabatini was a world renowned medical and scientific researcher and a tenured professor at MIT with a stellar reputation who conducted groundbreaking research into the pathways that regulate growth and metabolism and how they are deregulated in diseases like cancer and diabetes.”
The last part may be true (Sabatini used to be a science star, as per accepted definition), but the first part is a lie. First of all, X may have had her own research grants to start her own lab, but Sabatini was her host and her boss, even listed officially on X’s fellowship grants as her mentor. X switched to Sabatini’s lab in spring 2018 because her original mentor, the MIT researcher Angelica Amon, was dying of cancer. Apparently Amon and Sabatini were close friends, or maybe this is what Sabatini claimed (also in the court filing) after Amon’s death, being a ruthless opportunist and a narcissist. It’s not like Amon can protest.
Sabatini met X already in 2012, when she just started her PhD in Amon’s lab. One can wonder if he groomed X already then. In any case, as soon as X started under Sabatini in spring 2018, she became Sabatini’s lover. We can’t know if sex was an implied condition for mentorship, but it cannot be excluded. In any case, this is what X’s defence filing says:
“On October 20, 2021, a young scientist in her first months of her first faculty job got a call as she was finishing an experiment. She had to return home, she was told, to receive a package. When she did, she was slapped with a lawsuit.
The Plaintiff is Professor Sabatini (“Sabatini”), the self-described powerful senior scientist, who had demanded sex of her when she was a graduate student ending her studies and about to start a fellowship at the Whitehead, in a program Sabatini would direct. It is the man who had outlined the relationship he sought with her as one where he could have “casual sex” without responsibility.1 And it is the man who had made it clear – throughout her training and employment with the Whitehead – that he would ruin anyone who dared to speak against him.”
Sabatini claims it was X who demanded “casual sex” from him, and even went on to sexually harass him. Rejected because the master recruited another, sexier woman, so X allegedly designed a gigantic conspiracy to have Sabatini fired, by creating false evidence, manipulating witnesses and co-conspiring with the institute leadership. All this is as credible as if Sabatini claimed that X used witchcraft to turn him into a newt. Or maybe he did, who knows.
And of course all that X did with the support of an evil feminist Ruth Lehmann, whose main crime was her failure to show gratitude to Sabatini. Seriously, that is what his legal filing says:
“After taking over as the Director of the Whitehead, Dr. Lehmann held a dinner for many of the female investigators and trainees at the Whitehead, including Dr. [X]. Dr.Lehmann stated during this dinner that she intended to “clean-up” the boys’ club at the Whitehead, or words to that effect.
During a presentation at the Whitehead, Dr. Lehmann shared that she had unsuccessfully tried to “oust” a male professor at a prior employer. Dr. Lehmann’s statements made it clear that she was proud of these efforts and was frustrated she did not succeed.
Though Dr. Sabatini supported Dr. Lehmann for the position as Director of the Whitehead, a position that Dr. Sabatini had been asked to consider but had turned down, she expressed animosity and hostility towards him after her appointment.
One example of this is an interaction that Dr. Lehmann and Dr. Sabatini had at a Whitehead retreat in the fall of 2019, which Dr. Lehmann attended as a guest before she took over her official duties as Director. During a dinner at the retreat, Dr. Sabatini asked Dr. Lehmann what she thought of the scientific presentations she had seen by Whitehead scientists at the retreat. Instead of responding professionally, Dr. Lehmann stared at Dr. Sabatini and asked in a hostile tone “What? Do you want me to tell you that you gave the best talk?”
As a reminder, Sabatini is not a petulant child aged 9, but a very rich white heterosexual male narcissist who thinks he is entitled to be constantly provided with praise from his peers and superiors and with sex from his subordinates.
Timothy R. Peterson, Mathieu Laplante, Carson C. Thoreen, Yasemin Sancak, Seong A. Kang , W. Michael Kuehl, Nathanael S. Gray, David M. Sabatini DEPTOR is an mTOR inhibitor frequently overexpressed in multiple myeloma cells and required for their survival Cell (2009) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2009.03.046
X was apparently not the only one whose body Sabatini had feudal claims on. But these victims’ reports of sexual harassment must be disqualified, because you see, they were allegedly “friends” with X, as Sabatini’s lawyers argue:
“In January 2021, Dr. [X] and two former members of the Sabatini lab complained to the Whitehead about Dr. Sabatini. One of the former Sabatini lab members continues to work at the Whitehead, but completed her training in the lab in 2016. The other left the Sabatini lab in or about October 2020 for an Associate Professor position at Harvard. Both of these former Sabatini lab members who filed complaints were friends with Dr. [X]. […]
One witness, Postdoc 6, was initially interviewed by investigators and was generally supportive of Dr. Sabatini. Voluminous messages between Dr. Sabatini and Postdoc 6 confirm that Dr. Sabatini supported her and she confirmed that she felt supported professionally and personally by him. Postdoc 6 eventually hired the same attorney as Dr. [X] and thereafter changed her story…”
J Moffat, DA. Grueneberg, X Yang, SY Kim, AM Kloepfer, G Hinkle, B Piqani, TM Eisenhaure, B Luo, K. Grenier, AE Carpenter, SY Foo, SA. Stewart, BR. Stockwell, N Hacohen, WC Hahn, ES Lander, DM Sabatini, DE Root A lentiviral RNAi library for human and mouse genes applied to an arrayed viral high-content screen Cell (2006) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2006.01.040
Women refusing to show gratitude and to comply with orders, even conspiring together against their master, Sabatini is shocked where the world has come to. The filings by X’s lawyers narrate how her boss tried to control the narrative early on:
“Indeed, at the start of 2021, as questions swirled about the work environment in his Lab, Sabatini wrote this young scientist, reminding her that he would be the one who would comment upon her at the Whitehead faculty retreat when the faculty evaluated the fellows. And in April of 2021, as the investigation was getting underway, he wrote her again, this time emphasizing his power to weigh in on her candidacy for a faculty position at MIT. From there the complaint spins wild fantasies of a conspiracy to take him down orchestrated by this young woman and the Whitehead’s leadership.
Sabatini seeks to justify complaints from this young scientist by noting that he moved his sexual attention from her to another young woman in training whom he pressured others to hire – and then hired himself – so that she would come to the Whitehead and he could play out his desires. And he looks to avoid responsibility for the retaliatory threats he has repeatedly made to members of his own lab, by arguing that he never had to make good on those threats.”
Do-Hyung Kim , Dos D. Sarbassov , Siraj M. Ali , Jessie E. King , Robert R. Latek , Hediye Erdjument-Bromage , Paul Tempst , David M. Sabatini mTOR interacts with raptor to form a nutrient-sensitive complex that signals to the cell growth machinery Cell (2002) doi: 10.1016/s0092-8674(02)00808-5
Sabatini instead seems to argue that since nobody dared to protest against his sexism and predatory behaviour, it means they liked it.
“The investigators also found that Dr. Sabatini “engag[ed] in” and otherwise tolerated sexist and sexualized discussions with his lab. This finding is false and, based on evidence that was before the investigators or easily available to them, the investigators knew or should have known it was false.
In part, this finding stemmed from an extremely inflammatory and generalized allegation in the anonymous DEI Survey that Dr. Sabatini “openly sexually harassed women in his lab and threatened to ‘ruin the careers’ of trainees who commented on the harassment.” The sole basis for this false allegation was a stray comment (which the recipient did not find offensive) and the misplaced perception that Dr. Sabatini favored attractive women.”
Jason R. Cantor , Monther Abu-Remaileh , Naama Kanarek , Elizaveta Freinkman , Xin Gao , Abner Louissaint , Caroline A. Lewis , David M. Sabatini Physiologic Medium Rewires Cellular Metabolism and Reveals Uric Acid as an Endogenous Inhibitor of UMP Synthase Cell (2017) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.03.023
A perfectly normal lab, where female members are instructed by male colleagues how to seduce the boss and what his sexual preferences are. Even Sabatini’s twisted version of events reveals what went on:
“With respect to the individual in the Sabatini lab, the Report alleged that Dr. Sabatini made a comment in which he suggested that he “preferred European women.” Notably, the individual to whom he made the comment was not offended by it and reported that it had been made in a “joking fashion” when confronted about the comment by the investigators.
In attempting to heighten the allegations against Dr. Sabatini, the Report essentially projects onto Dr. Sabatini the perception of a few members of the Whitehead that he was partial to attractive women. In support, the Report relies on three separate comments: (1) a comment made by a male graduate student to a female undergraduate that she should “play hard to get”; (2) a stray comment by a graduate student to Dr. [X] that Dr. Sabatini used the whisky tastings to “drool” over Dr. [X]; and (3) a text exchange between a post-doc in the Sabatini lab and another individual, in which the other individual asserted there was sexism in the Sabatini lab.”
Those whiskey tastings in the lab… It is not clear who tried to get whom drunk, but the fact remains Sabatini was the boss and he liked it. It seems he initiated the piss-ups himself, as his lawyer proudly admits:
“One example of this is the whiskey tastings at the Sabatini lab. When she was in Dr. Amon’s lab Dr. [X] was one of many individuals, including other graduate students from outside of the Sabatini lab, as well as other Whitehead Fellows and Faculty who attended social events held by the lab. Whiskey tastings were held occasionally by Dr. Sabatini for his lab members and friends of the lab”
Timothy R. Peterson , Shomit S. Sengupta , Thurl E. Harris , Anne E. Carmack , Seong A. Kang , Eric Balderas , David A. Guertin, Katherine L. Madden , Anne E. Carpenter , Brian N. Finck David M. Sabatini mTOR complex 1 regulates lipin 1 localization to control the SREBP pathway Cell (2011) doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.06.034
Sabatini and X clearly had a sexual relationship which at least at the beginning seemed consensual, something which Sabatini lawyers use as argument. A more important issue however is if such power-skewed relationships in academia can be ever called consensual. One party (the young woman) is totally dependent on her mentor’s good will, the other party (the male professor) has the total power to make or to destroy careers. And a bigwig like Sabatini can reach you in every corner of the world with his revenge and make sure you will never get employed as scientist.
It doesn’t apply to women only of course. Sure, also male lab members who displeased their boss do suffer consequences of the lovely academic tradition I’ll make sure you never find work again. The difference in our patriarchal society is that while both male and female lab members are expected to show total loyalty and devotion to their academic master, only women are additionally often expected to have sex with him (that said, sometimes male researchers also become victims of sexual harassment, from male and female professors). Becoming undesired for whatever reason can lead to revenge for betrayal, much more viciously than a disloyal male subordinate would ever experience.
David A. Guertin, Deanna M. Stevens , Carson C. Thoreen, Aurora A. Burds , Nada Y. Kalaany, Jason Moffat , Michael Brown , Kevin J. Fitzgerald , David M. Sabatini Ablation in mice of the mTORC components raptor, rictor, or mLST8 reveals that mTORC2 is required for signaling to Akt-FOXO and PKCalpha, but not S6K1 Developmental Cell (2006) doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2006.10.007
This is the sad reality of academia, and the details of those alleged sexual arrangements between Sabatini and X, true or not, should matter only to him and his lawyers, but not to us. The message for women in science remains that yes, sleeping with your boss may be a career boost, but it can also badly backfire when the services are not provided as requested or simply not desired anymore. The men in Sabatini’s lab only had to serve his ego but not his penis, a much simpler and straightforward way to a career. These men, at least the “real” men among them, had it quite good, as Sabatini’s lawyers hint:
“Among the more inflammatory “findings” in the Report was that a visiting post-doc (referred to as Visiting Postdoc 1 in the Report) in the Sabatini lab made sexist and racist comments. The Report asserted Dr. Sabatini “failed to properly address” the comments made by Visiting Post Doc 1, while in the same sentence conceding that Dr. Sabatini had “warn[ed]” him to act professionally. Visiting Postdoc 1 was also terminated by the Whitehead as a result of the Report. […]
The allegations concerning Visiting Postdoc 1 also originated from the DEI Survey. In the DEI Survey, “[t]he anonymous complainant contended that Sabatini was not only aware of this behavior, but directly blocked lab members from reporting Visiting Postdoc 1 to HR.” The Report did not validate this allegation, finding instead that “there was no evidence that Sabatini directly blocked lab members from reporting Visiting Postdoc 1 to HR.” Nevertheless, the Report laid much of the blame for Visiting Postdoc 1’s behavior on Dr. Sabatini…”
Maybe that visiting postdoc was producing scientific results Sabatini liked? And this is all that counts? For sure he most definitely never angered his boss by refusing his sexual advances.
Samantha W. Alvarez , Vladislav O. Sviderskiy , Erdem M. Terzi , Thales Papagiannakopoulos , Andre L. Moreira , Sylvia Adams , David M. Sabatini, Kıvanç Birsoy, Richard Possemato NFS1 undergoes positive selection in lung tumours and protects cells from ferroptosis Nature (2017) doi: 10.1038/nature24637
And now it’s all over. Sabatini’s court filing bemoans:
“During his career, Dr. Sabatini developed strong and valuable relationships with leading scientific journals, including but not limited to Science and Nature. […] When Dr. Sabatini was terminated, his lab had two articles under review and revision for publication in Science and three articles under review and revision for Nature. […]
After Dr. Sabatini was terminated, Dr. Lehmann and the Whitehead spoke directly with journals at which Dr. Sabatini had pending articles. Without consulting Dr. Sabatini, the Whitehead and Dr. Lehmann took the position that he was “not in a position to execute the responsibilities as a corresponding author” because Dr. Sabatini was no longer at the Whitehead.
The Whitehead and Dr. Lehmann also expressed their conviction that Dr. Sabatini “should not have any direct contact with lab members.”
The editors of Nature and Science stopped kissing the Genius’ arse! And the Whitehead director Lehmann is to blame! Worse:
“Dr. Sabatini lost his lab, and currently has no place where he can pursue the scientific research which is his life’s work. He has been stripped of his position as an American Cancer Society Research Professor, and he may lose his status as a corresponding author for several forthcoming publications.”
“After the announcement of his termination was made, Dr. Sabatini lost an award that would have provided him with over $200,000.”
It must have been the 12th Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, issued by the Spanish Foundation BBVA (Bank Bilbao Vizcaya). Sabatini was supposed to receive it, together with the mTOR co-discoverer Michael Hall, already in 2020. Due to COVID-19, the ceremony was postponed to 21 September 2021. Guess who wasn’t invited and missed out on a huge chunk of cash.
This is no way to treat a genius! So someone must pay for the perceived injustice, and it has to be the young woman who failed to show gratitude for the gifts she received from her master:
“At or around the time that the investigation began, Dr. [X] referred to Dr. Sabatini as “Harvey Weinstein” while at the Whitehead and in the presence of Dr. Sabatini’s former professional colleagues. […] Dr. [X] attended a stem cell conference in Greece in late September and early October 2021. At a dinner early in the conference, Dr. [X] sat with other professionals who knew Dr. Sabatini and with whom he had professional relationships. At this dinner, Dr. [X] described herself as one of Dr. Sabatini’s “victims” and stated that she had heard Dr. Sabatini had had other inappropriate relationships with MIT students.”
Sabatini’s lawyer, who wrote this, merely goes on to protest that Dr X cannot call herself a “victim”, presumably the same applies to all the other MIT students Sabatini has sex with. I guess they should feel honoured by have been chosen by the great mTORman?
Scott R. Floyd , Michael E. Pacold , Qiuying Huang , Scott M. Clarke , Fred C. Lam , Ian G. Cannell , Bryan D. Bryson , Jonathan Rameseder , Michael J. Lee , Emily J. Blake , Anna Fydrych , Richard Ho , Benjamin A. Greenberger , Grace C. Chen , Amanda Maffa , Amanda M. Del Rosario , David E. Root , Anne E. Carpenter , William C. Hahn, David M. Sabatini, Clark C. Chen, Forest M. White, James E. Bradner, Michael B. Yaffe The bromodomain protein Brd4 insulates chromatin from DNA damage signalling Nature (2013) doi: 10.1038/nature12147
The lawyer then narrates how countless students and other lab members wrote emails to their sacked boss, expressing their eternal gratitude to him. These people however are not named. The lawyer argues they were somehow not allowed not say all that during the Whitehead investigation because of the big conspiracy against Sabatini and the bullying by Dr X.
Here again, a take by X’s lawyers on the situation in the Sabatini lab:
“Although it is not convenient for Sabatini, the findings of the Whitehead’s independent investigation were not solely – and not even primarily – about the young woman scientist he has sued. As documents setting out communications and reactions within the lab as they occurred in real-time confirm, the Sabatini Lab was a highly sexualized work environment where Sabatini himself set the tone.
Consider what just a couple of the texts reveal: Sabatini reveled in the hiring of a European woman graduate student, telling her (as she reported at the time) that he liked hiring women from Europe because they talk about sex more freely that Americans. Male members of Sabatini’s lab, unfortunately well-schooled in their leader’s approach to women, advised an undergraduate to “entertain” Sabatini but then “play hard to get” if she wanted to succeed. And then there are the texts that reveal the real-time fear of members of Sabatini’s lab
in light of his threatened retaliation against anyone who would dare to report problems and his various compliance failures, even with respect to safety protocols, to Human Resources.”
Stefanie S. Schalm , Diane C. Fingar, David M. Sabatini, John Blenis TOS Motif-Mediated Raptor Binding Regulates 4E-BP1 Multisite Phosphorylation and Function Current Biology (2003) doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(03)00329-4
The bulk of the X’s defence filing is about the possibly illegal subpoena Sabatini’s lawyers served her. First of all, they were not supposed to knowingly contact a person with legal representation directly, only through her lawyer. Second, as Whitehead letter explains at length, X is currently serving as witness in the MIT investigation against Sabatini.
The Whitehead Institute argued in this regard:
“Sabatini’s action involves an independent workplace investigation commissioned by the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research (“Whitehead”). The “extensive investigation and report” identified “multiple violations of Whitehead’s policies, including a policy prohibiting sexual harassment.” See Exhibit 1, Statement of L. Rafael Reif, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”), August 21, 2021. As a result, Sabatini’s employment was terminated as an investigator by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (“HHMI”), and he resigned from Whitehead. MIT placed Sabatini on leave and is now undergoing its own investigative process, “with consequences that could extend to revocation of tenure.” Id. Thus, this lawsuit is about what happened in the context of the Whitehead’s workplace investigation – and what is happening at MIT – as a result.
This is the quoted Exhibit 1:
The main purpose of the Whitehead filing is to obtain a stay from court trial while the MIT’s Title IX investigation into Sabatini’s conduct is ongoing, because his defamation lawsuit is clearly aiming to derail that investigation and to silence and intimidate all witnesses. Until then, Sabatini, who was already sacked by his employer HHMI for having “violated the Institute’s policies on sexual and workplace harassment among other policies“, has been placed by MIT “on administrative leave pending the results of MIT’s review” which can result in “revocation of tenure proceedings“. The Whitehead lawyers argue:
“Notwithstanding, Sabatini decided – with MIT’s processes ongoing – to file this action before this Court. He named as a defendant a young woman scientist who had responded when asked to participate in the Whitehead investigation and who had raised concerns about Sabatini’s conduct. While she did not stand alone, as several men and women spoke to investigators about troubling conduct in the Sabatini Lab, Sabatini focuses on her. His purpose is clear: to chill this young woman’s participation in the ongoing investigation and send a message to anyone else who might otherwise come forward. […]
“The Defendants submit that these statutory and policy guarantees will be nullified if this lawsuit is permitted to continue while MIT’s investigation is ongoing. The ability of a senior male professor to rally the resources to file suit and publicly “shame” a Whitehead Fellow/MIT junior faculty member who has complained about his conduct, particularly while an investigation is ongoing, will effectively end the ability of educational institutions to enforce Title IX and/or
obligations under Chapter 151B.”
Dohoon Kim, Brian P. Fiske , Kivanc Birsoy , Elizaveta Freinkman , Kenjiro Kami , Richard L. Possemato , Yakov Chudnovsky , Michael E. Pacold , Walter W. Chen , Jason R. Cantor, Laura M. Shelton , Dan Y. Gui , Manjae Kwon , Shakti H. Ramkissoon , Keith L. Ligon , Seong Woo Kang , Matija Snuderl , Matthew G. Vander Heiden, David M. Sabatini SHMT2 drives glioma cell survival in ischaemia but imposes a dependence on glycine clearance Nature (2015) doi: 10.1038/nature14363
Basically, if the court allows Sabatini’s lawsuit to proceed, it would sabotage all misconduct investigations in USA and silence all complaints before these are even placed confidentially and through proper channels. Any accused senior figure with enough cash can willy-nilly sue their critics during ongoing institutional investigation and thus achieve an acquittal because nobody will dare to talk. It is the legal equivalent of mafia’s practice of “silencing” of the witnesses before they can testify. This is how the Whitehead lawyers put it:
“The timing of this Complaint in this context is intentionally designed to deter and chill participation in any further investigation into Sabatini’s conduct. It is difficult enough to speak against senior scientists as an undergraduate or graduate student, post-doctoral fellow, employee, junior faculty member or less senior principal investigator. Where one risks the treatment now being taken by Sabatini against Whitehead and its former Whitehead Fellow, participation in a
MIT investigation surely will be affected. This is not matter of speculation, as even in his Complaint, Sabatini goes after the protected conduct of participants in Whitehead’s investigation, targeting the content of the specific complaints that he presumes were raised by individuals and investigated by Whitehead and with which he disagrees. […]
“While it is unclear whether any stay will lessen the retaliatory impact of the fact that this lawsuit was publicly filed, a stay must be granted to attempt to provide some reassurance to the Defendants and others, that is, those interviewed for the Whitehead investigation or who may be interviewed by MIT.”
Lawrence D. Schweitzer , William C. Comb , Liron Bar-Peled, David M. Sabatini
Disruption of the Rag-Ragulator Complex by c17orf59 Inhibits mTORC1
Cell Reports (2015) doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2015.07.052
“the HA-Metap2 bands of Figure 4A and 4B are very similar.”
Jan H Reiling , Clary B Clish , Jan E Carette , Malini Varadarajan , Thijn R Brummelkamp , David M Sabatini A haploid genetic screen identifies the major facilitator domain containing 2A (MFSD2A) transporter as a key mediator in the response to tunicamycin Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2011) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018098108
“Supplemental Fig. S5: More similar than expected.“
Let’s see how it develops. It may be that Sabatini is actually not as smart as he thinks he is.
Dr X submitted a new court brief. Here a thread on its best-of:
A cartoonish picture emerges of a white American fraternity boy, spoiled and entitled by a privileged upbringing, who is obsessed with sex and women. On top of constantly treating female subordinates as sex objects, some causal racism and homophobia.
Some quotes from X’s court brief:
“He reveled in talk about sex and the sexual escapades of those in his Lab. He sought out young women he believed were attractive for grooming, and he shamed individuals who had the temerity not to play along. […]
Sabatini asked a female master’s student in his lab if she was “fucking” another lab member, and then asked her to rank the male lab members whom she would “fuck.” As she would write a friend, Sabatini told her that he “doesn’t like the typical American because they are so uptight (sic) and that he likes about me that I am european and europeans can talk openly about sex.” In her text, this master’s student would go on to compare Sabatini to a “12 year old teenager” in terms of his need to brag about things sexual.
Sabatini asked a post-doctoral fellow if she was dating or if she used dating apps.
The conversations occurred during one-on-one meetings that were supposed to provide her an opportunity for mentorship on scientific projects as well as openly in the lab.
On another occasion, at a retreat in 2016, Sabatini took a woman post-doctoral
fellow aside and asked her to “choose” between two male postdoctoral fellows for sex.
At some point, Sabatini’s brother, a scientist at Harvard University, attended
alcohol tastings in the Sabatini Lab, where conversations quite frequently veered to the sexual. After a female post-doctoral fellow had spoken to his brother at some events, Sabatini came up to the fellow and asked her if she was attracted to his brother. He then started to tease her about her purported interest in the Harvard scientist as she tried to work in the Lab. The interactions
made her extraordinarily uncomfortable.
Other graduate students came to understand that, as a woman, it would help them get resources and support from Sabatini if they would deliberately flirt with him. As one woman who worked in Sabatini’s lab would put it in a text to a colleague, “the only way to get [Sabatini] to like you as a woman is to sexually appeal to him” that is, “if you act in a way that suggests that you find him in some way attractive ….” […]
Sabatini asked women in his lab to pick up a visiting post-doc whom Sabatini referred to as a “Catholic virgin” and carry him across a figurative “virgin to
non-virgin” finish line. Sabatini snapped a picture of the event and sent it around. […]
Also, on information and belief, Sabatini excluded another post-doc, a devout
Christian, from a Sabatini Lab retreat because she was viewed as “not fun” and someone who would “ruin everything.”
Additionally, in or around the spring of 2019, Sabatini began the inappropriate
and disturbing grooming of a woman who was an undergraduate working in his Lab under the mentorship of a female post-doctoral fellow.
Even before the young woman arrived, male members – in Sabatini’s presence –
talked about her as the “hot model/girl” who was joining them.
When the young woman started in the Lab, she was greeted with advice as to
how to get Sabatini’s attention and approval: She was told to “play hard to get,” “entertain him a little” then push him away. She viewed these and other comments as part of a “toxic” culture, one where women trainees were viewed as objects for sexual pleasure, not young scientists looking for training.
But the banter was not the end of it for this young woman. At a time when her
mentor was away, Sabatini approached. He engaged in repeated, one-on-one, closed-door sessions with her in his office. He went for coffee with her and spent time walking along the Charles with her. Their conversations were strangely long in duration and nearly always devolved into discussions about sexual relationships in the Lab.
During her time in the Lab, the young woman traveled abroad, visiting another
lab in which she had worked. She noted that Sabatini was giving a talk. The two
communicated about this fact and she noted that she would miss his talk.
Sabatini then took a disturbing step towards a very inappropriate relationship
with this undergraduate: he offered to pay for a change in her flight – and her hotel room – so that she could greet him when he arrived, attend his talk and spend time with him afterwards.
On information and belief, Sabatini usually did not provide such junior members
of his Lab much attention at all.
When the post-doctoral fellow who served as this undergraduate’s mentor
learned of this attention, she confronted Sabatini. He lied. […]
As recently as late 2020 – early 2021, on information and belief, Sabatini spent
several hours, over time, with another young woman who had reached out about the possibility of working in his lab, although she was not a student at MIT—far from his standard practice.
She was excited and honored to be in conversations about science with such an
important scientific leader.
In this context, she was unsettled but did not confront Sabatini when, during one
of their many hours of discussion, Sabatini changed the conversation’s course from talking about serious scientific projects to the saying the following, using words to this effect: “I have always wanted to do a project trying to figure out why pubic hair is the length that it is.”
Sabatini’s suggestion that he wanted to study the length of pubic hair was
shocking and bore no relationship to any legitimate topic under discussion. The young woman froze and left the discussion deeply disturbed by its sexual overtones.
In addition to the sexualized nature of discussions within his Lab, Sabatini also
often aired his grievances as a white man. As one male member of the Lab has described it, Sabatini’s “the white man has it so bad” refrain was common in the Lab, as Sabatini bemoaned the cost for white men of the progress for women and other underrepresented groups. He was heard, on more than one occasion, to suggest that one has to be “gay” or have some other protected characteristic even to get into medical school or to secure a faculty position “these days.”
In this context, where issues arose in the Sabatini Lab that were reported to
Human Resources, Sabatini – more than once – indicated that he wanted to know who was responsible and that person would – for daring to have crossed him or done anything that could be viewed as critical of him – lose his professional support.
In fact, with respect to the undergraduate on whom Sabatini had showered
uncomfortably personal attention, when questions arose about Sabatini’s conduct “[a]lmost all of the male grad students were marched [in] one-by-one” and questioned to identify who had dared to raise concerns about his conduct. […]
When asked about his relationship with a young undergraduate woman in his
Lab, Sabatini would simply double down on his bizarre defense: It was a member of his Lab, he asserted, who had engaged in sexual relations with the undergraduate and so it was she – a scorned woman – who had begun bogus rumors suggesting that Sabatini had acted inappropriately.
This was false, and Sabatini knew it.
Dr X also tells at length how her sexual relationship with Sabatini came to happen. We learn that the late Angelica Amon discouraged X from reporting Sabatini’s unwanted advances because it would destroy X’s career and have no consequences for Sabatini. Excerpts:
“In May of 2016, at a whiskey tasting in his Lab, things became more raucous than at prior events attended by [X]. At the end of the event, Sabatini put out all of the bottles for people to finish off.
Predictably, drunken and inappropriate conversation followed, with Sabatini as
At some point, Sabatini told one of his male graduate students not to “settle
down” early because, once the student becomes established and successful (like Sabatini), he could “fuck” whoever he wants.
At another point, Sabatini looked at a ring on [X]’s finger and asked if she
was engaged. When she responded that she was not, he asked whether she was “gay.”
Later that evening, Sabatini asked [X] to accompany him out of the Lab so
that he could ask her something. She followed him. […]
Sabatini then turned to [X]. He asked her pointedly whether she ever has
“fun,” “fuck[s] around” or has sex.
[X] was shocked. She tried to laugh it off, said nothing about how
inappropriate the question was and tried to reassure him that she had fun. She rushed out quickly.
That very evening, [X] texted a friend telling him how upset she was by
what had happened. She wrote: “[a]ll of the conversations were like 85% sexual 15% science, as if the latter even applies to me …” […]
As he embraced his role as [X]’s mentor, Sabatini also began inviting her –
with increasingly personal notes – to the tastings he hosted at his Lab. On these occasions, more than once, he made sexual comments towards her or towards others in her presence.
For instance, at one point Sabatini commented that [X] clearly was in
“Tanner Stage 4 puberty,” a remark made in reference to the size of her breasts. […]
In early April of 2018, Sabatini offered to introduce [X] to others in his
professional network at a conference in Washington, D.C. [X] was flattered. She agreed to meet Sabatini and looked forward to the visit. […]
Instead, Sabatini told [X] he was “not doing the lysonerd dinner.” He invited
[X] to join him for drinks and dinner. […]
After the dinner, Sabatini suggested that [X] come with him to his room to
continue a scientific conversation they were having. When they arrived, [X] stood at the door, as he lay down on his bed, instructing her to lie down next to him. When she told him she was not comfortable doing that, Sabatini started talking about how he and another established woman scientist do some of their best thinking together in this fashion. He pressed her to enter the room. She did not – by word or conduct – indicate that she welcomed his advances.
Sabatini began his advances and, realizing that she was not responsive, he told
her to “relax,” and proposed that they have a relationship where they have casual sex on the side. […]
Sabatini persisted in his advances and got angry as she continued to tell him why
he should not proceed. He ultimately said that he was so aroused that she either needed to submit or “get out.”
[X] felt trapped. If she ran out, she would lose his support and gain his
In the end, although she never consented, he had his way. Afterwards, he
forbade [X] from telling anyone about what had occurred – most particularly Amon and [X]’s closest friends.
The next day, Sabatini seemed to revel in the fact that he, and older man, had a
young conquest. In a text exchange with [X], he talked about her as a “young chick” who was not as “fucking tired” as he was. […]
Although she tried to explain to him why a sexual relationship was not
appropriate, he would not listen to her concerns. Sabatini instead spoke about wanting to see [X] for “casual sex,” and that she should not expect anything of him. Again, Sabatini sought sex from [X].
After [X] formally joined Whitehead and Sabatini became the Director of the
Fellows Program and her mentor, his demands for sex did not stop. They occurred more than ten times between 2018 and around the end of 2019. […]
[X] believed that she could not exit the relationship without repercussions.
Their laboratories were next to one another; he served as her mentor and thus a reviewer of her performance. […]
[X] thus tried to embrace the relationship, play along, even convince herself
that it was meaningful and mutual. But she struggled. Ultimately, she felt dirtied, embarrassed and demeaned. […]
[X] began to raise concerns about what she was facing with others and
whether she should report it. She reported the sexual encounters with Sabatini to Amon in 2019 and again in 2020. Each time, Amon told her not to do anything until she could get out of Whitehead. Others at MIT gave [X] the same advice.
[X] asked to cut ties with Sabatini. […]
Finally, Sabatini secured the interest of his next sexual partner. Sabatini had tried
to have another Whitehead faculty member bring this young woman on as a “Visiting Scientist” although she was not qualified, and, when that did not work, he brought her into his own Lab so that he could woo her. […]
While Sabatini no longer looked to [X] for sex after early 2020, he continued
to make unwanted sexualized comments to her. […]
When Sabatini became aware that [X] was participating candidly in the
investigation, he went on the offensive and began a retaliatory campaign against her. […]
The fear of retribution was real: Sabatini made sure members of his Lab
understood that he would remain in place, telling them that he had spoken with senior faculty at MIT and members of Whitehead’s Board of Directors claiming that they had told him that – whatever the findings – he would remain in place. He was, he wanted to convey, just too big to fail. […]
starting in the late summer of 2021, Sabatini escalated his
retaliatory campaign against [X]. […]
Sabatini went further, organizing former members of his Lab to pressure people
who had provided information to investigators to change their stories.”
And finally, this:
“In April and May of 2018, Sabatini committed assault and battery on [X] when he coerced her into having sex with him despite her protests. Over time, in light of his authority over her and as defined by relevant policies, Sabatini continued to engage in batteries against [X].”
“Sabatini spends his days shuffling around, watching Netflix, caring for his 11-year-old son and taking calls from lawyers. He got some job offers, from China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates—places that don’t care about the things he’s accused of.”
So while mTORman packs suitcases to move there, let me tell you a story, which full version can be read here.
Some days ago, Sabatini almost became professor at New York University (NYU) Langone Health, supported by two billionaire donors (Ken Langone and Bill Ackman ), medical school’s dean Robert Grossman (the NYU Medical School was named after him on behest of Langone), and vice-dean Dafna Bar-Sagi. Also, Sabatini’s father, David Sabatini Senior, is emeritus professor at NYU Langone Health.
Protests by graduate students and faculty didn’t impress these people, the decision to recruit Sabatini was staunchly defended, but then all big national media, including the New York Times reported, so the pressure got too big.
Eventually, Grossman and Bar-Sagi announced in an email in the faculty:
“After careful and thorough consideration that included the perspectives of many stakeholders, both Dr. David Sabatini and NYU Grossman School of Medicine have reached the conclusion that it will not be possible for him to become a member of our faculty.”
Of course Sabatini did not withdraw his application voluntarily. But how come they wanted him so desperately at NYU in the first place? Why did they even hand out to Sabatini private emails between the former NYU professor (and now Whitehead director) Ruth Lehmann and Sabatini’s victim, in order to help this sexual predator with his lawsuit against these women? The litigious mTORman supplied the court with an Exhibit K which contains emails between Lehmann and his victim, where the latter asks the former for help to find a new mentor due to problems with Sabatini. Here is one such email:
Well, I think I can at least explain why the NYU Langone Health Chief Scientific Officer, Executive Vice President and Vice Dean for Science, Dafna Bar-Sagi has such high degree of tolerance for both research fraud and sexual harassment.
Bar-Sagi did her PhD at the pharmacology department at SUNY Stony Brook, supervised by Joav Prives, the two soon became a couple and are still together. But back when Bar-Sagi was his graduate student, Prives was married to the cancer researcher Carol Prives, who published a string of papers with fake data. See this article:
Now, Joav Prives’ best friend from his graduate days at the Weizmann Institute in Israel was the then NYU professor Joseph Schlessinger, who is said to have been very supportive of Bar-Sagi’s scientific career. What the problem with Schlessinger is?
“Mary Beth Garceau filed a complaint last week with the U.S. District Court alleging that her supervisor, chair of pharmacology Joseph Schlessinger, made repeated lewd observations and suggestions to her, from telling jokes about penis size to showing her hard-core pornography. The harassment started on her first day of work in 2001, she said, and continued until her resignation nearly three years later. […]
In several incidents over the next year, Schlessinger showed Garceau pictures of naked women and, on one occasion, a hard-core pornography Web site, the complaint alleged.
Schlessinger claimed that a photo of a naked woman without a head was his wife, Irit Lax, an assistant professor in the pharmacology department, the complaint stated. While he was showing Garceau the photo, according to the account, Lax walked in and started yelling at her husband.”
The lawsuit ended with a financial settlement, Schlessinger left NYU for Yale, and Bar-Sagi inherited his as chair as biochemistry professor at NYU. We do not know what kind of jokes and photos that dirty old man may have shared with Bar-Sagi, but surely having a mentor like this steeled her for dealing with Sabatini.
That is not all. Bar-Sagi, Prives and Schlessinger are close friends with Arnold Levine. Levine is of that old generation of revered men of cancer research who published massive fraud in their days (see PubPeer) and don’t care about it at all. I assembled two examples in this article.
It’s not just fake science. 20 years ago, Levine resigned as president of the Rockefeller University because he filled up a student with alcohol and then had sex with her. Nature reported:
“According to the sources, the encounter occurred in the university’s faculty club, a popular meeting place for researchers and graduate students. Both Levine and the participating student were intoxicated, the sources say, and she is said to have told university officials that the encounter was consensual. A male student who was in the faculty club confronted Levine during the encounter, one of the sources says, at which point Levine became angry. This student reported the incident to the Board of Trustees.”
As it happens, Sabatini was also sacked at Whitehead and MIT for getting students drunk and then abusing his immense power to coerce these young women into having sex with him. Times have changed, this kind of sexual predation is not called “consensual” anymore, because there can be no consent when one party is drunk, powerless and cornered, while the other professorial party threatens to destroy her career unless he gets to have his way with her.
So now you see how Bar-Sagi formed her views and why she supports Sabatini, despite, or maybe because of his sexual and research misconduct. Bar-Sagi never replied to my emails.
And now you know why successful Sabatini lab alumni, male and female, fully support him in every respect. Just as Bar-Sagi supports Schlessinger and Levine. This is how academic dynasties work.