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Fabricated Data Goes Unpunished at Florida State University
Eric Stewart, a professor of critical race theory, faked the data in his papers for 20+ years, and successfully played the race card upon being caught.
Every criminologist in the world knows that Dr. Eric Stewart, a professor at Florida State University (FSU), is a fraud. His papers are fake: six of them have been retracted so far, and one has been dubiously “corrected.” The rest should not be given the benefit of the doubt; they are essentially toilet paper.
Nothing Stewart writes will ever be taken seriously ever again — he’s widely known as the single biggest joke in the entire criminology profession — a hack who fabricates his datasets out of thin air to support his critical race theory (CRT) agenda.
And yet… rather than being summarily fired for egregious research misconduct, Stewart is allowed to keep his ~$200k/year chaired position at FSU, fully funded by Florida taxpayers and federal grants.
I reached out to Dr. Stewart for this article, but he did not reply.
Many liberals do not believe that anything that happened in this scandal was about race, they do not think that race played any role at all in the decision-making that led to Stewart escaping unscathed.
I respectfully disagree; the racial component to this case can’t be ignored. If Stewart were a white guy fabricating data to show non-politically-correct conclusions, he would be crucified by FSU, but since he is a black guy who fabricated data to show woke/CRT conclusions, he was let off the hook. A white conservative guy doing what Stewart did would’ve been summarily fired without a second thought.
Letting him keep his cushy job is the soft bigotry of low expectations. If society keeps holding black professors to lower standards of ethics than white professors, no black achievements will ever be considered legitimate. Do you get that? No fraud allowed, of any color.
The anti-racist approach to this scandal isn’t to give Eric Stewart a free pass… the anti-racist approach to this scandal is to crucify him.
The First Whistleblower
This scandal started ~3 years ago, in May 2019, with a pair of anonymous emails (email 1 and email 2) pointing out multiple data irregularities, mathematical impossibilities, and extreme errors in several of Eric Stewart’s papers.
I am not going to get into the statistical weeds, but in short there were like a dozen red flags: percentages that couldn’t be true, fake surveys, standard deviations that didn’t add up, and a bevy of other issues that defy easy explanation.
One of the many red flags was last digit distribution — Benford’s law — a common method to detect fraud.
In addition to all the statistical anomalies, there are also several surveys that are just flat out missing. More on that later.
These whistleblower emails were sent anonymously from one “John Smith,” probably because powerful senior scholars have a tendency to vindictively crush the careers of junior scholars who rat them out. Academia operates much like the mafia in that regard.
Eric Stewart responded to John Smith: “I was responsible for the data analysis” and promised that he would look into it.
The Second Whistleblower
Of course, Eric Stewart never really “looked into it” after receiving these emails. He obfuscated and blew off his co-authors when they asked him to share the data. His data was private, and none of the journals required open-sourced data policies.
One of Stewart’s frustrated coauthors, Dr. Justin Pickett, took it upon himself to do something about it. Pickett is a professor at Albany University — more than that, he is a former student/mentee of Stewart — they were supposedly close friends, so it wasn’t like Pickett had some vendetta against Stewart, if anything all the incentives were for Pickett to help Stewart sweep this under the rug. Instead, Pickett showed that he is a true scholar who seeks the truth even at great personal cost. Pickett went rogue and posted a 27-page article asking for one of his own papers (co-authored with Stewart) to be retracted.
A cynic might say that Pickett only did the right thing eventually.... when he got caught with a smoking gun... and threw the gun to his co-authors. It took him 8 years to notice the building was on fire, and when he did, he dashed out the only exit and barricaded it behind him.
A cynic might also say that Pickett should’ve been aware of the faulty data at the time it was published. He never did his due diligence; he never attempted to inspect the data until after the fact. I guess Pickett was a grad student who only conducted qualitative analysis, while the senior professor on the paper did the grunt data work? Weird.
Nonetheless, he did the right thing eventually, and that is more than I can say for 99% of other academics implicated in fraud.
The Race Card
How did Stewart react to being exposed as a fraud by Pickett? In an article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, “[Stewart] accused one of his co-authors of having ‘essentially lynched [him].”
Here’s the thing with this lynching accusation: imagine we discover that Pickett is a KKKlansman (he’s not, he’s a milquetoast liberal CRT scholar) Eric Stuart will still be a fraud who should be fired for fabricating data. His data is fake. End of story.
Nonetheless, the “lynching card” worked, and by claiming he was the victim of racist attacks Stewart successfully deflected attention from the fact that he faked his data for multiple articles.
The most shocking part of that Chronicle article wasn’t that Stewart played the lynching card to defend himself, it was a comment made by Dr. David McDowall, another professor at the University of Albany.
McDowall’s comment is doubly interesting because he is aggressively throwing Pickett under the bus in a very public manner, and they both work in the same Albany department. Their offices are down the hallway from one another.
McDowall’s comment is triply interesting, because as the lead editor at Criminology, where 2 of Eric Stewarts retracted papers were published, he has a vested interest in making his journal look like it isn’t full of fake research.
“It seems to me that it’s pretty hostile for Justin to start making these claims,” McDowall said. “I think he doesn’t like Eric personally and wants to ruin him and make him lose his job … I think criminology is maybe a little behind other disciplines because we haven’t adopted the blood sport of ruining other people’s careers.”
When pressed, McDowall did not have any evidence or anecdotes that showed Pickett did not like Stewart. Pickett denied any personal animosity, “I’m not out to get Eric, I said, ‘If you’ll give me the data and it checks out I’ll defend you.’” Pickett even provided the Chronicle with the glowing recommendation letter thar Stewart wrote for him (which got him his assistant professor job at Albany) as well as a series of personal text messages that prove they are friends, not enemies. Shawn Bushway, another professor at Albany, said “Can I laugh now?”, when asked if Pickett had any personal animosity towards Stewart.
“This is not the first time that papers were published in the journal that were complete gibberish,” continues McDowall. This line is perplexing because he is admitting that Stewart’s paper is “gibberish”, but he is simultaneously denying any flaws with the data in the paper?
Most perplexing of all, McDowall confirmed that he had seen the letter Pickett sent about the flawed data but says that he “didn’t read it in great depth.”
This is just nuts! He gives an interview in one of the biggest outlets in academia, where careers of his colleagues are on the line, and he “didn’t read the letter in great depth”? Then why give an interview about the letter???? Why dismiss the evidence presented in the letter???? IF YOU DIDN’T READ THE LETTER IN DEPTH THEN WHY RESPOND TO IT PUBLICLY, PROTECTING THE SUBJECT OF THE LETTER, AND THROWING THE LETTER WRITER UNDER THE BUS?
Here is a great 19-minute youtube video about this scandal which covers many of the same points I just walked through.
The narrator begins by saying this was, “the single biggest scandal that the academic criminology field had ever seen… I looked into it … what I found, obsessed me for months. … this investigation changed the way I thought about science, not in the way we discover truth, but in the way we uncover lies.”
While the first half of this YouTube video covers what we just walked through, in the second half it presents some fantastic original investigative reporting. The narrator takes advantage of Florida’s sunshine laws and submits a FOIA request to obtain the FSU inquiry report. In doing so, he discovers that FSU launched a probe into Stewart at the early stages of this scandal, before the 6 articles had been retracted.
FSU’s cursory/exploratory “probe” was never elevated to a “full blown investigation.”
It cleared Stewart of any wrongdoing.
As part of this internal probe, FSU says they obtained 2013 data provided by “The Research Network,” an external data consultant which supposedly built the dataset for Stewart.
The key thing here is that we know that FSU never looked at the data, let alone got its hands on it… because It’s impossible to get your hands on something that doesn’t exist!
How do we know this data doesn’t exist? For starters, Stewart himself wrote in an email that he did not have the 2013 data.
More damning is the fact that “The Research Network” shut down entirely in 2010… so they couldn’t have been creating datasets in 2013, when Stewarts’ dataset was supposed to have been built by them.
Conflict of Interest
Beyond FSU flat out lying about obtaining data they didn’t have, there was a second problem with their probe: they violated their own rules with respect to conflict of interest.
Here is FSU’s policy on how the probe should have been handled:
This policy says that co-authors of the accused should not be in charge of the probe.
In flagrant violation of this policy, 2 out of of the 3 FSU probe investigators (William Bales & Sonja Siennic) had each co-authored with Eric Stewart multiple times.
Needless to say, they cleared their co-author of any wrongdoing on behalf of FSU.
This shows that the corruption at FSU goes way beyond Stewart… it’s institutional rot… a conspiracy.
FSU’s Accountability Problem
Two years before the fake probe into Eric Stewart, FSU conducted a fake probe into their football team who were accused of widespread stealing, cheating, and raping.
It’s widely believed in the college football community that this FSU probe was total bullshit.
The New York Times — as little as their word is worth — also covered this story and confirmed that yeah, FSU’s probe was fugazi.
Two sham internal FSU probes in two years? That’s a pattern.
In 2021, FSU appointed Richard D. McCullough as their new President, so at least the old leadership is out and perhaps this new guy can clean house.
Not only does Stewart still work at FSU, he still serves on the board of Criminology, the journal where 2 of his own fraudulent papers were retracted. Crazy. David McDowall, the guy who threw Pickett under the bus in that Chronicle interview, is the lead editor.
Dr. Sonja Siennick, the investigator who “probed” Stewart on behalf of FSU while at the same time being his co-author, is also on the board.
Criminology is the profession’s flagship journal, run by the The American Society of Criminology (ACS). Eric Stewart is still a Fellow of the ACS, one of the most prestigious sinecures in the profession.
The rot goes deep; the entire board of the journal Criminology is on board with Eric Stewart and they protected him. If I were serving on this board I would resign in protest unless McDowall and Stewart were shitcanned. But I guess my backbone is why I’m not in academia.
Eric Stewart has never once admitted any wrongdoing even after having 6 papers retracted for fraud, and instead continually brings up his black skin as the reason he was targeted for repeatedly committing research fraud. It’s disgusting. Stewart should be fired. None of his past or future research can be trusted. Why is he teaching students?
You may be asking why I am dredging up this story from 3 years ago. The answer is that 1) my criminologist friend begged me to cover it, 2) so long as Stewart remains in academia, this remains a relevant story of institutional rot and systemic corruption, 3) as of just a few months ago, there are new laws in Florida governing tenure.
While Florida always had a reason to fire Stewart, now they have the means.
I think there is a chance that Ron DeSantis’ office will read this article.
If you are reading this, DeSantis staffer: do the right thing.
If this new law wasn’t written for Eric Stewart, then who was it written for?