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The Cost of Plagiarism & P-Hacking
Evidence From a "brutal tenure denial" at Princeton
Today’s article continues a series in which I cover Princeton:
UPDATE: One week after publishing this article, the innumerate professor in question, Dr. Leah Boustan, was named as a Fellow of the Econometric society — the most prestigious society of econometricians in the world.
This is signalling from the econ mafia: they will protect mafia members no matter what, they will promote people who can’t do fractions simply to spite EJMR. Cabal members will always be allowed to fail upwards. Honestly Boustan should be thanking me for gifting her this fellowship, maybe send me a nice bottle of wine or something. She certainly didn’t earn it on merit.
Here is where where I would refer to David Card’s paper Gender Differences in Peer Recognition by Economists which analyzes the selection of Fellows of the Econometric Society, and finds huge positive discrimination (i.e. affirmative action) in favor of women.
And plagiarism at Princeton:
Today’s story exists at the confluence of these previous topics, so I already thought it was perfect to write about, and then the cherry on top was that today’s case is published in the American Political Science Review (APSR).
Today’s article is about Faisal Ahmed, an assistant professor of political science at Princeton, who apparently just failed tenure. This tenure denial spawned one of the most viewed threads of the past month on poliscirumors.
I reached out to Dr. Faisel but did not receive a reply, so I could not confirm first-hand that he failed tenure.
What makes this such a “brutal” denial is that he had -- on paper, at least -- an amazing record. Here is his CV, which lists 14 publications at top journals + two books resulting in 1,500 citations. A beancounter’s wet dream. So why did he fail tenure?
For starters, he had the bad fortune of being born an asian man. A black woman with this record would simply not have failed tenure, even if some of her papers were fatally flawed... the bar for this demographic is on the fucking floor. Lisa Cook’s papers are overwhelmingly fraudulent, yet she sits on the Fed Board. Claudine Gay’s papers are overwhelmingly fraudulent, yet she runs Harvard.
The real reason Dr. Ahmed failed tenure becomes evident when you read the PSR thread. Here is what his colleagues say about him:
Apparently this plagiarism scandal has been common knowledge in the polisci community for the past decade, but nobody felt the need to do anything about it until it came time to vote on his tenure. The mainstream media never covered it.
I am a little impressed actually — the system eventually worked! The fraud was identified and pushed out, even if it did take a few years. When the time came, the senior professors in his department crushed him like a bug. Justice delayed is still a form of justice. Princeton strong.
This case involves his second-most cited paper, The Perils of Unearned Foreign Income: Aid, Remittances, and Government Survival, which was published in the #1 polisci journal in the world.
This paper was also Ahmed’s PhD thesis, making it doubly important to his career.
If you click on this APSR article and read it, it says: Please note a correction has been issued for this article.
Here is the correction in its entirety: The article by Ahmed in the February 2012 issue of American Political Science Review should have included on pp. 147 and 150 a citation to Abdih et al. (2008).
That doesn’t sound too bad... he just forgot to include a citation, right? Pretty minor correction!
Well, when you drill down one level further, here is where it gets wild. The citation that he strategically omitted was for a 2008 working paper by the International Monetary Fund… a paper whose central model is equation-by-equation identical to Ahmed’s central model. This wasn't even an ambiguous case, as we can see by comparing the two models in Microsoft paint:
Yea, pretty blatant. Ahmed pretended to invent this model, but really he just stole it from an old & obscure IMF paper.
He stole his PhD thesis. Classic.
In her 2015 article Aid Is Not Oil, Sarah Bermeo, a professor of political science at Duke, points out that not only is Ahmed’s 2012 APSR plagiarized, it is also p-hacked and fatally flawed. She points out at least 3 flaws:
Coding error: Ahmed conveniently “forgets” to lag a variable that should be lagged.
Suspiciously dropped data: 29% of Ahmed’s dataset was dropped for no good reason, resulting in the paper “selecting on the dependent variable.” In other words, he was attempting explain the determinants of X by exclusively looking at instances where X is true.
Log(Polity): He log-transforms a variable when it doesn’t make logical sense to log the variable.
When these three issues are fixed, Ahmed’s results are “not only insignificant but also in the opposite direction” and Dr. Bormeo assures us that “in no way [do Ahmed’s] results support the conclusion that aid prevents political change … or that aid operates in a similar way to other forms of nontax revenue.”
Absolutely devastating and professional takedown by Dr. Bormeo. These are the eyes of a stone-cold killer, folks. This is a brave, heroic truth-seeker.
Word on the street is that Ahmed is currently on the job market.
He will end up at a pretty good school… most schools below Princeton’s level will be more than willing to overlook his youthful indiscretions purely because it would be a great coup for them to have a former Princeton professor on staff. The only question is how far he will fall down the rankings. Will he end up a tier below Princeton? Or will he end up 10 tiers below Princeton? Time will tell.
Good luck on the job market.