Disgraced professor abruptly leaves job amid claims he faked data to make racism seem more prevalent

Eric Stewart, a disgraced Florida State University criminology professor with six retracted studies on his belt, appears to have finally abruptly left his job last month after years of being accused of perpetrating academic fraud.

The accusations started in 2019 when Professor Justin Pickett of the University of Albany, who’d reportedly co-authored a study with Stewart years earlier, accused him of using fraudulent data in one of his studies.

“The study tested if the public’s prejudicial views impacted their desire for harsher sentences for black and Hispanic Americans. The published findings were that as black and Hispanic populations grew, so did the public’s want for more discriminatory sentences,” according to The Florida Standard.

There was just one problem. The original data showed no such thing.

“[N]o relationship was found between growing minority populations and demands for increased sentences. If anything, Pickett pointed out, it was quite the opposite. Pickett found that their sample size somehow had increased from 500 to over 1,000 respondents, the counties polled had decreased from 326 to 91, and the data was altered to the point of mathematical impossibility,” the Standard notes.

Upon discovering these discrepancies, Pickett tried approaching Stewart, but to no avail. For at least four months Stewart reportedly refused to hand over the original data. Meanwhile, their colleagues all automatically sided with Stewart.

Yet as time passed, the study was retracted, as were four others written by Stewart. In addition, Florida State University decided to launch an official inquiry. But once again, there was a problem.

“Two of the three individuals on FSU’s inquiry committee, however, had co-authored studies with Stewart – directly contradicting FSU’s conflict of interest policy,” according to the Standard.

And so it should come as little surprise that the inquiry committee neither asked for access to the original data to review it nor sought testimony from Pickett.

But it gets worse.

As all this was happening, Stewart began claiming that Pickett had “essentially lynched me and my academic character.”

Then the committee finally concluded its inquiry after having allegedly not found enough evidence to move forward with a full-fledged investigation. The case was then ostensibly closed, though the backlash was just beginning.

“I think FSU’s decision is regrettable. Universities have a legal and moral obligation to take fraud accusations seriously. When they don’t, they betray taxpayers, who supply the money for scientists’ research, and weaken ethical norms in the scientific community,” Pickett said at the time in an email to The Washington Times.

Even Brian Nosek, the co-founder and executive director of the Center for Open Science, was caught off-guard by the university’s decision.

“In terms of fraud cases in other fields, this would appear to be relatively ordinary in the sense that it follows a similar template of suspicious reporting, apparently non-existent datasets, and a lot of obfuscation when collaborators try to investigate what happened. But, it is decidedly unordinary in the apparent investigative process conducted by the university,” he said to the Times.

Despite this pushback, all was ostensibly well afterward up until June of 2020, when yet another allegation of academic fraud was made, causing the inquiry to be reinitiated and an investigation to finally be launched.

And then three years later, Stewart suddenly disappeared from his job, possibly because the investigation ended “with enough evidence of fraud discovered to justify termination,” as theorized by the Standard.

As for Pickett, he declined to discuss the investigation, but he did tell the Standard that there’s a big problem with academic fraud thanks to all the incentives.

“There’s a huge monetary incentive to falsify data and there’s no accountability. If you do this, the probability you’ll get caught is so, so low. There’s too much incentive to fake data and too little oversight,”  he said.

Critics agree with Pickett’s point. They also say the stain that Stewart’s bad behavior left on the school will be difficult to erase:


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Vivek Saxena


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