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12 Apr, 2023 18:29

US professor quits over fake racism data allegations – media

The Florida State University criminologist was under investigation after six of his studies were retracted
US professor quits over fake racism data allegations – media

Florida State University criminology professor Eric Stewart has resigned after a month-long absence, amid an inquiry into whether he faked data in multiple studies to inflate the prevalence of racism in the US, the Florida Standard reported last week.

A fellow of the American Society of Criminology, Stewart was first publicly accused of falsifying data in 2019 by University of Albany criminology professor Justin Pickett, who claimed Stewart had made several misleading changes to the data in a 2011 paper the pair co-authored.

Titled ‘Ethnic threat and social control: Examining public support for judicial use of ethnicity in punishment,’ the study proposed that public desire for harsher sentences for black and Hispanic offenders increased in proportion with the size of the minority populations in a community. However, the data showed no such relationship existed, and that the opposite might even be true.

Pickett has revealed since then that Stewart had doubled the sample size while leaving out nearly three quarters of the counties polled, mangling the data to the point of incoherence, and had refused to turn over the raw data so that Pickett could re-run the calculations. 

That study and four more were subsequently retracted, but when Pickett tried to bring the matter to the university’s attention, he claims he was stonewalled. It subsequently transpired that two of the three people eventually chosen to investigate the claims had co-authored studies with Stewart, violating Florida State’s conflict of interest policy.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that inquiry concluded that it did not have enough evidence to substantiate fraud claims and advised against continuing the investigation.   

Pickett told the Florida Standard that coverups by colleagues are common in the field, explaining “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.”  

Stewart, who is black, complained to the university that Pickett – who is white – had “essentially lynched [him] and [his] academic career.”  

In 2020, a sixth paper authored by Stewart was retracted – though not before being cited by 186 other papers. Another investigation found enough merit in the fraud claims to pursue them, apparently imperiling Stewart’s $190,000 per year position. Florida State declined to discuss the matter with the Florida Standard, and Stewart’s profile is still live on the university’s website.