A Florida State University professor has abruptly left the university after investigators probed allegations he was falsifying research data to make it appear as though racism is more prevalent than it really is in the U.S.
Eric Stewart, a criminology professor who worked at the university for 16 years and earned nearly $190,000 per year, has now had six separate research studies retracted, five of which had to do with the topic of race.
The allegations of data manipulation came from professor Justin Pickett at the University of Albany, who co-authored a 2011 study with Stewart entitled, “Ethnic threat and social control: Examining public support for judicial use of ethnicity in punishment.”
Picket was initially tipped off to potential data manipulation after he, along with two other authors, received an anonymous e-mail citing “irregularities in the data and findings in five articles that you published together.”
One now-retracted paper, “A Legacy of Lynchings: Perceived Black Criminal Threat Among Whites,” has an editor’s note stating that the data was corrected after the authors “identified a coding error.”
In a separate paper, the sample size changed from 868 respondents in the manuscript draft to 1,184 in the published draft. Yet when researchers contacted the company who ran the survey, they learned there were only 500 respondents.
The falsified data could have impacted other research and potentially policymaking, as one of Stewart’s papers (“School social bonds, school climate, and school misbehavior: A multilevel analysis”) was cited 186 times, and another was cited 33 times.
Responding to the e-mail detailing the anomalies across Stewart’s work, Pickett wrote a 27-page article detailing myriad issues in the papers, which included data sets on use of ethnicity in punishment, predictors of violence, racial and ethnic disparities in violence, racial and ethnic disparities in arrests, and race-based perception of injustice.
“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,” Pickett told the Florida Standard. “There’s too much incentive to fake data and too little oversight.”
When confronted over the data irregularities, Stewart refused to give Pickett a copy of the original data for more than four months, the Standard reported.
After the first five papers were found to contain falsified data, a three-person committee was tasked with deciding whether a formal investigation was needed. Yet, as the Standard noted, two of the three had co-authored studies with Stewart, which constitutes a conflict of interest.
Neither did the committee seek the original data, nor did they interview people who filed allegations.
During discussion of the probe, Stewart used racially inflammatory language when he told administrators they had “essentially lynched me and my academic character.”
After the sixth allegation surfaced, however, the university pursued an investigation, which led to Stewart’s “abrupt March 2023 absence” and his “unexplained replacement,” the Standard described, saying there could be “enough evidence of fraud discovered to justify termination.”
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