Florida State University Fires Professor Behind Retracted Racism Studies: Report

"Essentially lynched me and my academic character."
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY, SARASOTA, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - 2017/01/16: Florida State University. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida State University has reportedly fired a professor who had five studies on racism retracted, bringing an end to a years-long, acrimonious conflict over allegations of academic fraud.

Dr. Eric Stewart, Ph.D., was fired on July 13, according to a termination letter obtained by Retraction Watch.

Stewart was terminated for his behavior and his “extreme negligence and incompetence” in “basic data management” that has resulted in an “unprecedented” number of retracted articles and others now in question, wrote James Clark, the school’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

“Decades of research that were once thought to be at the forefront of the criminology discipline have been shown to contain numerous erroneous and false narratives,” Clark wrote, adding that the retractions have “negatively affected the discipline on a national level.”

The issues with Stewart’s research have also affected Florida State’s recruitment of students and faculty and have made the school’s other researchers worry about being able to get their papers into top journals, the letter said.

“The damage to the standing of the University and, in particular, the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice and its faculty approaches the catastrophic and may be unalterable,” Clark wrote.

Clark said he made the decision to fire Stewart after reviewing the evidence gathered during the school’s investigation. He also mentioned that Stewart was given the opportunity to defend himself to a “peer panel.”

Stewart abruptly disappeared from his position in March after his peers accused him of committing academic fraud in studies to make racism appear much more prevalent in the criminal justice system than it actually is, The Florida Standard reported.

Stewart, who is black, was an associate professor at FSU’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, as well as a Fellow of the American Society of Criminology and had been employed at the school for 16 years.

Six of Stewart’s studies from 2006 to 2015 have now been retracted, a stain on FSU’s prestigious criminology department. Five of those studies dealt with race.

Stewart was first accused of falsifying data in 2019 by Justin Pickett, a professor at the State University of New York at Albany. Stewart and Pickett co-authored one of the now-retracted studies published in 2011.

That particular retracted study claimed to find that as black and Hispanic populations grew, so did the public’s desire for harsher, discriminatory criminal sentences for them. However, the original data showed that there was no relationship between growing black and Hispanic populations and the public’s desire for harsher sentences.

Pickett found that if anything, the conclusion was the opposite.

Also, the sample size increased from 500 to more than 1,000 people, and the number of counties polled slipped from 326 to 91. The data had “mathematical impossibilities,” Pickett said.

“Scientific fraud occurs all too frequently — approximately 1 in 50 scientists admit to fabricating or falsifying data — and I believe it is the most likely explanation for the data irregularities in the five retracted articles,” Pickett wrote in an analysis for Econ Journal Watch.

When Pickett pointed out the issues with the study to Stewart, he refused to give Pickett a copy of the original data for four months, Pickett said.

Stewart told FSU administrators in an email that Pickett “essentially lynched me and my academic character.”

He also complained about feeling targeted in texts to colleagues that were made public.

“For some reason, data thugs are after me. It seems very personal,” Stewart said in one of the texts. “All of the blame is being directed at me.”

Two of the other studies examined whether white people who live in areas where lynchings occurred were more likely to view black people as criminals and favor harsher criminal punishments.

Initially, FSU did not react with much of a response to the bombshell allegations that Stewart committed academic fraud repeatedly. The university opened a small inquiry that concluded there was no need for a full-scale investigation. However, when the sixth study was challenged in 2020, FSU finally launched an investigation.

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