Fraud at Rutgers


Deceit, Self-deception and Fraud at

Rutgers—the First Wave of Attacks against Professor Trivers

Posted April 7, 2013, updated May 6, 2013, and February 24, 2014)

Background—How does Rutgers Deal with Real   

                 Violence vs Imagined Violence?

Recently an extraordinary truth was revealed about Rutgers University. There was testimonial and film evidence that a basketball coach repeatedly physically assaulted undergraduates, with fists, feet and basketballs, while slandering them as homosexuals (which would normally elevate his behavior to a “hate crime”) (CNN News coverage) yet Rutgers University did not do a thing in public, only docking him three days work and less than 10% of his pay. Indeed, by not firing him on the spot, Rutgers lost $100,000 due to him for successfully completing the year and by not terminating him “for cause” Rutgers lost an additional one and a half million. The whistle-blower in the case was terminated for “insubordination” (exactly as expected, he is, after all a traitor to the general cause). Rutgers claims they had good reason to fire him and he only revealed the misbehavior on the basketball court as an act of revenge.  I have my doubts.

My own case provides the reverse side. I was the whistle-blower on an academic case of fraud at Rutgers, while a colleague took the opposite view.   I did not strike a single student with a foot or basketball or anything, I never threatened a soul, I never even pointed a finger at anyone. My profile is completely non-aggressive. Yet I was accused of violating the Rutgers anti-violence policy, based on trumped up charges coming primarily from a colleague, (Dr Cronk) namely that I had frightened him in his office.  Rutgers turns a blind-eye to real violence by its basketball coach but uses its anti-violence policy to harass a professor with no violent tendencies but who is acting as a whistle-blower, i.e. acting as an internal traitor from their standpoint.

       Rutgers Launches its First Wave of Attacks   

                      against Professor Trivers

In retrospect it is clear that Rutgers’ attack on Professor Trivers, beginning in the fall of 2011 and continuing through early 2013 was part of a continuing series of attacks. Here we report our first response—that this had primarily to do with the issue of fraud in scientific work. One now wonders whether this was the real issue or only part of a larger problem.

FRAUD at RUTGERS and Their Response

I was involved in a case of academic fraud at Rutgers University concerning a very striking paper published in 2005 in one of the top science journals in the world (Nature). I was a co-author on that paper and the head of the project in which the work took place. I was then a co-author of a short book proving that the prior paper was completely fraudulent. Indeed the chance that it was not fraudulent was less than one in ten billion. 

But a colleague who wished to preserve the results (Dr Cronk) took the opposite view. I was creating the illusion of fraud beyond one in ten billion but there was actually no fraud at all. When the dust settled, I was ejected from campus, not permitted back to any of it except in the company of an armed police officer for almost five months, deprived of any contact with my two classes, then 90% complete, deprived of my research space for 20 months and found to be in violation of the University’s anti-violence policy (which can lead to suspension without pay) having done nothing more violent than call a man who had slandered and defamed me multiple times, a “punk”.

As I later learned, my case showed many of the classic features of such cases in academia. Chiefly, there is no upside to fraud—at least not to admitting to it—the university in which the work takes place has no interest in revealing the fraud that occurs within its boundaries, nor does the journal that published the fraud.

The scientific journal claims to promote and publish the truth, but when presented with strong contrary evidence to work it has already published, it does not act at once to retract the results nor even call attention to their untrustworthiness—in fact, it often does nothing at all. Thus, a paper (Brown et al 2005 [PDF]) may easily survive un-rebutted in the literature for over seven years, accruing 153 citations, in spite of a small book (Trivers et al 2009 [PDF]) proving the fraud far beyond a reasonable doubt, yet to this day Nature refuses to publish a reference to the book. For an account of Cronk’s early behavior regarding the fraud problem, see Chapter 12 of Trivers et al (The Anatomy of a Fraud ch 12[PDF]).

Since the work was supported by Federal funds (NSF), the rule is that when fraud is alleged concerning such work, the Institution that received the money must investigate and report back to the Federal government—otherwise the Federal government is happy to cut off ALL federally supported research until compliance is achieved. In short, Rutgers had no choice and its 27-month investigation duly confirmed that fraud was committed (RAB report 2012 [PDF]) exactly as alleged in our 2009 book.  Although Rutgers refused to release the report publicly, I did so here on April 7, 2013, because I was permitted to share copies of the report with whomever I chose. I was co-principal investigator and co-author on the fraud itself and I was co-author on a book proving the fraud. Rutgers’ official investigation merely bore out what our book showed.

In general, the within-University resistance is much more insidious and serious at the personal level, because those exposing the fraud often work in the institutions supporting the fraud, so that they are easily viewed (unconsciously or otherwise) as internal traitors and treated as such. After all, one could easily have remained silent, why create a Federal case out of this?

Graduate students who reveal fraud by their professor—a frequent occurrence—are not elevated within the profession. Quite the contrary, they are marginalized and discriminated against, sometimes very harshly. Who got the Nobel Prize for isolating one of the compounds that kills tuberculosis—the graduate student who did all the work or his professor who refused even to enter the student’s lab for fear of contracting tuberculosis? Professor Waksman of course, who (supported by Rutgers University) expropriated all credit for the work and only later was a paltry side-payment made in response to a suit by the then ex-graduate student.

In my own case it soon became apparent that the results were entirely fraudulent, generated by my post-doc, Dr William Brown, presumably for his self-advancement. I was a co-principal investigator on the grant from the NSF, as was my colleague Lee Cronk, who first suggested the work. But here an interesting dichotomy developed. While I (and two co-workers hired for the task) became convinced that fraud had occurred, eventually reaching epic proportions: p < 0.00000000001 being the probability that the results had occurred by chance, Dr Cronk held out for the opposite view, that no fraud had occurred—indeed that the charge of fraud was part of a malicious campaign by me against Dr Brown, an innocent, injured party—so he and Brown duly submitted a ~50 page manuscript to the Committee investigating the fraud: “No Fraud: a Response to Trivers et al (2009)”.  But if there was no fraud when we alleged fraud to beyond 1 in 10 billion, then we were in fact acting fraudulently to the same statistical certainty. There is no in-between ground.

Their defense amounted to slander and defamation against three innocent parties (me and my co-authors) actionable in court, except for the problem of determining what the damages were! I did later suffer severe damages—not directly through the lies of Cronk and Brown but—through malicious acts tacked on by the University, primarily at Cronk’s instigation, apparently in hopes of driving me out of Rutgers for good.

Who is Violent in the Eyes of Rutgers?

Rutgers has an anti-violence policy as I learned after revealing fraud in our work. It has extremely lax standards. For example, if two people are engaging in an interaction that both of them regard as friendly or positive (one old friend says, you are a “blind mo-fo”, the other says “BS, you’ve been wrong for 20 years”)—IF ONLOOKERS REGARD IT AS POTENTIALLY VIOLENT OR FRIGHTENING, you may be found to have violated their anti-violence policy.

In my own case, there was no violence or hint of violence whatsoever. Cronk calls the police on me in his office, a purely spiteful act, claiming I would not leave otherwise—I left at once but did call him a “punk” on the way out. He had made a trivial office visit into a police event.  That evening at a local Ethiopian restaurant I had a very pleasant interaction with a young, visiting PhD from Harvard whom I had heard about in advance. She thoroughly enjoyed the brief interaction, as did I, but on the grounds that a couple of Rutgers onlookers “thought”  the interaction looked aggressive I was cited also for this egregious act of violence.

On purely trumped up grounds I was found to have violated Rutgers anti-violence policy and threatened at any moment with suspension without pay should there be the hint of a repeat.  In doing so, Rutgers acted illegally in several ways, it violated New Jersey whistle-blower protection laws and Federal laws barring discrimination on the basis of disability and it violated my contract by failing to provide adequate research space. In the process it lied repeatedly and publicly in a very hurtful manner. That it was doing so against one of its most accomplished scientists seemed a matter of indifference to them.

Shortly after I went public with the above two journalists published accounts, one in Nature News by Eugenie Reich (Link)

who is an accomplished writer on fraud in science, see Plastic Fantastic (2009) (Link), and one in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Chris Shea (Link). Both pieces have very useful quotes from Cronk and Brown defending their behavior.

Defending scientific fraud and the power of deceit and self-deception—the case of Lee Cronk

Professor Cronk claims not to have “defended” Dr Brown but merely to have pointed out flaws with an early draft of the work which later became Trivers et al 2009.  He also claims that only on my side did what might have remained an “intellectual exchange” turn into a bitter feud.  All of this is gibberish.

He did indeed point out what he imagined were flaws with an early draft of our work, exactly as recounted in Chapter 12 (Trivers et al 2009) (PDF) but was that all he did? No he then broke off all e-mail contact with me ( = “intellectual exchange” ?) while slandering me and my co-authors behind our backs.

(1) He told graduate students, faculty members and the chair of the Anthropology Department that a far later draft of our work, submitted to Nature for a retraction, was but a vindictive attack on an innocent party (Dr Brown).

(2) According to Nature’s rules, our submission had to be sent out to the other co-authors for their response. Brown did not respond. All others who responded WERE POSITIVE AND said that their response could be shared with us, but not Cronk. He insisted his comments be kept secret. Another example of “intellectual exchange” ? Were they negative? Yes, because Nature told us that since at least one co-author had contested our conclusion we could only post (at most) a very reduced online response (~500 words, one small figure or table).  Since our manuscript was already ten times as long and Nature’s option seemed ill-advised on its face—you do not allege something as serious as fraud without demonstrating it carefully and thoroughly—we declined their offer.

(3) When we uncovered evidence that Brown had systematically changed 65 out of 80 relative FA values of the dancers—which now contradicted the FA values in his own set—Cronk then claimed that “so many data sets were floating around Brown may merely have picked up the wrong one” (a falsehood later repeated by Brown almost verbatim).

(4) Then, a year later, AFTER our book had been published and Rutgers began its investigation, he and Brown submitted (as noted above) a ~50 page manuscript entitled “No Fraud: a Response to Trivers et al (2009)”.

So how on earth can Cronk claim that his only role was to point out flaws in an EARLY draft of our work (flaws that were easily rebutted at the time: Trivers et al 2009)? After that he engaged in no intellectual exchange with me at all, so how can he say that it was I who turned an “intellectual exchange” into a bitter feud. It would be tempting to answer that he could do so only by lying through his teeth in the face of considerable behavioral and documentary evidence to the contrary—but that would be to sidestep the problem of his degree of consciousness, so a more careful analysis in terms of deceit and self-deception is suggested.

Certainly he is inverting reality. This could be a remarkable example of selective forgetting in the service of a false personal narrative, itself expected to exert a powerful effect (similar to false historical narratives: see my book on self-deception, The Folly of Fools (2011) (Link). And it does seem that Cronk may have very gradually slid into a delusional state through a pattern of denial, later projection and then self-justification.  Quoting from The Folly of Fools, p 150:

“A person decides an article on which he is a co-author is not fraudulent. To do so,  he must deny the first wave of incoming evidence as he duly does. Then comes the second wave. Cave in? Admit fault and cut his losses? Not too likely. Not when he can deny once more and perhaps cite new evidence in support of denial—evidence to which he becomes attached in the next round. He is doubling down at each turn—double or nothing—and as nothing is what he would have gotten at the very beginning, with no cost, he is temped to justify each prior mistake by doubling down again. Denial leads to denial, with potential costs mounting at each turn.”

But then a new self-deceptive force enters. What you deny you must now project—someone has to take the fall for the false finding! My two co-authors and I are the fraudsters. To create the illusion that Brown had concocted a fraud to a certainty of within less than one in 10 billion, Cronk had to claim that we had done so at a similar level of certainty. 

And now comes a third force. Inside, you are apt to feel guilty at what you are doing. That is, even if you rationalize all of this biased behavior as being in the service of truth, unconsciously you may know the truth and feel guilt over your actions. Guilt, in turn, induces fear. That is certainly true of myself. If I have harmed you unjustly and you enter a room and are half my size, I will feel anxiety in your presence, pit-of-the-stomach anxiety. It is as if I know I deserve a good hiding and fear you have arrived to administer it. But if I have the moral high ground, if you are bullying someone, God forbid a woman, then you may be 20% larger, younger and stronger and I will go at you—more rabid dog than brute strength—but still something you must reckon with.

So when Cronk says he was physically scared in his office I believe him, both on behavioral grounds and also his guilt (conscious or not). That is precisely why Rutgers’ stated anti-violence policy is in places so poorly worded—no it is NOT sufficient that someone be frightened (or, worse still, onlookers). Why are they frightened? Because someone is threatening them, or their own consciences are?

But when Cronk manufactures a lie regarding my visit to his office, embellished by the Chair and Dean, in which I first abuse him (“punk”) and then refuse to leave his office when asked to—which indeed would be threatening—yet none of which is true, and I am nearly ejected from campus for good, then it is time to call a lie a lie.

And Cronk does not stop here, he claims to have been exempted from answering e-mails to me as head of CHES but my e-mails went to him as acting-Chair of the Department. He claims that the one I sent him required no reply, yet it was a request for permission to be absent from campus for one week. If yes, I travel; if no, I do not. In 40 years, I have always received a reply and it has always been granted, usually thanking me for looking after my obligations while gone and wishing me well in the task that was taking me from campus.  Nothing, nada, gar nichts from dear old “intellectual exchange” Cronk.

There was a second message, which I placed in his mailbox, as required, an Australian grant proposal to which I had been added as a Co-Principal Investigator. I have no idea what he did (since he never answered) but he was supposed to send this on to the Office of Research Grants which he did not do. He claims I “boast” of carrying a large knife. Why on earth would I do that? Only a fool boasts of carrying a weapon. If you do carry one, better to keep it under cover. So lie after lie after lie emerges from Cronk—yes it could mostly or mainly be unconscious, but if that is the case, so what—deceit with self-deception is as bad, if not worse, than consciously mediated deception (see The Folly of Fools (Link).

Last but not least comes reality itself. It was always there and you always had to face it. When you can lie (= misrepresent reality) to students, faculty, chairs and Vice Presidents, all within Rutgers, you can hope for temporary escape, and if you succeed in driving me out of Rutgers, longer-term escape, but once the outside world is let in on this little drama, you have a whole set of new problems. I say this without glee or comfort, I have never wished Lee Cronk any harm, I have supported him in many of his endeavors, including our joint dance work, but the truth is the truth, both about fraud and my alleged behavior. Evil thrives in darkness. Period.

Brown—a fraud who always appears to land on his feet

What about Brown?  How has he dealt with the accusations against him? You have to give him credit—he seems willing to brazen out his denial until the cows come home. When approached through e-mail by writers wishing to write stories on the subject, he says that he cannot respond to my “accusations” (he could have said “analysis”) since the matter is still under investigation (that is, NSF has yet to weigh in) but the main problem is that “a full investigation needs to be conducted where the original data set is re-entered by an unbiased party for reanalysis”.

This is gibberish and completely irrelevant.  I do not believe Brown is practicing self-deception for even one moment, except perhaps as he justifies the lying to himself. In other words, he talks, as Germans would say, such “ganz quatsch” (complete nonsense) about all of this, and this must be carefully, consciously created. How will the University of Bedfordshire, his current employer, treat this new problem—probably they will overlook his fraud? And when the NSF weighs in? Stay tuned.

All original data were provided to the Committee investigating the matter by Rutgers and some were duly copied. Besides the fraud that we uncovered initially we later discovered he had changed the original FA values in our data set for 65 out of the 80 dancers in his data set, while only 1 out of ~230 of non-dancers were changed, an extremely damaging finding. There was the slight possibility that our data set, stored on multiple hard-drives, was mistaken and he had the correct data, but there was an easy way to check.

John Manning, at the University of Swansea, one of the world's authority on FA (and the 2nd:4th digit ratio) (link) had written the original paper on the Jamaican Symmetry Project in 1999 and he was given the 2002 measures before Brown joined the project—his values match our own exactly. How is it then possible for Brown’s values to be correct and ours wrong? Worse still for Brown, he made the elementary fraudster’s error of changing some of the values but not their components. Thus we use not the (fluctuating) asymmetry itself (FA) between left and right side of a trait, but their relative asymmetry—that is, asymmetry divided by trait size. Thus, if your ears show twice as much asymmetry as mine but are also twice as large, then we say, they show the same degree of ‘relative asymmetry’.

But Brown forgot to change the FA values themselves, he only changed the relative FAs, so his data were internally inconsistent: one could not derive one set of values from the other. It is trivial to program a computer to make both changes at the same time. You insert the new relative FA values you want and then have the computer change the FAs so that when divided by the trait size (which you do not change) you get the false values you have inserted. He either forgot to do this, or as I imagine, never thought his data would be subjected to the scrutiny it was and so did not bother to protect himself against this.

Imagine (as he demands) that some unbiased third party goes back and checks the original data sheets, as FA measurements were called out by the scientists making them to the students writing them down. Imagine a few errors are found (as would, in fact, be expected). This would create a third (more accurate) data set but would leave all the discrepancies with Brown’s data set intact—his relative FA’s would still differ in 65 out of 80 cases for dancers but only 1 out of ~230 for non-dancers. And all of his discrepant values would still suffer from the embarrassment that they are internally inconsistent—only relative FAs were changed, not the linked FA values. The chance that all of this could have happened by chance is well below one in a 10 trillion.

So this appears to be a smoke-screen to permit him to say that the “accusations” are unfair and based on failures of information and thinking. He is now the injured party due to malfeasance on our part. Note that the findings of fraud were not made by me alone but also by Dr Brian Palestis, Chair of the Biology Department of Wagner College, and a well-known authority on tern behavior and (separately) B chromosomes.  Dr Darine Zaatari is a highly accomplished student of FA and behavior in the Ultimatum Game. So this is not just my vendetta—somehow I have managed to rope in two innocent (and highly accomplished) bystanders—with nothing at stake in the outcome—while Brown stands unjustly accused (if not self-examined) to the side.

It is worth noting that the University’s interests and those of Dr Brown may sometimes be well co-aligned—each may benefit from keeping the truth out of the public eye as long as possible. Hard to speculate regarding Dr Brown but for Rutgers, this must certainly be an error. Yes, momentarily the world will not know of scientific fraud inside you, but soon enough they will find out—and far worse for you, the tawdry way in which you acted once the fraud was revealed. Surely better to fess up immediately, reveal the truth publicly and back those who have supported the truth all along, take your (minor) licks and come out with some integrity, as well the appearance thereof.  For one solid year, Rutgers chose not to make its 27-month report public, nor any summary thereof. Yet three weeks after I release the report on-line, Rutgers suddenly “releases” the report to Nature News and the Chronicle of Higher Education. It even “releases” it to me and gives me permission to release their new version, even though I already have permission to release the first version. (The two are in fact identical.) Well, good for Rutgers: better late than never.

But wait, Rutgers has a surprise in store for me—a second wave of attack from a completely unexpected quarter—for the first time I am arbitrarily assigned to teach a course three months later on a subject I do not master—at penalty of losing my pay and even being “terminated”.

Heard about the recent scandals at Rutgers?

See how deceit and self-deception at Rutgers drove Dr Trivers off of campus for 5 months

CNN News Coverage on Rutgers’ Basketball Coach