A criminology professor at Florida State left his position after an academic fraud investigation, which found many of his claims about race-related data to be inaccurate.
Eric Stewart, who served as the Ronald L. Simons Professor of Criminology, was honored by the American Society of Criminology in 2017 for his research. However, what was once widespread praise for Stewart’s work in the field has turned into harsh criticism.
That’s because Stewart, who was paid an annual salary of $190,000 during his time at Florida State University, allegedly fabricated and misrepresented data to support his desired conclusions.
During his 16 years at Florida State, Stewart conducted various studies alongside other researchers. In recent years, however, inaccuracies were found in Stewart’s work. These were flagged in 2019 by Dr. Justin Pickett of the University of Albany, who published a study with Stewart in 2011.
According to reporting by the Florida Standard, Stewart and Pickett conducted a poll of 500 respondents across 326 counties for that study, with the intent of examining whether Americans demanded less lenient sentences for criminal offenders when they were members of minority groups.
But when Pickett reviewed the published study and saw that the sample of the survey had been reported as nearly 1,200 respondents spanning 91 counties, he detected something was amiss.
The analysis purportedly found that respondents were more likely to demand harsher sentences for minority offenders. However, the actual finding before the study’s publication was that there was no connection between the ethnic background of the offender and the desire of respondents to impose a harsh sentence.
If anything, Pickett wrote while discussing the subsequent retraction of that paper, the opposite was the case. Criticizing Stewart for manipulating data, Pickett noted that “the only coauthor on all five retracted articles was Dr. Eric Stewart. He was the data holder and analyst for each article.”
As the Florida Standard pointed out in their report, this controversy resulted in the retraction of four more of Stewart’s papers after review, as well as the launch of a multi-year academic fraud investigation.
As that probe was being conducted, a sixth paper of Stewart’s was retracted in 2020, which was published before his time at Florida State. The study, conducted in 2003 and published in Justice Quarterly, misrepresented data relating to disciplinary policy and rates of student misbehavior in schools.
When it became clear that Stewart was being scrutinized for manipulation of data, he told school administrators that Pickett had “essentially lynched me and my academic character” by reporting him for academic fraud.
Prior to Stewart’s departure from the university in 2023, investigators at Florida State faced criticism from some who argued they were not taking the allegations of academic fraud against the professor seriously enough.
In 2020, a Washington Times report noted that the university initially declined to launch a full misconduct investigation into Stewart. Pickett called that decision “regrettable” at the time.
“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, who received his Ph.D. from Florida State, said in January 2020.
As reports of Stewart’s ouster began to circulate, Pickett reiterated the need to crack down on academic fraud, arguing that Stewart’s misconduct is not an isolated example.
“There’s too much incentive to fake data and too little oversight,” Pickett told the Florida Standard.
Florida State has not yet publicly commented on Stewart’s departure from the university.