“The Science Woman” claimed to be an academic. She claimed to have shaken the efforts of her social justice obsessed department to draft a statement condemning racism.
And when Twitter users accused her of racism, she claimed to be a woman of color herself – and an immigrant too.
But The Science Femme, who tweeted from the alias @piney_the, was none of that, began alleging digital sleuths late last month. Instead, they claimed, “she” was Craig Chapman, a white man assistant professor of chemistry at the University of New Hampshire. The allegations, reinforced by an internal email from the chemistry department, would make Chapman at least the fourth white scholar revealed to have introduced himself as a person of color in recent weeks.
In three of these cases, academics are accused of shameless attempts to pursue their own careers. But in Chapman’s case, Twitter users who came into contact with @piney_the claim the account harassed real women working in science.
The University of New Hampshire said the incident was under investigation.
“UNH was recently made aware of allegations on social media regarding a member of its faculty,” a spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “We are deeply disturbed by what we have learned so far and immediately launched an investigation. The employee at the center of the social media allegations is on leave, not in class. In order to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation, the university is unable to comment further. “
Chapman did not return repeated requests for comment for this story. His account and @piney_the were deleted last week.
Susanna Harris, PhD in Microbiology. incumbent who currently works in science communications, first noticed the @piney_the Twitter account in July.
“They started this long thread of how they, as a woman of color in science, professor, made a big change in their university by ending work on diversity, equity and inclusion. Harris, who is white, told The Daily Beast.
Harris wasn’t the only person taking note of the thread, in which @piney_the claimed to have “successfully killed my department’s wake-up call on recent social unrest.” The viral thread has been criticized in conservative publications like RedState, which praised efforts to derail an anti-racist statement. Some academics were wary of claims coming from an anonymous professor at an anonymous university.
“I did a bit of digging to see if there was any chance it was a real person,” Harris recalls. “I’ve been on Twitter for a while and nothing on their account said anything to make me think this is a genuine account.”
Other Twitter users had raised similar concerns earlier this year. @piney_the was a particularly combative Twitter personality, frequently mingling with the left online. The account portrayed an opponent in explicit anatomical terms on at least one occasion, repeatedly denounced transgender people, and posted censored nude photos of former Rep. Katie Hill. Hill, a former California politician, resigned last year after the footage was made public as part of an alleged revenge-pornography campaign.
“When users accused the account of “ attacking POC [people of color], ‘as we did in September, @piney_the has often claimed to be one. “You know I’m a woman of color, right? Racist, ”replied the account.“
When users accused the account of “attacking POC [people of color]As we did in September, @piney_the often claimed to be one. “You know I’m a woman of color, right? Racist, ”replied the account.
But some of @ piney_the’s tweets teased very specific personal details, like their brother owning a brewery. The account later tweeted a recommendation for a small New Jersey brewery owned by Craig Chapman’s brother, as Twitter detectors noted the @drama_science account. (Her brother could not be reached immediately for comment.) Other similarities between @piney_the and Chapman, such as the fandom of Chicago sports teams, New Jersey origins, and knowledge of niche chemistry fields, abounded.
Some of the similarities were more glaring than others.
In April, @piney_the and Chapman tweeted the same image of a craft coffee brewing facility, minutes apart, with similar captions. The photo does not appear to have been uploaded elsewhere on the Internet. And both accounts tweeted about the pickled meat, both appearing to tweet images of the same baking sheet on the same marble counter.
Although a few Twitter users had noted their suspicions on the account for nearly a year, those whispers escalated in late September, after @piney_the clashed with several academics, including Harris. She was among those who had previously tweeted in opposition to Mike Adams, a professor at the University of North Carolina who is famous for his anti-feminist positions. Adams and UNC came to an agreement whereby he would retire in August and receive a half-million dollar settlement upon his departure. He committed suicide in July.
@piney_the, which had more than 13,000 followers when it was taken down last week, was one of the main players fueling what Harris called a subsequent harassment campaign against her.
“They literally said that I had killed [Adams], that I had blood on my hands, that I had driven him to suicide, ”she said. “That’s when the tide changed and I started getting emails from anonymous people saying they were hoping I would die, that they would hurt me.”
The bile has renewed some of Harris’ previous suspicions about the authenticity of @ piney_the. If she was right that she was a fake Twitter personality pretending to speak for the marginalized, this wouldn’t be the first time.
White academics faking their racial or ethnic identity have become a disturbing trope during a year of racial justice protests. In September, white George Washington University professor Jessica Krug resigned after being revealed to have faked a range of black and Hispanic identities in order to further her career as an African academic. Later that month, University of Madison-Wisconsin graduate student CV Vitolo-Haddad resigned his teaching post after it was revealed that they had also falsely claimed to be black.
The scandals came a month after former Vanderbilt University assistant professor BethAnn McLaughlin was revealed to be the originator of a longtime Twitter account claiming to be a Native American science teacher in Arizona. State University. McLaughlin previously used the fake professor’s popular Twitter account to promote a petition to give McLaughlin a job at Vanderbilt. The ruse was only revealed when McLaughlin claimed the non-existent professor had died from COVID-19.
Ironically, @piney_the poked fun at race deception when it came from the Liberals, sharing a Senator Elizabeth Warren meme with the caption “Growing up Chinese in South Detroit, I struggled as an Afro-Jewish boy. American.” (Warren dubiously claimed Native American ancestry and later apologized.)
Harris was thinking of McLaughlin’s case at the end of September when she decided to tweet her doubts on @piney_the. She asked the anonymous account to provide proof that it was a woman of color and offered to delete her own account if it was proven to be wrong. Other academics quickly grasped the similarities between @ piney_the’s account and Craig Chapman’s, shortly before the two accounts were deleted last week.
“The fake Twitter account was actually created and operated by Craig. There were a great many things Craig wrote that ranged from unfortunate to hurtful to deeply offensive.“
An internal email (shared by members of the department and previously reported by local media) from UNH chemistry president Glen Miller suggests these fears were valid.
“The fake Twitter account was actually created and operated by Craig,” read the email, obtained by The Daily Beast. “There were a lot of things Craig wrote that ranged from unhappy to hurtful to deeply offensive. These statements do not represent me or the collegial, collaborative and accepting department in which I have had the privilege of working for the past 25 years. Everyone has a right to their opinion, of course, but when those opinions are contemptuous, hurtful, or harmful to others, it doesn’t suit me. I reject these statements and their intention, without reservation. But even so, I don’t reject Craig. I’m not giving up on Craig.
The letter went on to describe Chapman as “embarrassed and overwhelmed and shocked.” He fears this may be the end of his college career. I hope it is not and I told him. Chapman would “be clear” and soon express remorse to his colleagues, Miller wrote.
Miller, who did not return requests for comment, also accused Chapman’s accusers of being “very motivated to reveal Craig as the person responsible for the fake Twitter account and inflict damage on him.” He urged readers not to speak to the media about the incident.
Some UNH graduate students protested what they believed to be the rogue professor’s Twitter activities last week, marching with placards across campus. “Craig Chapman does not speak for us,” read one sign.
“Miller said sorry, we’re saying get out,” read another.
Harris argued that the incident – and other recent cases of academics faking their identities – was draining the resources of some of the very people Chapman represented.
“It’s sort of the extreme version of cultural appropriation,” she says. “They take the little protections or bits of support that women of color and other people have, and they use them as leverage against this exact population.”
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