February 08, 2005

WARD CHURCHILL UPDATE: University of Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos says that Churchill has problems with academic fraud:

To the extent that Churchill was hired because he claimed to be a Native American, he would seem to be guilty of academic fraud. But the situation is worse than this.

Thomas Brown, a professor of sociology at Lamar University, has written a paper that outlines what looks like a more conventional form of academic fraud on Churchill's part. According to Brown, Churchill fabricated a story about the U.S. Army intentionally creating a smallpox epidemic among the Mandan tribe in 1837, by simply inventing almost all of the story's most crucial facts, and then attributing these "facts" to sources that say nothing of the kind.

"One has only to read the sources that Churchill cites to realize the magnitude of his fraudulent claims for them," Brown writes. "We are not dealing with a few minor errors here. We are dealing with a story that Churchill has fabricated almost entirely from scratch. The lack of rationality on Churchill's part is mind-boggling." (Brown's essay can be read here:

Similar charges have been leveled against Churchill by University of New Mexico law professor John Lavelle, a Native American scholar who has documented what appear to be equally fraudulent claims on Churchill's part regarding the General Allotment Act, one of the most important federal laws dealing with Indian lands. (Lavelle also accuses Churchill of plagiarism).

At my institution, we don't hire people without reading their publications. We don't tenure people without reading them and sending them for outside review by leading scholars in the field. Yet Churchill was both hired and tenured -- and made department chair -- in the ethnic studies program at Colorado. I'm not sure what's more damning: If they didn't perform these checks first, or if they did, and if people on that faculty, and in that field, thought Churchill's work was just fine. As with the Bellesiles scandal, this suggests some serious problems with peer review in the discipline.