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Hoax Account Uncovered

An anonymous anthropology professor known in science Twitter circles turns out to have been a hoax, the New York Times reports.

Last Friday, BethAnn McLaughlin, the founder of MeTooSTEM, announced that @Sciencing_Bi, who was thought to be an Arizona State University professor, died of COVID-19, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. The Heavy adds that the @Sciencing_Bi account was purported to be that of an LGBTQ Native American woman. But following McLaughlin's announcement that the professor behind the account died, both the Chronicle and the Heavy write that suspicions about who ran that account began to emerge. 

McLaughlin's MeTooSTEM organization, which highlighted sexism in the sciences and pushed for the ability to oust members from the National Academy of Sciences, was wracked by resignations last year over concerns about her leadership. Earlier this year, there were additional resignations following complaints of bullying and ignoring the concerns of people of color, but the organization's board backed McLaughlin.

The @Sciencing_Bi account would also defend McLaughlin, the Times notes. "The fact that @Sci-Bi was saying all these things about BethAnn, saying that BethAnn had helped her, it didn't make me trust BethAnn — but it made me less willing to publicly criticize her because I thought that public criticism would be felt by the people she was helping," the University of California, Berkeley's Michael Eisen tells the Times.

In a statement to the Times through an attorney, McLaughlin says she takes "full responsibility for my involvement in creating the @sciencing_bi Twitter account. My actions are inexcusable. I apologize without reservation to all the people I hurt."

Science adds that many were particularly galled that McLaughlin impersonated a Native American academic. While shocking, the Chronicle notes that the story reflects to others "a repetition of old harms." 

"It doesn't surprise me that she created a Native persona, if she did, if she wanted to shore up the perception that she had good relations with a woman of color," Kim TallBear, an associate professor of Native studies at the University of Alberta, tells it.