Embattled neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin admitted to creating a popular hoax Twitter account of a non-existent bisexual Native American professor under the handle @Sciencing_Bi. McLaughlin issued a statement on Tuesday through her lawyer to the New York Times apologizing for breaking people's trust.
"I take full responsibility for my involvement in creating the @sciencing_bi Twitter account," the statement read. "My actions are inexcusable. I apologize without reservation to all the people I hurt."
McLaughlin also said she would be stepping down from MeTooSTEM, a nonprofit organization she founded for sexual abuse survivors in the STEM field. McLaughlin did not mention why she created the fake account. However, Twitter users alleged she did so to boost her credibility after she was met with criticism from the board of her organization.
Non-existent bi-sexual professor
The popular neuroscientist, hailed for starting #MeToo movement in the STEM field, had been accused by academics and Twitter users for masquerading as a non-existent bi-sexual Native American professor on the micro-blogging site.
Discrepancy over the identity of the 'Native American professor' was found after neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin told Twitter users that the professor died of coronavirus infection over the weekend.
McLaughlin claimed to have personally known the professor, who allegedly worked at Arizona State University and went by the Twitter handle @Sciencing_Bi. The alleged fake professor was popular among the science community on Twitter for being vocal about the rights of LGBT and minority people.
On July 31, McLaughlin tweeted that the ASU professor died of Covid-19. Following the announcement, several academics on Twitter claimed that they never met the professor in person. They also expressed why the ASU did not announce the death of their faculty member.
Mystery Over @Sciencing_Bi's Identity
Rachel Leingang, a reporter with the Arizona Republic, tweeted on Sunday saying that the university's spokesperson told her the ASU authorities were looking into reports about a potential death of a person claiming to be a faculty member for the last 24 hours. However, the authorities were not able to verify any connection of the person to the university.
The 51-year-old neuroscientist is also accused of posting a photo of her daughter, claiming it was @Sciencing_Bi. Jacquelyn Gill, associate professor at the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute had earlier tweeted expressing grief over the alleged fake Native American professor's death and called the person "my friend." However, in another tweet, Gill stated she was convinced that @Sciencing_Bi was a fake account.
Another Twitter user, who went by the name Aspiring Leftist Academic, said that the only person who claimed to have known the 'Native American professor' outside the social media platform was McLaughlin. "People trying to look for ASU press releases on the death found that every photo posted by sciencing_bi was a stock photo and that the only person who communicated with them outside of twitter DMs was Bethann," the user said.
Following the controversy, @Sciencing_Bi and McLaughlin's Twitter accounts were suspended.
Who is BethAnn McLaughlin?
McLaughlin rose to prominence in the STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field after speaking about sexual harassment and abuse in academic science. According to Heavy, she is responsible for making RateMyProfessors.com remove red hot chilli pepper rating for "hot" professors.
McLaughlin is also credited with creating online petitions to push the National Academy of Sciences for a response on sexual harassment. She also started MeTooSTEM.com, a nonprofit organization for women who faced sexual harassment in the STEM field.
However, this is not the first time McLaughlin has faced criticism. In February, colleagues at MeTooSTEM.com accused her of bullying and sought her resignation. However, no action was taken against her.