Sorry for all the pain

More on the apparent “tragic death of non-existent person” hoax from Ed Cara at Gizmodo:

A bizarre saga of events played out on social media over the weekend, embroiling much of the close-knit world of scientists, academics, and researchers on Twitter. It started with accusations that Arizona State University’s actions had exposed one of their faculty members, an Indigenous woman and anthropologist, to an ultimately fatal case of covid-19. But it ended with allegations that the death was a hoax, carried out by someone who also faked the supposed professor’s entire existence.

Given that many colleges and schools are debating if and how it’s possible to reopen physically this fall in the midst of the pandemic, the accusations of negligence on the part of Arizona State University carry a heavy weight. But many members of the science Twitter community now suspect that the academic who was the first to report the woman’s death, Tennessee-based neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin, has pulled off a catfishing scam for years, citing inconsistencies in the woman’s accounts of events in her now-gone tweets.

Wally’s fakery was very obvious. It still mystifies me that so many intelligent people were snookered by it. A fakery carried out entirely on Twitter would be a different thing, because it’s too much trouble to keep track of Person X’s tweets, so you might not notice fakery right away.

The case for McLaughlin being @sciencing_bi is largely circumstantial for the time being. Accounts on Twitter and Reddit have highlighted now-unverifiable tweets where it appears that @sciencing_bi used stock images to describe events that were supposedly happening in real life. One user I reached out to over Twitter mentioned an experience where they had contacted @sciencing_bi to volunteer her help in securing McLaughlin tenure at Vanderbilt University where she was then employed. Soon after, she received an invite to a Google Docs group, not from @sciencing_bi, but McLaughlin herself. Another user told me of a time when @sciencing_bi appeared to be in financial trouble and was soliciting donations over Venmo. However, the Venmo account they were asked to donate to belonged to McLaughlin. No one besides McLaughlin seems to have reported ever seeing @sciencing_bi in person.

She’s still standing by her story, it seems.

I asked what McLaughlin would say to the people who now believe that @sciencing_bi is an elaborate hoax, including those who had positive experiences with both of them. “I’m really sorry, for all the pain they’re feeling now,” she said.

Just the pain they’re feeling – not the causing of it.

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