A white, male assistant professor of chemistry at the University of New Hampshire is on administrative leave after apparently posing as a female, immigrant scientist of color on Twitter to criticize feminists, trans people, Black Lives Matter supporters and others.
The account in question, @piney_the, or “The Science Femme, Woman in STEM,” has been deleted. Older tweets are available, archived, here.
In more recent tweets, the professor seemed to have accused another junior academic of reveling in the death of Mike Adams, a conservative professor of criminal justice at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington who died by suicide in July, following his separation from UNC over several controversies about his own online statements.
In another example, Science Femme reportedly posted illicit photos of former U.S. Representative Katie Hill, a California Democrat (photos of Hill were previously leaked in what she described as a revenge porn case involving her estranged husband).
Science Femme also boasted about derailing her department’s statement in support of Black Lives Matter over the summer and posted notes about how to obstruct such efforts elsewhere.
“I was successful in killing my dept’s woke statement on recent social unrest. This took several weeks and may have permanently burned some bridges but I think it’s important,” Science Femme tweeted, according to screenshots. “I was successful in removing all the woke terminology from the statement, including anti-racism, white supremacy, white privilege and claims to systemic racism.” Strangely, for someone supposedly nonwhite, and therefore tellingly, Science Femme said, “You will often be accused, as I was, that asking for evidence of bias is proof of white privilege. Simply reject that claim, as I did.”
Three other white academics have been outed this year as posing as people of color, two in person and one only online. All three people -- historian Jessica Krug, graduate student CV Vitolo-Haddad and #MeTooSTEM founder BethAnn McLaughlin -- caused harm, especially to members of the communities they were imitating, but they also, to varying degrees, used their fake identities to advocate for those communities.
The New Hampshire case is different in that the alleged impostor there, Craig Chapman, apparently frequently used his fake account to troll people and political causes with which he disagreed. Science Femme essentially sought to operate as the nonideological conscience of the academic left by provoking people. In so doing, Science Femme disregarded the facts that nonideology is a kind of ideology and that the people the account was provoking had actual, lived experiences as women and people of color.
Chapman did not respond to a request for comment, but his department seemed to acknowledge the controversy with a since-deleted statement on Twitter. “As a department, we wholeheartedly reject any statements or actions which seek to minimize, dismiss, hurt or harm others,” Glenn Miller, department chair, wrote in the statement. “That is not us. That is not what we stand for. That is not who we are. Nor will it ever be.”
Erika Mantz, spokesperson for New Hampshire, said via email that the university “was recently made aware of allegations on social media about a member of its faculty. We are deeply troubled by what we’ve learned so far and immediately launched an investigation. The employee at the center of allegations on social media is on leave and not in the classroom.”
She declined further comment, citing a need to protect the “integrity of the ongoing investigation.”
Those who grew suspicious about the authenticity of the Science Femme account collected extensive evidence about similarities between the @piney_the and Chapman’s own personal Twitter account before both accounts were deleted. Both Chapman and Science Femme said they studied similar things, were from New Jersey, had spouses in the medical field helping COVID-19 patients, had 7-month-olds and had brothers who own breweries. At one point, Science Femme posted a photo of her elaborate coffee setup, and Chapman posted the exact same photo a few minutes later.
Susanna L. Harris, a science communicator who recently graduated with a Ph.D. from UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, was one of the first to call out Science Femme as an impostor. Science Femme said that Harris was "responsible" for Adams’s death and "she's already killed one person," according to Twitter screen shots.
Harris previously campaigned for Adams’s termination from Wilmington, including under the Twitter hashtag #FireMikeAdams, but she denied ever being happy about Adams’s death. Other Twitter users subsequently accused Harris of being implicated in Adams’s suicide.
“It’s a pretty messy situation,” Harris said in a Twitter message Monday.
Jessie Daniels, professor of sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York who studies cyber-racism and whiteness, among other topics, said that historian Jessica Krug and some other white women who have been unmasked as racial impostors are probably motivated by some “self-hatred.”
“My working theory is that there's something really difficult about holding the subject position of a white woman, or woke white person, when you realize that you're complicit in,” or benefit from, racism, Daniels said. The flip side of that is that they’re causing more harm to people of color by their deceptions.
By contrast, instead of “living an avatar,” Daniels said the person behind Science Femme is “playing around with an avatar,” and is “probably a right-wing asshole trying to get one over on feminists.”
That hardly makes him unusual, Daniels said, as people have been using the anonymity of text-based online platforms to target people they don't like “since forever.” There are probably many more Science Femmes out there, she said -- but not too many.
“I wouldn’t say they’re widespread, necessarily.”