Harvard’s Sullied Halo: Journalists Teach Lesson on Plagiarism

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Hubwonk episode 184: Christopher Brunet


[00:00:00] Joe Selvaggi: This is Hubwonk. I’m Joe Selvaggi. Welcome to Hubwonk, a podcast of Pioneer Institute, a think tank in Boston. Unquestionably, the most well-known and respected institution in New England is Harvard University, a brand that casts its long shadow not merely over the many respected educational institutions of the region, but also across our entire nation’s scientific, political, and judicial ranks.

[00:00:23] Such influence may explain why the American public has been captivated by the resignation of its recently appointed president, Dr. Claudine Gay, over the accusations that much of her academic work was tainted by plagiarism, compounding Harvard’s embarrassment with the more troubling account that the university itself, once learning of the credible accusations, chose to dismiss the claims and to intimidate the investigating press with legal retribution.

[00:00:49] Eventually, the weight of the evidence proved insurmountable to Harvard Corporation’s support for President Gay, but outside observers are still left to wonder how such academic corruption could go unnoticed or be sanctioned by any reputable university.

How did journalists discover Dr. Gay’s misdeeds? What were the motives of the investigators who uncovered the wrongdoings? And what was the chain of events that exposed the public to the academic fraud that even an elite $50-billion university could no longer ignore? My guest today is writer and investigative journalist Chris Burnet. Mr. Burnet was among the first to note and write about the plagiarism in Dr. Gay’s academic work. Mr. Burnet will share with us how and where he first learned of the problems with Dr. Gay’s research papers and his role in communicating the story to the public. He will share with us how he developed a niche investigating academic integrity and what he hopes his work will do to help improve the reputation of universities and the research. When I return, I’ll be joined by writer and journalist Chris Brunet.

Okay, we’re back. This is Hubwonk. I’m Joe Selvaggi, and I’m now pleased to be joined by writer and investigative reporter Chris Brunet. Welcome to Hubwonk, Chris.

[00:02:00] Chris Brunet: Oh, it’s very good to be here. I’m in an Airbnb in Romania right now.

[00:02:06] Joe Selvaggi: Okay, great. Well, your role as a global traveler, that’s perhaps the subject of another podcast! I’d love to go deep on what brings you to Romania, but we’ll maybe get to that if we can tie it into our story. But the reason I really was eager to have you as a guest is, again, I’m trying to reach for the right analogy — you are, I think, the spark that started off this whole, exposing Harvard President Claudine Gay for her plagiarism. I don’t know if you’re either — I don’t know if you reference Woodward and Bernstein, and their role in Watergate — or I actually think the better analogy might be either David and Goliath.

[00:02:40] You’re a guy in Romania who took down among one of the most important people in the world. But I think better, the better analogy is Mrs. O’Leary’s cow when she kicked over the lantern and started the Chicago fire. I think you started a fire, and I’m impressed. So, I hope for our listeners, we’ll understand your background, how you came to be the person who shone a light on, Dr. Claudine Gay’s academic work. So, let’s start slow. Let’s start at the beginning. I think it’s interesting that, for a guy who really shook the foundations of one of the most powerful institutions in the U.S., you’re actually a Canadian. How did that work?

[00:03:13] Chris Brunet: So, I work at an outlet called The American Conservative. And so, I have a kind of an inferiority complex because I’m not even American, and I work at The American Conservative. And so, it’s something I’m very upfront about the fact that I’m Canadian, and I’m a foreigner meddling in American affairs. So, Canadian politics, they’re just much more less interesting. They’re much less interesting. The market is smaller, and I’m just naturally more interested in American politics and a lot of my friends or contacts because I’ve been working as an investigative journalist in academia for past two, three years. And it just so happens, like, all my friends and contacts work at American universities, and a lot of my stories lead me to American universities, so that’s just naturally where I gravitated to.

[00:04:07] Joe Selvaggi: It’s a fair thing, where there’s, I think, 330 million Americans and about, I don’t know, 25 million Canadians, so just the sheer size, and the weight, but I think you, you have an undergraduate and a master’s degree — did you plan to become an investigative journalist when you grew up, as it were?

[00:04:23] Chris Brunet: No, I thought I was going to be an economist. Well, I was an economist for the government of Canada. I worked at Statistics Canada, which in America is equivalent to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s combined. So I worked for the government, then I got my master’s degree, went back to work for the government, and then I worked for the University of Chicago Economics Department as a researcher while applying to PhD programs.

[00:04:46] And I was going to apply to a PhD in economics, and I thought I was going to be a PhD economist and I got rejected from every program I applied to, which is a whole other story. That’s that was my villain origin story because I was blackballed from the profession. They didn’t want me for political reasons.

[00:05:05] And so, I was very angry and bitter about that. So, I started blogging angrily about academia. I’m very — I’ve mellowed out in the past couple of years. Like, I started out really bitter and angry and I was like, blogging about how corrupt academia is, but then, I mean, I still do that, but I’m a lot less impassioned when I do it now.

[00:05:26] Like I’m a lot more neutral, just the facts. So yeah, I mean that’s how I started writing about academia. I wanted to be in academia and then they wouldn’t let me in. So I started, burn the system to the ground, kind of, with my Substack. And then, I’ve really come around the past couple of years to not burning it down, but rather trying to reform it rather than burn it down and I increasingly have hope that the future of academia can still be saved.

[00:05:54] Joe Selvaggi: I think that’s a wonderful origin story as you describe it, in that you are aspiring to be an academic and an economist. I’ll admit to sharing your vision, but it was actually my parents who shot me down. They said, a PhD, the definition of a PhD is one who forgoes current income so as to forego future income, which they said, certainly in this world with your brain, you might be able to do more than become an academic but that’s my story. Let’s focus on you. What made you, you said you had this sort of chip on your shoulder that academia may have, corruption. What, what made you focus on, let’s say, dubious research or academics who may have made claims that weren’t valid, but essentially poor research or poor, poorly attributed research?

[00:06:39] Chris Brunet: So, the biggest reason why I started writing about this is because I saw the niche. It was unfilled. There’s just so much corruption in academia or, so much falsified data, so much research misconduct going on. And if you look at the current state of media in America, there’s like, I can count the number of investigative reporters on one hand who look at this stuff.

[00:07:04] Really, it’s like, really a couple people, and then all the other outlets, pretty much every outlet in the country, they just cover the stories once they’ve already happened, and they just provide a summary of stories that have happened, but there’s almost nobody breaking news stories. And so, I figured out, just I figured out how to break these stories and cover them for the first time and put them out there into the world. And that’s really my bread and butter because I break academic scandals.

[00:07:36] Joe Selvaggi: Yeah, no, I think this is, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s also a niche whose time has come. Twenty years ago, all of these research papers are tucked away in some file cabinet that nobody expected to be able to read them, let alone be able to parse them for incidents of plagiarism.

[00:07:52] So really, I guess it’s dovetails nicely. We can parse an individual’s work, and actually you use technology to look for incidents where work is improperly attributed. So, let’s focus now on where you train your fire, right? There’s lots of academics, lots of institutions. And you chose the president — or at the time when you first started, she was the dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, or I guess locals call it what made you focus on some like Dr. Gay’s research?

[00:08:24] Chris Brunet: So, she was not my initial target. Or my initial focus on Harvard was because I received an anonymous tip, which is how many of my stories start. Like, I don’t just aimlessly search through every paper in the world looking for something wrong with them a lot of them are given to me on a silver platter which I’m very grateful for, but I also had to work hard to gain a reputation to the point where people bring me these stories now, so yeah, I got an email with a document and the document was an internal Harvard report on data fabrication by a professor in the Harvard School of Government and it was just like this guy — his name doesn’t really matter for our context — he fabricated some data. And so, I was investigating him based on the leaked report. And then once I started pulling at his string was what led me directly to Claudine Gay, pretty much. She was the one who covered up for him. She was the one who like signed off on the report that swept it all under the rug. And so, I investigated him, then that led me to her. And then as soon as I started looking at her, like her — immediately I saw how unqualified she was. Like, it’s not, everyone in the world knows how unqualified she is now. They can see she’s only written 11 papers, and they’re all about, they’re all kind of bad papers, or broken, or flawed, or just — even if they weren’t statistically flawed — they’re still not very important, or deep.

[00:09:59] They’re just not great papers, and there’s not very much of them, and they’re not cited very much, and she doesn’t have a book, and she’s never won any fundraising or been given any grants or money, like her CV is not good enough for a tenured professor at Harvard, just flat out. And because I’ve spent the past couple of years investigating professors, I can look at her CV and I can, right away, anyone who knows anything about academia looks at her CV and wait, like, how is she such a high-ranking dean at Harvard?

[00:10:34] And so that’s what I saw. And then I dug deeper and then she also has her hands and all these different scandals, like Roland Fryer, Ronald Sullivan, like five — there’s five more scandals she’s involved in. And there’s like new scandals every day. Or not now, I guess a few weeks ago, there were scandals every day, but there’s more coming soon.

[00:10:53] Joe Selvaggi: Yeah. As well, I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, and we don’t need to expose anything on this podcast. I want to focus just on your hard work. I just say for our listeners, somebody might be out there saying, look, she’s not qualified. These are a value judgment, normative judgments. Who are you to say who’s qualified or who’s not, but you’re looking at a lot of different academics, right?

[00:11:11] You’re not just saying, OK, hmm, what do I imagine a dean of a graduate school of Harvard or ultimately the president should look like? But you’ve uncovered quite a few other incidents of plagiarism in, let’s say, institutions that aren’t Harvard, people who are not, you know, Claudine Gay, these, your investigations covers a wide gamut of schools and academic fields, is that right?

[00:11:37] Chris Brunet: So, I’ve written, I don’t know, 200 or 300 articles. And most of those are about economics or finance or accounting. And so that’s tangential to political science, which is — like, I have written about political science, but that’s not my wheelhouse. My wheelhouse is more like economics, but they’re still related. And so, I have, yeah, to me, she was just another academic, I’ve seen so many academics. I can — it’s hard to judge their work without reading all their papers. But I can get a feel for how qualified they are based on what their CV looks like. And for her, she was granted tenure at Stanford, with four papers to her names at the time.

[00:12:23] And so I happen to know for a fact, nobody is granted tenure at Stanford with four papers. So really, that was, the beginning of her career failing upwards. She was the most egregious case of tenure that Stanford had ever seen. And that’s not an exaggeration. She’s probably the worst case of tenure in Stanford’s history. And then she parlayed that into an associate job at Harvard, and then she’s been failing upwards ever since.

[00:12:54] Joe Selvaggi: In your research, you were looking to see, look for incidents of plagiarism and, it’s safe to say that there’s always a possibility that, Two paragraphs could sound similar if they’re both in the same line of study.

[00:13:09] How do you know, how do you, in your study, in your research, or in your investigative journalism, know the difference between plagiarism and where someone is just simply talking about the same subject and the sentence sounds similar?

[00:13:22] Chris Brunet: There’s different types of plagiarism. There is verbatim plagiarism, which is largely what Claudine Gay was guilty of. So it wasn’t rocket science to compare passages of text she plagiarized from to her text, and it was literally copy pasted. And, yeah, there’s not much to it other than to look at it and to see it was copy pasted, big chunks of paragraphs at a time. but the much harder form to detect is mosaic plagiarism, which is where you take different sources, and you can copy paste them all together and jumble it up a little bit. She did have several examples of that too, but I was very fortunate, because I would like to say I did all the legwork myself, but I didn’t. I received a tip, which is how I find her plagiarism, and it was more or less delivered to me on a silver platter.

[00:14:21] And that’s one of the big mysteries in this whole Claudine Gay scandal is, I was not the only journalist to receive a tip. I was the first to report on it. But after I reported on it, there was a very well planned-out drip of plagiarism that, after I reported on it, which got the ball rolling and opened up the New York Post and the Washington Free Beadon to publish their reporting because they’re always afraid to take the legal risk, right. So, what I did by reporting on it first was I opened the floodgates for all the other plagiarism accusations to come flooding in.

[00:15:00] Joe Selvaggi: I want to talk about timeline here because I think what you make is a very important point. There are other organizations, larger ones, but they of course, if they’re incorporated or they have shareholders or owners, there’s always a risk that you know any sort of allegation would be met with tons of litigation someone could be sued for just essentially saying the academic XYZ plagiarized, this might be considered slanderous or libel. What was going on then? So, you draw a picture for us. You just go, you got to, as you say, the tip on a silver platter. What was a doctor Gay’s position at the time. Was she’s not the president of Harvard. She’s still the —

[00:15:38] Chris Brunet: She was the president.

[00:15:39] I got the tip right around her congressional hearing. Okay. Which is really, what brought all the national attention to her. But for a couple months before the congressional hearings, we know that the New York Post had a much more substantive tip. And they had worse cases of plagiarism, but they did not report on them because Harvard threatened them with lawsuits specifically if they reported on the plagiarism. And so, after we, after I reported on it, the New York Post finally felt comfortable to come out and say, look, hey, we’re reporting on it too. And we’re also reporting on the fact that Harvard threatened us with lawsuits that we’re now not worried about because, they’d have to sue everybody and also, they wouldn’t win the lawsuit because there were so much, so many widespread allegations of plagiarism that it was too much. They did deny it, but it really was too much to reasonably deny in a court of law.

[00:16:35] Joe Selvaggi: Okay, so you’re the David and they’re the Goliath but in a sense. What you’re saying is the New York Post was comfortable in the sense of hosting both the fact that there’s, these are blatant, well documented incidents of plagiarism, but also the threats that were levied against the New York Post by Harvard to say, if you print these allegations, we will sue you. That’s now, public knowledge, right? People, it was a pretty, tough, bare knuckled, lawyerly way of saying print this and, we’ll see in court, right? Why wouldn’t someone like you be afraid of a similar threat?

[00:17:04] Chris Brunet: That’s a good question. First of all, I don’t live in America. And second of all, I don’t really have anything to lose. I’m what they call judgment proof. Well, not that I print lies, right? I don’t use that as a chance to print lies, but I’m just like, I don’t know, if Harvard were to sue me, it would just be great publicity for me. And they know that, too, they would look silly suing just a random independent journalist for reporting the truth. So, I get threatened quite often with lawsuits in my line of work. And, yeah, it’s just, people really try to intimidate me with lawsuits, but I can’t be. I don’t want to say I’m brave because it would be much harder for me to do what I do if I had a family and a mortgage, and I would have to be much more conservative and when I report, I guess I’m — I don’t know — I want to say loose cannon, but that makes it sound like I’m, being like, not careful in what I do. I’m very careful in what I do, but, even if you report carefully, the stakes are always high because people lose their jobs, right? I’ve gotten several people fired from their jobs and it’s, it weighs heavily on me every time, but, ultimately, they’re, they bring it on themselves, like Claudine Gay brought it on herself by leaving a trail of bodies in her professional wake.

[00:18:36] Yeah. Yeah.

[00:18:38] Joe Selvaggi: No, that’s fair. I would say that two things. One is, you’re, you trade in the truth, right? You have to be an investigative journalist. If you’re spreading lies, you’re, the point of the realm is veracity if you’re spreading lies. Well okay, you might have a niche with some people but really you’ll be marginalized fairly quickly and also is again if you’re talking about a liability you know the truth is an absolute defense against charges of libel and slander right, so, if ultimately what you assert is proven true you have a perfect defense or do I not have the facts right?

[00:19:09] Chris Brunet: Yeah so, I’m not a legal expert but I’ve gotten into enough legal arguments with people suing or threatening to sue me over reporting that I know really what I can’t do is knowingly print lies about anyone’s that’s really the red line is knowing that you lies about someone, which I don’t do.

[00:19:43] Joe Selvaggi: Okay. So now, again, this was not a good year for Harvard. First, they had the, they lost a Harvard student for fair admission, Supreme Court case. Dr. Gay did not impress anybody with her testimony in front of the, the, in front of Congress about the accusations of antisemitism or the lack of, prevention of antisemitism acts on the campus.

[00:20:06] And now comes this allegation of  plagiarism beyond what the strongly worded letter from the attorneys targeting the New York Post. What did Harvard present to the public now that we’re in the court of public opinion? What did Harvard say? Okay, there’s these allegations. What was their next move? Did they say, okay, great, we’ll fire, or did they make some sort of defense of her past academic, let’s say misdeeds.

[00:20:35] Chris Brunet: So, I think Harvard really jumped the gun because after the first one or two plagiarism accusations came out, they unanimously stood behind her after a one-day investigation, right? Usually, a proper investigation into this sort of thing takes six to 24 months. And they did it in one day and they said, she’s clear of all allegations in one day. So that kind of proves that they didn’t really do an investigation. But I think. Oh, yeah, they stood up for her and then I think they’re regretted so forcefully coming out and saying, there’s no plagiarism because the plagiarism accusations kept dripping out and which is why I think this was all very well coordinated by whoever compiled the plagiarism accusations after everything went down, Lee Fang is a reporter on Substack, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him, but he published the full dossier that was sent to several news organizations and several high profile reporters, and it had all the different plagiarism accusations that dripped out.

[00:21:41] And so this was floating around out there to these big news organizations, and they drifted out, over the course of a couple weeks, and it was very well executed, a little suspicious, suspiciously well executed, and I suspect, I don’t actually know who my anonymous tip was, and I could be wrong here, but I suspect that they gave me a little bit, instead of the whole thing, because they gave, the real meat to the New York Post and which makes sense, they’re the big outlet. And they gave me the cherry on top. I got credit for being the first one to report the cherry on top, but I think they gave the real meat to the New York Post. And one more thing I want to add is that in Claudine Gay’s resignation letter, she wrote that when she became aware of the plagiarism accusations, she immediately made the corrections and apologized, which is just not true. Because of the New York Post investigation, we know that she was made aware of them several months ago, so for her to say, and what she did was she aggressively lawyered up and tried to shut them down and sweep them under the rug. We know that’s just a flat-out lie in her resignation letter — that she immediately took full accountability and made corrections to her papers, which came several months after she was first aware.

[00:23:15] Joe Selvaggi: Yeah, so this is a complicated question. So I’d say, okay, it’s probably not an uncommon human characteristic to deny one has done wrong and perhaps try to cover it up. What puzzles me is the Harvard Corporation, the one who’s essentially made her president and essentially supports her. They know what plagiarism is. I’ll share with you my first day as a graduate student at Harvard. The first book they assigned you is this book, called, what is it? Writing with Sources, a Guide for Harvard Students. And it shows a little picture of a student with a book bag walking on the Widener Library steps. And it’s a real basic guide to how to not plagiarize, how to properly attribute all your work when you’re writing. How was it that Harvard Corporation, who essentially wrote the book on plagiarism, how would they, again, after one day and after such egregious incidents of plagiarism, why would they, say there’s nothing here, move along? Clearly it must have known it was going to be exposed. What was behind all of this?

[00:24:14] Chris Brunet: I think that they thought it would blow over, because it really dragged on for so many news cycle. I thought they thought it would go away after one or two news cycles, but it kept going for weeks on end. And it is this, the sustained pressure from not only conservative media, but like the entire media, I think really, they were not expecting that amount of pressure. And they’re used to dealing with scandals, right? They have several scandals a year in all their departments for whatever. And they know that, usually, the media doesn’t care that much about academic scandals.

[00:25:06] And they know that if they just give a polite, anodyne statement, That the media will maybe cover it once and then go away. And, this was such a different beast because, Claudine Gay was so egregious, and, it just captured the public’s imagination to such an extent that it couldn’t go away, and they weren’t expecting such a huge media circus from the right and from the left, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, CNN, NBC, they all came around to our side eventually, and I think, you it was just, too much media pressure from every side and nonstop that, she had to go. They couldn’t sweep it under the bus. They could not sweep it under the rug. Yeah.

[00:25:56] Joe Selvaggi: So again, I, perhaps because, I went to the Kennedy School, I get all the stuff in real time. I get all these letters from the Harvard Corporation and from Claudine Gay. I read them all. I’m sure you did as well, talking about her resignation letter.

[00:26:12] Harvard’s account of her resignation letter thanking her for her service effectively, and then ultimately, she wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times a few days later in reading all of that. And again, this person is caught dead to rights in an academic scandal as the president of the most prestigious college on earth. Dead to rights. No room for wiggle here. You can’t retroactively fix your papers and add attributions 20 years later. After reading those and being in the front row of this scandal, were you satisfied with either her resignation, with what Harvard had said was the reason for her resignation, and her own account of what happened, that she wrote in the New York Times a few days later?

[00:26:53] Chris Brunet: I’ll take it. She does still have her $900,000 salary, right? And she still has tenure, and she still has her PhD. Maybe in a perfect world, her PhD would be revoked, and she’d be fired for cause. But that’s a lot to ask and, I think we have to take the victory where we can find it. There’s a rumor going around that, which is unsubstantiated, but it is a rumor going around that she resigned because she apparently it was about to come out that there were worse problems with her data, right?

[00:27:33] Which we haven’t spoken about yet, I don’t think. So, there’s the plagiarism accusations, and then there’s the data impropriety accusations. Two different things she fiddled with her data, allegedly, or she refused to release it. She refused to share it. And there’s a bunch of red flags in her papers that indicate she may have manipulated or fabricated data. And so that’s what people are looking into now, and supposedly someone has spent several months doing full replications of her paper to try to prove the data fabrication, and they say that they presented their research formally to Harvard. And this, right as soon as they presented their research to Harvard, supposedly, is when she stepped down.

[00:28:26] Joe Selvaggi: If you don’t mind, let me interrupt and say, look, we don’t like to peddle in rumors here on Hubwonk. You know, I’m usually like time out. Let’s separate fact from fiction or what we know from what we might know. It’s maybe alleged that there are some inconsistencies in her data, whether it’s fudged or fabricated we don’t know. What we do know is she wouldn’t hear that data. The rumor is only because the data hasn’t been shared. You can speculate that this data that nobody can see was fabricated, but the only way to really defend yourself is to share the data and say, look, I may have forgot to carry the one or some of my lines may have been wrong or some of my assumptions may have been flawed. But the data is the data. judge me on that. What would you say that? Do I have it about right what we know what we don’t know.

[00:29:13] Chris Brunet: Yeah, it’s — there are the red flags are pretty glaringly red flags in your data. The coefficients change from one version of her paper to the next, like that would be the big thing. There’s no way to change your coefficients that drastically without changing your data, pretty much.

[00:29:29] Joe Selvaggi: Yeah, I think this is good. I want to like, then say, okay, we’re hyper focused on Claudine Gay and her work. What do you think? You’re really hit it out of the park with this and you were you’re on the short list of people who really got this story into the public’s eye.

[00:29:49] What do you hope, let’s say, who’s the next person I don’t know. There’s certainly been all kinds of university president have stepped down for academic impropriety. I think Stanford, not long ago, a year ago. What do you hope to achieve by exposing people who have either fudge their work or borrowed their work inappropriately? What’s your goal in taking on these paragons of education in our higher education institutions?

[00:30:21] Chris Brunet: I wish I could tell you my goal was to dismantle wokeness or dismantle DEI or reform America’s institutions. It all sounds great to have these big lofty goals, but really, it just bugs me that there’s fake papers out there. That’s what it comes down to. I told you. I have written, I have investigated dozens or hundreds of these research misconduct cases and, I do it for their love of the game, basically, and so what my goal is, I don’t know, on some level, there’s a personal motivation in it for me because when I, whenever I get a good story, I get a lot of subscribers, right?

[00:31:10] My whole life revolves around getting subscribers, and if I report on a big research misconduct case, I get subscribers. And, yeah, I am trying to make the world a better place by making it a little bit more honest. But it’s also, it’s fun for me too, it sounds, some, it’s not some people’s idea of fun to track plagiarism, but it’s satisfying.

[00:31:32] I was following the story for two years before it ever got traction. So I’ve been, it’s like satisfying and vindicated to like work on something for that long and finally convince America that I’m right. Not that, sorry, not that I had plagiarism accusations two years ago, but like I had all the other accusations against her two years ago and now they’re finally coming into the mainstream and I’m just glad I could bring them into the mainstream cause it, they’re the truth.

[00:32:00] Joe Selvaggi: What I find useful about your investigative journalism is because I love, let’s say academia. I love research.Iit’s a hobby at the very least, but I really, I’m jealous of people who get the opportunity to do it for a living. to me, when I talk to my friends with more PhDs than you can imagine.

[00:32:17] I say, look, people admire you not because you’re smart, though you are, or not because you work hard, though you do. I think at the end of the day, what was most admirable about academics, in my view, is their integrity, meaning they have to have the courage to do research and accept the results without any bias.

[00:32:32] They have to say, look, I have a hypothesis. I’m going to test it. And I might be wrong, and that’s research, that’s life. Half of what we know is wrong. We just don’t know which half. That’s why we do research. Do you think really with Harvard defending, Claudine Gay and she is defending herself, and really as this passes, no one’s looking at Harvard and saying, how is it that you are tolerating, indeed being an accessory to these kinds of broad research, you may be Harvard and say, look, we’re so big. We’re $50 billion. You can’t touch us. What I’d say is, but the coin of the realm is your reputation, your integrity. If you’ve lost your integrity, no one’s smart enough to have respect for much longer. Do you see it this way? Do you see it like this disease of lack of integrity is permeating all of Harvard and really going to shake it to its foundation until it reflects and reforms its way? I don’t want to put words in your mouth. These are my words, but is that what concerns you?

[00:33:34] Chris Brunet: I think the more tangible disease is political science itself. Like it’s easy to have a bias in political science. So, like It’s easy to have political opinions in political science and then have your research fit those political opinions. It’s much harder in, I don’t know, math. Nobody in math has a bias about a worldview that they’re trying to prove, right? They’re just trying to get to the truth because there’s an objective truth that they can prove using math and science. But in political science, it’s all like power games and, politics and, like that’s really why wokeness or DEI thrives in those, in, in that field specifically, like that’s where it’s the worst because, it’s not a science. It’s a social science. So it’s all storytelling and it’s who can tell the best. Most compelling story and, I’m not sure if that answered your question, which I forget, but I’m biased against political science.

[00:34:48] Joe Selvaggi: That’s fair. And I, perhaps I’m too sure of my principles, or my I’m blind to my own bias. But I think for my 2 cents again, I’ll editorialize here before we wrap it up. And I’ll say, I think the political sciences is more vulnerable than perhaps hard sciences. One, this podcast started during COVID. We saw all kinds of political bias dripping into medical or public health advice.

[00:35:13] With some hindsight, it was all garbage. But we also see, I get newsletters from the school of public health and the chance for public health advising doctors how to talk to your patients about climate change. I’m like, what the heck does a doctor know about climate change, and why how is it that their place? I’m like, if you think there’s a science that has escaped this agenda or being politicized — and again, in my view, if you are highly politicized and you can’t keep your politics out of your research, you ought to recuse yourself. You ought to stop doing research. I had Judith Curry on, she’s an environmental scientist, and she had a great quotation for her books that said, when you mix politics and science, you get politics.

[00:35:53] Which is to say, science cannot defend itself against a political agenda. The only thing defending science is the integrity of the scientist. And if that’s gone, it’s over. So anyway, I, that’s, I’ve editorialized too much in this podcast. I want to give our listeners a chance and for you to plug your sub stack, your writing, you sustain yourself with membership, paid membership.

[00:36:17] So let’s, where are your, where can our listeners find, read about you and perhaps even choose to subscribe, to, to your writing?

[00:36:24] Chris Brunet: Sure. So what I tell people when they ask me is, I say become a free subscriber and that’s more than I could ever ask The worst part of my job is asking people for money.

[00:36:35] So I try to do that as little as possible, although I do need the money. I, okay, so it’s called Karl stack, Karl with a K, Karl stack, and that’s, my, my nickname from high school is Karl, which is why my Substack in Kar stack, people ask me about the name sometimes. And if you just Google Karlstack, it’s the first result.

[00:36:59] Joe Selvaggi: Indeed. And are you going to continue along this line of investigation? As you say, you’ve been your most recent pieces are letters that you’ve received from academics. I don’t think they’re all at Harvard, but people who are genuine academics. With integrity who said keep up the good work, the academy needs people like you. Do I have that about right?

[00:37:17] Chris Brunet: I’m actually a little bit worried that I’ve pigeonholed myself into academia by being too successful because so many of my subscribers now are just academics and they expect and they want me to write about academia more than anything. And I do writing about academia, but I don’t know, there’s a whole world out there. I feel bad about writing about academia sometimes because, I don’t know, it makes me feel like I’m in high school, stuck in the past. I’m like a 20-year-old still showing up to high school parties. So I’m trying to branch out a little bit like I used to in the past, but right now I just have so many tips from academe, from academics that I have no choice but to keep following up those tips.

[00:38:04] Joe Selvaggi: Indeed. And there’s some people throwing money at this science, this concept of investigating academia. So even if you leave the field, some other people are on there. I believe that what is it? I think he’s always labeled the billionaire, Bill Ackman has made it his cause and has said, okay, look, if you want to pursue this, I will back you. I think his goal is not to tear down the academy, but to actually to help it steer towards its original liberal intent, which is, you know, pursuit of truth rather than the enforcement of ideology. Even if you do branch out and go on to the big wide world and leave your high school party, others will join the fight and keep this going.

[00:38:39] So thank you very much for joining me today, Chris. I know you’re you say we’re — forgive me — in Bulgaria?

[00:38:46] Chris Brunet: No, in Romania. Yeah, not to get too much into my personal story, but I’m Canadian, right? And I’m very angry and bitter and sad about the country of Canada. And so, I left and I’m traveling the world aimlessly.

[00:39:02] Joe Selvaggi: You’re a flaneur. You’re a citizen of the world. Enjoy it. You’re changing the world from where you are in Romania. So, God bless. Thank you for joining me what must be late there today.  I really appreciate it. I will continue to read you. I will subscribe and wherever your research takes you. I will follow. So, thank you for joining me.

[00:39:21] Chris Brunet: Thanks. And so, one last thing. As Claudine Gay was getting fired, I was in the mountains in Greece in a little tiny hut. So, I was just like chuckling at the absurdity of it as it was happening, because I was like, in the cheapest Airbnb in Greece, in a hut, struggling to get Wi-Fi as I was getting her fired. It was just a very funny situation!

[00:39:47] Joe Selvaggi: True. Again, starting the conversation with saying David and Goliath, you are truly David, and you did bring down a Goliath, so we’re all better for it. Thank you for your work and thanks for joining me today.

Chris Brunet:Thanks for having me. Pleasure.

Joe Selvaggi: This has been another episode of Hubwonk. If you enjoyed today’s show, there are several ways to support Hubwonk and Pioneer Institute. It’d be easier for you and better for us if you subscribe to Hubwonk on your iTunes podcatcher. It would make it easier for others to find us if you offer a five star rating or a favorable review. We’re grateful if you want to share Hubwonk with friends. If you have ideas or comments or suggestions for me about future episode topics, you’re welcome to email me at hubwonk@pioneerinstitute.org. Please join me next week for a new episode of Hubwonk.

Joe Selvaggi talks with investigative reporter Chris Brunet about his role investigating and exposing former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s academic plagiarism, a story that lead to her eventual resignation.


Christopher Brunet is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, writes on Substack, and is the recipient of the Manhattan Institute’s Logos Fellowship, a year-long accelerator program for conservative journalists, activists, and opinion leaders. Brunet was previously at the Daily Caller, where he investigated corruption in academia, including developing the story that exposed former Harvard president Claudine Gay’s history of plagiarism. He is continuing his work as an investigative journalist focusing on integrity in higher education.