An outspoken Arizona State University anthropology professor who used Twitter to document her fatal battle with COVID-19 and discrimination in academia did not exist, according to a confession from the former Vanderbilt neuroscientist who ran the account. BethAnn McLaughlin told The New York Times, “I take 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.” McLaughlin had concocted an anonymous persona of a bisexual anthropologist who was part of the Hopi Native American tribe, using the account to discuss issues of identity and misconduct in the sciences and to petition for her own tenure in 2016 and 2017. In April of this year, the account began narrating the saga of a coronavirus infection, and McLaughlin later announced the researcher’s death from the virus.
Twitter suspended McLaughlin’s personal account and @sciencing_bi. The university confirmed no such professor existed and that the account was a “hoax.” Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, who is a Hopi and the head of University of Arizona’s department of American Indian Studies, told The Daily Beast before the confession, “It sounds like a hoax to me. If so, it’s a sick hoax.”