“The Science Femme” claimed to be a female academic. She claimed to have upended efforts by her social justice-obsessed department to draft a statement condemning racism.
And when Twitter users accused her of racism, she claimed to be a woman of color herself—and an immigrant to boot.
But The Science Femme, who tweeted from the handle @piney_the, wasn’t any of those things, digital sleuths began alleging late last month. Instead, they claimed, “she” was Craig Chapman, a white male assistant professor of chemistry at the University of New Hampshire. The allegations, bolstered by an internal chemistry department email, would make Chapman at least the fourth white academic revealed to have posed as a person of color in recent weeks.
In three of those cases, academics are accused of shamelessly trying to further their own careers. But in Chapman’s case, Twitter users who came into contact with @piney_the say the account harassed real women working in science.
The University of New Hampshire said the incident was under investigation.
“UNH was recently made aware of allegations on social media about a member of its faculty,” a spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “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. In order to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation the university is unable to comment further.”
Chapman did not return repeated requests for comment for this story. Both his account and @piney_the were deleted last week.
Susanna Harris, a microbiology Ph.D. holder who currently works in science communications, first noticed the @piney_the Twitter account in July.
“They put out this huge long thread about how they, as a woman of color in science, a professor, made a big change in their university by shutting down diversity, equity, and inclusion work,” Harris, who is white, told The Daily Beast.
Harris wasn’t the only person to make note of the thread, in which @piney_the claimed to have been “successful in killing my dept’s woke statement on recent social unrest.” The viral thread earned write-ups in conservative publications like RedState, which lauded the efforts to derail an anti-racism statement. Some academics were suspicious of the claims, coming from an anonymous professor at an unnamed university.
“I did a little bit of poking around to see if there was any chance this was a real person,” Harris recalled. “I’ve been on Twitter for a while and nothing about their account said anything to make me think this is a genuine account.”
Other Twitter users had raised similar concerns earlier this year. @piney_the was an especially combative Twitter personality, who frequently tangled with the left online. The account described a female opponent in explicit anatomical terms on at least one occasion, repeatedly railed against transgender people, and posted censored nude pictures of former Rep. Katie Hill. Hill, a former California politician, resigned last year after those pictures were made public in an alleged revenge-pornography campaign.
When users accused the account of “attacking POC [people of color],” as one did in September, @piney_the frequently claimed to be one. “You know I’m a woman of color, right? Racist,” the account responded.
But some of @piney_the’s tweets teased highly specific personal details, like that their brother owned a brewery. Later, the account tweeted a recommendation for a small New Jersey brewery, owned by Craig Chapman’s brother, as Twitter sleuths like the account @drama_science noted. (His brother could not immediately be reached for comment.) Other similarities between @piney_the and Chapman, like fandom for Chicago sports teams, New Jersey origins, and knowledge of niche chemistry fields, abounded.
Some of the similarities were more glaring than others.
In April, both @piney_the and Chapman tweeted the same picture of a coffee homebrewing setup, within minutes of each other, with similar captions. The picture does not appear to have been uploaded anywhere else on the internet. And both accounts tweeted about marinating meat, with both appearing to tweet pictures of the same baking tray on the same marble countertop.
Although a few Twitter users had noted their suspicions about the account for nearly a year, those whispers grew louder in late September, after @piney_the came into conflict with several female academics, Harris included. She was among those who had previously tweeted in opposition to Mike Adams, a University of North Carolina professor, who was famous for his anti-feminist stances. Adams and UNC arrived at an agreement by which he would retire in August and receive a half million-dollar settlement upon leaving. He died by suicide in July.
@piney_the, which had more than 13,000 followers at the time of its deletion last week, was one of the key actors stoking what Harris said was a subsequent harassment campaign against her.
“They were were literally saying that I had killed [Adams], that I had blood on my hands, that I had pushed him into suicide,” she said. “That was when the tide changed, and when I started getting emails from anonymous people saying that they hope I die, that they will dox me.”
The bile renewed some of Harris’s previous suspicions about @piney_the’s authenticity. If she was right that this was a bogus twitter personality claiming to speak for the marginalized, it wouldn’t be the first time.
White academics faking their racial or ethnic identity has emerged as a troubling trope in a year of racial justice protests. In September, white George Washington University professor Jessica Krug resigned after she was revealed to have faked a series of Black and Hispanic identities in order to further her career as an Africana academic. Later that month, University of Madison-Wisconsin graduate student CV Vitolo-Haddad resigned from a teaching position after it was revealed that they had also falsely claimed to be Black.
Those scandals came a month after former Vanderbilt University assistant professor BethAnn McLaughlin was revealed to have been behind a long-running Twitter account that claimed to be a Native American science professor at Arizona State University. McLaughlin had previously used the fake professor’s popular Twitter account to promote a petition to give McLaughlin a tenure position at Vanderbilt. The ruse was only exposed when McLaughlin claimed the non-existent professor died of COVID-19.
Ironically, @piney_the made fun of race-faking when it came from liberals, sharing a meme of Sen. Elizabeth Warren with the caption “growing up Chinese in South Detroit I struggled as an African American Jewish Boy.” (Warren has dubiously claimed Native American ancestry, and subsequently apologized.)
Harris was thinking about McLaughlin’s case in late September when she decided to tweet her doubts about @piney_the. She asked the anonymous account to provide evidence that they were a woman of color, and offered to delete her own account if proven wrong. Other academics soon seized on the similarities between @piney_the’s account and Craig Chapman’s, shortly before both accounts were deleted last week.
An internal email (shared by department members and previously reported by local media) from UNH chemistry chair Glen Miller suggests those fears were well-founded.
“The fake twitter account was in fact set up and run by Craig,” read the email, obtained by The Daily Beast. “There were a large number of things written by Craig that ranged from unfortunate to hurtful to deeply offensive. These statements do not represent me, nor the collegial, collaborative, accepting department in which I have had the privilege to work for the past 25 years. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but when those opinions are dismissive or hurtful or harmful to others, it is not ok with me. I reject those statements and their intent, wholeheartedly. But even so, I do not reject Craig. I am not giving up on Craig.”
The letter went on to describe Chapman as “embarrassed and overwhelmed and shell shocked. He fears that this could be the end of his academic career. I hope it is not and I told him so.” Chapman would “come clean” and express remorse to colleagues soon, Miller wrote.
Miller, who did not return requests for comment, also accused Chapman’s accusers of being “highly motivated to reveal Craig as the person responsible for the fake twitter account, and to inflict damage on him.” He urged readers not to speak to the media about the incident.
Some UNH graduate students protested what they believed to be the rogue professor’s Twitter activities last week, marching with signs on campus. “Craig Chapman does not speak for us,” one sign read.
“Miller said sorry, we say get out,” read another.
Harris argued the incident—and other recent cases of academics feigning their identities—sap resources from some of the very people Chapman posed as.
“It’s sort of the extreme version of cultural appropriation,” she said. “They take the small protections or the scraps of support that women of color and other people have, and they use them as leverage against that exact population.”