The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


The Fabulist and the Publisher
A Journalistic and Academic Fraud Exposed

To Our Readers

Between 2016 and 2019 a writer named John Anthony Glynn, whose biography includes a Ph.D. in psychology and professorships of psychology at several universities, had four articles published in Skeptic and eSkeptic (the online edition of print Skeptic). While we edited and fact-checked his articles, we did not verify his biographical claims and we were duped. A number of red flags that emerged over the past few months led to an investigation that revealed Mr. Glynn faked his Ph.D. As the Publisher and Editor of Skeptic I should have been more alert to these red flags and I take full responsibility for the publication of these articles under the pretense of his unearned expertise. I apologize to our readers and promise that from now on we will be more vigilant in our fact-checking. A Ph.D. is not required to publish in Skeptic, but fabricating one is disqualifying. Further research revealed that Mr. Glynn represented himself as a Ph.D. psychologist to several academic institutions (academic fraud), and under those credentials he published over 40 articles in 15 different publication outlets in 2019 alone (journalistic fraud). The extent of this calculated, systematic, and repeated deception warrants publishing our findings, the details of which follow.

In 2016 Skeptic magazine published an article on “Guns and Games: The Relationship Between Violent Video Games and Gun Crimes in America” (Vol. 21, No. 1) by John Anthony Glynn, who identified himself as a Ph.D. psychologist and as a professor of psychology. After that initial publication he began emailing me regularly (120 times this past year), pitching stories on a variety of topics, including the evolutionary origins of humor, online gaming, cybercrime, masculinity, political correctness, social credits and privacy, dopamine, and suicide. In one email he clarified that he earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Hertfordshire in England. In another email he claimed “I am head of behavioral science at a medical school, XUSOM” (Xavier University School of Medicine in Aruba, an island off the coast of Venezuela), on the pretense of inviting me to speak there. More recently, he told me that he was applying for a professorship of psychology at the American University of Bahrain, Manama, for which he asked me to be a reference. On April 13, 2019 he told me that he got the job. On April 25, however, I received an email that should have set off my skeptical alarms more than it did, in which he asked to borrow money after, he said, Xavier Medical School “is a fraud, pure and simple; it lacks knowledgeable faculty, basic facilities” and he was never paid, but that he would pay me back upon his new professorship at the American University of Bahrain. (Note: this article (archived version) from August 2018 says Xavier Medical School received its full accreditation, and this article (archive) from June 2019 says its new campus is under construction).

I declined to lend him money, but felt a twinge of empathy for him, so I kept the communication channels open. Perhaps I should have taken a cue from an August 20, 2019 email where he inquired if I had… “Any interest in another piece discussing the proliferation of experts who actually lack expertise?” In all, we published four articles by Mr. Glynn, two in print, two online:

  • “Guns and Games: The Relationship Between Violent Video Games and Gun Crimes in America” (print Skeptic, Vol. 21, No. 1)
  • “1984 in 2019: The New Privacy Threat from China’s Social Credit Surveillance System” (print Skeptic, Vol. 24, No. 2)
  • “Concept Creep and the Policing of Words” (online only, removed)
  • “Why People Die by Suicide” (online only, removed)

When he pitched the last article we published by him on suicide, Glynn assured me “As a psychologist, I would of course handle such a piece with care.”

Two of my former graduate students, and now professors, who also conduct research for Skeptic, became curious about Mr. Glynn’s credentials. They began by simply checking to see if Glynn was a professor of psychology at the American University of Bahrain (archive). Since the university wasn’t even open (it is supposed to open this Fall), that didn’t look promising, and his prior claimed professorship as the head of behavioral science at the Xavier University School of Medicine in Aruba was, by his own admission, a bust.

After we could not locate any kind of faculty profile or curriculum vitae online with more information about his background, we next turned to Glynn’s claimed Ph.D. degree. In various biographies since at least 2013, John Anthony Glynn has claimed to hold a doctoral degree from the University of London, and a master’s and a doctoral degree from the University of Hertfordshire. We attempted to locate a thesis by him using publicly available online databases, but came up empty-handed. A staff member from EThOS, the United Kingdom’s theses service, confirmed that there is no record of a thesis by someone with his name from the United Kingdom. A representative from the University of London (Goldsmith) confirmed that no one by that name received a degree from them. A representative from the University of Hertfordshire confirmed that they also could not find any records of someone with his name. I asked Mr. Glynn about these claims. He replied (August 24, 2019):

I never ever said that I attended the University of London. I did say that Hertfordshire is located near the city of London. Maybe this got lost in translation. Regarding proof that I attended the University of Hertfordshire, please find the scan of my PhD and transcript attached.

Here are the documents Glynn sent me:

I shared these documents with my associates and within an hour they sent a URL to a site (archive) that can produce that exact same diploma within minutes (for a price, of course, and apparently for any university of one’s choosing).

As a result, we then contacted multiple representatives at the University of Hertfordshire again, this time sharing the documents Mr. Glynn had provided. A representative from the Exams & Awards Office confirmed that these were fabricated documents:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your email.

This document is not a genuine degree certificate from the University of Hertfordshire and has not been issued by the University. The University of Hertfordshire has robust systems in place to register students and document their progress and study outcomes. Fraudulent certificates can easily be identified by the University and confirmed as such from our secure systems and processes.

Kind regards

Exams & Awards Office
University of Hertfordshire
College Lane
Hatfield
Herts, AL10 9AB
Tel: 0044 (0)1707 281111

For more information go to the Exams & Awards Studynet page

I sent this letter to Glynn and asked “What is going on here?” He replied: “I am sorry, Michael. I never meant any harm. However, I’m no fraud.” I asked for further clarification: “Did you or did you not attend the University of Hertfordshire? Did you fake that diploma? Please give me the full story now of what is really happening.” Glynn then confessed:

Michael, I deceived you. But please know that I never plagiarized any essay. Also, although I have taught at university, I have never, ever practiced as a psychologist. Never! And I never will. I worked in Korea, but at a language school, not university.

This was followed by a plea to keep the matter private.

Someone who would lie to this extent could be lying about not plagiarizing his work, so we ran the four Skeptic articles through the Turnitin plagiarism program. The results were negative; that is, he does not appear to have plagiarized the articles we published. We did not check the articles published elsewhere. For many (although not all) of these 26 publications Mr. Glynn either directly or indirectly claimed to hold a doctorate degree:

  • American Greatness
  • The American Spectator
  • Areo
  • Arts and Social Sciences Journal
  • The Federalist
  • FrontPage Mag
  • Huffington Post
  • Humor Times
  • I am Hip-hop Magazine
  • Journal of Nutritional Health & Food Engineering
  • Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences
  • Last Word on Sports
  • Media Watch
  • MOOT (moot.ie)
  • OZY
  • Psych Central
  • Psychology Tomorrow
  • Quillette
  • South China Morning Post
  • Spiked-Online
  • Standpoint Magazine
  • WhatCulture.com
  • The Young Folks
  • American Thinker
  • Spectator UK
  • Spectator Australia

The most egregious of the trove was an article Mr. Glynn wrote for Standpoint (June 26, 2019) titled “Overrated: PhDs” (archive), in which, with (in hindsight) ironic mockery, he proclaims:

Is it worth pursuing a PhD? Sometimes, yes. If you wish to carve out a meaningful career in academia, a PhD is a must. However, if academia is not for you, think very carefully before signing up. After years of toil working towards a PhD in clinical psychology, I have been lucky enough to find a secure lecturing job.

Here is a sampling of articles from some of the publications, which will likely be taken down soon after this exposé is published. The number of feature-length articles he produced in such a short period of time is, frankly, unbelievable.

In conclusion, Mr. Glynn has repeatedly lied about having graduate degrees and it would be inaccurate to refer to him as a psychologist. Additionally, it appears to be the case that Mr. Glynn has used these fabricated documents to acquire academic positions outside of the United States. It would have been easy to quietly redact Mr. Glynn’s articles from Skeptic and leave it at that, given that he is not as prominent a writer as Stephen Glass or Jason Blair, who duped The New Republic and The New York Times (respectively) with fabricated stories. And although Glynn’s fraud is of a different nature than that of Glass and Blair, the extent of the journalistic deception and the seriousness of the credentialing swindle (especially the forged diploma and fraudulently-acquired faculty positions, which are truly horrendous), I ultimately decided it would be judicious to publish the results of our investigation at this point so other publications and academic institutions can be on the alert. Although Skeptic publishes many non-academic authors without graduate degrees, writing under the credentialing status of a Ph.D. is grossly unfair to all the people who labored to obtain their credentials legitimately, so this fraud is far from victimless. In addition to its threat to pollute the credence of Skeptic — and intellectual discourse more broadly — such acts undercut the integrity of journalism and academia in general because falsus in uno, falsus in omnibusfalse in one thing, false in everything. END

About the Author

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of the Science Salon Podcast, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101. For 18 years he was a monthly columnist for Scientific American. He is the author of New York Times bestsellers Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain, Why Darwin Matters, The Science of Good and Evil, and The Moral Arc. His new book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality & Utopia. Follow @michaelshermer.

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Skeptic
September 19, 2019 11:23 pm

>>>> I love you, Shermer, but as of this red-faced admission, I’ve got one eye open (though the other eye’s still a devout reader).

Shermer would probably say you should do that anyway. Shermer and “Skeptic” magazine are not and never claimed to be gurus who know the absolute truth. They merely claim to do the best they can to find it.

Skeptic
September 19, 2019 11:21 pm

What he unintentionally showed is how worthless most “expert” opinion by “doctors” of this and that “soft” science are, being no more worthwhile than views you hear at the local bar, or of a journalist who merely pretends to have such a PhD.

Rustic Hanglefoot
September 16, 2019 9:02 am

I would hope that Skeptic does not get duped again. This nnterprise is one of the trusted ‘science police’ sites, and if this site is subject to being duped, then what’s left but to relegate Skeptic to the ranks of the Glass articles, where we we’re egged on by the drift of emotion rather than a search for fact. I love you, Shermer, but as of this red-faced admission, I’ve got one eye open (though the other eye’s still a devout reader).

Curtis H Kelly
September 15, 2019 5:21 pm

Wow. Interesting. And what a wonderful article you wrote about discovering the fraud. It will help all of us.

But let me take a different tack here. While academic and science fraud is not excusable, the fact that you published much of his work, and we read it without complaint adds some credibility to his writing anyway. Could he be an autodidact?

It reminds me of the infamous learning pyramid. It is completely fictitious in origin but has been published and republished in hundreds of scientific papers. That in itself, gives a credence to it. That people like it so much shows there must be some truth to the notion, just not the scientific proof we tend to prefer.

tim hammett
September 11, 2019 7:56 am

Dear Mr. Glynn,

What on earth made you think it was a good idea to try to pull a fast one on a publication called the Skeptic?

Ronald
September 10, 2019 4:59 pm

This is another test.

Ronald
September 10, 2019 4:37 pm

This is a test

Geoff Turner
September 10, 2019 6:30 am

@Frank Stagg, post #10. What makes you skeptical about a perfectly legitimate university…the University of Bahrain? Even the mentioned American University of Bahrain is a legitimate university as both are regulated by the Higher Education Council of the Government of Bahrain. Please do not denigrate legitimate institutions, and thus cast doubt on the credentials of hard working academics, with your ill-informed comments.

For the sake of transparency I am the Professor of Accounting and Finance at the American University of Bahrain.

Robert Sheaffer
September 7, 2019 10:36 pm

Was Michael Shermer the first person to notice, and report on, Glynn’s impostures? If so, that is a feather in his cap, considering all of the other publications he has defrauded. Including The Skeptical Inquirer.

Gary Henderson
September 7, 2019 11:04 am

One has to wonder how many other pseudonyms he has been writing under. This may be only the tip of the iceberg.

Cathy Goldberg
September 6, 2019 3:08 pm

Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone owns up like you did – with ferocity! I can think of a few political leaders in dire need of the same ethics and honesty.

Tom McIver
September 6, 2019 1:07 pm

Michael, I too applaud your decision to go public with this. It is difficult, and courageous, for a “skeptic” to admit to being deceived by phony credentials, and to publicize rather than try to hide that fact. But many “skeptics” have been similarly deceived by frauds and charlatans, as we both know. Al Seckel, of course, who was once very prominent in the skeptic movement, comes to mind: for decades he claimed to be a Cornell graduate and Caltech PhD and “Research Fellow.” When I tried to expose his fraud and alert fellow skeptics, many of the leading skeptics of the time refused to believe me or my evidence of his phony credentials. He tried to insinuate himself into Skeptic Society when you and Pat were just getting it started, I believe, but you refused him entry, to your credit. Coincidentally, he is now in the news because of his close relations with Jeffrey Epstein (he apparently conned Epstein, after marrying Ghislaine’s sister).

Robert Christ
September 6, 2019 10:24 am

I know someone who claims they got a phd in Business taking online courses. Now they call themselves a professor. Anybody who flaunts credentials they don’t have isn’t just stealing from the people who took the time and effort to get them. They are stealing from everyone.

Mary Goetsch
September 6, 2019 8:42 am

Craziness that someone fakes a PhD for “only” writing, which is a talent needing practice and affirmation, but not necessarily a higher degree. There is the polar opposite which also frustrates readers- the author using an assumed name; also, cases of overdoing fictionalizing of the plot in order to avoid all those imagined lawsuits (probably case of guilty conscience).

Beth Ayers
September 6, 2019 8:22 am

I wonder how many others he has asked for a “loan” – to me, this places him farther on the evil side of the line than his academic fraud. Seems to me that he needs to be investigated for the financial angle of his dishonesty as well as the academic side.
And kudos to Skeptic for publishing the details of the academic fraud: I hope the other journals involved are equally forthright, cutting off Glynn’s opportunities to keep perpetuating his scam.

Henry Kalir
September 6, 2019 7:23 am

Dr Shermer is to be commended for his candor.
As others have already stated – one’s skepticism should be extended to just about everything.
A sad reflection on the state of things today, where you can only place “blind trust” at your own risk.

Summer
September 6, 2019 1:42 am

Why didn’t you use the baloney detector kit in him/her?

Skeptic42
September 6, 2019 1:11 am

Can’t you just use a sharpie to fix this?

The problem isn’t mistakes being made, but in how you deal with, fix, and learn from them. Candor is always appreciated.

@Dr. Strangelove, it isn’t a matter of the weight of the PhD, or even its presence. He lied about his credentials. What else did he lie about? Lacking the credentials, does he even have the expertise to properly address the topics? Also, look at it this way, if the used car salesman hadn’t lied, would you have bought the car?

ANDREW BOSWELL
September 5, 2019 9:17 pm

Wow. Glad he was exposed.

armando simon
September 5, 2019 8:28 pm

More power to Shermer.

Conrad
September 5, 2019 8:08 pm

@Filippo, of course anyone *can* write about hip-hop, but in the academic world, one tends to only publish papers in your specialty. I have a friend who is a uni psychology professor and he mostly publishes not only just psychology-oriented papers, but ones specific to his specialty (memory). There’s little time to do much else, and your professional reputation rests on it – “publish or perish,” as they say.

Dr. Strangelove
September 5, 2019 6:32 pm

Dr. Shermer,

Had Mr. Glynn not lied from the start, would you publish his articles? If yes, then why remove them? Just put a note at the beginning of the articles that the author fabricated his academic credentials but the article passed editorial review.

If you want to punish Mr. Glynn, wouldn’t the shame be enough? Or you could sue him for fraud. Had Hitler published the theory of relativity, we would still teach it in universities but history would still judge him as a mass murderer.

Alex
September 5, 2019 6:01 pm

I think we’re all omitting an even more serious concern here… Glynn didn’t just lie to journalistic outlets to make himself look more qualified–he used those “credentials” to fraudulently obtain academic positions where he was teaching students about topics he has no qualifications to teach!! Sharing your “opinion” is one thing, evaluating students’ command of a topic you also know nothing about, is another. He’s a con artist.

To sittingbytheriver: it is true that you can have excellent views on a topic without a credential, but it is a whole different thing to write about that topic as if you are professionally experienced with it. Please feel free to share, but don’t do so while claiming some special expertise. When talking about serious topics like “suicide,” what Glynn did (i.e., claim to be a clinical psychologist) is very dangerous, irresponsible, and dare I say, immoral.

I am proud of Skeptic for retracting his work! Shame on the outlets that don’t, they’re facilitating academic and intellectual fraud.

Ken Farnsworth
September 5, 2019 4:27 pm

to sittingbytheriver:
I agree that credentials in and of themselves aren’t that important. But, to claim them fraudulently implies a level of dishonesty that casts a cloud over everything else they do subsequently.
Simply be honest about your credentials, or lack of them, and everything will be fine.

Filippo
September 5, 2019 4:15 pm

Re: post no. 7 by Conrad: just congenially curious, who do you say is qualified to write about hip-hop, and on what basis?

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