Thursday, October 04, 2007

Starn's Distortion & Duke's Standards

Readers’ Note: Last year I posted concerning Duke Professor Orin Starn's misrepresentation of a statement by Coach Mike Krzyzewski. I called the misrepresentation to Starn's attention. He denied it was a misrepresentation.

So I took what Coach K had actually said and demonstrated precisely what Starn did in order to create the false statement he attributed to the Coach. I urged Starn to retract the statement and apologize to Coach K.

Will it surprise you to learn I never heard from Starn?

I also sent a letter to his department chair. I heard nothing from her.

I decided to try again when I read a recent statement by Duke's President, Richard H. Brodhead, reminding us how important it is to do things properly.

So I'm just about to send off the following electronic letter. I'll let you know if I hear back.


Anne Allison, Professor and Chair
Cultural Anthropology Department
Duke University

Dear Professor Allison:

This is the second letter I'm sending you on a matter of importance. The first one drew no response. Perhaps it didn't reach you or "fell off the screen" at a busy time.

Last July Sally Dalton Robinson Professor of Cultural Anthropology Orin Starn published an op-ed in The Raleigh News & Observer. It contained a very serious misrepresentation of remarks made by Coach Mike Krzyzewski concerning the racial aspects of the Duke lacrosse case.

I called Professor Starn's misrepresentation to his attention via email and said he should apologize to Coach K and provide a correction for N&O readers.

Professor Starn responded in a lengthy email in which, among other things, he denied misrepresenting Coach K.

I sent Professor Starn a second email in which I demonstrated how, by careful word and phrase omissions, substitutions and rearrangements of what Coach K had actually said, he created what it was hard to see was anything other than a deliberately false statement.

You can read the emails in this post which also contains links to the report of what Coach K actually said and Professor Starn's op-ed. (I’ve just tested all its links. They’re active.)

Here, between the star lines, is the portion of my second email demonstrating what Professor Starn did to create his misrepresentation.

Coach K said:

“The racial aspect of this, in some ways, has been the most sensitive thing and some people have tried to create something that isn’t there in our community.”
You presented to N&O readers the following as representing what Coach K had said:
“Those who see a ‘racial aspect’ to the lacrosse case have ‘tried to create something that isn't there.’”
Let’s look at what you had to do with Coach K’s statement in order to create what you presented to N&O readers.

First, you took Coach K's unambiguous acknowledgement of "The racial aspect of this" and substituted in its place something entirely different: "Those who see a 'racial aspect.'" (bolds mine)

Next, you withheld from readers the fact that Coach K had said the racial aspect was, in some respects, the case's "most sensitive" aspect.

Only by eliminating Coach K’s unambiguous acknowledgement of “The racial aspect;” substituting for his words your words that made it appear he was saying some people were merely perceiving a racial aspect ( “Those who see…” ); and withholding from readers the information that the coach had said the racial aspect was in some ways the case’s “most sensitive” aspect were you then able to present to N&O readers as what Coach K had said:
“Those who see a ‘racial aspect’ to the lacrosse case have ‘tried to create something that isn't there.’”
You misrepresented what Coach K said and it’s very hard, Professor Starn, to see how your misrepresentation could be anything other than deliberate.

After misrepresenting Coach K, you went on and falsely accused him of “not see[ing] a ‘racial aspect’ here.”

You owe the coach an apology and N&O readers a correction.

Is your treatment of Coach K’s statement typical of how you treat raw data when you prepare lectures, articles and books?

Is what you did accepted practice for Duke faculty?

If you can't speak for the broader faculty, than is what you did accepted practice in the Department of Cultural Anthropology?


Professor Allison, I told Professor Starn I'd publish in full his response to my second email as I had his first, but he never responded.

When I was completing masters and doctoral study at Duke (mid-seventies to early eighties) what Professor Starn did - taking what a source said, rendering a judgment on it, distortion what the source said, and then claiming your distortion was what the source said - was unacceptable.

Freshmen and sophomores who did that would get a "sit down" with the professor or GA who’d explain why it wasn't done and request a correction.

Juniors and seniors were more likely to see their misrepresentations circled and points taken off.

If you were in a grad program and you did what Professor Starn did, you pleaded for mercy and promised never to do it again.

I intended last July to bring Professor Starn's misrepresentation to your and Provost Lange's attentions.

However, faculty friends told me I’d be wasting my time.

They said what Professor Starn did is now commonly done by many Duke faculty. “Really, John,” one faculty friend said, “Starn is typical of many of my colleagues.”

I decided to drop the matter.

However, because misrepresentations published by some Duke faculty are now receiving national scrutiny, I’m calling Professor Starn’s very serious and carefully created misrepresentation to your attention as well as to the attention of others in positions of responsibility.

I recognize and am glad that Duke faculty members have freedom of expression.

But when a faculty member says something that’s demonstrably false and deliberately created; and subsequently refuses to correct the misrepresentation when it’s called to his or her attention, don't department chairs and the provost have a responsibility to note the misrepresentation and criticize the faculty member for refusing to correct it?

I will publish your response in full at my blog,

Thank you for your attention to this letter.


John in Carolina


Richard Brodhead, President
Peter Lange, Provost
John Burness, Senior Vice President
Orin Starn, Professor


Anonymous said...

John, great post. Thanks for following this up.

AMac said...

Here's the context of Krzyzewski's remark, as presented as an excerpt from the 6/20/06 press conference transcript at

On the impact of the lacrosse situation on the basketball program...

"The two things people use against us in recruiting is that Duke is too hard and that you are not good enough to play there because they have too many players. The racial aspect of this, in some ways, has been the most sensitive thing and some people have tried to create something that isn’t there in our community. We have amazing race relations and I think basketball has been a part of the process of bringing the community even closer together because of the great kids we have."

In his July 2, 2006 N&O Op-Ed, Prof. Starn said:

"All of us at Duke University wondered what Mike Krzyzewski thought about the lacrosse controversy... Coach K broke his silence at a press conference recently. Here's what we learned from the men's basketball coach:


Those who see a "racial aspect" to the lacrosse case have "tried to create something that isn't there."

... But beyond the alleged sexual assault, there remain reports, uncontradicted so far, that some of the 46 white lacrosse players shouted the n-word at the two women at their party; and that one made that ugly "B-, Thank your Grandpa for my cotton shirt" comment. It's hard to understand how Coach K or anyone else could not see a "racial aspect" here, as much the result of loutish drunkenness as it may have been."

Prof. Starn had the standard-issue Group-of-88-like habit of presenting events out of context, or in the wrong context. "Uncontradicted so far," so I guess that's how he still frames his meta-narrative.

But the Krzyewski quote that Starn synthesized was a comment about the racial aspect of the lacrosse case as it pertains to basketball recruiting. This part of the Q and A is just past halfway on the video feed at the GoDuke site (but it lacks a timer). The question Krzyzweski is answering is hard to hear, but it's something like this:

"A secondary consideration is the impact of this [the lacrosse accusations] on your [player recruiting] program--People [other college coaches] use it to..."

Starn is suggesting to his readers that Krzyewski's (faux) quote was a general comment that applies to Starn's misleading version of the aftermath of the stripper party.

This is false.

Jim in San Diego said...


It would be an interesting exercise to match statements from one of Mr. Starn's scholarly works with the authorities cited in support of the statements, to see if they match, or not.

During graduate school at Princeton in the early 1970's, I took a seminar in Contemporary American History with one of the preeminent historians of the time. Part of our reading assignment was a 600 page work which presented a revisionist history of American participation in World War II.

I read the book, also by an eminent and respected historian. I had read extensively into the history of the Second World War, so found the revisionist conclusions jarring.

I found myself asking, "Did President Roosevelt really say that?"; "Did the embassy in Tokyo really write that?" As an exercise, I went to the marvelous Princeton library and attempted to locate the first 100 authorities cited in the work. The reason was to avoid selection bias. My intent was to find and report on ALL the first 100 citations.

I found virtually all of the first 100 citations either at Princeton or during a trip up the highway to the Library of Congress.

To my astonishment, literally dozens of the cites did not say what the author said they did. A handful were particularly egregious - someone said "yes", but the author reported the response as "no", figuratively speaking.

I reported these results in my graduate seminar. And, here is the point.

The professor, himself an eminent historian, was stonily hostile to my report. There was no discussion of the merits of my research. No discussion of historiography, of how historians interpret and report facts, or any other intellectual issue raised by my results. My report was simply ignored, and no in class discussion took place, at all. Keep in mind, this was a graduate seminar in history at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton.

Perhaps as an exercise, I will take the time to try this exercise on a representative work of Orin Starn, if I can find one. Since I do not read Orin Starn, I assume that his book Ishi's Brain, published in 2004, is a good test.

I no longer have access either to the Princeton library or the Library of Congress. So, this may take a while. I will report the results, whatever they may be.

Anonymous said...

Someone at lunch asked why Duke puts up with professors like Starn.

Someone else said, "Because there are so many others there just like him."

Everyone at the table laughed.

It wasn't at UNC.

It was another university.

Anonymous said...

Good try.

But Duke doesn't give a damn as long as the suckers keep sending in the money.

Starn and Brodhead know that.

That's why they laugh so much.

bill anderson said...


Good post, indeed. You have been dogged and determined in this one, and it really is interesting to watch the cornered rats, as we have observed at the N&O and at Duke.

People like Orin Starn simply do not care if they are telling the truth or not. They believe that they are so superior, intellectual AND morally, than the rest of us that we have no right EVER to question anything they say. Starn has made snide comments on K.C.'s blog (done anonymously, of course, but K.C. was able to figure out what happened), and his doing so under "anonymous" tells me that he also is a coward.

The offending faculty members at Duke are beyond shame and beyond any kind of redemption, morally and academically speaking. They are what they are, and Duke University has chosen to defend them instead of dealing with them as the frauds that they are.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work JinC. And so disturbing. Professor Starn's alterations are what we have come to expect from many journalists, but not from scholars. And you're right, the perversion of Coach K's comment could only have been deliberate...and it continues to be deliberate since you have pointed the issues out to him. Thank you for your detailed explanation and your perseverance.


A most interesting comment Jim in San Diego.


Ralph Phelan said...

We all know Duke will do nothing, so some other form of releif is needed.

By falsely claiming Krzyzewski said something he never did, Starn made him look stupid.

Is there any chance a defamation claim would be successful? The N&O obviously can calim the usual media outlet immunity, but I'm more interested in whether it would be possible to ruin Starn personally.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis of the situation and a clear, well-formed request for an explanation or correction.

Doubting either will be forthcoming please consider dropping by:

and editing the last paragraph to include his falsifying evidence to his resume.