I was recently reading a textbook, written by a professor from an elite university, which I was finding to be very informative and well-written. Excited to learn of other works or talks by this individual, I searched for him on Google, but was extremely dismayed to find the results page full of news articles about his improper personal conduct and trouble with the law that resulted in his being forced to retire from teaching.

I'm now unsure whether I should continue reading his textbooks--they appear to be correct, well-written and insightful, but I might feel embarrassed now to keep them on my bookshelf or tell someone I had studied them. Should I avoid reading and learning from his work? And, more out of curiosity, should individuals publishing work in his field avoid referencing his texts or published research?

I left out a lot of the specifics, so more general thoughts or comments about this are welcomed.

  • 133
    This is silly. Unless he faked his research, you should study his work. Mar 16, 2017 at 16:52
  • 22
    Citation is not endorsement. Nor is reading (obviously) or continuing someone's research. Mar 16, 2017 at 17:34
  • 17
    @ScottSeidman are you presenting Turing as an example of a disgraced academic?
    – Ukko
    Mar 16, 2017 at 21:14
  • 27
    An academic in trouble with the law, who thankfully was not ignored. @Ukko Mar 16, 2017 at 22:43
  • 24
    The only question is whether his or her actions compromise their science. Faking results is the obvious case, but a psychologist abusing clients, or an anthropologist molesting indigenous children, or an economist failing to disclose industry grants would make me question the validity of their results. Mar 17, 2017 at 9:56

7 Answers 7


No, it's generally not a bad practice. For a closely related question, see How does it affect the treatment of a mathematician's results, if that mathematician was a Nazi?.

Should individuals publishing work in his field avoid referencing his texts or published research?

His published research:
for sure no, not avoid references to his research; the linked question covers this well.

As for his textbooks:
Most often one is not forced to reference any particular text, as there are other texts that do the same. (Perhaps "there are other texts that do the same" ought to be the definition of a text rather than a research article or monograph, but there are exceptions to this definition.) I think personal preferences can and do come in when choosing which text to reference: for instance, I would be happier to reference a text that is freely available online, or if I don't like (academically speaking) a text generally then I might try to replace a citation to it by a citation somewhere else, even if that's a little trouble. (I remember doing that recently in a joint paper: a coauthor cited a text I didn't like. I got him to (find and) cite another one instead!) But if Dr. Fallen's text is the unique source for something, you must cite it, and if you unambiguously feel that it's the best source, you probably should cite it.

As for your studying: I see no argument whatsoever against studying the good text of a bad person. In fact, "bad person" is a kind of reification. Everyone does good things and bad things; when we say someone is a "bad person," we mean that our evaluation of their actions (that we know of) is weighted towards the bad. But avoiding or trying to nullify the good actions of a bad person is...bad. We should encourage, reward and make use of the good behavior in everyone, right?

I do have one proviso: you may not want to financially support Dr. Fallen, for instance if you suspect that financial support would somehow abet his reprehensible activities. So you may well not want to buy his book if you haven't already. If you feel that citing Dr. Fallen's text in a situation where you could also cite another (both are secondary sources) could induce others to financially support him, then maybe that's an ethical reason for choosing a different citation even if you personally think Dr. Fallen's text explains it better: this is a bit of an unlikely edge case, I think.

  • 26
    Another edge case might be if an academic's fall from grace is related to research fraud or something that might be relevant to the accuracy of their discoveries
    – k_g
    Mar 16, 2017 at 19:24
  • 20
    @k_g: Agreed, that would be a much different matter. I took from the OP's question that this was not the case. Mar 16, 2017 at 19:40
  • Not so different case, imo: You still cite him, with due caution and some double-checking, for his original, valid ideas. No reason to steal from him, just because he's a thief.
    – Karl
    Mar 17, 2017 at 5:54
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    @PeteL.Clark Why would I use work where I cannot judge it's validity? If I cannot judge it, I guess it's either irrelevant for my work or I'm the wrong guy for my job.
    – Karl
    Mar 17, 2017 at 20:06
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    @Karl: "It's simply that any relevant fake becomes obvious within a very short time." Well, that's simply not true. You can read about some counterexamples here: onlineuniversities.com/blog/2012/02/…. There are unfortunately hundreds and thousands more where that came from. "Why would I use work where I cannot judge it's [sic] validity?" This is a good question to ask on this site if you actually want to know the answer: there are several reasons. One easy one: you don't watch the experiments being performed. Mar 17, 2017 at 21:23

Unless that fall from grace precludes being able to take their science seriously (see: Andrew Wakefield), there is no reason to avoid their work. As other people have mentioned, a citation is not a personal endorsement of an individual as a good and decent human being. It is a pointer to a body of scientific work.


If Einstein was a warmongering Nazi, would his scientific discoveries become something less than they are now?

If the book is helping you, you should continue using it.

  • 4
    The current reputation of e.g, Schrodinger vs Bohr is a good example.
    – innisfree
    Mar 17, 2017 at 12:54
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    @TheGreatDuck: Einstein's most famous work was published in 1905 (photoelectric effect, special relativity) and 1916 (general relativity), at which time Von Neumann was 12 years old and still in school in Hungary. Von Neumann was a prodigy, but I somehow doubt he was so "heavily into" relativity that he was at that time independently discovering the work we credit Einstein for -- much less doing so in America. Mar 18, 2017 at 11:19
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    @TheGreatDuck: Actually (as previously stated) the German scientists were generally better, but the German nuclear program never got off the ground because most of their physicists got drafted into military service during the invasion of Poland. Ultimately, politics continued to give the project a low priority. It wasn't that "the Americans were better at it"; that's your country feeding you propaganda. :) Mar 19, 2017 at 11:09
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    @TheGreatDuck: By clicking the link in your profile, then viewing your profile on that site. It wasn't exactly complicated detective work ;) Mar 21, 2017 at 10:17
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    @TheGreatDuck: i.sstatic.net/sRu1d.png i.sstatic.net/mJovT.png i.sstatic.net/T2Dyq.png If your profile on that website misrepresents your home nation then you might want to update it, so as not to, y'know, lie to everybody. :) Mar 21, 2017 at 22:58

I suppose it would depend largely upon the reason for the fall from grace. If the fall was due to falsifying data, that would be a big red flag for serious citation (unless you're pointing out the the conclusions may be false).

It gets more interesting if this involves research that does not meet ethical standards. Mengele did "research", and I suppose there are serious people who can tell you whether any of his results were valid -- but he treated humans as less than human.

Then, of course, are people who fell from grace for reasons that would be considered non-reasons today. I would hope that I don't know too many people who would refuse to cite Turing because of his sexual preferences (though, I confess, I have zero knowledge about how he was regarded in contemporary academic circles, he certainly had detractors in government).

  • 7
    A good answer should address not just the title of the question, but the body of the question. The OP writes of the researcher's "improper personal conduct and trouble with the law that resulted in his being forced to retire from teaching"; your answer doesn't seem to cover that situation at all.
    – ruakh
    Mar 16, 2017 at 20:06
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    @paulgarrett: By your "etc.", I take it that you consider Turing's "personal conduct" to have been "improper"? If this answer intends to imply that we should ignore our own current standards because people in the future might realize that our current standards are misguided, then that should really be stated explicitly, because it's not at all obvious from the current text.
    – ruakh
    Mar 16, 2017 at 22:17
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    @ruakh, how in the world do you draw any conclusion on Paul''s views from that comment? Mar 16, 2017 at 22:27
  • 6
    @ruakh, I really don't want to argue, but Paul''s point only requires that somebody, at some time, considered Turing''s conduct problematic. Mar 16, 2017 at 22:52
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    @ScottSeidman, Mengele isn't a good example -- his work is better described as "medical-themed torture", and generally has little scientific value. A better example would be Sigmund Rascher's work on hypothermia and freezing.
    – Mark
    Mar 16, 2017 at 23:05

Science is supposed to be about facts. People are very much geared toward good vs evil, and choosing sides.

Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Jane Fonda, .....

At one time in history each of these people produced some form of art/entertainment that resonated with a large number of people, and then they did something that a large portion of the population found objectionable. Does that make the things they created bad?

Our culture has decided that if someone does something we don't like, we don't like anything they are associated with... until they are dead. Once they are dead we can like their work again. I would argue that it would only be an ethical issue if the work itself were obtained in an unethical way. For instance, if someone tortured a bunch of children just to see how children responded to being tortured.

  • Michael Jackson was acquitted. Mar 19, 2017 at 22:54
  • 1
    @CountIblis: O.J. was also acquitted.
    – Ink blot
    Mar 20, 2017 at 6:41
  • Also, see the general loss of taste for the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley in SF/F fandom. Her books aren't now suddenly really that bad, but it's become a bit embarrassing to be seen with them. My local library has a giveaway shelf for donated books that they don't want, and I wasn't surprised to see The Mists of Avalon on it one day. Jun 18, 2018 at 2:47

Here's an example of how one author dealt with this issue: https://arxiv.org/pdf/math/0511366

The first page mentions a result by one T.J. Kaczynski, "better known for other work".

The result is mathematically sound, it's relevant to the paper, and Kaczynski discovered it, so it's entirely appropriate to cite him - it would be weird to depend on a result without citing a source, and dishonest to deny the attribution. But the author probably felt weird about referencing somebody who's better known as a notorious terrorist without acknowledging that side of his existence.


If the "improper personal conduct and trouble with the law" had potential to make the professor's work questionable, then his work should be excluded from serious consideration.

In many cases, the author's crimes have nothing to do with their research, and if the facts/research/conclusions are true, then by all rights there should be no reason to avoid using it. However, there remains a fear of "crime by association" and it's up to each reader whether they are able to get past the author's or researchers' crime or activity to be able to use the knowledge they wrote about. Sometimes it is the only place to find such information. If that is not the case, some may feel better quoting it from a secondary source in order to avoid the association with the original author.

As an example, in the Numismatic field, there was a researcher who wrote a great encyclopedia that had a ton of research behind it and basically became many people's "bible" on coins. It came to light that the man was a pedophile - many thought this tainted the work he had done, but his proclivities had nothing to do with the cold hard facts of coin mintages and coin design. Seeing as it was the only reference with some information (still to this day), it will be quoted but always with reluctance; the quoter usually finds a way to express their dismay with the author, as if to make clear that they do not condone the author's crimes.

In the end, if the professor's works are factual, then it's up to you; the facts stated won't be any more wrong or right because of what he did in his personal life, but you could also be judged by people who will mentally combine the researcher with the research. So if it matters to you, you may want to gauge your audience's ability to separate the work from the author before citing him or having his books clearly visible on your bookshelf.

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