Friday, 13 December 2013
How Philip Emeagwali Lied His Way To Fame
Philip Emeagwali stirs up diverse emotions in Nigerians, Africans, and black people around the world. His claim of being a father of the Internet, of having invented the Connection Machine, of possessing 41patented inventions, of winning “the Nobel Prize of Computing” and of being a “doctor” and/or “professor” have been conclusively debunked with widely documented evidence.
Fraudulent claims help Emeagwali get on the Nigerian N50 postal stamp
Yet, the figure of Emeagwali as a black scientific, engineering, and information technology genius and pioneer continues to loom large over discussions of black achievement. The legend of Philip Emeagwali’s purported inventions, widely proven to emanate from the perverse deceptive genius of the man himself, endures and proliferates among Nigerian and black groups around the world.
Only recently, the USAfricadialogue googlegroups listserv managed by Professor Toyin Falola of the University of Texas hosted a discussion on Philip Emeagwali’s vast fraud. Participants in the discussion included Nigerian and African intellectuals, scientists, engineers, and IT professionals. Overall, the discussion reinforced and reiterated one of the worst kept secrets in the Nigerian Diaspora, especially in its online community: that none of Emeagwali’s highfalutin claims, on whose strength he has curried and continues to curry favor and recognition from gullible and hero-hungry black people, is true. Yet, just a few days ago, one of Nigeria’s more visible dailies, The Vanguard, included the academic and intellectual fraud in its list of 20 “most influential Nigerians.” Curiously, unlike previous Nigerian publications and profiles on Mr. Emeagwali, the biographical write-up accompanying the nomination does not repeat any of the well-known claims and “achievements” that Emeagwali has aggressively and fraudulently peddled about himself — claims that many of our people regard as truth. Apparently, the journalists at The Vanguard have become exposed to the widely available refutations of those claims and now know that they are false. But that, precisely, is the outrage. If they know that he is not a father of the internet, did not win “the Nobel Prize” of Computing as he claims, has no invention patents, did not invent the connection machine, does not have a single academic publication, and is neither a “doctor” nor a “professor” by any definition of those terms, why did they include him on the list? What makes Mr. Emeagwali “influential,” his ability to deceive Nigerians and line his pockets on the black speechmaking circuit?
Nigerians and black people deserve to know who the real Philip Emeagwali is. This will save them from the embarrassment of continuing to celebrate a fraud while real black scientific achievers and pioneers starve for attention and recognition. To correct Nigeria’s scientific and technological lag there is a need for investments — both financial and motivational — in the sciences, engineering, and IT fields. Nigerian youths need inspiration in the quantitative and scientific disciplines, but they should get it from actual, not pretending, black scientific, computing, and engineering heroes, not from phonies like Mr. Emeagwali.
Patented Inventions Or The Invention Of Patents?
Debunking the many myths of Mr. Emeagwali’s “achievements” is one the easiest things to do on earth if you have a computer with Internet access. Let us start with his claim of possessing 41 (32 by some accounts on some hero-worshipping black websites) patents for various inventions. A simple search at the website of the US Patent and Trade Mark Office (here: http://tarr.uspto.gov/) reveals that Mr. Emeagwali has only one registered patent, for Emeagwali.com, his website. He has no other patent listed against his name. It is the same patent that most owners of independent websites apply for to legally protect their proprietary rights over the website and its contents. We can state conclusively then that Mr. Emeagwali has no patented invention of any kind, contrary to his and his supporters’ claim.
Specifically, Mr. Emeagwali claims to have invented the Connection Machine (CM-2). This false claim is displayed boldly and shamelessly on Emeagwali.com in the section on “inventions” and “discoveries.” Some black websites like this one http://inventors.about.com/od/blackinventors/a/black_historyE.htm credit Emeagwali with inventing the Hyberball Machine Networks (or the supercomputer). Both claims are demonstrably false. The connection Machine, which is capable of conducting simultaneous calculations using 65,000-processors, was conceived by Daniel Hills and built by Thinking Machine Corporation, which Mr. Hills, along with Sheryl Handler, founded in 1982. This information is widely available on the web. The so-called supercomputer is therefore clearly not the child of Mr. Emeagwali by even the most generous stretch of the imagination.
Mr. Emeagwali claims to have used the CM-2 Machine to carry out billions of calculations by connecting over 65,000 processors (computers) around the world. He claims that this was the rudimentary foundation of the Internet. It is on this ground that he has aggrandized to himself the title of “father of the internet.” But this is a barefaced lie at worst and an egregious exaggeration at best. And it is so absurd in its circular logic that it is hilarious. First, as stated earlier, Emeagwali did not invent the Connection Machine on which his “experiment” relied. Second, Emeagwali used more than 65,000 independent processors "around the world" (meaning on the Internet) to do his calculation. This means that the Internet already existed and that he RELIED ON it for his calculations. Unless the Internet he claims to have fathered is different from the Internet that already existed at the time of his experiment (and which we all know as the existing internet today), he COULD NOT have invented the Internet or fathered it. He could not have been using an internet that, by his claim, did not exist until he invented it. As this website http://www.boutell.com/newfaq/history/emeagwali.html makes very clear, Emeagwali’s research did not contribute to or help invent any of the known components of what we now know as the internet:
Philip Emeagwali did work in supercomputing in the [late] eighties……. But supercomputing and the Internet are very different areas. And Emeagwali did not contribute to even one of the hundreds of Internet standards, or RFCs (Requests For Comments), that were created in the early decades of the Internet—an open process that anyone could participate in. His supercomputing research was completely unrelated to the Internet.
Emeagwali’s research was thus irrelevant to the evolution of the internet. Emeagwali did his supercomputing experiment in the late 1980s. By then, the “core standards” and protocols for information and data flow on the Internet already existed. And although, improvements have been made to the template since then, Emeagwali did not make any of those improvements and cannot therefore claim credit for them.
Emeagwali's tenuous—and fraudulent—claim to internet fatherhood rests on his assertion that "the Supercomputer is the father of the Internet,” “because both are networks of computers working together.” This, experts agree, is not true, as supercomputing is just one component of the Internet and in fact RELIES ON the rudiments of what we know as the internet to work. So, if anything, the internet concept is the father of supercomputing, not vice versa. But even if we accept Emeagwali’s wrong logic, the fact that he did not invent or pioneer supercomputing means that even on this flawed premise and logic he cannot be considered a father of the internet.
Authentic histories of the internet are accessible all over the web. One can be found here: http://www.isoc.org/internet/history/brief.shtml#SC69. Many people played leading roles in inventing, improving, and constituting the vast technologies, protocols, and ideas that gave birth to and perfected the Internet. It is interesting that none of them is nearly as vocal in claiming that he is a father of the internet as Mr. Emeagwali, who did not contribute to the invention of the internet in any shape or form and in fact relied on the already existing internet to conduct his research. One of the most significant contributors to and pioneers of the internet is Vinton Cerf, who is today a Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google Inc. Other important figures in the development of the Internet include JCR Licklider, Bob Taylor, Paul Baran, Donald Davies, and Lawrence Roberts. If anyone deserves the title of father of the Internet, it is these people. Yet, none of them craves or has appropriated the title. When interviewed about their contribution to the Internet, they often humbly outline their actual contribution, crediting others with other components and shunning the title or insinuation of having fathered the Internet.
The only “history of the internet” source to even recognize Emeagwali as a legitimate computer scientist to be mentioned when chronicling the history of the internet is the book History of the Internet: A Chronology, 1843 to the Present by Christos J. P. Moschovitis, Hilary Poole, Tami Schuyler, Theresa M. Senft. The book was published in 2001. Although Mr. Emeagwali proudly displays the book’s reference to him on his website and claims that the “father of the internet” moniker (which has since been lazily picked up by several media platforms) originated in the book, there is absolutely no such reference in the book. The book’s reference to Emeagwali only states how Emeagwali’s research “effectively stimulate[d] petroleum reserves” by “harnessing the power of parallel computing.” And it is clear from a cursory analysis of the linguistic properties of this specific reference to Emeagwali that Emeagwali himself supplied the material and the claims articulated in it. It is also clear from the reference that it has nothing to do with the internet but is about improving the modeling of oilfields or oil reservoirs. The content and prose are eerily identical to the autobiographical write-ups and claims on Emeagwali.com and on black websites that simply lift and republish Emeagwali’s claims and self-written biography.
The Nobel Prize Of Computing?
Emeagwali’s other claim is that of winning the “Nobel Prize of Computing.” He is, of course, referring to the Gordon Bell Prize, which he won in 1989. Many uninformed observers have since picked up this fraudulent reference, which emanated from Emeagwali.com, and given it wings. The truth is that the Gordon Bell Prize does not come close to the Nobel in status, recognition or prize money and to compare the two prizes is to insult the prestige of the Nobel and grossly exaggerate the Gordon Bell’s importance. The Gordon Bell Prize is, properly speaking, an annual competition that young, driven, engineering upstarts — mostly graduate students — enter. Winners are usually those whose research are innovative and on the cutting edge of new processes in the field. So, on that score, winning the Gordon Bell Prize is a reward for doing research work that is important and solves an application problem at the time that the award is given. But let us put the award in perspective and recognize that it is actually a very minor award in the narrow field of supercomputing and in the larger computing and scientific community. Here is why the Gordon Bell Prize, Emeagwali’s only legitimate achievement, is much less than what he has portrayed it as:
• The cash award for the prize is a mere $1000. Often, the amount of an award is a good guide to its prestige and significance in the field.
• Consider the fact that the most prestigious prize in the field of computing (and yet it cannot even be called the Nobel of Computing without insulting the real Nobel) is the Turing Prize, which carries a cash prize of $100,000.
• The Gordon Bell is awarded in the narrow subfield of supercomputing, thereby further thinning the applicant pool and reducing the intensity of the competition.
• The prize is further subdivided into several categories. Emeagwali won in one of those categories, the price/performance category. The more prestigious overall Peak Performance category was won by the entry submitted by a team from Mobil and TMC.
• It is interesting that apart from Emeagwali no other winner(s) of the Gordon Bell annual prize makes noise about winning it or claims to have won “the Nobel Prize of Computing.” They usually go on to do bigger and better research in the field, the Gordon Bell being just a launch pad for future significant work. The public does not even know the other winners because it is a minor prize even in the field of computing.
• Finally, and most importantly, Philip Emeagwali only won the prize in the price/performance category by default. His calculation of 3.1 Gflops was the second fastest speed. The fastest speed belonged to the Mobil/TMC team’s entry, whose calculation, according to the official record of the IEEE, which administers the prize (IEEE Software, May 1990, p. 101), bested Emeagwali’s speed. The speed of the Mobil/TMC Team’s solution to the seismic data processing problem was almost twice that of Emeagwali’s at almost 6Gflops. Similarly, and of more relevance for our purpose here, the Mobil/TMC team’s entry achieved the best speed/cost ratio (price-performance) at 500 Mflops per $1 Million, beating out Emeagwali’s entry, whose speed/cost ration was less than 400 Mflops per $1 Million. In fact the prize in the price/performance category was actually awarded to the Mobil/TMC initially. However, because the Mobil TMC team won also won in the overall Peak Performance category and the IEEE’s prize rule does not allow more than one prize per entry, the Mobil/TMC team forfeited their prize in the price/performance category, sticking with the prize for overall Peak Performance, a more significant category. As a result, Emeagwali’s entry, the second placed entry with the second highest speed/cost ratio, was automatically bumped to first place.
For all these reasons, it is the height of self-promotion and delusional exaggeration for Mr. Emeagwali to claim that he won the Nobel Prize of Computing or that the Gordon Bell is regarded as the Nobel of Computing. Nobody except Mr. Emeagwali regards the prize as such.
It is noteworthy that both Emeagwali and the Mobile/TMC Team relied on the CM-2 Machine (the Connection Machine) for their calculations, the same machine that Emeagwali falsely claims to have invented!
A final point to note here is that the research for which he won the Gordon Bell Prize (by default) has application and relevance only in the narrow area of oil flow reservoir modeling and oil prospecting. His entry for the competition utilized and optimized the capacity of parallel computing, that is, relied on an already existing Internet. Emeagwali’s own website states that he “accessed the supercomputers over the Internet from local workstations.” Neither the research nor the prize had anything to do with the Internet. The Internet was already invented and fairly perfected by then; otherwise he would not be, in his own words, “accessing the supercomputers over the Internet.” This clarification is necessary and important because some of Emeagwali’s supporters and victims tend to assume wrongly that his purported fatherhood of the internet derives from the research for which he won the Gordon Bell Prize. All these facts can be easily accessed here: http://www33.brinkster.com/iiiii/inventions/emeag.html
“Dr.” Emeagwali Or Doctored Emeagwali?
Emeagwali’s final fraudulent claim is that of being a “doctor” and “professor.” Several years ago, before eagle-eyed Nigerians and Africans decided to scrutinize his eye-popping claims, his website audaciously referred to him as “doctor” and “Professor.” Because of recent exposures of his scam, he no longer refers to himself on his website as “Dr. Emeagwali” or “Professor Emeagwali.” However, in what is typical of the Emeagwali scam, his website is still littered with many media references to “Dr Emeagwali” and “Professor Emeagwali.” These stealthily promoted references then get picked up by unsuspecting black media people who are eager to promote black achievement and excellence. Sometimes, he approaches black websites and organizations, asking them to link to or publish his false claims. In the course of the discussion on the USAfricadialogue forum, Ms. Funmi Okelola , the owner and webmaster of cafeafricana.com, revealed that Mr. Emeagwali approached her a few years ago, asking her to help propagate the lie that he is “a father of the internet.” Ms. Okelola, herself an Adjunct Professor of IT, flatly turned down his request, refusing to participate vicariously in his fraud. For good measure, she advised him to seek help for his delusions of grandeur.
But many proprietors of black websites and publications have not been as alert to Emeagwali’s antics as Ms. Okelola and have been falling for his scam. In their eagerness to embrace what they believe to be the proud achievements of a “brother,” they have inadvertently donated space and platform to Emeagwali to consolidate and spread his false claims. Because of the virility of the internet, even some non-black websites have picked up these ubiquitous references that are patently false. Here, on this website http://www.answers.com/topic/philip-emeagwali for instance you will find a clear reference not only to “Dr Emeagwali” but also the following reference in their documentation of his education: “Ph.D., Scientific Computing, University of Michigan, 1993.”
He will not correct what is clearly a false reference, preferring to take cover in the deniability of being able to say that it is others, not him, who use these false, unearned titles to refer to him. The reason he will not correct this falsehood is that it emanated from him in the first place; most of the references were picked up from his website in the days before scrutiny spooked him into avoiding such direct self-referencing. The clearest evidence yet of his complicity and culpability in this misrepresentation is that he sits through interviews where the clueless, awed interviewers refer to him as “Doctor Emeagwali” and “Professor Emeagwali” and he does not correct them. There is a particularly revolting video on youtube <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMFy9sBLFQQ&feature=related>(http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8244498418903739405#) in which the female interview repeatedly calls him Dr. Emeagwali, obviously assuming and/or reading from her script that he has a PhD. He sits there and nods and smiles through those references without correcting her. Having planted the false biographical information about himself in the first instance, he understandably makes no effort to discourage people from using it or to correct them.
The false references to him as “doctor” and “professor” are not the only falsehoods that Emeagwali coyly and deftly promotes; he routinely lets interlocutors repeat the many false claims that are based on his own prolific misrepresentations. On this website http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa111097a.htm, for instance, the misinformed interviewer, a black woman who is proudly interviewing “a black inventor” for a book she was writing on black inventors, asks him the following question: “You have submitted 41 inventions to the U.S Patent and Trademark Office concerning seven technologies. Can you give us expanded details?” Clearly, the interviewer was repeatedly the false claim on Emeagwali’s website and in his self-written biographical profiles, without realizing that, as we showed at the beginning of this essay, he has no patent for any technology or invention.
Here is Mr. Emeagwali’s response to her question: “Inventors are reluctant to provide expanded details of their inventions until they receive full patent protection. The reason is that the Patent and Trademark Office can deny patents to inventors that publicly provide details of their invention.” But the truth is that he has neither registered patents for his non-existent inventions nor a patent-pending status. He has no inventions or technologies to patent! The response itself contains a lie. Contrary to Emeagwali’s insinuation that inventors cannot publicly discuss their work until they are patented or that doing so would jeopardize their patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), inventions and products with “Patent Pending” status are routinely discussed, advertized, and marketed on American television. In fact these public discussions of unpatented inventions always carry the disclaimer that patents are pending, meaning that applications have been made. If public discussion of inventions and technologies were detrimental to patent applications, none of these unpatented and “patent pending” technologies and inventions would be on the American market or be advertized on television. This was Emeagwali seeking to perpetuate the myth that he has several technological inventions that are patented or awaiting patents but avoiding having to mention or discussion the specific fictitious inventions for which he claims to have patents in order to have deniability when checks are made at the USPTO and he is confronted with the truth of his falsehood.
Racism Or Laziness?
The case of Philip Emeagwali is a cautionary tale on the pitfalls of self-delusion, laziness, and a sense of entitlement. Mr. Emeagwali enrolled in a doctoral program in Civil Engineering at the University of Michigan in 1987. His coursework over, he took the comprehensive examination that qualifies one for candidacy. He failed the exam twice and did not take it a third time. In the meantime, he conducted the research that would later win him the Gordon Bell Prize, a research he began as a class project for one of his graduate courses. In 1991, two years after winning the Gordon Bell by default, he petitioned the Dean of the School of Engineering to be allowed to submit a dissertation (despite not having passed his candidacy exam and therefore not being a doctoral candidate) in a different department — the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. His request was curiously granted in what was clearly a sidestepping of standard procedure. Emeagwali submitted the dissertation, basically a rework of his entry for the Gordon Bell competition, on July 24, 1992. A team of internal and external evaluators examined it and found it unworthy of a doctorate and turned it down.
Emeagwali then sued the University of Michigan for racial discrimination. The lawsuit was dismissed for lacking merit and also failed on appeal in 1999. The details of Emeagwali’s graduate school records and of the dueling contentions in the lawsuit are all documented here http://www.michbar.org/opinions/appeals/1999/102999/5473.html in the court record of the Michigan Court of Appeals.
A dispassionate analysis of the details, affidavits, and arguments submitted in the lawsuit and in the appeals process reveals the following:
• Emeagwali was a fairly brilliant student but he was lazy and would not put in the work necessary to earn his degree.
• He had a sense of entitlement, feeling that since he was black and had made it into the University of Michigan, he was entitled to a special treatment and academic favors.
• This sense of entitlement escalated after he won the Gordon Bell Prize. He thought that he was entitled to a PhD on the strength of the Gordon Bell competition entry when in fact he was not even a doctoral candidate, having failed his comprehensive examination twice.
• Emeagwali was more concerned with parlaying his newfound default Gordon Bell fame into profitable self-promotion than with the serious academic effort required to complete the PhD.
• He petitioned to be allowed to submit a dissertation only after he realized that he would not be taken seriously as a researcher and may not be able to find a secure job in research or teaching if he did not possess a PhD.
This is a story of how a promising, modestly brilliant graduate student was destroyed by his own hubris, entitlement mentality, and laziness. What Emeagwali failed to earn through hard work and diligence, he has since appropriated to himself by calling himself and getting others to call him “doctor” and “professor.”
Emeagwali is not a doctor of whatever kind. He is not a professor. He has not held any research or teaching job in any educational or research institution since he failed to get a doctorate degree at Michigan. He has also not done any new research. Emeagwali has no single publication in any scientific journal. A search of the most comprehensive scientific publication database (which can be done online) yields only a reference to his Masters Degree dissertation.
Here we have a man who is unemployed, has no serious standing in the scientific, engineering, or computing communities. Yet he is widely referred to as “a father of the internet,” “an internet pioneer,” “the greatest black scientist that ever lived,” “Bill Gates of Africa,” among other over-the-top and unearned titles. The question to pose is: how did the world get so deceived and why did many reputable people and organizations buy into Emeagwali’s con job? Emeagwali is a very industrious, persistent, and successful scam artist; you have to give him that. Very few intellectual frauds have successfully mainstreamed their false claims as Emeagwali has done.
Intellectual Fraud And Its Unwitting Validators
Even former president Bill Clinton was suckered by the fraud, famously referring to Emeagwali as “one of the great minds of the information age” in his speech to the Nigerian National Assembly in 2000. The Clinton reference has provided cover and alibi for Emeagwali to perfect and spread his false claims. Predictably, Emeagwali’s defenders point to the Clinton reference and to CNN’s and TIME Magazine’s references to him as “a father of the internet” and “the unsung hero” of the internet age respectively. These references are boldly displayed on Emeagali.com for the obvious purpose of convincing the uninformed that his claims have been vetted and endorsed by these entities. The problem is that these media organizations sadly endorsed the claims without vetting them. Part of it is sloppiness, but much of it is the result of what black intellectuals who live in the West understand and experience as white liberal pandering, which is itself borne out of white liberal guilt and the fear of the “r” word (racism).
Obviously Clinton was pandering to his Nigerian hosts who believed Emeagwali to be a scientific genius and national hero. Clinton, the savvy politician that he is, and a man who perfected white liberal outreach and pandering to black/African peoples, was relying on the image and descriptions of Emeagwali that was already in the black and mainstream press —descriptions that are traceable to Emeagwali's own misrepresentations on his websites. What Emeagwali does is so clever as to ensnare even a skeptical and vigilant observer, especially one that is already inclined to believe or seek out claims of black scientific achievement for whatever reason. As indicated earlier, Emeagwali plants these autobiographical write-ups that are ridden with falsehoods and misrepresentations in unsuspecting black publications. He does this by aggressively pitching these claims to their editors as he tried to do unsuccessfully with Ms. Okelola. Then, fired by liberal guilt and a desire to seem welcoming to black achievement and excellence, the mainstream media like TIME and CNN, lazily pick up these references and descriptions. Emeagwali then links to, disseminates, and publicizes these mainstream press references and descriptions (which are actually based on his own descriptions of himself and his "achievements”), thus perfecting and furthering the fraud. This way, he creates deniability for himself. The deception comes full circle but the cycle continues to repeat itself, populating and repopulating the Internet with Emeagwali’s falsehoods.
The sophistication and complexity of the fraud notwithstanding, there is no excuse for reputable organizations like CNN and TIME not to have done a simple due diligence on the false claims of Emeagwali. It is true that at the time that TIME and CNN made the glowing references to Emeagwali, the now widely available refutations of his claims were probably not yet available on the internet. Even so, a basic inquiry from the appropriate quarters would have revealed the truth about the claims on which the references to Emeagwali were based. The two reputable organizations failed to carry out this basic fact checking, an elemental reportorial and investigative duty of journalists. Instead, they relied on Emeagwali’s widely disseminated falsehoods for their stories. The case of TIME is particularly scandalous. The story in which it extols Emeagwali is clearly directly based on Emeagwali’s own autobiographical claims on Emeagwali.com. In fact it is a faithful, almost verbatim reproduction of Emeagwali’s self-written profile. It is lazy, sloppy journalism at its worst.
There is similarly no excuse for President Clinton’s speech writers not to have done basic checks or asked some of the president’s own appointees and advisers who are engineers and scientists about the true value of Emeagwali’s work. Had they done this relatively simply investigation, they would have realized that being a default winner in one category of a minor supercomputing competition for work that has a specific, limited application in the narrow field of oil reservoir modeling does not qualify one to be called “one of the greatest minds of the information age.”
A Self-Replicating Fraud
When challenged, Emeagwali and his supporters can say he is merely repeating and linking to what others call him and say about him and that he does not call himself a father of the internet or a doctor or a professor. But the fraud is a self-replicating one, perpetuating and proliferating itself across both the print and virtual media worlds. Other publications that are searching for black scientific achievers do an internet search and then rely on the previous press descriptions of Emeagwali, which ultimately lead back to the man’s fraudulent biographical claims on his own website. The lazy journalists and Pan-African activists lift these published claims and references (which emanated from the man himself), concluding that they must be established facts if other media outlets had already published them. And on and on it goes. It is a very sophisticated fraud that is aided by the virility of the Internet. This is precisely how even the prestigious Law School Admission Test (LSAT) ended up including a passage about Emeagwali in their test, a passage that is exactly the same as what Emeagwali published on Emeagwali.com about himself!! The examiners at the LSAT did not even bother to rewrite the passage. Nor did they bother to check the veracity of the claims therein. It is clear that they were simply interested including a passage about a "black achiever" to fulfill the need for diversity of content and to deflect or avoid accusations from black test takers and other minority groups that the test does not represent or reflect the experiences of black people and is thus biased against them.
White liberal patronage of black people can be that shallow and sloppy — and insulting to the very people it purports to promote. It is political correctness and pandering marinated in a political agenda--that of ingratiating white liberal politicians and figures to blacks for political support and multicultural validation. The peak of this phenomenon is Black History Month in February when white liberal organizations and black institutions alike pull out all the stops to have self-promoting “black achievers” like Emeagwali speak to them. That's when they get invited by white liberal and African American organizations to showcase black achievement and innovation! White liberal patronage is a big industry in America. It takes many forms; one of them is what Pius Adesanmi calls the Mercy Industrial Complex (MIC). But the MIC is not as offensive as the false flattery and the silly excuses and defenses that white liberals advance for cuddling black failures and frauds. Hero-seeking black organizations have not helped matters with their patronage of people like Emeagwali. Emeagwali’s deception succeeds so well because of a multiracial coalition of consumers and enablers.
Emeagwali is a very clever, self-conscious scam artist. That is however no excuse for the black community to allow itself to be used to actively promote a fraud.
Testimonies To Fraud And Deception
A participant in the USAfricadialogue discussion, Professor Pablo Idahosa of York University, Toronto told of how, as the institution’s Director of African Studies, he summarily dismissed the request of black students in the institution who came to him seeking sponsorship for their proposal to bring Mr. Emeagwali to the campus to speak to them. Professor Idahosa told of how a cursory scrutiny of the biography that Emeagwali had supplied to the student group convinced him that the man was a fraud and his claims false. Subsequently, he declined to fund the proposed event, refusing to use the institutions name and funds to validate a deception.
Another member of the forum, Dr. Ola Kassim revealed how he had been taken by Emeagwali’s claims when he stumbled on them and how he, as the leader of a Nigerian group in Canada, had decided to invite the self-proclaimed “computer genius” to speak to the group. In a demand that fleshes out the pecuniary motivations for Emeagwali’s persistence in perpetuating his fraud, he requested for an honorarium of $10,000, round the clock limousine service, a five-star hotel accommodation, and first class plane tickets for him and an assistant. Dr. Kassim promptly discontinued correspondence with Mr. Emeagwali, seeing his demands as grossly unreasonable. A few years later, he was glad that he did, as he became exposed to the mountain of evidence proving that Emeagwali is not what — and who — he claims to be. Other African organizations with deeper pockets have been paying up Emeagwali’s ridiculous and undeserved fees, believing that they are paying an African “internet pioneer” and “inventor” to inspire them. It is a classic case of obtaining financial gratification through misrepresentations and false pretenses, what is called 419 in Nigerian parlance. Some white liberal groups also pay Emeagwali to talk about his “achievements” as a way to satisfy their Afrophilic sensibilities and assuage their consciences. These gullible and not-so-gullible deep-pocketed groups keep Emeagwali in business, enabling the jobless Emeagwali to make a living off his deception. They have unwittingly helped him solidify his fraud as he routinely posts videos and audios from these events on his website to further cement his self-created legend. The irony of paying Emeagwali to inspire and motivate black (and white liberal) audiences is that, as one commentator remarked, in addition to being an intellectual fraud, Mr. Emeagwali has no personal charisma, lacks the oratorical skills of a motivational speaker, and, for a man who is fairly well educated with two Masters degrees, has terrible English speaking skills as evident in his online videos.
Yet another member of the forum, Wassa Fatti, a Gambian resident in London, narrated how he had been a fanatical believer in Emeagwali as an African scientific hero and thanked members for providing the overwhelming evidence that convinced him of Emeagwali’s monumental, sophisticated fraud. He was so enamored of Emeagwali’s legend that he, along with like-minded Africans, wanted to write a children’s inspiration book on the fraudulent self-promoter. In his own words, the project was abandoned when even those who were most vocal in touting Emeagwali’s claims and “achievements” could not find independent corroborations for any of the claims and after they realized that every single claim about his accomplishment, except the Gordon Bell Prize, led right back to Emeagwali.com. Fatti writes: “I abandoned [the] project….when others raised concerns that we need evidence to support Emeagwali's claim. Those who were loudest among us to produce such a booklet were also the least to provide evidence beyond Philip Emeagwali's verbal claim.”
Why Emeagwali Is Bad For Nigeria/Africa
Some people acknowledge Emeagwali’s deception but suggest that it should be understood in the context of America’s broader culture of self-promotion, deceptive enterprise, profit-motivated lies, and self-misrepresentation. It is true that this culture makes it easier for people like Emeagwali to thrive and inflict their fraud on society. But ultimately, Emeagwali, like everyone else, has to be held personally responsible for his transgressions.
Other Nigerians argue that Emeagwali’s scam has not hurt anyone personally, that it is a victimless fraud. By this logic, exposing Emeagwali’s fraud hurts the image of Nigerians and black people more than it helps it. There is some technical veracity in that argument. But the cost of non-exposure to Nigeria is much greater. There are now as many web postings and videos clearly exposing the intellectual con artistry of Mr. Emeagwali as there are websites and web postings celebrating him. Every time his scam is highlighted, his Nigerian nationality is mentioned to reinforce the stereotypical notion that Nigerians are shifty, lying frauds. His Africanness and blackness also become factors that are invoked to explain his fraudulent ways. So, image-wise, every hard working, honest, achieving Nigerian (intellectual or otherwise, scientist or not) is sullied by Emeagwali’s scam. Every discussion of Emeagwali’s fraudulent self-promotion casts a dark shadow on Nigerians with hard-earned reputations; their genuine achievements are put on trial with every discussion of Emeagwali’s serial dishonesty. They are victims of Emeagwali’s fraudulent activities. His fraud taints Nigeria and Nigerians.
Emeagwali’s quest for a short cut to fame and recognition and his subsequent refusal to take responsibility for his misguided actions and inactions has hurt black people everywhere. Experts on racism believe that every false, frivolous racism allegation or lawsuit actually harms the struggle for racial equality and justice because it makes future, genuine allegations of racism less believable and less credible in the eyes of the dominant white power and judicial structure. This is the damage that Emeagwali’s frivolous recourse to the racism card in his Michigan travails has inflicted on the struggle of black people for equality in America and elsewhere.
Some people argue that Emeagwali should not be denigrated because of his failure to finish his PhD and that many of the giants of the information revolution do not have PhDs. This is true. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Danny Hills, Vint Cerf, and the founders of Google all do not have PhDs. Yet they have gone on to do great things that have transformed the world, as we know it. But the difference between these people and Philip Emeagwali is like night and day. Unlike Emeagwali, these are actual pioneers of various technologies and protocols with documented patents to truly pioneering and innovative technologies. These people celebrate the fact that they do not have doctorate degrees, wearing it as a badge of honor, thereby intensifying the inspirational effect of their life stories and accomplishments. They don’t go around calling themselves “Dr.” and “Professor” like Mr. Emeagwali. In fact, the most well known of these information age pioneers, Bill Gates, proudly proclaims the fact that he dropped out of college to pursue his dream. Unlike Emeagwali, these people do not go around claiming to have patents that they do not have.
The fact is that one does not need a PhD to contribute to scientific knowledge or to invent technologies and techniques that improve human life. That is precisely why Emeagwali’s false claim of being a PhD holder and a professor is so galling. He has a Masters Degree in Engineering from a respected university and does not need a PhD to pursue his intellectual or scientific dreams. He could get a job with his qualification and earn a respectable, honest, decent living. Yet he felt the need to misrepresent himself as a “doctor” and “Professor.” This shows that his fraud is clearly not motivated by necessity, self-preservation, or survival, but by greed and a desire to secure unearned gratifications.
Some people say: “why expose Emeagwali when he is inspiring our people to embrace computers?” The answer to that is that a fraudster should not be the one inspiring “our” people, especially impressionable young black people, who will eventually realize that Emeagwali is a fraud and be devastated. Others argue that Emeagwali is a harmless, self-promoting charlatan who poses much less threat to Nigeria than the thieving politicians in Abuja. There is some truth to that, but the intellectual, activist, progressive, and media constituencies of Nigeria have no moral right to rail against Salisu Buhari and Bola Tinubu’s certificate and biographical deceptions if they cannot hold one of their own to account for his multiple deceptions.
Ignoring Genuine Nigerian Scientific Achievers
The most important reason why celebrating the likes of Mr. Emeagwali is ultimately detrimental to Nigeria (and by extension Africa) is that it takes attention away from the genuine black/Nigerian achievers that deserve to be celebrated and projected as models of black/Nigerian ingenuity. It is an outrage that, as African intellectuals were discussing Mr. Emeagwali’s multi-layered fraud on the USAfricadialogue forum, the exploit of Professor John Dabiri, who recently won a McArthur Genius Award, received barely a blip in the Nigerian and black press. Professor Dabiri is a fluid dynamics expert at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and was among a select few who received the highly prestigious prize that carries a $500,000 cash award.
Another Nigerian, Dr. Joseph Igietseme, led a team of scientists at the prestigious, Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control (CDC) to win this year’s award for outstanding research. Yet another Nigerian, Professor Sam Adeloju beat out 14 finalists to win the James Dyson International Design Award with a device he calls Buoyancy Bazooka that can be shot to a drowning person to save their life at sea. This innovative Nigerian scientist and designer barely got any attention among Nigerians and black people.
In literature, Professor Pius Adesanmi recently won the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing, the latest in a long line of young Nigerian writers to win prestigious awards in the last 15 years. One does not even have to mention the Nobel-winning Wole Soyinka, or the multiple award winning Chinua Achebe, whose Things Fall Apart is the most translated work of fiction in Africa and perhaps the world. These two giants are not on Nigeria postage stamps, but intellectual frauds like Emeagwali and Gabriel Oyibo (of GAGUT infamy) are!
Inviting And Enabling Intellectual Fraud
The degree to which Nigeria and Nigeria celebrate people of fraudulent and inflated reputations lends credence to the contention of Professor Pablo Idahosa that Philip Emeagwali was created by "the embarrassing Pan-"Afrikan" infantile, therapeutic achievism that afflicts so many black people [the] world over — the need to find heroes that result in a cathartic sycophancy of anything achieved by black folks." Professor Mobolaji Aluko, who teaches Chemical Engineering at Howard University, echoed a similar sentiment, describing the tragedy of Emeagwali as an indictment of black people’s gullibility and their unquestioning and naïve commitment to racial solidarity on whatever premise. His words ring compellingly true:
The tragedy is not just Emeagwali's - who may truly believe what he peddles on his website and his world-wide motivational speeches within the Black circuit that clutches for heroes, particularly in the technical fields apart from sports and the humanities - but those spectators who insist of being conned, or else indicate that Emeagwali serves a harmless, motivational purpose.
Racial therapy is a dangerous enterprise because it emotionalizes what should belong to the realm of reasoned skepticism and intense interrogation. It leads to the celebration of mediocre and phony members of a racial community. Consequently, real black scientific heroes and achievers are ignored.
Mr. Philip Emeagwali is entrenched in his fraud. Being jobless, he earns a living off it. He will not come clean on his own, for that would be economic suicide. It is therefore the duty of everyone invested in black scientific achievement to educate himself on Mr. Emeagwali’s pyramid of intellectual fraud. Mr. Emeagwali knows that there will always be gullible black people and guilt-ridden white liberals to swindle with his false claims. We recognize that there will always be Nigerians and black people who will not get off the self-comforting bandwagon of Emeagwali’s fraud regardless of how much evidence one puts out. Some of it is ego. Some of it is a naïve, misplaced desire to find black heroism where none exists. This essay may not sway those people. But there are many Nigerians, Africans, and black people the world over who are honest, humble, and open-minded enough to recognize and accept that the man they have been led to adore and lionize is a compulsive liar, intellectual fraudster, and a shameless, self-promoting exaggerator. Those people deserve the truth about Mr. Philip Emeagwali.