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Some months’ worth of explosive reporting from an 18-year-old campus journalist steers resignation of Stanford University president

Ever thought of how far a student publication report can go? 18-year-old Theo Baker, a Stanford freshman and student journalist, is leading the way.

Baker is an Investigations Editor at The Stanford Daily, a student-run newspaper publication of Stanford University. Prior to becoming an editor for the publication, he was able to write a few reports that already gained a lot of traction. His first entitled “Inside ‘Stanford’s War On Fun’: Tensions mount over University’s handling of social life,” discussed the bureaucratic tightening on social life which worries a lot of safety advocates and most especially students who would want a vibrant social scene at the university. From then on, his pieces led other people to reach out to him with tips. In fact, how he came across the story on Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne was only from a tip he got back in September.

Tessier-Lavigne is an American-Canadian neuroscientist who became the 11th Stanford University President in 2016. In 2020, he was named an “Officer of the Order of Canada,” considered one of the highest honors in Canada, in recognition of “his work in developmental neuroscience, his academic leadership, and his advocacy of science.” With that, it can already be assumed just how much work he has done over the years both the in field of Science and general academics. However, all these works are placed into question with Baker’s report.

Theo Baker
Theo Baker

According to the tip Baker got, there have been stories floating around scientific forums and blog posts on the alleged manipulated research. This, in particular, are on images that are placed together and/or photoshopped on the papers that Tessier-Lavigne had worked on that were published, showing results that do not actually represent it. Baker brought this to the attention of actual forensic image analysts and scientists who may provide him with some background. Over the course of work and investigation starting in September, the first investigation regarding the possible research misconduct of Tessier-Lavigne was published in November.

Stanford University did a remarkable move as the board of trustees immediately opened an investigation within the same day the report was published, even with only four papers about it which Baker had co-authored.

In an interview with ABC7 News Bay Area, Baker shared some of the results of the investigation. Forensic image analysts were able to spot what is called “Type 1 Duplication,” where one data is replicated and put in the other. While some other manipulations were much more difficult to spot.  You can watch the whole segment here.

Last July 17, the report on the investigation already came out publicly. It concluded that Tessier-Lavigne’s work resulted in a number of manipulated research data, especially with several other people also working based on his published works. While he may or may not have directly manipulated data, it still poses a larger issue given that he failed to correct the records for over two decades since he was made aware of the allegations.

The results of this led to Tessier-Lavigne stepping down from his position. You may read his full statement here.

Scientific and research integrity is something that should be part of a broader conversation, and Baker hopes that this work had contributed to this.

Many believe that keeping those in power in check is what makes Investigative Reporters like Baker important in society. Baker’s report on this paved the way for him to become the youngest recipient of the George Polk Award. The George Polk Award is considered one of the most prestigious awards a journalist could ever receive. This is conferred annually to honor special achievements in journalism.


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