Home / General / Expert knowledge

Expert knowledge


A young researcher whose opinions on Syria were cited by both Senator McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry in congressional testimony last week has been fired from the Institute for the Study of War for allegedly faking her academic credentials.

The institute issued a statement on its website concerning the researcher, Elizabeth O’Bagy:

The Institute for the Study of War has learned and confirmed that, contrary to her representations, Ms. Elizabeth O’Bagy does not in fact have a Ph.D. degree from Georgetown University. ISW has accordingly terminated Ms. O’Bagy’s employment, effective immediately.

O’Bagy and her op-ed drew scrutiny last week when the Wall Street Journal failed to disclose O’Bagy’s ties to an advocacy group backing the Syrian opposition and lobbying the U.S. government to intervene in Syria. The Journal was forced to post a clarification that “in addition to her role at the Institute for the Study of War, Ms. O’Bagy is affiliated with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nonprofit operating as a 501(c)(3) pending IRS approval that subcontracts with the U.S. and British governments to provide aid to the Syrian opposition.”

O’Bagy wrote in an email this Wednesday morning: “I was just fired from ISW and I’m no longer legally allowed to discuss my employment with them or affiliate it any way.”

In an interview conducted before O’Bagy was fired from ISW, she rejected claims that her research was compromised by her affiliation to the advocacy group, the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

“My research is completely separate,” she said. “Every journalist and every researcher goes into the conflict with their own background and their own ideas.”

“Elizabeth is one of the best experts on Syria and her field work inside Syria along with her extensive networks on the ground makes her one of few people that can help inform policy makers on the reality on the ground,” said Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

Kim Kagan, the founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War, says she learned yesterday that O’Bagy had misrepresented her academic credentials and terminated her employment immediately.

O’Bagy has a masters from Georgetown University and was was enrolled in a Ph.D program, but had not yet defended her dissertation, a detail Kagan says she discovered while conducting “due diligence” and double checking O’Bagy’s work following a flurry of media attention on the young researcher.

Kagan stressed that the termination was not related to O’Bagy’s affiliation with SETF. “I had no problem with her affiliation, I approved it,” Kagan said.

Despite O’Bagy’s misrepresentation of her credentials, Kagan described her research as “rock solid” saying “the research stands, unfortunately, it stands alone.”

BTW if you thought Kim Kagan’ts name sounded familiar . . .

At Yale, Kagan met her husband Frederick Kagan, who is an American resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), son of Donald Kagan, a well-known historian and brother of Robert Kagan, another well-known writer and publicist. Robert Kagan’s wife is Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the United States Department of State.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Ronan

    Asad AbuKhalil from the angry arab blog has been running with a series of posts oppossed to her over the last month. I think its all a little unfair. A lot of people writing on Syria have links to some group or other in the conflict. Should be common sense to people reading their reports

    • DocAmazing

      Provided, of course, that they disclose those links.

      • Ronan

        The wall street journal failed to disclose her links, afaik, in an article. She overstated her PhD, which is fine by me.Half my CV is a lie (although of course they have a technical right to terminate her contract)
        Its a witch hunt though, as always

        • DocAmazing

          Yeeeah. Right. An opinion writer with an axe to grind throws something up against the wall at one of the leading opinion journals in the country, is called out for her failure to disclose her biases and her resume-padding, and it’s a witch hunt. She needs to get a barstool next to Pax Dickinson.

          You were kidding, nicht wahr?

          • Ronan

            Have you been following Assad AbuKhalil’s campaign against her? He doesnt like her politics (I dont like her politics) and her ‘support’ for the oppossition. But she seems a genuinely honest, and well informed, commentator.
            I used to go to lectures/meeting etc on Syria when living in London, and ALL of the journalists who would go to them would go with lobbysists. Good lobbyists, bad lobbyists, whatever
            She couldnt even get into Syria without cosying up to specific factions. So I dont care.
            The question is, is her research good? Thats all that matters

            • DocAmazing

              The question is, is she credible? Failing to disclose that one is a lobbyist pretty much destroys credibility. Padding the resume is icing on the cake.

              • Ronan

                Credibility is decided by peer review. Let someone review her work properly then get back to me

                • Marek

                  Credibility is determined by lying, full stop. If this was a misunderstanding, I’m willing to listen. Otherwise…

                • Ronan

                  Some are saying now she wasnt enrolled in a PhD program.If thats the case it could be fair enough. Exaggerrating on your cv isnt a lie though
                  You really never done it?

                • DocAmazing

                  In my line of work, some exaggerations of your CV are felonies.

                • Ronan

                  Perhaps, but I dont think shes in your line of work (?)

                • LoriK

                  Whether or not a statement is a lie is not determined by the number of people who have made that statement. “Exaggerating” on one’s CV is a lie. You may think it’s an unimportant lie, but it’s still a lie and the fact that you do it doesn’t change that. This is not actually a difficult concept.

                • Ronan

                  I know. My point is only (to my eyes) in this context, it doest really matter. IMO

                • Johnny Sack

                  Come on this is unbecoming and borderline bad faith argument, if you claim to have a degree that you don’t have (even if you’re working on it!) that’s an outright lie, not an exaggeration. The only way I wouldn’t consider it a lie would be if PhD programs had 0% attrition, and no one even at the level of ABD didn’t make whether by choice or otherwise.

                  Would you claim to have won an award that you hadn’t actually won? I’ve even disclosed when I’ve been a co-recipient so I can’t be accused of lying.

                  Some people in their work experience might overstate their role in a group project, or describe mundane things in an impressive way, stretching things that you did to make them sound like they’re more related to the job you’re looking for than they actually are. But that stuff’s all framing-it’s marketing yourself. It’s you being a salesman for yourself.

                  But lying about your credentials? Different ballgame.

                • Ronan

                  Okay, considering the pushback ill reconsider that this probably is a big deal in academia

                • JoyfulA

                  I’m not in academia and never have been, except as a student.

                  I’ve never lied about my credentials or experience, nor would I.

                • herr doktor bimler

                  Let someone review her work properly then get back to me

                  Consider Kagan’s description of that work: “the research stands, unfortunately, it stands alone.”

                  That does not sound like a glowing endorsement of independent corroboration for O’Bagy’s reports from the front.

                • “the research stands, unfortunately, it stands alone.”

                  Possibly she researched cheese.

            • Anna in PDX

              There is a reason Asad Abu khalil’s own nom du blog is “the angry arab” – he is known for the intemperate nature of his rhetoric. In fact he cultivates this. If he is the only one who is being particularly harsh about this woman’s myriad of conflicts-of-interest, I would hardly call it a witch hunt.

          • Ronan

            There are serious problems with lobbyists, conflicts of interests etc, but instead of dealing with those problems the media prefer to have one indivdual scapegoated for the system and make them don the sackcloth and ashes

            • Manta

              Sometimes, donning a sackcloth of ashes is the right thing to do.

              For instance, when you write about a hot political topic and don’t reveal your ties to a lobbying group.

              • Ronan

                The ashes arent in the sackcloth!!

                • Hogan

                  THANK YOU.

                  The ashes go on your head. Jeez, it’s like you people have never seen an archaic penitential ritual before.

            • Johnny Sack

              Thankfully they’re not mutually exclusive. We can shitcan people who lie about their credentials and deal with those problems.

        • wengler

          I’ve never gone through the process, but they tell you when you have a Ph.D. right?

          • Ronan

            Ive never gone through it either, but its on my cv

            • And that shouldn’t change what we think about your credibility?

              What else do you routinely lie about?

              • Ronan

                Im actually a cat

            • rea

              At one point, I thought you identified yourself as this guy: http://www.ronankeating.com/

              And he doesn’t claim to have PhD, so does that mean you’re not him?

              • Ronan

                I said I was *meant* to be the Ronan in Boyzone, but then they went for Keating. So I did a PhD instead

                • rea

                  I must admit, I’ve thought for months that you were the ex-boy band member–and I’ve been careful not to mention Thom Yorke in your presence . . .

          • They give you a piece of stiff paper.

            • Thlayli

              There’s usually like a big ceremony thing, right? You put on a special gown, and your name gets called out, and people clap?

              • Only if you have the money to stick around for it. You don’t get it immediately after the viva. I finished my viva in Nov. 2004 and the ceremony was in May 2005 long after I had the degree in hand.

          • Lee Rudolph

            I’ve been on committees (in the US) and “juries de soutenance” (don’t trust me on the pluralization there) in Switzerland and France, multiple times; in every case, after the formal defense, the committee/jury meets in the absence of the candidate, may or may not do various stuff during that meeting, then summons the candidate back into their presence and announces that the candidate is (never, in my experience, thank goodness, is not) now a Ph.D./Docteur es wozzname. Paper may or may not be involved at that stage in the proceedings.

            • At SOAX, they tell you whether you need any revisions or not. I did not need any. But, they then have to process it officially through the administration and that takes about two weeks to get the rubber stamp.

              • Oops I meant SOAS. I got a new lap to and the key board is spaced differently than the old one.

          • Andrew

            I hope so, so I’ll know when I’m done. Considering how uberformal academia is about this thing (I’m not even allowed to call myself a “PhD Candidate” until I finish my comps), I am not surprised by the firing.

        • Barry

          It’s impossible for them to not have known about her lacking a Ph.D, unless they did no checking whatsoever.

          • Cody

            Well, none of my jobs have ever asked for an academic transcript. Although one cared deeply about my GPA. Though to be honest, I hardly see how having a degree means anything.

        • Diogenes

          So you only lie half the time or is your lying just restricted to the documentation needed to get the job?

  • Someone should let her know she could apply for an open CTO job at Business Insider.

    • Lee Rudolph

      But she’s a grrrl.

      • This would be a good time for them to do a diversity hire.

  • Orpho

    Oy. My diss draft just went to committee; I certainly hope the unfinished PhD was a perma-ABD situation and not a mid-process-defense.

    I mean, I realize if you put that PhD down on a resume before the defense date, you’ve just committed fraud and misrepresented your credentials. And you probably shouldn’t help lead a country into war, regardless.

    But I feel that, at least a little.

    • Bassopotamus

      I suppose that they are different situations, but as someone who went on the market ABD, I can confirm that we all knew not to claim that you had a PhD when you were working on it. To my mind, it doesn’t matter how close to done she was or not. She was misrepresenting herself. Heck, I didn’t even label myself as Professor Bassopotamus on my syllabi until I had been granted the degree.

      • FridayNext

        Technically you are a professor when you teach in front of a class, regardless of which degree you have. I was Professor Next when I taught museum studies for years as an Adjunct PROFESSOR. (of course, there is no PhD in museum studies in the US so an MA is the terminal degree. Maybe that is a distinction.) Now that I am ABD, I wouldn’t dream of saying I had a PhD until the diploma was in hand. When I worked for the federal government, misrepresenting credentials was one of the few things you could fire someone for without a years long paper trail of accumulated discipline and I agree with that stance.

        • No, teaching in front of a class does not automatically make one a professor. It depends on the institution. In the UK and Ghana you generally only get to be professor after two promotions. The firs is to senior lecturer. My official position is lecturer and people here address me as Dr. Pohl. Only much higher ranking people are addressed as Professor so and so.

          • Linnaeus

            Yes, when I taught my own class, I was not a professor. Officially, I was classified as a “predoctoral instructor/lecturer”. I put “instructor” on my syllabus.

            • FridayNext

              Maybe that is where I am getting tripped up. The students, other teachers, and admin called me Professor Next in public discussion. What I was officially is anyone’s guess. I just put my name on the syllabus with no title or anything.

              But then my official title, what appears on my cv for both positions I am “Adjunct Assistant Professor” which is what both of my supervisors told me to put.

              I am beginning to think there is no standard usage on this, except perhaps in official rankings of Professors. In any event, this has little to do with the original post. Futzing job titles is one thing. Representing that you have earned a credential you haven’t, in this case a PhD, is a whole other thing.

              • FridayNext

                Actually this was supposed to be a reply to Aimai below. Sorry.

          • José Arcadio Buendía

            In the UK and Ghana. This is relevant to what Next said because …?

            • Because the Commonwealth is a big chunk of the English speaking world which is not confined merely to the US.

        • Well, I was “professor” to my classes when I taught the students in them– but on my resume I was not permitted to put anything more than “lecturer” when I was, in fact, a lecturer. There are technical titles at issue here and putting anything other than the actual title is a fraud.

          • Likewise, I assume medical interns are regularly called “doctor,” and they wouldn’t be able to get away with saying they’re a medical doctor.

            • kateislate

              Medical interns are MDs. Internships come after med school in both of our countries. (Clinical clerkships are what you do during med school up here, don’t know what they are called in the states).

              Medical doctors being called ‘Doctor’ is a quirk of history in the settling of North America. The MD is the actual credential, followed by professional licensing of one kind or another.

    • Linnaeus

      I do put Ph.D. on my resume, but I also say that it’s “in progress”, i.e., not completed. Otherwise, there’s a rather large span of years that I would have to explain somehow.

      • Hogan

        I’m looking at a bunch of resumes, some of which say things like “Ph.D. (expected Spring 2014).”

        • Linnaeus

          Right. I do something along those lines, although as of late, I haven’t been using an “expected” date.

      • Orpho

        That’s right where I’ve been. Ph.D. (ABD) or Ph.D expected Dec 2013 – but then again, I’m not currently applying to federal positions, hanging out a shingle, or leading the country into a war, I’m in places where those distinctions or classifications seem to be well understood.

  • Todd

    Notre Dame football rumored to be interested in interviewing O’Bagy for a coaching position.

    • BigHank53

      Manti Te’o’s girlfriend has her diploma?

  • Warren Terra

    Honestly, the fact that she’s a Kagan should be disqualification enough. They have a thriving family business in consequence-free mindless pseudo-academic warmongering. That her “pseudo-academic” was even more “pseudo” than the rest, that she was literally a fake academic, is mere filigree.

    • José Arcadio Buendía

      I hate to tell all of you expert ABD and Ph.D. people who know everything, but Kagan is a common Jewish name and not everyone who has that name is related.

      • Djur

        Except this Kagan is actually one of “the” Kagans. I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded that everyone named Kagan isn’t a neocon shill. Elena Kagan should be an obvious counterexample.

        She isn’t the one who was disqualified, though, so I think the OP misread.

        • Warren Terra

          I indeed conflated O’Bagy with her boss, Kim Kagan. But, even if sloppy, I’m not a total idiot: Kim Kagan is indeed one of those Kagans, part of Warmongering Incorporated.

    • R. Porrofatto

      Yeah. If a member of the Kagan family is associated with it, it should be called The Institute for the Mongering of War. There’s no point for them to study it because they never learn anyway, and they certainly keep a good distance away from the execution of it, but promoting and shilling pointless wars, they’re pros at that.

  • FridayNext

    O’Bagy has a masters from Georgetown University and was was enrolled in a Ph.D program, but had not yet defended her dissertation, a detail Kagan says she discovered while conducting “due diligence” and double checking O’Bagy’s work following a flurry of media attention on the young researcher.

    No. If you did the research BEFORE you hired her, THAT would be due diligence. AFTER? That’s barely post-diligence.

    • Warren Terra

      past-due diligence.

    • José Arcadio Buendía

      I expect that a higher level is required after someone gets in the mix with this kind of thing.

    • Ron

      Wouldn’t you just call up the university and say: “Hey, did Soandso get a PhD. from you guys?”

      • FridayNext

        I would think that’s what transcripts and/or letters of reference are for, but yeah.

  • wengler

    This feels like one of those situations where if you just spent five minutes on the ground talking to any normal, non-official person in Syria, you’d get a lot better perspective on what is actually going on than so-called researchers with fraudulent credentials.

  • Strong Thermos

    Don’t lie on your résumé, kids.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Don’t hire kids who lie on their résumés, old farts. (Really, it should not be beyond your means to check them out; and, if it is, maybe you’re doing something wrong.)

      • Speaking as a hirer – currently hiring, as a matter of fact – lying on a resume or a cover letter is grounds for automatic disposal of resume in the garbage (pre-hire) and automatic dismissal (post-hire). I have to be able to trust the people in my firm and I distrust liars.

  • justme

    Any relation to Elena Kagan?

    • joe from Lowell

      No, Fred, Donald, and Robert – think “Iraq hawks,” not “judge.”

  • She was hired by a Kagan. Nuff said

  • Kagan met her husband Frederick Kagan, who is an American resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)

    These think-tanks seem to be very incestuous.

    • Cross-breeding is difficult when one is inside a tank.

It is main inner container footer text