PBS analyst falsely claims Stanford Ph.D
By Marni Leff
Senior staff writer
Robert X. Cringely, a best-selling author, PBS television personality
and Silicon Valley pundit, has been passing himself off as a former
Stanford professor and doctoral degree recipient for years.
Records in the Registrar's Office and the
Communication Department indicate, however,
that Cringely - who used his given name, Mark
Stephens, while at Stanford - never held a
title more prestigious than teaching assistant.
Cringely completed his master's degree in
September 1979 but never received any higher
Questions about Cringely's credentials arose this
week after a story in Monday's San
Francisco Chronicle erroneously referred to
Cringely as a former Stanford professor. In
past articles, the Los Angeles Times described
Cringely as a Stanford professor on two
separate occasions. In addition, Cringely's PBS
web page refers to him as a "sex symbol
and former Stanford professor." Scores of other
newspaper articles published about
Cringely since the early 1990s refer to his
In both the hardback and paperback editions of
Cringely's best-selling book, "Accidental
Empires," he is described as a former Stanford
professor as well.
Although Laura Evenson, the reporter who
researched and wrote the story for the
Chronicle, had doubts about Cringely's
affiliation with Stanford, the story ran with the
"I started thinking: wait a second, this person
says he's a former Stanford professor, but
why would he give up a life as a Stanford
professor for an uncertain life as a free-lance
writer?" Evenson said.
Evenson attempted to verify Cringely's status by
checking with the Stanford News
Service, she said. News Service was unable to
check Cringely's status with the Registrar's
Office in time for Evenson's deadline. Evenson
wrote the story anyway and referred to
Cringely as a former Stanford professor,
attributing the information to the PBS Web site.
In interviews with Cringely, Evenson said he told
her he had been a professor at Stanford.
"This is a good example of how bad journalism
begets bad journalism," said
Communication Prof. Ted Glasser. "Attribution is
not a justification for inaccuracy. We
teach that to students here, and I can't imagine
a newsroom in the country where that is not
taught as well."
When asked about his connections to Stanford and
his claims to have been a professor
here, Cringely told the Daily yesterday that he
would be happy to show his diploma but felt
"I don't care about this, and why should I bother
to show you my diploma?" Cringely said.
"I worked for 31 years as a reporter and I don't
care about your story."
Later, however, he released a statement in which
he apologized to the "faculty, students and
administration of Stanford University."
At Stanford from 1977 to 1983, Cringely said that
he finished his course work in 1981 and
stayed on to teach. According to the Registrar's
Office, Cringely enrolled at Stanford in
1977 and worked on his master's until 1979. From
1979 to 1982, according to the
Registrar's Office, Cringely worked toward a
"To the best of my knowledge, I was doing so with
the title of acting assistant professor,"
Communication Department Chair Steven Chaffee,
however, emphasized the difference
between a teaching assistant and a professor.
"It would be like a medical student passing
himself off as a doctor," Chaffee said.
Cringely explained that he did not finish his
dissertation, though he claims to have
completed the course work and oral examinations
necessary to receive the degree.
"That puts me in a category with thousands of
people teaching at universities across
America who have precisely my qualifications,"
Cringely said. "They have done
everything but those final touches on the
dissertation. They are called 'professor' and 'Dr.'
and nobody questions it. Now somebody has
Adding that he felt that he had done the work
necessary to earn his doctorate, Cringely said
he hopes to eventually return to Stanford.
"[A] new fact has now become painfully clear to
me: you don't say you have the Ph.D
unless you REALLY have the Ph.D," Cringely said.
"Moreover, I should have finished
the work. And if Stanford will allow me to, I
"I don't know what the University can do,"
Chaffee said. "I suppose the University could
get a cease and desist order, but I think that
would be a lot more trouble than it's worth.
There are a lot of cases out there of people
claiming a closer affiliation with Stanford than
they actually have . . . . . His is an extreme
Contributing writer Jennifer Stewart contributed
to this story
Rohit Khare -- UC Irvine -- 4K Associates -- +1-(626) 806-7574 http://www.ics.uci.edu/~rohit -- http://xent.ics.uci.edu/~FoRK