Princeton investigating head of gerrymandering lab for possible data manipulation

Princeton University is investigating Professor Sam Wang, the head of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project over allegations of data manipulation and complaints that he created a hostile working environment. Wang is a neuroscientist who in recent years has turned his statistical talents to polling analysis and redistricting. Now there are allegations that he was essentially cooking the books to favor outcomes that benefitted Democrats.

The backstory here is that a retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice named John E. Wallace, Jr. was asked to listen to presentations from both Democrats and Republicans and select maps presented by one side or the other. Wallace eventually selected the maps put forward by Democrats claiming it was less partisan. But staffers at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project say that Sam Wang was fudging the data to convince Wallace the Democratic maps were more fair.

“He’d fudge the numbers to get his way,” said one individual.  “He had an agenda.  He was good at hiding it when he had to, but it was clear Sam wanted Democrats to win and he was willing to cheat to make that happen.”

Princeton Gerrymandering Project staffers raised considerable objections to a report Wang had written on New Jersey’s congressional redistricting that they said was biased.  A senior legal strategist on Wang’s team, a graduate of a top law school who had clerked for two federal judges, worked through the night to rewrite sections that were tilted in favor of the Democratic map in a bid to seek the appearance of greater objectivity.

The congressional redistricting tiebreaker, former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr., said that he relied on Wang’s “evaluation of partisan fairness of the maps” in his amplification of reasons why he voted for the Democratic map…

Internally at Princeton, there were concerns that Wang was manipulating the 78-year-old technophobic Wallace by feeding him data with a spin.

“Sam is a salesman. He knows how to do that,” one of the individuals said.

The site contacted retired Justice Wallace who said he had no idea that Wang was under investigation. Several staffers have allegedly left their jobs prematurely over concern that Wang was placing “partisanship over data.” In January staffers at the Gerrymandering Project were told by Princeton human resource officials that Wang had been ordered to only communicate with them in writing and all requests to the staff were to copy human resources so they would have a record of all of his staff interactions going forward.

Wang refused to comment on the story and directed reporters to the Princeton Office of Communications which also declined to comment beyond saying it doesn’t comment on “pending investigations.” Meanwhile, the chairman of the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission is already capitalizing on the story. He sent an email to Wallace and to the Democratic chair asking for a meeting to discuss the revelations.

“According to the New Jersey Globe article, Sam Wang defrauded 9 million New Jersey residents when he rigged the redistricting process and took taxpayer money while doing it,” said Doug Steinhardt, a former New Jersey GOP State Chairman.  “Cheating is cheating and fraud is fraud and Sam Wang should not be able to hide behind the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s nonprofit status or the ivory towers of a liberal Ivy League institution.”…

“It seems appropriate that we convene a meeting of the Commission as a whole to discuss Mr. Wang and the PGP’s misconduct and its implications on the process and the unethically and immorally derived current, Congressional Redistricting map,” he wrote.

There’s also a connection to the decision yesterday by the NY Court of Appeals to strike the unconstitutional map created by Democrats in the state. The Appeals Court put the redesign of the maps in the hands of a lower court judge who had already appointed Jonathan Cervas as a special master to oversee the process. According to the Globe story, Cervas is a former Princeton Gerrymandering Project research associate. He and Wang have also written at least two recent Journals articles together.

Finally, can’t close this out without pointing out that Sam Wang predicted Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election and promised he would eat a bug on TV if he got it wrong. He ate the bug.