RIP, Ed Rickards: Duke watchdog who covered Anil Potti case dies at 72

dukeIt’s unusual for us to post obituaries on Retraction Watch — we’ve published just one so far in three-and-a-half years — but we wanted to pause for a moment to note the passing of a tireless crusader for transparency and accountability whose electronic path crossed with ours a number of times since 2012 because of our shared interest in the case of Anil Potti.

We learned of the death of Ed Rickards this weekend while Ivan was attending ScienceOnline 2014. The Duke Chronicle, the university’s student newspaper, reported on February 5:

Ed Rickards, the author of Duke Check—a blog that comments on Duke’s affairs and its administrators—died at 1 p.m. Wednesday due to renal failure. He was 72.

Rickards…was more commonly known on campus among his sources and readers as Fact Checker. Starting off several years ago as a regular commenter on The Chronicle—where he once served as editor-in-chief—Rickards eventually created his own blog in August 2009 to comment on Duke affairs. Since then, Duke Check has grown in popularity with his posts running a wide array of topics, from Duke Kunshan University to the search for the new provost and even Duke football.

Rickards graduated from college at Duke in 1963, and from Duke Law School in 1966. Last fall, he told Seth Roberts:

I started DukeCheck — originally Duke Fact Checker — because of a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the school’s administration. You may want to review this Chronicle profile, especially the comments from the late law professor John (Jack) Johnston, about the need for such a column and my goals. I want to provide stakeholders in Duke — students, parents, faculty, alumni, workers, everyone — with the information so that they can participate and have their thoughts count. I really do not care if they agree with me or not, just so long as they step forward.

We traded a handful of emails with Rickards over the past two years, and each blog referenced the other on the Anil Potti case and another involving the university. There were certainly differences in our methods. We tend to be more conservative in terms of evidence, for example. In a 2011 profile, he told The Chronicle:

“Don’t hold me to the standards of writing a term paper, writing for The New York Times, writing for CBS, writing for The Chronicle,” Rickards said in a hotel lobby in New Jersey during the second of our interviews. “This is a blog. It does what it does. We are highly reliant on sources, and we will go places that others may fear to go.”

But we were kindred spirits in many ways. We, too, rely on anonymous sources, because we know the risks scientists can take when they criticize their colleagues. And just as Rickards was a staunch supporter of the institution he held up to the light — as his banner proclaimed, “Probative. Provocative. Pro-Duke!” — we hope to improve the scientific enterprise because we think it is so important. From Rickards’ obituary:

“We may have had our differences on issues, but I always admired, and never questioned, his lifelong passion and love for Duke,” wrote Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, in an email Wednesday.

We are saddened at Rickards’ passing, and hope that one of his Loyal Readers will take up the cause. Perhaps some alum can be persuaded to contribute an investigative reporting scholarship to the Duke Chronicle.

Rest in peace, Ed Rickards.

3 thoughts on “RIP, Ed Rickards: Duke watchdog who covered Anil Potti case dies at 72”

  1. Ivan,

    Thank you for your article & remembrance.

    On the 2011 The Chronicle profile, I think Mr. Rickards was being modest when he asked not to be held to the same standards as writing a term paper or for the NYT. I think he was quite conservative and careful in his evidence?

    I agree, you are kindred spirits, concerned with the quality of the scientific process.

    Thank You, David

    David R. Van Houten

  2. Ivan: I appreciate your article and remembrance. I communicated with Ed Rickards regarding the Anil Potti scandal. I found that Mr. Rickards was careful and considerate (with soupcons of humor and irony) in his Duke Check publications. Sadly, we have lost another lion who was dedicated to seeking out the truth.

  3. Thank you for publishing this obituary. I am sorry to hear about Ed Rickards’ death. I started reading Duke Fact Checker when I was working on a project for work 3.5 years ago, followed along to DukeCheck, and never stopped reading. I feel like I know more about Duke than any school I actually attended or worked at. I read the blog because I appreciated the passion and personality it expressed.

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