In the annals of famous medical scams, the catalog of grifters runs the gamut from teens who get arrested over and over again for posing as doctors, to entrepreneurs building fortunes on other people’s blood, to murderous spine surgeons who mangle patients’ bodies. Today, a new con artist joins their ranks: Dr. Damian Jacob Markiewicz Sendler, an apparently self-appointed sexologist who boasts not one but two fake doctorates (a Ph.D. and an MD) from Harvard Medical School, and who managed to publish bogus research on butt-fisting in peer-reviewed journals. An exhaustive Gizmodo report details how Sendler duped journalists (myself included), publishers of medical journals, and the patients he is reportedly continuing to see.
Per the report, Sendler concocted a sterling academic pedigree, one he advertised prominently on his website along with a raft of media appearances. (Sendler’s website has since been scrubbed.) “I got into Harvard Medical School for MD, Ph.D., and Masters degree combined,” he told Gizmodo, an achievement he said continued to inspire “some sense of wonder on campus.”
“People are like, ‘Wow, you had the balls, because no one else did that,’” he continued, referring to the rare degree combo he falsely claims to have earned. Gizmodo called the registrar, though: Harvard has no records that Sendler ever attended the medical school, let alone walked away with a degree.
Still, before the deep clean, Sendler’s website reportedly featured a photo of the “doctor” standing outside Harvard’s Gordon Hall with a clutch of his fellow “graduate students.” But the people in that photo, according to a Harvard genetics professor in whose lab Sendler once worked, weren’t students but other lab technicians. That professor, whose name appears alongside Sendler’s and three other co-authors on a paper published in Nature, pointed to the natural capacity for scamming Sendler evinced even as a researcher: “He will do one thing and claim he has done ten things. He was very talkative. He can sell.”
According to Gizmodo, Sendler made a habit of latching onto figures at well-known institutions, aggrandizing their associations to the point at which, for example, a lab volunteer position at the Columbia University Institute of Cancer Genetics became, on his CV, a sort of thesis research fellowship. In reality, he received a bachelor’s degree from New York University before spending some time “doctoring” in Poland. Although his website represents him as a member of both the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law and the American Psychiatric Association, he does not seem to have accrued the requisite credentials.
But all the made-up honors likely didn’t hurt when Sendler went to publish his research, the topics of which range from bizarre to flat-out offensive, in peer-reviewed journals. One of his studies, according to Gizmodo, compared “rectal injuries in zoophiles to people ‘who were butt-fisted.’” He has also explored lethal sexual asphyxiation and — in terms mental health experts emphatically reject — live-streamed suicide. There’s danger in this: Posing as an expert and peddling junk science to vulnerable people with few available avenues to access necessary support is medically irresponsible.
Sendler, however, insists that’s not what he’s doing. His website now displays a long note characterizing Gizmodo’s investigation as a “great work of fiction writing,” and accusing its author of attacking him on the grounds of his “European heritage and ability to work multi-disciplinarily.”
It’s a lot to digest — did I mention that the research foundation Sendler claims to have founded appears to be staffed by his mother plus a pack of digital ghosts, allegedly of course? — and I think you should probably go read the full report over at Gizmodo.