[UPDATE BELOW] Today the Times has a lengthy profile of Sudhir Venkatesh, the Columbia sociology professor featured in Freakonomics and on the Colbert Report who spent years researching gang activity and prostitution in part by getting close with his research subjects. Venkatesh "lives on the edge" not just because he hangs out with criminals, but because an internal audit revealed that he oversaw $240,000 in questionable expenses while he led Columbia's prestigious Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy.

The audit, obtained by the Times, noted that Venkatesh steered $52,328 to an individual for "fabricated business purposes." He apparently racked up livery car expenses and made cash payments of $100 to unknown research subjects totaling $33,000, while declining to pay $8,900 supposedly owed to a colleague for work on a study.

“I have never been accused of fraud or embezzlement," Venkatesh told the paper in a statement. “I reimbursed the university for a sum of approximately $13,000 for funds that were misallocated during my tenure as director of Iserp.” He also defended his methods: “Look, I’m a scholar. I’m a sociologist. I have a particular way I do my work. I’m really proud of it. I’d like to have that be the basis on which I’m known.”

Venkatesh was also removed from his position as head of Iserp, but remains a tenured professor, and recently worked for the FBI. According to his friend and colleague, Columbia sociology professor Shamus Khan, criticisms that Venkatesh's work is too self-centered or "disingenuous," as one academic put it, may be rooted in envy. “The criticism can be jealousy,” Khan says, noting that some professors may view Venkatesh's career in academia as “a steppingstone on the pathway to real success. It devalues what they do.”

Though it's true that too much of what passes today as sexy, flawlessly-packaged science-for-the-masses doesn't withstand serious scrutiny, it's hard to imagine a professor turning down an appearance on The Colbert Report. And even Venkatesh admits that he's gone "rogue."

[UPDATE]Bwog snagged a statement from Venkatesh, who says he is "troubled" that someone at Columbia "selectively leaked private documents to the media," and said the audit only tells part of the story. But Venkatesh also acknowledged that he was not "paying careful attention to record keeping," and insists, he has "never been anything other than scrupulous, honest and ethical in my research."