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The flawed science surrounding Diederik Stapel
November 28, 2012 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Press Release The Levelt, Noort and Drenth Committees have published their joint final report of the investigation into the massive academic fraud by Diederik Stapel, a social psychologist, who is known mainly for his work on social priming. English translation of the full report [pdf].

55 publications with fraudulent data, 11 with suspect data and a pretty damning indictment of the sloppiness of collaborators, reviewers and the field of social psychology as a whole with a recognition of the courage of the three student whistleblowers.
posted by srboisvert (11 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Diederik Stapel at Retraction Watch.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:12 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


what pop science staples have been invalidated?
posted by lastobelus at 11:34 PM on November 28, 2012


With this and several of the other of the high profile scientific fraud cases that have bubbled up in the last few years (e.g. those concerning stem cells, superconductors) , I'm driven to wonder: how did they hope to get away with it?

I can believe (actually I believe) there's a lot of low level fraud in science: selecting data, ignoring uninteresting or problematic experiments, massaging results. But these were all high profile researchers making startling, bold claims. Did they think no one was going to look at their work? No one would try to build upon it? How did they think they would get away with it?
posted by outlier at 1:35 AM on November 29, 2012


If (like me) you weren't sure what is meant by social priming, Wikipedia has info. It's where someone is exposed to a concept (visual, verbal, etc) at one point in time, and it influences their responses later on. I think the pop science example that got a lot of traction was about holding a hot or cold drink before an interview and it affecting your perception of how the interview went. Not sure if that was Stapel's work though.
posted by harriet vane at 2:45 AM on November 29, 2012


"I can believe (actually I believe) there's a lot of low level fraud in science: selecting data, ignoring uninteresting or problematic experiments, massaging results. But these were all high profile researchers making startling, bold claims. Did they think no one was going to look at their work? No one would try to build upon it? How did they think they would get away with it?"

What is really terrifying is trying to think about those who have gotten away with it.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:00 AM on November 29, 2012


I think the pop science example that got a lot of traction was about holding a hot or cold drink before an interview and it affecting your perception of how the interview went. Not sure if that was Stapel's work though.

That was actually John Bargh at Yale (previously).
posted by svenx at 6:02 AM on November 29, 2012


Why do people do stuff like this? Does it make them rich somehow?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 6:14 AM on November 29, 2012


Why do people do stuff like this? Does it make them rich somehow?

Publish or perish, man. Publish or perish.
posted by svenx at 7:02 AM on November 29, 2012


"Publish or perish" is an absolutely toxic mantra. If it's enough to make one man choose fraud as a staple (ha!) of his career, I'm worried about where the remaining researchers fall on this decision-making continuum. And it certainly doesn't help that one rotten apple spoils the bunch. Are people now just working harder than ever to commit and conceal data fraud? Likewise, does it become that much harder to trust genuine results?

As for people asking how they get away with it, you may be surprised how much of a black box a lot of these experiments are. Editors generally only see the resulting paper and nothing more, so they have to work backwards to determine where the fish-like odor is coming from. I think in most cases, the fraud is exposed by whistle-blowers who were working alongside the researcher-in-question.

Not necessarily schadenfreude, but it is interesting to read the Retraction Watch timeline and see Stapel's reputation go from "suspect" to "confirmed fraudster" to "household name" in less than a year.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 9:12 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think in most cases, the fraud is exposed by whistle-blowers who were working alongside the researcher-in-question.

Or in some cases, a tip-off that they faked being a Rhodes Scholar.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:25 AM on November 29, 2012


As for people asking how they get away with it, you may be surprised how much of a black box a lot of these experiments are.

Sure. But my amazement isn't at the journal / editor / reviewer level but more at later, follow-on work. I'm a scientist, and I'm keenly aware how most research won't be followed up, or is sufficiently obscure or complex such that no one will ever expect to reproduce it. Report a new butterfly in the Amazon and no one sees it again? Maybe it went extinct, maybe you were mistaken. Publish about how some drug caused a blood chemistry shift in a group of patients, but no one else sees it? Maybe it was a contaminant, maybe your assays were wrong, maybe there was something off about the test group.

But claim that you cloned stem cells? Or created superconductors? These are major breakthroughs. People are going to pay attention. They're going to want to reproduce your work, build on it, get on the exciting new advance.

It's the difference between an explorer who claims to have found and mapped a small island and one who claims to have found a whole new continent. How did you ever hope to get away with this?
posted by outlier at 1:32 AM on November 30, 2012


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