Posts Tagged ‘Diederik Stapel’

Diederik Stapel markets himself (anonymously) on Retraction Watch

October 13, 2014

Diedrick Stapel

In June last year it disturbed me that the New York Times was complicit in helping Diedrik Stapel market his “diary” about his transgressions. There is something very unsatisfactory and distasteful when we allow wrong-doers to cash in on their wrong-doing or their notoriety. I had a similar sense of distaste when I read that the Fontys Academy for Creative Industries offered him a job to teach social psychology – almost as a reward for being a failed, but notorius, social psychologist.

Retraction Watch carried a post about the new job. And Diedrik Stapel was shameless enough to show up in the comments (first anonymously) but finally under his own name when he was exposed by Retraction Watch. The comments were all gratuitously self-serving. Perhaps he was carrying out a social experiment?

But this was noticed also by Professor Janet Stemwedel writing in the Scientific American:

You’re not rehabilitated if you keep deceiving

…… But I think a non-negotiable prerequisite for rehabilitation is demonstrating that you really understand how what you did was wrong. This understanding needs to be more than simply recognizing that what you did was technically against the rules. Rather, you need to grasp the harms that your actions did, the harms that may continue as a result of those actions, the harms that may not be quickly or easily repaired. You need to acknowledge those harms, not minimize them or make excuses for your actions that caused the harms. ….

….. Now, there’s no prima facie reason Diederik Stapel might not be able to make a productive contribution to a discussion about Diederik Stapel. However, Diederik Stapel was posting his comments not as Diederik Stapel but as “Paul”.

I hope it is obvious why posting comments that are supportive of yourself while making it appear that this support is coming from someone else is deceptive. Moreover, the comments seem to suggest that Stapel is not really fully responsible for the frauds he committed.

“Paul” writes:

Help! Let’s not change anything. Science is a flawless institution. Yes. And only the past two days I read about medical scientists who tampered with data to please the firm that sponsored their work and about the start of a new investigation into the work of a psychologist who produced data “too good to be true.” Mistakes abound. On a daily basis. Sure, there is nothing to reform here. Science works just fine. I think it is time for the “Men in Black” to move in to start an outside-invesigation of science and academia. The Stapel case and other, similar cases teach us that scientists themselves are able to clean-up their act.

Later, he writes (sic throughout):

Stapel was punished, he did his community service (as he writes in his latest book), he is not on welfare, he is trying to make money with being a writer, a cab driver, a motivational speaker, but not very successfully, and .. it is totally unclear whether he gets paid for his teaching (no research) an extra-curricular hobby course (2 hours a week, not more, not less) and if he gets paid, how much.

Moreover and more importantly, we do not know WHAT he teaches exactly, we have not seen his syllabus. How can people write things like “this will only inspire kids to not get caught”, without knowing what the guy is teaching his students? Will he reach his students how to become fraudsters? Really? When you have read the two books he wrote after his demise, you cannot be conclude that this is very unlikely? Will he teach his students about all the other fakes and frauds and terrible things that happen in science? Perhaps. Is that bad? Perhaps. I think it is better to postpone our judgment about the CONTENT of all this as long as we do not know WHAT he is actually teaching. That would be a Popper-like, open-minded, rationalistic, democratic, scientific attitude. Suppose a terrible criminal comes up with a great insight, an interesting analysis, a new perspective, an amazing discovery, suppose (think Genet, think Gramsci, think Feyerabend).

Is it smart to look away from potentially interesting information, because the messenger of that information stinks?

Perhaps, God forbid, Stapel is able to teach his students valuable lessons and insights no one else is willing to teach them for a 2-hour-a-week temporary, adjunct position that probably doesn’t pay much and perhaps doesn’t pay at all. The man is a failure, yes, but he is one of the few people out there who admitted to his fraud, who helped the investigation into his fraud (no computer crashes…., no questionnaires that suddenly disappeared, no data files that were “lost while moving office”, see Sanna, Smeesters, and …. Foerster). Nowhere it is written that failures cannot be great teachers. Perhaps he points his students to other frauds, failures, and ridiculous mistakes in psychological science we do not know of yet. That would be cool (and not unlikely).

Is it possible? Is it possible that Stapel has something interesting to say, to teach, to comment on?

To my eye, these comments read as saying that Stapel has paid his debt to society and thus ought not to be subject to heightened scrutiny. They seem to assert that Stapel is reformable. …. …… behind the scenes, the Retraction Watch editors accumulated clues that “Paul” was not an uninvolved party but rather Diederik Stapel portraying himself as an uninvolved party. After they contacted him to let him know that such behavior did not comport with their comment policy, Diederik Stapel posted under his real name:

Hello, my name is Diederik Stapel. I thought that in an internet environment where many people are writing about me (a real person) using nicknames it is okay to also write about me (a real person) using a nickname. ! have learned that apparently that was —in this particular case— a misjudgment. I think did not dare to use my real name (and I still wonder why). I feel that when it concerns person-to-person communication, the “in vivo” format is to be preferred over and above a blog where some people use their real name and some do not. In the future, I will use my real name. I have learned that and I understand that I –for one– am not somebody who can use a nickname where others can. Sincerely, Diederik Stapel.

He portrays this as a misunderstanding about how online communication works — other people are posting without using their real names, so I thought it was OK for me to do the same. However, to my eye it conveys that he also misunderstands how rebuilding trust works. Posting to support the person at the center of the discussion without first acknowledging that you are that person is deceptive. Arguing that that person ought to be granted more trust while dishonestly portraying yourself as someone other than that person is a really bad strategy. When you’re caught doing it, those arguments for more trust are undermined by the fact that they are themselves further instances of the deceptive behavior that broke trust in the first place.

Stapel will surely become a case study for future social psychologists. If he truly wishes rehabilitation he needs to move into a different field. Self-serving, anonymous comments in his own favour will not provide the new trust with his peers and his surroundings that he needs to build up. Just as his diary is “tainted goods”, anything he now does in the field of social psychology starts by being tainted with the onus of proof on him to show that it is not.

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Closure for Stapel perhaps but social psychology remains “on probation”

June 28, 2013

Another Chapter in the Diedrik Stapel saga comes to an end as he reaches a deal with prosecutors but the exposure of his behaviour has revealed much that is not so uncommon in the field of social psychology. Social psychologists now need to be on their best behaviour to dispell the notion that “fraud” and confirmation bias are their stock-in-trade. Social  Psychology remains on probation and must avoid any hint of misconduct if it is not to lose further ground as an academic discipline ( but it will be quite some time before this discipline becomes a science).

Associated Press (via The Republic): 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A disgraced Dutch social psychologist who admitted faking or manipulating data in dozens of publications has agreed to do 120 hours of community service work and forfeit welfare benefits equivalent to 18 months’ salary in exchange for not being prosecuted for fraud.

Prosecutors announced the deal Friday, calling it “a fitting conclusion” to a case of scientific fraud that sent shockwaves through Dutch academia.

Diederik Stapel who formerly worked at universities in the cities of Groningen and Tilburg, acknowledged the fraud in 2011 and issued a public apology last November, saying he had “failed as a scientist.”

He once claimed to have shown that the very act of thinking about eating meat makes people behave more selfishly.

Why is the New York Times publicising fraudster Stapel’s book?

April 30, 2013

I would not have expected the New York Times to be an apologist and a publicist for a fraudster.

The case of Diedrik Stapel and all the data he faked by just making them up to fit his pre-determined results will always bring discredit to the field (not science) of social psychology. But Stapel is now busy creating a new career for himself where his fraud itself is to be the vehicle of his future success. He has written a book about his derailment and the adoring media have not only forgiven him but are now playing an active part in his rehabilitation: in  humanising him and publicisng his book. The con continues and the media are (perhaps unwitting) partners to the con.

The New York Times ran a long “analytical” article about Stapel and his fraud a few days ago. A long interview with Stapel and ostensibly a “neutral” piece the article is entirely concerned with humanising the “criminal”.  It seems to me that Stapel is very successfully continuing to manipulate the media which earlier used to idolise him for his ridiculous “studies” (eating meat made people selfish!). But if you look at the NYT piece as a piece of marketing material for a book written by a discredited author it all makes sense. In fact the NYT article might just as well have been commissioned by the publishers of the book

NYT:  …. Right away Stapel expressed what sounded like heartfelt remorse for what he did to his students. “I have fallen from my throne — I am on the floor,” he said, waving at the ground. “I am in therapy every week. I hate myself.” That afternoon and in later conversations, he referred to himself several times as tall, charming or handsome, less out of arrogance, it seemed, than what I took to be an anxious desire to focus on positive aspects of himself that were demonstrably not false. ….. 

Stapel did not deny that his deceit was driven by ambition. But it was more complicated than that, he told me. He insisted that he loved social psychology but had been frustrated by the messiness of experimental data, which rarely led to clear conclusions. His lifelong obsession with elegance and order, he said, led him to concoct sexy results that journals found attractive. “It was a quest for aesthetics, for beauty — instead of the truth,” he said. He described his behavior as an addiction that drove him to carry out acts of increasingly daring fraud, like a junkie seeking a bigger and better high. ….

The report’s publication would also allow him to release a book he had written in Dutch titled “Ontsporing” — “derailment” in English — for which he was paid a modest advance. The book is an examination of his life based on a personal diary he started after his fraud was made public. Stapel wanted it to bring both redemption and profit, and he seemed not to have given much thought to whether it would help or hurt him in his narrower quest to seek forgiveness from the students and colleagues he duped.

The New York Times : The mind of a con man Published: April 26, 2013

“The book is an examination of his life based on a personal diary he started after his fraud was made public.”  writes our intrepid NYT reporter.

Really? – and how much of this self-serving “diary” was faked or just made up?

Willingly or otherwise, the New York Times (and the reporter Yudhijit Bhattacharjee) are being duped and manipulated by a consummate fraudster.

Stapel fraud report blames lack of critical scientific culture

November 28, 2012

The massive Diedrik Stapel fraud broke a year ago and the final investigation report “Failing science: The fraudulent research practices of social psychologist Diederik Stapel” has now been published. The final fraud count is quite staggering. 55 papers, 10 theses and possibly a further 11 publications were fraudulent. That’s 10 PhD students who will have doctorates rescinded or must start from scratch! The report is in Dutch  (pdf): Final Report Stapel Investigation

Human behaviour in all its aspects and including social psychology are certainly disciplines worthy of study and I would not go so far as to say they can never become sciences. But social psychology is certainly  no science yet. Stapel’s behaviour – which is by no means unique for publicity hunting social psychologists – was nothing more than pseudoscience and will not advance the progress of this discipline into becoming a science.

Dutchnews reports:

A report into how a Dutch university professor was able to fake research data for years blames the absence of a critical scientific culture at academic institutions.

Stapel, who was a professor of social and behavioural sciences at Tilburg, was suspended in September 2011 after doubts emerged about research that concluded eating meat makes people anti-social and selfish.

The report, compiled by special commissions from four universities where Stapel worked, concludes at least 55 out of 130 academic papers written by Stapel and 10 graduate student theses he was supervising contain fraudulent data. There are doubts about the authenticity of a further 11 papers.

The 108-page report says colleagues who worked with Stapel had not been sufficiently critical. This was not deliberate fraud but ‘academic carelessness’, the report said. ‘The critical function of science has failed at all levels,’ the report said. 

In a statement, Stapel said he had failed as a scientist. ‘I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain I have caused others,’ he said. ‘I feel sorry, shame and I blame myself. The truth would have been better served without me.’

…. Finance ministry officials are also investigating Stapel because much of his work was funded by public research money.

Social psychology falls from grace

July 3, 2012

It is not only scientists in social psychology who indulge in fraud.  Anthropology for example has had its share of frauds. While corporations – such as Glaxo Smith Kline– can be held liable and sanctioned for fraud, it is very rare for individual academics who fake data in pursuit of their own agendas to be held liable. Why cannot a concept of tort or “product liability”apply to scientists? The members of the medical profession who aided and abetted GSK are unlikely to face any sanctions. But the recent scandals of social psychologists faking data to show statistical correlations between sets of propositions and then inferring causal relationships have demonstrated two things which I think apply in many more so-called “scientific” disciplines  than just social psychology. :

  1. The ease with which sampled data can be faked or cherry picked by workers from reputed institutions to show apparent correlations can then be provided a stamp of authority through the publication of “peer-reviewed” papers, and
  2. that there is a need to return to the scientific method of focusing on propositions that are falsifiable and to avoid the temptation of concluding that any positive statistical correlation provides proof of a causal relationship.

(more…)

Diederik Stapel faked at least 30 papers

October 31, 2011

Social psychology is going to take a beating over the Diederik Stapel fraud. It provides ample fuel for the view that social psychology is no science but merely the half-baked opinions of narcissists and charlatans. Ego trips and TV appearances have governed the field rather than any scientific rigour.

The interim report of the investigation being carried out by the of Universities of Tilburg and Groningen which started in mid September is now out.

Diederik Stapel

The interim report (in Dutch) is here:

pdf Stapel interim-rapport

The extent of the fraud is breathtaking and the investigation is far from over. At least 30 papers have been found to contain fraudulent data, at least 14 doctoral theses that he supervised are compromised for using fabricated data and in all about 150 papers going back to 2004 are being investigated. Legal action is to be taken. This one is going down in the history books.

(Update! 1st November: Science Insider carries the story here)

Dutch News writes:

(more…)

Tilburg University on terms of reference for Diederik Stapel misconduct inquiry

September 15, 2011

Following the suspension (pending dismissal) of Diederik Stapel for faking data, Tilburg University has published the terms of reference of the Levelt investigation committee and which is to report latest by the end of October.

Universiteit van Tilburg

Rector Magnificus of Tilburg University Prof. P. Eijlander has asked the Levelt Committee to investigate the extent and nature of the breach of scientific integrity committed by mr. Stapel. There are two elements to the task:

  1. The committee will examine which publications are based on fictitious data or fictitious scientific studies and during which period the misconduct took place.
  2. The committee should form a view on the methods and the research culture that facilitated this breach of scientific integrity, and make recommendations on how to prevent any recurrence of this.

The committee will publish its (interim) report by the end of October at the latest. The universities of Groningen and Amsterdam have both appointed staff members responsible for communication with the inquiry. 

Members committee
Prof.dr. W.J.M. Levelt, Prof.mr. M.S. Groenhuijsen, Prof.dr. J.A.P. Hagenaars,

Dr.ir. S.A.M. Baert (secretary)

Prof. Levelt is a psycho-linguist and former president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences while Prof. Groenhuijsen and Prof. Hagenaars are from Tilburg’s Law School.

Stapel has agreed to cooperate fully with the investigation and to help identify every instance of data fabrication. There are likely to be a number of retractions to come from among his published papers. It would though be a good sign if the Journals involved were to be pro-active in identifying these rather than starting their processes only after the investigation was complete. Some of the journals involved could be ScienceEuropean Journal of Social Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Dutch social psychologist sacked for faking data over a “prolonged period”

September 12, 2011

On September 7th, Tilburg University officially suspended Diederik Stapel, who heads the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research. University Rector Philip Eijlander said that Stapel had admitted to using faked data and said that he would not be allowed to return.

Diederik Stapel

Stapel’s homepage on the Tilburg University website has been removed “by the administrator”.

Mark van Vugt is a Netherlands evolutionary psychologist who currently holds a professorship in psychology at the VU University (Vrije Universiteit) Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and has affiliate positions at the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at University of Oxford, UK, and the University of Kent, UK. Mark van Vugt writes about his colleague Diederik Stapel in Psychology Today:

After the high profile case of Marc Hauser, the Harvard psychologist found guilty of serious scientific misconduct there is the recent case of my colleague, Diederik Stapel, a social psychology professor in the Netherlands who has been suspended by his university after admitting to have fabricated experimental data over a prolonged period.

The extent of his fraud is yet unclear but it has produced shock waves among the international social psychology community.

Stapel was the poster boy of Dutch social psychology, having published in the major psychology journals, and receiving various grants and prestigious awards for his research on social cognition and stereotyping. In a recent article published in Science, he and his colleagues showed that in a messy environment (a dirty railway station) White participants were more prejudiced against a Black person. The authenticity of these results is now being investigated…

The Science article that is being investigated is Coping with Chaos: How Disordered Contexts Promote Stereotyping and Discrimination by Diederik A. Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg, Science 8 April 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6026 pp. 251-253 DOI: 10.1126/science.1201068

But this is not the only article being investigated and there may be a rash of retractions to come.

Science Insider writes:

A Dutch social psychologist whose eye-catching studies about human behavior were fodder for columnists and policy makers has lost his job after his university concluded that some of the data in those studies were fabricated.

Tilburg University today officially suspended Diederik Stapel, who heads the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research. But in a TV interview today, university Rector Philip Eijlander said that Stapel had admitted to using faked data and said that he would not be allowed to return.

Stapel has worked at the university, located in southern Netherlands, since 2006. He is known as a prolific researcher and a successful fundraiser. His studies appeared to offer new insights into the workings of the human mind; for instance, a Science paper published in April showed that people are more likely to stereotype or discriminate in messy environments.

In the TV interview, Eijlander says he was first contacted on 27 August by “junior researchers” in Stapel’s lab who alleged that his conduct was fraudulent. Stapel immediately admitted that there was “something strange” in his papers, Eijlander says, and “yesterday, he told me that there are faked data.” The university has asked Willem Levelt, a psycholinguist and former president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, to lead a panel investigating the extent of the alleged fraud. Eijlander says that all “tainted papers” will be retracted.

As to the whistleblowers, Eijlander told the television interviewer that “I have a lot of respect for them, because they found it very difficult.”

Just last week, Stapel made headlines with a press release claiming that thinking of eating meat makes people “more boorish” and less social. The announcement, which said that “meat brings out the worst in people,” raised eyebrows because the study hadn’t yet been written up, let alone published.

Roos Vonk, a psychologist at Radboud University Nijmegen and a collaborator on the study, wrote on her blog today that she believes the latest study is likely among those based on fabricated data. She writes that her conclusion is based on the fact that, although the results had been collected by Stapel’s group, “when we discussed [them], I thought it was odd that Diederik didn’t mention the name of his assistant.” But at the time, she writes, the possibility of fraud didn’t occur to her.

Roos Vonk writes further as she apologises on her blog

I regret very much that this has happened and I will do everything what I can so that trust in the scientific work within social psychology will recover. It is conceivable that this extensive lapse of a few colleagues effects the reputation of our entire profession. I understand that this way can work, but I want to stress that this is a single exception  probably much more shocking and shameful for me and my colleagues than for outsiders, because we all in our education are imbued with the importance of integrity.

An interesting UPDATE from Retraction Watch:

An alert Retraction Watch reader has pointed us to a 1999 paper by Stapel with the impossibly ironic title: Framed and misfortuned: identity salience and the whiff of scandal.”

In the article, which appeared in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Stapel and two colleagues reported the results of survey they’d conducted of Dutch psychologists in the wake of a major plagiarism scandal involving an unidentified Dutch clinical psychologist (“we decided to use neither the name of the person who was accused of plagiarism nor the university to which he was affiliated,” they wrote).

Put briefly, the researchers claimed to have found (rather unsurprisingly) that hows psychologists identified themselves professionally dictated how strongly they were affected personally by the scandal. Money quote:

Whether social psychologists view an article about a plagiarist clinical psychologist as relevant or irrelevant to the self may thus be determined by whether their social identity is narrowly defined (‘social  psychologists’), so as to exclude the plagiarist, or broadly define (‘psychologists’) to include the plagiarist.

Stapel’s group also showed that psychologists from the accused’s own university felt the shame of his alleged misdeeds more than those from other institutions.

And from what Roos Vonk has written it would seem that his collaborators indeed feel a stronger sense of shame than others.

It would seem that much of the research by Diederik Stapel will now be investigated and a number of his papers are likely to be retracted. In addition to the Science paper which is already under investigation some of his other earlier publications are:

I wonder whether cognitive psychology is particularly subject to the faking of data – possibly because faking is relatively easy when the data are so often subjective and so little of it is required to be reproducible or quantitative.

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