Trusting Ourselves

18 01 2014

Social psychologist David DeSteno has a very good article on trust, specifically what creates the tendency to trust ourselves and why that trust is often misplaced..

Link to the New York Times article.

I am interested generally in trust, specifically intergroup trust which hasn’t been studied much at all.

Excellent NYT Magazine piece on Stapel and his fraud

28 04 2013

The New York Times Magazine has an excellent piece on Deiderik Stapel and his fraud (posted earlier here and here and here and here and here and here and here). It chronicles the days leading up to the accusation, his family and childhood. One interesting piece of local trivia: He briefly attended East Stroudsburg University to study acting.

Here is a link to the article at the NY Times Magazine: link

A great quote:

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.

and in the exposé of the first of his frauds…

In one experiment conducted with undergraduates recruited from his class, Stapel asked subjects to rate their individual attractiveness after they were flashed an image of either an attractive female face or a very unattractive one. The hypothesis was that subjects exposed to the attractive image would — through an automatic comparison — rate themselves as less attractive than subjects exposed to the other image.

The experiment — and others like it — didn’t give Stapel the desired results, he said. He had the choice of abandoning the work or redoing the experiment. But he had already spent a lot of time on the research and was convinced his hypothesis was valid. “I said — you know what, I am going to create the data set,” he told me.

Sitting at his kitchen table in Groningen, he began typing numbers into his laptop that would give him the outcome he wanted. …Stapel at first ended up getting a bigger difference between the two conditions than was ideal. He went back and tweaked the numbers again. It took a few hours of trial and error, spread out over a few days, to get the data just right.

He said he felt both terrible and relieved. The results were published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2004. “I realized — hey, we can do this,” he told me.

How to woo a scientist

14 02 2013

The Guardian (UK) has a hilarious article about how to find and pluck the heart strings of your nearest scientist. Here’s the link.

My favorite quotes:

“Scientists can be hard to locate. They rarely frequent sporting events, popular music concerts, fairgrounds, organised cockfights or wherever it is non-scientists choose to congregate. A typical scientist is usually found in the laboratory.”

“There are instances where you will encounter a scientist outside of the laboratory environment. They may be giving a lecture, or possibly standing in an exotic location looking wistful. In both of these instances, engaging in conversation is impractical, given the context. … If you’re lucky, you may encounter one in a pub or similar establishment. … if you see someone who is clearly under the influence of alcohol but still using words of 5 syllables or more, then they’re likely to be a scientist.”

“When attempting to talk to a scientist, be sure you don’t say anything that might be interpreted as a claim unless you are certain it has been peer-reviewed or subjected to rigorous statistical assessment.”

“Should the conversation falter or hit a lull, try asking the question “How is your grant application going?” This is likely to result in a very long rant about the problems, frustrations and possible illegitimate birth origins of those involved with the grant approval process.”

SPSP comments on the final Levelt report on the Deiderik Stapel debacle

10 01 2013

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology just released a statement on the Levelt report. It is not (yet) on their web site, so I will reproduce it here. It arrived on the SPSP listserv. I am glad we are undertaking an assessment of where we have gone wrong and how our research practices can be improved to help avoid something like this in the future.

Society for Personality and Social Psychology Statement on the Levelt Report

The recent Levelt report from the Netherlands details the breadth of Deiderik Stapel’s fraudulent activities and offers reflections on the scientific culture that enabled this magnitude of deception to go (nearly) undiscovered for many years. It is a sobering read. Both the European Association of Social Psychology and the Society of Experimental Social Psychology have issued statements on the report. These statements expressed appreciation to the Levelt committee for its thorough investigation of the Stapel case and indicated reservations about the report’s indictment of the field at large for what the Levelt report considered “sloppy science” practices. In large measure, we support these previous statements, and our statement is meant to complement rather than reiterate the points made by our allied societies.

In the aftermath of the Stapel case and other recently discovered cases of fraud, it would behoove us to reflect on the steps we can take as we move forward to protect our science against incidents of fraud in the future and to repair the image of our science. The core foundation of any field of scientific endeavor is trust and integrity.

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology has consistently maintained the stance that we must work together as a professional organization and as individual scientists to promote a context in which good scientific practices are celebrated and are embedded into the training we provide to young scientists joining the field. Indeed, this was the theme of a recent letter I wrote to the Society regarding the Stapel case. It is a theme that merits repeating. These recent events provide an opportunity not only for constructive reflection but also specific action. Upholding sound scientific practices will insure that our science has integrity. We should not assume, however, that because we all believe in the principles of ethical conduct that this is sufficient. In this regard, we can all profitably discuss ways to accomplish these goals. These goals should include, but not be limited to:

  • Identifying effective ways to build discussion of ethics and good scientific practices into our course work and everyday discussions in our laboratories;
  • Developing safe venues for trainees and others to report concerns about breaches of ethics within universities and within the journal review process;
  • Establishing clear standards for what personality and social psychology papers should present in methods and results sections of articles;
  • Providing formal training in how to review articles;
  • Clarifying within our formal training acceptable practices for addressing, for example, missing data, eliminating cases from analysis, and providing clear detail on methods and measures;
  • Increasing opportunities and incentives for conducting and reporting direct replications of important findings; and
  • Evaluating the pressures that can lead to a careerist focus as opposed to a focus on true discovery among scientists.

These are but a few of the issues we, and all sciences, need to consider. Recent months have borne witness to a number of activities designed to address these issues. For example: replication issues have been the subject of a recent special issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science (, a forthcoming special target article in the European Journal of Personality, and recent issues of our own Dialogue (see Brian Nosek and Daniel Lakens are co‐editing a special issue on replication of important findings in social psychological research in Social Psychology (see Finally, SPSP commissioned a Task Force for Responsible Conduct, which outlined a variety of ways we could take positive steps to ensure the integrity of our science ( and the Task Force continues to work on these issues.

Our upcoming meeting in New Orleans provides a number of immediate opportunities to explore and discuss these issues with our community. Two formal symposia address issues related to good scientific practices.

The first is titled “Openness in Scientific Reporting: Potential and Reaction” and is scheduled for Friday, January 18 from 11:15 am to 12:30 pm (Rooms R03‐R05).

The second symposium is titled “False Positive Findings: Effect Sizes Too Large, Too Small, or Just Right” and is scheduled for Friday, January 18 from 3:30 pm to 4:45 pm (Rooms R03‐R05).

Finally, I suggested to you in a recent letter that the leadership of SPSP was likely to hold a Special session for the membership to come together to discuss these issues or any issues of interest to the membership. We have scheduled this session for Saturday, January 19 from 3:30 pm to 4:45 pm Room 203‐205. In attendance will be David Funder who is the 2013 President of the Society, Jenny Crocker who chaired the SPSP Task Force on Responsible Conduct, Jack Dovidio the current Executive Officer for the Society, Jamie Pennebaker the new President‐Elect of the Society, and me. We invite you to come to this session with questions and we will do our best to address these and other issues relevant to the Society and engage the membership in a productive discussion.

Yours Sincerely,

Patricia G. Devine for the SPSP Executive Committee

Past-­‐President, Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Social psychology in the wake of the Stapel debacle

4 01 2013

The Times Higher Education (UK) has a piece by Stephen Gibson, Honorary secretary, British Psychological Society, Social psychology section that decries the singling out of social psychology as a discipline in need of a scientific conduct overhaul. Link to the article.

Stapel, Fraud, Inflated Type-I Error, and the Future of Social Psychology

5 12 2012

This week the final report on the Diederik Stapel debacle was released. The press release is here, and you can download the whole report here. From the press release:

The Committees identified 55 publications in which it is certain that Stapel committed fraud during his time in Groningen and Tilburg. In addition, eleven older publications by Stapel published when he worked in Amsterdam and Groningen show indications of fraud. The earliest dates from 1996. A total of ten doctoral dissertations supervised by Stapel are ‘contaminated’ (seven in Groningen and three from recent years in Tilburg).

I thought this might be a good place to compile some links to some of the articles and interesting pieces in this case.

The web page of the Joint Tilburg/Groningen/Amsterdam investigation of the publications by Mr. Stapel is here.

A recent article in The Atlantic titled “The Data Vigilante” covers Uri Simonsohn, who has developed an algorithm to detect anomolies in data that might indicate fraud or inflated Type-I error. (Dec 2012)

A recent post in Science magazine’s ScienceInsider about the affair: Final Report: Stapel Affair Points to Bigger Problems in Social Psychology (Nov 2012)

Here is a link to Simonsohn’s recent article in Psychological Science titled “False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant.” Here, he details a number of intentional and unintentional ways that results can achieve statistical significance as a product of experimenter effects (he calss this “researcher degrees of freedom”) rather than the experimental effect itself. (Nov 2011)

Here is a good article in the NY Times by Benedict Carey on the initial findings in the case. (Nov 2011)

An article from Nature on the initial report. (Nov 2011)

In addition to Stapel, at least two other social psychologists have resigned their positions amid allegations of fraud. Derek Smeesters, also in the Netherlands resigned after Uri Simonsohn’s data analytic technique was applied to his data. An article about that is published in Science magazine’s ScienceInsider. (July 2012)

This algorithm has raised concern that a new witch hunt may be underway where individuals are selected for unknown reasons to subject their data to this technique in order to discover more fraudulent findings. In fact, a second social psychologist was implicated by Simonsohn’s technique, Mark Sanna at the University of Michigan. Sanna resigned and asked JESP to retract three of his papers. Nature has an article on that. (July 2012)

To add to our paranoia, a post on the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s listserv came out earlier this year which described emails being sent to individual members requesting their data. These emails originated from “Jay Zimmerman” and “Laurie Rhodes,” both of whom do not appear to be real researchers via internet searches. It turns out this was part of a research project that included deception about the intention of the data collection. This is covered in this Google Groups post by social psychologist Brian Nosak.

More on academic fraud by Stapel and a new case in the Netherlands

3 07 2012
I previously wrote here and here about Deiderik Stapel’s case of academic fraud. I noticed today that Psych Science retracted 2 of Diederek Stapel’s papers. Details here.
Also, another social/marketing psychologist from the Netherlands, Dirk Smeesters, has been found to commit fraud, two of his papers were retracted, and he had to resign his post. See this post from the British Psych Society’s blog.
This case is almost marginal – he says he removed participants who supposedly failed to read the instructions properly, a detail which he did not include in the paper, but he also could not produce the raw data. In addition, the data look statistically likely to be fabricated or manipulated.
Of particular interest was this commentary by one of his co-authors that shows how gut-wrenching this is to everyone who gets caught up in academic fraud.

Official SPSP communiqué on the Diederik Stapel debacle

13 09 2011

The following was issued by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology regarding the academic misconduct I wrote about earlier:

Dear SPSP Colleagues,

As many of you have heard, Diederik Stapel has admitted to data fabrication and has been dismissed from his position at Tilburg University.  Such behavior, although fortunately isolated, is particularly grave for science in general, and social psychology in particular, where we assume and rely on the integrity of our colleagues. In this context we publicly acknowledge the courage of his colleagues who came forward with concerns about Diederik’s potential misconduct.

SPSP will monitor the developments in this case and take appropriate actions as necessary. The Society is closely following the formal investigations that are currently being conducted by Tilburg University and by the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Netherlands. It is important that we protect the integrity of the science but be careful to not unfairly jeopardize the careers of the many scholars and students who have worked with Diederik by reacting too hastily.We do not yet know the extent to which data were fabricated by Diederik and therefore which papers will need to be retracted.

We appreciate SPSP members’ deep concern about this issue and its broader implications.

On behalf of SPSP,
Todd Heatherton, President

Fear and research

24 08 2011

A post on GradHacker about productivity systems pointed to a very good, and personally moving, talk by Merlin Mann given at Webstock 2011. He’s a writer and speaker, and the talk was about how fear affects creative professionals. In graduate school, there’s a common malady known as the “imposter syndrome.” It takes the form of thinking that I must be the admissions mistake—what am I doing here among all these smart people? As I have progressed through graduate school it has morphed to fear about my research—I am researching and collaborating with people who are incredibly bright and talented and motivated, and I sometimes wonder when I’ll be found out. Fear that the research I publish will be shown to be flawed and invalid.

The reality, of course, is that we’re all struggling on the frontier of knowledge and that brings with it fears and concerns that involve the self and others. The challenge is to walk through the fear, believing that what led you here is why you deserve to be here, researching interesting things and trying to discover principles of behavior that will be useful for the future.

But that rational knowledge doesn’t always keep the fear monster at bay.

Here’s a link to the talk on YouTube. Warning: it is laced with profanity and may not be safe for work.

edit 9/2/2011: A recent post at GradHacker pointed me toward a very good article in Nature on the impostor syndrome, which was actually termed the Impostor Phenomenon by two clinical psychologists in 1978.

Graduate school and advancing the field

19 08 2011

I wrote earlier about the notion that the pressure to generate lots of data and publishing many articles early in the academic career may not be conducive to generating big ideas. A recent article in the APS Observer by Travis Riddle and Jeff Craw spoke to the possible detrimental effects of pressure to publish as a graduate student. There are good arguments in favor of and against getting lots of data into the literature, even if it’s not of the best quality.

I think the goal of graduate school is to practice being an academic while under the tutelage of a mentor. Practice, yes, but publish 8 articles, of which 4 are first author? I think that leads to a kind of single-minded focus that might not be the best for training a scholar who can think broadly across the discipline and even across disciplines. I agree with the authors of the article:

“the relatively short duration of graduate school and the demands of publication usually pressure students to publish early and often; consequently, students may approach research in a manner that is antithetical to fostering a great research mind.”

You might even apply a similar reasoning to the tenure clock.