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.




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 (http://pps.sagepub.com/content/7/6.toc), a forthcoming special target article in the European Journal of Personality, and recent issues of our own Dialogue (see http://tinyurl.com/auzkr73). Brian Nosek and Daniel Lakens are co‐editing a special issue on replication of important findings in social psychological research in Social Psychology (see http://tinyurl.com/asujp7s). 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 (https://www.spsp.org/?ResponsibleConduct) 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.




The NY Times on the Stapel debacle

6 11 2011

The New York Times has a short piece on the Deiderik Stapel academic fraud incident I wrote about earlier. There are now “several dozen” papers involved. The investigating committee, for reasons unfathomable to me, has not released a list of  the papers. To me “several” implies more than 4, and less than 12. So there are somewhere around 50-100 papers possibly involved. That is huge, and for now I think we will simply have to avoid citing any of his work.

Link to the NY Times article.




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




Social psychologist loses his job after admitting academic fraud

7 09 2011

Diederik Stapel, a prolific social psychologist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, has just been fired from his job after admitting to fabricating data in some of his studies. This is serious scientific misconduct, and just like plagiarism or other academic misconduct by undergraduate or graduate students, it is not tolerated.

What makes it worse is that if he collaborated with anyone on these publications, they have to be included in the retractions, so that damages their reputation and also causes them to lose valuable publication credits, which are the currency of academics.

Details can be found in this article from Science magazine.

The only comfort in this is that at least we walk the walk – when we impress on our students the seriousness of academic misconduct, they can be sure we apply the same high standards to ourselves.