Fabrication: The Diederik Stapel case

One of the most discussed case of fabricated data comes from the Netherlands. Diederik Stapel was a professor of Social Psychology at Tilburg University and the University of Groningen. Some of his research was featured on news sites, such as his Science paper that found that people discriminate more in messy environments or another (unpublished) study that thinking about meat made people less social.

Interestingly, Stapel never appeared to share raw data with his students or collaborators. During his tenure, Stapel claimed to be the only person who had access to research participants and facilities, such as schools. So even though he was the professor, he would not let his students collect the data. Instead, he handed them raw data that was collected by himself, and then let his students analyze it. The data often looked close to perfect, and when Stapel was asked about how he collected that data, he would get unusually defensive.

After three whistleblowers, young researchers working with Stapel, reported their suspicions about the existence of real data (or lack thereof), Tilburg University started an investigation. Stapel was suspended by Tilburg University due to data fabrication in research studies. One of this Science papers, “Coping with Chaos: How Disordered Contexts Promote Stereotyping and Discrimination“, was retracted in December 2011.

One of Diederik Stapel’s now-retracted papers. From: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/332/6026/251.abstract

Soon, other papers followed. A three committee-report published in 2012 called “Flawed Science” combined the results of committees at Tilburg University, Groningen University, and the University of Amsterdam. It concluded that at least 55 of Stapel’s publications and at least 10 PhD theses contained fraudulent data.

Late 2012, Diederik Stapel published a book called “Ontsporing” (“Derailment”) in which he explains how his love for science made him gradually into a fraud. Nick Brown translated the book in English.

In the privacy of my office or my study at home, I did some things that were terrible, maybe even disgusting. I faked research data and invented studies that had never happened. I worked alone, knowing exactly what I was doing, and my solitary drive to achieve led to my becoming ever more detached from myself and my emotions. I didn’t feel anything: no disgust, no shame, no regrets. Any time a drop of emotion seemed to be about to emerge, it was quickly wiped away by the sponge of my continual desire for cocaine and crack, for success and applause.

“Ontsporing” by Diederik Stapel (Translated by Nick Brown)

As of today, 58 of Stapel’s publications have been retracted. Source: Wikipedia entry about Diederik Stapel.

Further reading

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