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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Did Diederik Stapel tip his pitches in a paper about a plagiarism scandal?

with 9 comments

Do fraudsters, like bad pitchers or poker players, have “tells”?

Diederik Stapel might. Last week we reported that Stapel, an internationally recognized social psychologist from The Netherlands, had been accused of fabricating his data. 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 how 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.

Now, we have no information about the validity of the paper. To our knowledge, no list of Stapel’s tainted publications has been released. But imagine what, well, a psychologist might make of his choice of subject matter?

Stapel’s co-author on the 1999 paper, Russell Spears, has been editor of the journal since 2009.

The case reminds of Jatinder Ahluwalia, a scandal-plagued researcher in the UK who decided to study plagiarism. It’s also has a whiff of John Orr, the California arson investigator who went to prison for being a firebug. Orr, as it happened, had written pulpy fiction about a fire investigator who set fires. Go figure.

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Written by Adam Marcus

September 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm

9 Responses

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  1. That’s just Too juicy for words. The line between criminal and policeman can be crossed very easily.
    What’s more, Stapel’s 1999 paper has such obvious conclusions that it could easily have been made of whole cloth rather than actually researched; no-one would pay any attention because the conclusions are so banal.

    Conrad T Seitz MD

    September 12, 2011 at 6:33 pm

  2. Also widely known as false flag operations, a sort of it. Also, close to Munchausen syndrome by proxy.


    September 12, 2011 at 8:03 pm

  3. And what about Stephen Griffiths, the ‘Crossbow Cannibal’, who killed 3 women whilst researching murders in Bradford in the 19th Century as part of his PhD thesis?

    Peter Moseley

    September 13, 2011 at 12:38 am

  4. The Retraction Watch can as well have a name Cases of Insanity Among Uneducated. Plagiarism and fabrication are public admission of one’s own inability. Most do not admit it publicly, but some do, due to the stress and frustration over their failure to produce anything of value. As children, they were told (as recommended, several times a day) how great they are. The result is several generations of frustrated.


    September 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

  5. hows psychologists identified themselves


    human mathematics

    September 14, 2011 at 2:57 am

    • Fixed that typo, thanks.


      September 14, 2011 at 7:03 am

  6. The unnamed psychologist was a guy called Rene Diekstra, by the way. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Diekstra


    September 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm

  7. Don’t believe this hype and Leave Diederik alone!

    Roos Vonk

    November 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    • In case anyone wonders: no, this is most likely not the real Roos Vonk. The hint is in the URL of the name: the shock-blog “geenstijl”.


      November 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm

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