Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Diederik Stapel faces criminal inquiry for misuse of funds

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The Dutch media are reporting that Diederik Stapel, the Tilburg University social psychologist who fabricated data in dozens of studies, is facing a criminal probe for his misuse of some 2.2 million euros (roughly $2.8 million U.S.) in government grant funding.

A Retraction Watch commenter tipped us off this morning that the newspaper NRC Handelsblad reports (thanks to Google Translate):

Investigators have last month the laptop, the mobile phone and the financial administration of [Stapel] seized. These records are currently screened. “The coming period will also have several witnesses be heard,” said a spokesman for the [public prosecutor].

Stapel is suspected of having applied for government grants using imaginary data, according to the report. Investigators also are exploring whether he

is guilty of forgery by using forged datasets for research and in the written account of research grants.

Should Stapel be convicted and jailed, he would join a pretty exclusive club. To our knowledge, only Eric Poehlman and anesthesiologist Scott Reuben have served time for offenses involving fabrication of data. In Reuben’s case, he spent six months in federal prison on charges of health care fraud.

To date, journals have retracted 25 of Stapel’s published papers (by our count).

Written by amarcus41

October 2nd, 2012 at 9:37 am

Comments
  • Donald S. Kornfeld, M.D. October 2, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Some Individuals contemplating misconduct might be deterred by the knowledge that the submission of faulty data in a federal grant request is a felony punishable by jail time and/or a fine. It has been six years since Dr. Poehlman was jailed. Have there been no other such flagrant cases since detected ?
    It may be time for another well-publicized prosecution.

    Don K.

    • Marco October 2, 2012 at 10:55 am

      Luk Van Parijs had home detention and had to do community service; the judge was lenient thanks to several letters of support. Woo-Suk Hwang was convicted to a 2-years suspended prison sentence.

    • John Mashey November 1, 2012 at 2:21 pm

      How about large-scale plagiarism in a grant proposal? (In US, to Federal agency).
      Do you know of any cases like that that have gotten to felony charges?
      (I’ve rummaged the public ORI case files, but haven’t seen anything like that.)

  • chirality October 2, 2012 at 10:52 am

    This is the Netherlands. He will not go to prison. He might do some community service involving guarding a marihuana plantation. Watch my word, Stapel will re-invent himself as an advocate of strong research ethics. His first paper after the catharsis will be titled “Past caring: the magic number of retractions after which one does not give a sh*t anymore”.

    • Jon Beckmann October 2, 2012 at 11:44 am

      We’ll see, I guess…

    • D G Rossiter October 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      I’m not so sure of this. I also live in NL and the scientific community in general, and especially the social scientists, are mightily embarassed by Stapel. I doubt he will get much support (sympathetic letters, or invitations to re-invent himself). And in these budget-cutting times (OK, well even outside of them) the Dutch are very sensitive to what affects their wallets. We can think of lots of ways to spend EUR 2.2M….

    • Fernando Pessoa October 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm

      Perhaps wearing a orange (national colour) suit, but in the U.S.?

    • zwg October 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      For a guy that desired status and used government money for his own goals, the most suiting punishment might be wearing a fluorescent vest and doing something for society via community service. Putting him in jail will only cost the country more money.

    • Guido October 9, 2012 at 3:35 am

      “This is the Netherlands. He will not go to prison. He might do some community service involving guarding a marihuana plantation.” Not funny. FYI, growing marihuana is illegal in the Netherlands.

  • SF October 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    In the official count at http://www.commissielevelt.nl there are 46 journal papers identified in which ‘fraud has been determined’. Moreover, there are also 5 dissertation chapters not published anywhere else with the label ‘fraud determined’ and 7 journal papers where ‘fraud is most likely’, although Stapel does not agree with the last findings of the Committee (concerning papers based on his own dissertation).

    Regarding the folluw-up of scientific fraud cases it is also might be interesting to know that a Dutch newspaper has found out that almost all fraudulent papers by Stapel are publicly available in repositories without a retraction notion (including fraudulent dissertations in repositories of Stapels host institution Tilburg University).

    For more information, see (in Dutch): http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2672/Wetenschap-Gezondheid/article/detail/3317070/2012/09/15/Publicaties-van-frauderende-hoogleraar-Stapel-nog-gewoon-in-archieven.dhtml

  • SF October 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Sorry. Mistake in the second paragraph: ‘almost all’ should be ‘more than half’.

  • André van Delft October 2, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Stapel is an easy prey now. His case is an convenient distraction for quite a few other scientists in Holland. There is far more scientific fraud and pseudo science going on, causing much higher damages to society.

    For instance, during the past three decades educationalists have moronized the teaching of arithmetic and math, harming millions of pupils. Their scientific claims are false, and empiric evidence shows that pupils have now very insufficient understanding of arithmetic. The upcoming congress of the Dutch skeptical society addresses this branch of pseudo science.
    http://www.skepsis.nl/congres2012.html

    Despite all criticism the educationalists remain in power. They hold strong positions in universities and in the ministry of education. The already mentioned newspaper NRC Handelsblad published in 2008 a pamphlet by 18 professors, in defense of the current arithmetic education. One of the eighteen was…Diederik Stapel.
    http://www.beteronderwijsnederland.nl/node/7948

    • Jon Beckmann October 3, 2012 at 4:23 am

      Sorry,I’m not familiar with them. So, do they advocate teaching math in a different way? Or do they say that match should not be taught at all?

  • Ben Wilbrink October 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    mathbobby is right

    In the Netherlands the actual ‘war’ is on the character, content and use of arithmetics tests to be used as part of the summative examinations in secondary education (starting in 2014). In Dutch:
    http://www.benwilbrink.nl/publicaties/12rekentoets_Ex.htm

    Take a look at the pilot reform-arithmetics test-3F, (Cito, the ‘Dutch ETS’): http://goo.gl/qIEzD

    Another recent development regarding the Diederik Stapel fraud: an open letter by psychologist and nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/10/04/daniel-kahneman-daisy-chain-replications-priming-psychology/

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