Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Diederik Stapel settles with Dutch prosecutors, won’t face jail time

with 27 comments

stapel_npcDiederik Stapel, the former Tilburg University psychology professor who has retracted 53 papers because he made up the data, has settled with Dutch prosecutors, who began a criminal probe of his case last year.

Stapel will do 120 hours of community service, and decline disability and illness benefits that would have added up to 18 months’ worth of salary, according to reports in the Dutch press. Apparently, it helped his case that he had voluntarily given up his PhD.

A rough translation by a Retraction Watch reader:

The FIOD (Dutch organisation that pursues tax, benefit and other frauds) states that Stapel has not misused public funds, because they were given for doing research that was performed. Most of it was spent on salaries and the personnel paid performed research. Although this was with made-up data, the implicated personnel did not know this.

“Stapel has acted against scientific integrity and has harmed the interests of doctoral students that have worked with him,” writes FIOD.

Written by Ivan Oransky

June 28th, 2013 at 6:30 am

Comments
  • JLH Evers June 28, 2013 at 6:33 am

    That’s a funny typo in this case: prosector, brrrr

    • ivanoransky June 28, 2013 at 6:36 am

      Fixed — thanks.

  • Marco de Baar June 28, 2013 at 6:40 am

    Reblogged this on Active Science and commented:
    Dit lijkt me een verstrekkende uitspraak van de FIOD inzake de Stapel science fraud …

  • Jos Boekhorst June 28, 2013 at 7:13 am

    A spokesperson added that they (the public prosecution service) also took into account that Stapel’s victims (i.e. his PhD students) indicated they wish the whole affair to be over, as a courtcase would bring the whole affair into the spotlight once again.
    http://www.nu.nl/binnenland/3512563/diederik-stapel-krijgt-werkstraf-van-120-uur.html (in Dutch)

  • Sylvain Bernès June 28, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Two hours of community service per retracted paper… This is a clear invitation to cheat.

    • Ken Pimple June 28, 2013 at 9:29 am

      It certainly isn’t a harsh sentence, but it’s hardly an invitation to cheat – or if it is, it’s also an invitation to lose your career.

      • puzzled monkey June 28, 2013 at 10:32 am

        Agree. Give up your PhD, give up a year and a half worth of disability pay. That’s a lot worse than the community time. Besides, what kind of community time? Lecturing to prisoners about fraud? Or peeling potatoes? Besides, he’s so pretty in his picture posted above. Probably charmed the judge.

        • Brad Casali June 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm

          Perhaps it’s the translation, but why would Stapel even receive any sort of disability pay? In the U.S., disability pay equates with a physical incapacity to perform your job. He should not be receiving any sort of benefits if he is not working as the majority of these benefits in the States are provided by your employer. Of course, if he purchased health insurance individually (i.e. not through his present employer), then this would be very different if he were denied insurance coverage.

          • Average PI June 30, 2013 at 5:39 pm

            In his book, doesn’t he argue that he could not help it? Sounds like the core of a disability claim there…

          • JA Pascoe July 1, 2013 at 7:13 am

            The disability pay would indeed be coming from his employer (i.e. the University). Why he would be getting it I’m not sure. Maybe he went on sick leave for the duration of the investigation until he was officially fired / resigned (don’t remember which it was)? In any case it’s equal to 1.5 times his annual salary, which is quite a substantial amount.

    • StatObserver July 4, 2013 at 10:59 am

      “This is a clear invitation to cheat.” Now that is an astonishing statement. It’s not the hours of community service he lost. He lost EVERYTHING. The community service is just a little dimple. He was a full professor, with tenure. He had grad students, an honorable position…. The value of his loss is huge. Do you think that others will follow his example?

  • CarolynS June 28, 2013 at 9:19 am

    If you paid people to analyze data that you knew was fictitious so you knew the analyses were meaningless, how is that not misuse of public funds?

  • D G Rossiter June 28, 2013 at 10:24 am

    I hope the community service is cleaning the toilets at the Utrecht railway station where he pretended to observe racist behaviour. For non-Dutch readers, you should know that in general sentences for any crime in Netherlands are much, much lower than typical in the USA.

    • puzzled monkey June 28, 2013 at 10:34 am

      True. What do they do in Netherlandische prisons? Intensive rehabilitation? What’s the recidivism rate?

      • Marco June 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm

        Recidivism rate is around 50% for ex-prisoners, and below 30% for offenders in general (includes those who are not sentenced to prison terms) within 2 years.

        • puzzled monkey June 29, 2013 at 11:31 am

          Thanks for the information. Here in USA I don’t know exact figures, but 70% post-prison repeats sounds close… I’m sure those numbers are readily available and look bad in comparison to European rates. Controversial? Yes. But true.

  • nursedina2@yahoo.com June 28, 2013 at 11:33 am

    How do I find out the process the students went through to report this guy? I’m trying to report a plagiarizing phd and the university is telling ME to get an attorney.

    Sent from my HTC EVO 4G LTE exclusively from Sprint

    • D G Rossiter June 30, 2013 at 2:31 am

      Look at the final report: https://www.commissielevelt.nl/ (in English and Dutch), well worth reading for the whole context and what it means for Dutch research culture.

      To your specific question, Sec. 1.5 begins:

      “The fraud was brought to light by three young researchers in the Department of Social Psychology at
      Tilburg University. They reported their suspicions of data falsification by Mr Stapel at the end of August
      2011 to the head of department, Prof. M. Zeelenberg. After months of observation they had gathered
      sufficient details to demonstrate that something was amiss. The researchers all deserve praise for reporting
      these suspicions. It is noted that they were in a dependent position and had much to lose. Following the
      report, the head of department immediately notified the suspicion of fraud to the Rector Magnificus of
      Tilburg University, who in turn spoke immediately with the whistleblowers. The Levelt Committee has
      learned that there had been other whistleblowers in Tilburg at an earlier stage. Three young researchers had
      previously sounded the alarm to senior staff of the faculty regarding irregularities in the datasets delivered
      by Mr Stapel. The risks they ran were equally severe. Furthermore, two professors had previously observed
      data that were ‘too good to be true’. However, none of these earlier reports were acted upon.”

      • YouKnowBestOfAll June 30, 2013 at 4:28 am

        “However, none of these earlier reports were acted upon.”

        Precisely this non-action is the core of the problem with academic/publication misconduct.
        What’s the point of declaring that “we take all allegations very seriously”, what’s the point of having nice “Frameworks to deal with misconduct”, when there is no action from the relevant authorities?
        In most cases, if something is done after the long-lasting stage of Ignoring_the_Problem, it is only an active Cover-Up.
        Transparency Index which shows whether the editors/publishers/institutions Do_the_Right_Thing will make these parties MOTIVATED to Do_the_Right_Thing in all cases of reported misconduct.
        Should the relevant authorities did Do_the_Right_Thing with Stapel ON TIME, then:
        1. This would have spared a great deal of embarrassment for all involved;
        2. This would have saved millions of hard-earned tax payers money;
        3. This would have allowed many other honest researchers to work and produce real data and useful results;
        4. This would have deterring effect to other cheaters.
        in a word, Life would have been BETTER for all, including Stapel.

        It’s time to launch Transparency Index!

    • Paul Colin de Gloucester July 1, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      What worked to discredit the fraudster Stapel might not help you. I suggest that you subscribe to the email list SCIFRAUD (
      https://ListServ.Albany.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A0=SCIFRAUD
      ). It is managed by a lawyer.

  • YouKnowBestOfAll June 29, 2013 at 7:57 am

    “The FIOD (Dutch organisation that pursues tax, benefit and other frauds) states that Stapel has not misused public funds, because they were given for doing research that was performed.”

    Stapel did fabricate data in order to get more public funds (research grants) which were then used to fabricate more data in order to get more public funds (research grants) which were then used to fabricate more data in order to get more public funds (research grants) which were then used to fabricate more data in order to get more public funds (research grants) and so on, and so on …..

    If this (i.e. repeated and continuous fabrication of data that is entirely false, and is used for getting more public funds) is not misuse of public funds, then I do not know what the misuse of public funds is?!?
    May be if Stapel did gamble (and lost) all the money in a casino? But then, following FIOD logic, one could argue that the money were given to the casino staff for performing their duties, and the casino did pay tax on the profits, which went into the public purse.

    Then, may I, please, get 2-3 million euro which will be used on research (I promise not to gamble the money) and at the end I’ll produce the necessary data which will ensure my next research grant, and so on?
    Is this is the moral of the story?

    • Average PI June 30, 2013 at 5:44 pm

      He made up data in his grant applications that got funded. That is theft.It’s really not different from paying with fake checks. Something does not add up here.

      • ferniglab July 2, 2013 at 6:22 pm

        Yes, it does look a bit like 1 + 1 = 3. Who can tell without being in FIOD. They may have made a simple calculation. Cost of grants awarded = X. Cost of court case = Y. Likelihood of recovering cash from Stapel = 0, because he is unlikely to be earning much. Cost of putting him in jail = Z.
        X, Y and Z are fairly large numbers, say in the millions. For Dutch society, he is effectively dealt with (no PhD, few prospects, but can still work and pay tax). Retribution (a more Anglo Saxon response) costs a lot and may cost even more in the long term if it causes problems for his kids. So they are probably right, as the Dutch do a fair number of things better than the rest of us, who manage to mess up – look at their recidivism figures.
        This doesn’t excuse the facts of the case or that he got away with it for so long, etc., etc.

        • puzzled monkey July 2, 2013 at 8:45 pm

          I agree with you: the Dutch treat criminals better than we do because they have figured out the real costs to society of locking somebody up for long periods of time. This is one of the excessive societal costs that we face in the USA that, in sum(the other excessive costs being medical costs and maintaining a huge army and thousands of nuclear weapons), hold us back from a better quality of life. My opinion. But then, I’m against capital punishment too, so I must be a real wimp. Remember, it costs much less to lock someone up for life than it does to execute him (or her.)

        • Average PI July 4, 2013 at 6:14 am

          That’s a good point. It also depends on base rates of cheating. If this relatively mild punishment encourages more frequent cheating in the future by other people, then the cost/benefit equation may change.

  • Mayo July 3, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    I discuss the Stapel case today on my blog, contrasting it to an apparently lesser (but rather different) case of “bad statistics” in the U.S.: http://errorstatistics.com/2013/07/03/philstatlaw-50-shades-of-gray-between-error-and-fraud/
    I’d be glad to have comments. Thanks for a great post, as usual.

  • lar November 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Journalist Frank van Kolfschoten reports today that Stapel was never entitled to the disability and illness benefits which Stapel as part of his settlement had declined to receive. Van Kolfschoten notes that Stapel’s employer had already terminated the benefits, because employees who are fired are not eligible, a point of law confirmed by a legal expert. Van Kolfschooten concludes that the prosecutor was hoodwinked.

    Original post in Dutch:
    http://frankvankolfschooten.nl/wordpress/?p=561

  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.