“Blameworthy inaccuracies:” Dirk Smeesters up to six retractions

smeestersDirk Smeesters, the former Erasmus University psychology researcher found to have committed misconduct, is up to half a dozen retractions.

Both notices, in the Journal of Consumer Research, where Smeesters has already had one retraction, are paywalled. Here’s one, for a paper cited seven times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge:

It has come to our attention that the article “Reminders of Money Elicit Feelings of Threat and Reactance in Response to Social Influence,” by Jia (Elke) Liu, Dirk Smeesters, and Kathleen D. Vohs, which appeared in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research (vol. 38, no. 6), was found to involve blameworthy inaccuracies in the way the research was carried out by Dirk Smeesters but not by the coauthors of the work. The EUR Inquiry Committee on Scientific Integrity (CWI) commissioned by the Board of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) has made this determination. We are therefore informing our readers that this article has been retracted. We apologize for any problems that the publication of this article may have caused.

And here’s the other, for a paper cited 25 times:

It has come to our attention that the article “The Effects of Thin and Heavy Media Images on Overweight and Underweight Consumers: Social Comparison Processes and Behavioral Implications,” by Dirk Smeesters, Thomas Mussweiler, and Naomi Mandel, which appeared in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research (vol. 36, no. 6), was found to involve blameworthy inaccuracies in the way the research was carried out by Dirk Smeesters but not by the coauthors of the work. The EUR Inquiry Committee on Scientific Integrity (CWI) commissioned by the Board of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) has made this determination. We are therefore informing our readers that this article has been retracted. We apologize for any problems that the publication of this article may have caused.

There should be one more retraction coming, as the university investigators recommended seven.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

8 thoughts on ““Blameworthy inaccuracies:” Dirk Smeesters up to six retractions”

    1. Neuroskeptic, please be aware that all Dutch universities have a list of 8 different items which can be used to conclude that a researcher, in this case Dirk Smeesters, has committed scientific misconduct. See appendix 1 (page 6 and 7) at http://www.uu.nl/SiteCollectionDocuments/Corp_UU%20en%20Nieuws/Klachtenregeling%20WI%201%20september%202012_EN%20def.pdf for the complete list (UU = Utrecht University).
      “The universities categorically reject, actively resist, and will punish with the means available to them the following conduct. Violations of academic integrity are understood to include: (…).
      7. culpable carelessness in carrying out the research. It can be labelled as misconduct only when the researcher goes further than error and sloppiness and does not modify his procedure after serious and well-founded criticism. A CWI can investigate whether this is the case.” CWI = Committee to investigate the scientific integrity.
      Page 4/5 of the final report of Smeesters list the same 8 items, see page4/5 at http://www.eur.nl/fileadmin/ASSETS/press/2014/maart/Report_Smeesters_follow-up_investigation_committee.final.pdf . The problems with both retracted papers can also be found in this report.

      1. I read the Smeesters report and to me it leaves the question unanswered whether this is indeed “culpable carelessness” or mere sloppiness. At no point does the report say anything about whether or not the author refused to “modify his procedure after serious and well-founded criticism” (as the definition quoted above implies). To me this makes the conclusion of the report highly questionable.

        1. Dear Guido, please read carefully the footnote on page 26 at http://retractionwatch.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/attachments-mentioned-in-the-text.pdf

          This footnote is the last part of the report of the Committee of scientific integrity of Utrecht University in the case against Pankaj Dhonukshe (et al). The Committee (and also the Board of UU in their preliminary decision) concluded that Pankaj Dhonukshe was found guilty in regard to “culpable carelessness in carrying out research”. The footnote explains that this was not judged as scientific misconduct because Pankaj Dhonukshe had reacted immediately after it was told to him that there were problems with certain parts in a paper (eg, Pankaj reported immediately to the editors of Nature that there might be problems with certain parts of a paper in Nature, this e-mail is also found in the link). Any idea if Smeesters reacted in such a way?

          Besides that, the report on Smeesters (pag 9) lists alot of other small errors / mistakes in various papers as well.

          On top of that, all raw data for all papers were lacking and for many papers even the processing data were lacking. Please notice that Jens Förster was punished by LOWI because he had thrown away raw data before the findings were published. The Netherlands Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice states:

          “Principle III. Verifiability. Presented information is verifiable. Whenever research results are publicized, it is made clear what the data and the conclusions are based on, where they were derived from and how they can be verified.

          III.2 The quality of data collection, data input, data storage and data processing is guarded closely. All steps taken must be properly reported and their execution must be properly monitored (lab journals, progress reports, documentation of arrangements and decisions, etc.).
          III.3 Raw research data are stored for at least five years.”

          See http://www.vsnu.nl/files/documenten/Domeinen/Onderzoek/The_Netherlands_Code_of_Conduct_for_Scientific_Practice_2012.pdf

          Please compare these ‘best practices’ with the findings in the Smeesters’ report (eg, at page 9). Please remember that also Jens Förster could not remember anymore for a variety of his experiments when and where they had been conducted.

          1. Thanks, Klaas! I don’t know if Smeesters responded to the accusations of carelessness, but I think it is clear that the *initial* accusations (made by Simonsohn) did not concern careless data handling but actually *faking* data, and were purely based on statistical evidence very similar to that raised against Förster (i.e., that the results were statistically speaking ‘too good to be true’). In fact, in his paper Simonsohn explicitly argues that (random) errors in data handling could *not* explain the statistical anomalies that he observed, but would rather have the opposite effect. This is different from the Dhonukshe case, where the initial accusations seemed to be based on errors in the actual data (evidence of image manipulation). So I wonder whether the accusation of carelessness was even raised to Smeesters before the publication of this report. I do agree that, judging from the report, there seemed to be “extreme sloppiness” in Smeesters’ data. However, if he did not have a chance to respond to these accusations, it seems to me that the conclusion that his sloppiness implies scientific misconduct is unfounded.

          2. Guido, you are right that the initial accusations against Smeesters were different, see http://www.eur.nl/fileadmin/ASSETS/press/2012/Juli/report_Committee_for_inquiry_prof._Smeesters.publicversion.28_6_2012.pdf Please not that Smeesters himself admitted to have manipulated data and that Smeesters himself concluded to resign from his position at Erasmus University. I tend to think that Smeesters accepted the findings of Erasmus University and that Smeesters did not file an appeal at LOWI.

            I tend to think that “culpable carelessness in carrying out research” is a broad term which can be used for many cases in which it is not clear if indeed data manipulation took place. I even tend to think that ‘data manipulation’ could be seen as “culpable carelessness in carrying out research”. Page 5 of the second report states that Smeesters (and also all co-authors) got the opportunity to respond to the conclusions of the second report.

            Please note that the second investigation was conducted because people had raised concerns about the validity of the findings in other papers of Smeesters. Besides that, this investigation was not focused on Smeesters (who was not working anymore at Erasmus) but on the scientific integrity of 22 papers (by Smeesters) with an Erasmus affiliation.

            Please note that Jens Förster was also found guilty by LOWI because he had thrown away raw data and large parts of the processed data. This was also the case with Smeesters. In both cases, there is no need to sort out both options (real raw data and real processed data have been thrown away / real raw data and real processed data have been fabricated). Dutch researchers need to store all these stuff. Period.

            You are right that there is a vague line between ‘small errors’ and “culpable carelessness in carrying out research”. Towards my opinion, the second report provides a lot of examples of large errors. What’s your opinion?

            “Culpable carelessness in carrying out research can be labelled as misconduct only when the researcher goes further than error and sloppiness and does not modify his procedure after serious and well-founded criticism.”

            * throwing away raw data as well as large parts of processed data is irreversible. It is tough / impossible to replicate a study when the protocol / processed data are absent.
            * immediately retracting a paper when you are unable to correct (large) (honest) mistakes is good practice and will not be seen as “culpable carelessness”. Has Smeesters send such requests?

          3. Thanks, Klaas! These are good points. I completely agree that the errors pointed out in the report are not small. And indeed, it seems that Smeesters himself did not take action to correct these errors, as apparently it was the *university* who requested all the retractions (which in itself seems rather unusual).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.