Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Retraction appears for social psychologist Jens Förster

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Jens Förster

A retraction has appeared for Jens Förster, the former University of Amsterdam social psychologist whose work has come under serious scrutiny by two official committees.

Here’s the notice for 2012’s “Sense Creative! The Impact of Global and Local Vision, Hearing, Touching, Tasting and Smelling on Creative and Analytic Thought,” a paper which first appeared in Social Psychological and Personality Science:

The editor of Social Psychological and Personality Science, along with the journal’s consortium of proprietor societies and its publisher, SAGE Publications, have retracted this article at the request of the Executive Board of the University of Amsterdam. The University has requested this retraction after conducting an inquiry into data irregularities contained in the article, and concluding that these irregularities represent a violation of academic integrity. The request from the University, signed by its Rector Magnificus, Prof D.C. van den Boom, states that “Scrutiny of the evidence by two committees on scientific integrity led to the conclusion that the data were manipulated: ‘the diversity found in the scores of the control group is so improbably small that this cannot be explained by sloppy science or questionable research practices; intervention must have taken place in the presentation of the results of the 19 experiments described in the 2012 article. Based on this and based also on the inadequate explanation regarding the data set and the original data, a violation of academic integrity can be said to have taken place.’”

In response to the journal’s request for information regarding the authors’ roles, lead author Jens Förster stated that “My co-author of the paper, Markus Denzler, has nothing to do with the data collection or the data analysis.”

The paper, which has been cited seven times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, was one of three identified in the original complaint that led to an investigation into Förster’s work. A University of Amsterdam committee concluded in 2013 that patterns in the three studies were “practically impossible,” and recommended expressions of concern. The Dutch Board of Scientific Integrity (LOWI) investigated the three papers, finding that the data in the 2012 study were manipulated and recommending retraction. Förster has challenged the committees’ findings repeatedly.

Here’s an update from the NRC newspaper last month (translated from Dutch):

Contrary to earlier statements, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) is going to investigate all publications by professor Jens Förster from the period 2007-2014. A statistician will investigate the data in all these articles for unlikely patterns, the UvA has confirmed to NRC Handelsblad. In April this year, the independent council for scientific fraud (LOWI) concluded that data from an article of Förster and his co-author Markus Denzler (both Germans) were manipulated. The UvA retracted that article. A committee at the UvA had judged the data in two additional articles to be “practically impossible” and advised the placement of an “Expression of concern” in the relevant journals.
The Executive Board first did not want a further investigation. However, this will now take place because several co-authors were uncertain about the “status” of their articles.

Förster now works at Ruhr University Bochum.

Written by Ivan Oransky

November 27th, 2014 at 8:30 am

  • genetics November 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Finally. And good to see the rest is also subject to investigation.

    Will be intersting to see how RUB reacts. His position there is one of the strangest things I have ever seen. The soc-psy homepage does not list Förster . But you can find him on the “generic” University-wide staff list: (drop-down list, För- second name).
    He is listed as giving 3 seminars and one lecture.

  • lar November 30, 2014 at 8:10 am

    His position there is one of the strangest things I have ever seen.

    My working theory is that the RUB’s strategy is simply one of postponement. But the current situation cannot last. They must either come out and deny that misconduct has happened, or side with the Dutch authorities.

  • Alexander Lerchl December 1, 2014 at 9:48 am

    This is an interesting retraction because the Journal refers to the University which, in turn, has based the verdict on statistical reasons: “the diversity found in the scores of the control group is so improbably small that this cannot be explained by sloppy science or questionable research practices”. No one was caught red-handed, there was no direct evidence for fraud, no smoking gun, no copy & paste issues.

  • Raphael Diepgen December 27, 2014 at 7:09 am

    I´m a psychologist and mathematician at the RUB´s faculty of psychology. I´ve lectured on statistics to the RUB´s psychology students for decades – but after I had informed my students about the statistical logic of the Jens Förster case the faculty finished my lectures immediately. Obviously the Jens Förster case is a taboo in Bochum. As much as I know Jens Förster doesn´t comment on the accusations of manipulation in his social psychology lectures here. And of course: No student asks him.

    • Michael Vliek January 15, 2015 at 6:13 pm

      What do you mean with ‘finished your lectures’?

      • Raphael Diepgen January 16, 2015 at 4:50 am

        My lecture on statistics was given to another lecturer.

  • lar January 2, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    There is now a response to the retraction on Förster’s blog:

    “One of my papers was retracted and as I said in my other blogs below, I left the decision to the editors. I accept the decision. I still do not think that data was manipulated, since I have neither reasons nor evidence to believe so. But these events have unforeseen dynamics and I understand this as an act of precaution that might have been necessary for a very young journal.”

    • Michael Vliek January 15, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      One sentence I can’t really get my head round is “Please note that the study itself was a replication of Friedman et al. 2003, so that all-in-all the theory predicting such effects is still intact.” How can a complete theory be intact on the bases of 1 viable and one unviable scientific manuscript?

      • lar January 18, 2015 at 9:04 pm

        Perhaps if you substitute “not disproved” for “intact”, you may arrive at his meaning.

        Still, if Förster had honestly reported all the study runs rather than just the ones that supported his hypothesis, he may well have provided a reliable disproof of Friedman et al.’s findings.

  • lar January 18, 2015 at 11:46 am

    A very interesting blog post has appeared, providing further statistical analysis on this case:

    “I found a plausible way in which QRPs could have produced linearity, and these new analyses still suggest that secretive and selective dropping of cases from the middle group could be used to show significant contrasts.”

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