Retraction Watch

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Beleaguered Förster turns down prestigious professorship, citing personal toll

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forster-j-a1

Jens Förster

Jens Förster, a social scientist accused of research misconduct, has turned down a highly coveted — and well-endowed — professorship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Foster explained his decision to decline the 5 million Euro award in a post on his personal website:

Some time ago, I decided to return the Alexander von Humboldt-Professorship, for which I had been selected 1 year ago to the Alexander-von-Humboldt-Stiftung.

The decision I made in a rather relaxed situation. I hope that nobody thinks anymore that I did something unethical and I would urge those who still have doubts to read the recent excellent alternative explanations for my results under discussion, proving that such results patterns can be obtained by methods that are not problematic. More statistical analyses will follow.

Still, I am afraid that the conflict with the University of Amsterdam will furthermore cost a lot of energy. Surprisingly, I manage to cope with the enormous work load based on the constant and unfair attacks quite well – despite the assaults I finished my book, I set up an innovative teaching program, and I accepted more invitations for talks, books, articles, and reviews than ever. Indeed, I master all this.

However, given such situation, the organization of a 5-Million-project including 50 co workers is impossible. I am also afraid that my life rhythm will further depend on the UvA. Over the last 3 years letters by Dutch ethics commissions arrived 24th of December, on my birthday and shortly before Easter holidays…. I think that I will continue spending my holidays writing letters. I made peace with this idea that I will continue being the most interesting research project of Dutch statisticians. I got used to this. I will of course answer their questions thoughtfully and in detail. I will survive it.

Förster, now at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, has been the subject of two inquiries, and a recent retraction in Social Psychology and Personality Science. He has denied charges that he manipulated his data.

In his letter Förster claims to have had a Road to Damascus moment while standing recently on the top of a mountain:

But here comes the point: I do not want this anymore. Not at any price.

During my work on my new research project on “what having does to being” I changed my approach to life completely. I do not further want to chase after publications as was the rule elsewhere. I rather want to create theories from the breadth of my knowledge. I want to dig deeper.. I would like to inspire others with my work, and would rather like to do all the things that I am really interested in. More than other disciplines, social psychology creates ground breaking theories. This needs time, communication with others, it affords risk taking in thinking beyond trends and pragmatic considerations.

I will spend the rest of my life on BEING rather than on HAVING.

Thus, I will leave the materialistic and soulless production approach in science. And I want to say  “Adieu” to 10 cruel years, in which my life was almost completely determined by others. I am going my own way now.

I feel very honored that I got into the reach of this award. I would like to thank the people of AvH for their constant and appreciative support and guidance through difficult times. I also want to thank all friends and colleagues who supported me in my work.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

Written by amarcus41

April 20th, 2015 at 11:07 am

Comments
  • Neuroskeptic April 20, 2015 at 11:51 am

    “I would urge those who still have doubts to read the recent excellent alternative explanations for my results under discussion, proving that such results patterns can be obtained by methods that are not problematic. More statistical analyses will follow.”

    I’m not aware that this has been shown. The only thing I can think of is that he is referring to the work of the blog Replication Index? But even that blogger later wrote that

    “I now agree with the conclusion of the LOWI commission that the data cannot be explained by using QRPs, mainly because Dr. Förster denies having used any plausible QRPs that could have produced his results.”

    It’s also worth noting that the Replication Index analysis showed that Forster’s results could be obtained if Forster had been systematically dropping data points in order to make the data fit the hypothesis. Hardly ‘not problematic’.

  • Being Jens Förster April 20, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Even if being a great scientist is way beyond him, a great entertainer he is. Now that he has been stripped of the science superstar aura, with his scientific achievements in ruins and the alleged breakthrough findings having evaporated, he declares with great fanfare that from now on he is going to spend the rest of his life on BEING rather than on HAVING. Great plan if your “HAVING” approaches zero in terms of science! But why this “BEING” then entails a professorship with regular income and pensions remains unclear to me, particularly since he now vows to no longer produce anything tangible (probably a very wise decision) but spent his days in Bochum and vicinity musing on theories.
    PS: Out of curiosity, did the AvH selection committee happen to meet recently?

  • Hellson April 20, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    They were scheduled for April
    http://www.humboldt-professur.de/en/nachrichten/bekanntgabe-der-entscheidung-ueber-die-humboldt-professur

    The language in this news item from today is a bit ambiguous:
    http://www.humboldt-professur.de/en/nachrichten/sozialpsychologe-jens-foerster-verzichtet-auf-alexander-von-humboldt-professur

    The way I read it, the selection committee has indeed come to a decision, but will not communicate it to the executive board (who would have made its own decision public) now that Förster renounced the grant.

  • The Cat April 20, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    No, the AvH selection committee has announced on its website (in German) that the meeting during which a definitive decision would be taken has been cancelled now that JF has turned down the grant. It is very well possible that the has turned it down to avoid the meeting from taking place, but as we cannot look into his head (gosh, how interesting that would be!) we will never know.

    • Hellson April 20, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      So, evidently, the news item is quite ambiguous. I am not sure what exactly happened. It could be that the selection committee has cancelled their own meeting, or the one with the executive board. I am not sure we will ever know.

  • mahakala April 20, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Of course he can say goodbye to publish-or-perish and focus on “being” rather than “having”, now that he has a nice tenured position, while other researchers struggle on the job market. Good for you.

    Editor’s note: Please see response to this comment, which notes an error.

  • André van Delft April 20, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Förster was until a few years back successful. He received the Heisenberg Stipend and then he was awarded the Alexander von Humboldt-Professorship.
    But he was not so great after all. How could he have risen this far? There must be something structurally wrong in his field.

    The names Heisenberg and Von Humboldt had been hijacked. Please don’t let that ever happen again. Awards named after hard scientists should never more be given to social scientists.

    • CVDolan April 21, 2015 at 4:54 am

      Generalizing from JF to “his field” is rash. But if you insist, then, judging by the many entries here (RW), there must be “something structurally wrong” in many fields.

      • André van Delft April 22, 2015 at 6:04 am

        I did not intend to generalize from JF to his field, in the sense that I would not say that his field is full of QRP and fraud. The problem that I see with the field is that JF had risen so far. By what standard did he seem to deserve an award named after Heisenberg? Did appear to be a genius? Did he ever conduct an experiment that even on the surface looked great? I mean great like the Michelson and Morley experiment was, to name one.

        If there were nothing wrong with JF’s data, would his research have brought some real progress to mankind? Conversely, did the data fabrication cause any real harm? E.g., has anyone’s health suffer because of this?

        JF did not fall because his data had been fabricated, but because his data had been badly fabricated.
        If the data had been more carefully fabricated, who would have found out?

        QRP and frauds are to some extend inevitable. They occur also in other fields. But in the hard sciences most research has more relevance, if only for “the pleasure of finding things out”; for getting strong knowledge. Such research is replicated, and this way most QRP and frauds will eventually be detected.

        • Hellson April 22, 2015 at 11:56 am

          Then maybe instead of denying social scientist such prizes, award them to those that vigorously promote those standards from the hard sciences?

          • André van Delft April 22, 2015 at 7:25 pm

            I think that would not improve things; such standards may never have been achieved in social sciences, and they may even not be achievable. Maybe there is already too much focus on quantitative research at the expense of qualitative research.

            Richard Feynman: “Because of the success of science, there is a kind of a pseudo-science. Social science is an example of a science which is not a science. They follow the forms. You gather data, you do so and so and so forth, but they don’t get any laws, they haven’t found out anything. They haven’t got anywhere – yet. Maybe someday they will, but it’s not very well developed.”
            https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141018100736-1088431-richard-feynman-on-the-social-sciences

            The first two sentences of this quote, if true, also explain why social scientists would like to receive awards that are named after hard scientists. It would in my opinion be fair that they don’t get any more such awards, until outstanding hard scientists would like to receive awards named after social scientists. I don’t see that happening this century.

            BTW Perhaps wrongly, I do not count psychology as a social science, except for social psychology.

    • Neuroskeptic April 21, 2015 at 5:34 am

      Unfortunately, scandal can happen in all fields, even Heisenberg’s. Remember Jan Hendrik Schön?

  • Kurt April 21, 2015 at 1:57 am

    The Humboldt foundation suspended its funding decision in September 2014 until “… the facts have been clarified and its Selection Committee has deliberated.
    The evaluation is still ongoing and, in light of the complexity of the case and its importance for all parties involved, particularly for Professor Förster, is being conducted with the utmost care. Consequently, in order to be able to take all relevant facts into account, the Humboldt Foundation will wait for, among other things, the outcome of validation tests which are currently being conducted in several countries, the results of which should be available by the end of the year.”
    http://www.humboldt-professur.de/en/nachrichten/entscheidung-ueber-zuerkennung-der-humboldt-professur-an-jens-foerster-wird-im-april-2015-getroffen

    Now, for me one important question that remains is the outcome of these validation tests. Will the public ever be informed about these tests? Was Förster informed about the outcome?

  • The Cat April 21, 2015 at 4:31 am

    Now here is a truly scientific approach…. Generalizing from one case to not just a discipline (psychology) but a whole group of disciplines (social sciences)! If no prizes should be given to researchers in fields where cases of fraud have been exposed, moreover, I suggest we abolish all awards (including the Noble Prize).

  • André van Delft April 22, 2015 at 6:07 am

    Maybe I was unclear. I really don’t mind prizes for researchers in “fields where cases of fraud have been exposed”. I would not object to the Durkheim prize for a sociologist.
    Richard Feynman said: “Social science is an example of a science which is not a science.”. Maybe he exaggerated. But it is a different league, and IMO not worthy to receive a Heisenberg prize. The names of real great scientists should not be devaluated that way.

    • The Cat April 22, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      Well, that makes your view even more problematic…. but don’t worry, I am just one of those practitioners of a science so inferior that it is not really a science. So you really do not need any to attach any value to my opinion. And fortunately, I have never received a scientific prize so the names of the real great scientists will be be besmirched by me.

    • Arie Dijkstra May 3, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      Yes, reality becomes very clear with such simplistic conceptualizations of science. Citing the early scientists does not help; too much has happened since then.

  • tekija April 22, 2015 at 11:08 am

    “Die Humboldt-Stiftung erklärt, keine weiteren Kommentare zu dem Fall abzugeben. Einen Nachrücker für den Preis gebe es nicht. ”

    http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/millionenpreis-ausgeschlagen-jens-foerster-verzichtet-auf-humboldt-professur/11673422.html

  • Hellson April 23, 2015 at 7:06 am

    André van Delft
    I think that would not improve things; such standards may never have been achieved in social sciences, and they may even not be achievable. Maybe there is already too much focus on quantitative research at the expense of qualitative research.Richard Feynman: “Because of the success of science, there is a kind of a pseudo-science. Social science is an example of a science which is not a science. They follow the forms. You gather data, you do so and so and so forth, but they don’t get any laws, they haven’t found out anything. They haven’t got anywhere – yet. Maybe someday they will, but it’s not very well developed.” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141018100736-1088431-richard-feynman-on-the-social-sciencesThe first two sentences of this quote, if true, also explain why social scientists would like to receive awards that are named after hard scientists. It would in my opinion be fair that they don’t get any more such awards, until outstanding hard scientists would like to receive awards named after social scientists. I don’t see that happening this century.BTW Perhaps wrongly, I do not count psychology as a social science, except for social psychology.

    Just so I understand you correctly: 1) You don’t consider psychology a social science, thereby actually counting it as a science? 2) You count social psychology to the social sciences, and thereby adding it to the group of sciences that are not a science? 🙂

  • Diciplinary procedures April 29, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Important development in the Foerster case. Ruhr University, where he is employed, started disciplinary procedures due to “reputational damage”. Please note that it is not the University that has been damaged, but Jens Foerster! Namely at the hands of a critical colleague at Ruhr University, who dared to criticise Foerster’s work. This unbelievable twist from the country that once boasted the world’s finest University’s (admittedly, Bochum was never among them) has been reported by Spiegel magazine. No wonder Foerster just loves that place.

    http://www.spiegel.de/unispiegel/studium/ruhr-uni-bochum-bootet-statistik-dozenten-aus-a-1030937.html#js-article-comments-box-pager

    • zwg April 29, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      Can Diepgen’s text, which appears to be the basis of the procedures, be found somewhere online?

  • André van Delft April 29, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    The Ruhr-Uni goes after the wrong guy.

    Diepgen wrote last November at RW about the disciplinary measures against him:
    (…) after I had informed my students about the statistical logic of the Jens Förster case the faculty finished my lectures immediately (…)
    http://retractionwatch.com/2014/11/27/retraction-appears-for-social-psychologist-jens-forster/#comment-217534

    Silvia Schneider, faculty dean, denies any relationship between Diepgen’s criticisms and the termination of his lectures, which would have been a normal restructuring.
    At least, that is written here: http://www.derwesten.de/politik/starforscher-soll-daten-manipuliert-haben-id10620839.html

    Three fine blog posts at the University of Heidelberg, with in total 2 comments by Diepgen:
    http://f20.blog.uni-heidelberg.de/2014/05/09/integre-wissenschaft/
    http://f20.blog.uni-heidelberg.de/2014/09/19/neuigkeiten-im-fall-jens-forster/
    http://f20.blog.uni-heidelberg.de/2015/04/20/neues-von-jens-forster-teil-3/

    I look forward to Diepgen’s and Schneider’s comments here.

  • Raphael Diepgen May 8, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Of course the sudden termination of the lectures – after 90 lectures in 30 years (!) – would be no “normal restructuring”. Besides this: The disciplinary measures are not denied. Obviously spiegelonline has the relevant documents. The incriminated (slightly ironical, although in German:-) texts for my students are available on

    https://moodle.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/course/view.php?id=1683

    (guest key: “pewert”) under the label “´tschuldigung”.

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