Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Psychologist Jens Forster settles case by agreeing to 2 retractions

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Jens Förster

Following questions about the veracity of multiple papers by his former employer, high-profile social psychologist Jens Förster has agreed to retract two papers as part of a deal with the German Society for Psychology (DGPs).

Last year, Förster had a paper retracted at the request of his former employer, the University of Amsterdam (UvA). In May, an investigation commissioned by UvA found that many of his experiments looked “too good to be true,” and eight papers showed strong signs of “low veracity.”

Just two of those papers are acknowledged in the settlement of a case by the DGPs against Förster, who currently works at Ruhr University Bochum. Here’s a translation of a notice from the DGPs from One Hour Translation:

In the Court of Honor suit with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Pscyhologie (DGPs) e.V. [German Society for Psychology, registered association] as complainant and Prof. Dr. Jens Förster as respondent, both parties reached a settlement on November 9, 2015 in an oral negotiation.

Accordingly, the Court of Honor suit of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Pscyhologie against Prof. Dr. Jens Förster has been discontinued. Prof. Förster undertakes to ensure the publishers of the Journal of Experimental Psychology will withdraw both of the following publications:

Förster, J. (2009). Relations between perceptual and conceptual scope: how global versus local processing fits a focus on similarity versus dissimilarity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138 (1), 88-111.Http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0014484

Förster, J. (2011). Local and global cross-modal influences between vision and hearing, tasting, smelling, or touching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140 (3), 364-389. Dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0023175

This settlement does not represent either an admission of fault by Prof. Förster nor an accusation of fault by the Court of Honor.

The 2009 paper has been cited 78 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge; the 2011 paper has been cited 16 times.

We’re not sure what this means for the other papers flagged by the UvA report. We’ve contacted the UvA to see if they have any reaction to the findings.

This summer, Förster posted a response to the UvA report on his website, in which he denied accusations of data fabrication:

I never manipulated data and never motivated my collaborators to do anything that is ethically questionable.

We have also reached out to DGPs and to Förster for more information; we’ll update this post with whatever else we learn.

In the meantime, we’ve also unearthed a correction for another paper of Förster’s in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, which was not flagged in the UvA report: “Seeing love, or seeing lust: How people interpret ambiguous romantic situations,” which has been cited five times. This correction was published last year:

Original text (Study 2, Results and discussion, p. 1018):

Participants for whom a high level of construal was activated thought the couple was in love (M = 4.58, SD = 1.68) than as a sexual encounter (M = 3.53, SD = 1.89), t(55) = 2.42,p = .02. However, participants for whom a low level of construal was activated the situation was perceived more in terms of sex (M = 3.30, SD = 1.20) than love (M = 4.16,SD = 1.71), t(55) = 1.94, p = .057.

Correct version:

Participants for whom a high level of construal was activated thought the couple was in love (M = 4.58, SD = 1.68) rather than having a sexual encounter (M = 3.53, SD = 1.89),t(55) = 2.42, p = .02. However, participants for whom a low level of construal was activated the situation was perceived more in terms of sex (M = 4.16, SD = 1.71) than love (M = 3.30, SD = 1.20), t(55) = 1.94, p = .057.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen 

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Comments
  • Betfried van Efget November 12, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    “However, participants for whom a low level of construal was activated the situation was perceived more in terms of sex (M = 4.16, SD = 1.71) than love (M = 3.30, SD = 1.20), t(55) = 1.94, p = .057”

    Will this finally leave any room for corrections?

    Is there any institution which is concerned about reporting errors?

    How is this compared to JF who said: I NEVER did any QRPs?

  • cvdolan November 13, 2015 at 3:54 am

    Some kind of horsetrade! But anyway, I assume that JF is now in secure employment. It would be great if he (and / or his loyal co-authors) now simply proved all his detractors wrong by replicating the 8 studies that have judged to have produced results of “low veracity”.

    • Gary November 13, 2015 at 7:27 am

      I think if he could even replicate 50% (4) and show that they gave the same results that would be sufficient to say his other works are ok….
      Personally if I had been so accused I would be striving to replicate at least one result (with a neutral observer) to show that I had not committed research conduct….

  • Klaas van Dijk November 13, 2015 at 8:28 am

    See also http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0132885 (”
    Does Global and Local Vision Have an Impact on Creative and Analytic Thought? Two Failed Replications”), published October 15, 2015.

  • conor dolan November 13, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    I agree with Gary, and I sincerely hope that JF and his co-authors take this opportunity to demonstrate that they can replicate their results. I cannot imagine that one would not grab this opportunity. This would service two important aims: 1) clear JF and provide closure for all concerned; 2) establish JF’s results as correct and therefore a solid contribution to the field. In addition, it would be, it in own right, a huge scientific contribution to fraud detection methodology, providing in one sweep strong, objective justification for all doubts and misgivings expressed so far concerning the methods used.

    Concerning how many studies be replicated: it should not be too difficult to determine how close replication should be in explicit statistical terms. That should not be an obstacle.

    Concerning replications by others: it would be better, especially in this high stakes situation, that the original scientists replicated. This would remove any doubts concerning the accuracy of replication.

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