Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Journals flag two papers by psychologist Jens Förster

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forster-j-a1Journals have flagged two papers by prominent social psychologist Jens Förster — whose work has been subject to much scrutiny — over concerns regarding the validity of the data. 

Förster already has three retractions, following an investigation by his former employer, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in the Netherlands. In 2014, we reported on the first retraction for Förster for one of three studies with odd patterns that were flagged by the UvA investigation, a 2012 paper in Social Psychological and Personality Science; subsequently, the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity concluded that data had been manipulatedThree statistical experts from the UvA then carried out a more in-depth analysis of 24 publications by Förster, and found eight to have “strong evidence for low scientific veracity.”

Last year, Förster agreed to retract two more papers as part of a deal with the German Society for Psychology (DGPs); those retractions appeared earlier this year. All three papers that Förster has lost until now are from the “strong evidence for low scientific veracity” category. Recently, two more of Förster’s papers from the same category were flagged with notices, but not retracted.

One “statement of institutional concern,” issued by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, reads:

Förster, J., Epstude, K., & Özelsel, A. (2009). Why love has wings and sex has not: how reminders of love and sex influence creative and analytic thinking. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1479-1491. (Original DOI: 10.1177/0146167209342755)

The University of Amsterdam requested that this article be retracted on the basis of a statistical concern with the veracity of the findings. When additional corroborating evidence can be found, the Society that owns the journal (the Society of Personality and Social Psychology) has taken that step in the past. However, when such corroborating evidence is unavailable, it is the policy of the Society to alert readers to the questions about the research contained in the articles and to direct them to (a) an explanation of those concerns, and (b) any response from the author(s) of the article if available, as deemed appropriate. Following are links to the University report that prompted the request for retraction (http://www.uva.nl/en/news-events/news/ uva-news/content/news/2015/07/update-articles-jens-forster-investigated.html) and to a response from the authors (http:// socolab.de/main.php?id=66).

The 2009 paper has been cited 25 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.

Editor Duane Wegener, from Ohio State University in Columbus, told us he forwarded UvA’s retraction request to a publications committee, which adjudicates such matters. He added:

They determined that it was most appropriate to publish a statement of concern along with links to both the university report and an author response rather than retracting the paper per se.

In August, The European Journal of Social Psychology issued a lengthy EOC for a 2010 paper by Förster, “How love and sex can influence recognition of faces and words: A processing model account,” which has been cited nine times.

Here’s an excerpt from the (paywalled) EOC:

In October 2015, we received a letter from the Rector Magnificus of the University of Amsterdam asking us to retract this article, following the conclusion of a report commissioned by the University that there was “strong statistical evidence for low veracity” of data presented therein…

It goes on:

After careful consideration of the evidence provided by the University of Amsterdam and by Dr. Förster and informed by the guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics (2009), we have concluded that we should alert readers to our concerns about the article but that there is not sufficient evidence at this time to warrant retraction.

The fate of both papers, which now have notices of concern, was first reported by ScienceInsider, which also noted that Förster won’t get tenure at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) in Germany; he joined RUB in 2014. We contacted RUB to confirm that information, but were told that it’s still pending procedure. A RUB spokesperson noted: 

The procedure will take its time and will last — at least — until next year.

Last year, Förster turned down a five-million euro professorship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Förster has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing online.  

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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