Science expresses “concern” about Stapel paper

A day after Tilburg University released its preliminary report on psychologist Diederik Stapel, Science has issued an “expression of concern” about one of his papers.

The 2011 article, titled  “Coping with Chaos: How Disordered Contexts Promote Stereotyping and Discrimination,” was written by Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg, a Tilburg colleague with an appointment at the University of Groningen.

Here’s the notice, signed by Science editor Bruce Alberts:

The Report “Coping with chaos: How disordered contexts promote stereotyping and discrimination” by D. A. Stapel and S. Lindenberg (1) reported the effects of the physical environment on human stereotyping and discriminatory behavior. On 31 October 2011, Tilburg University held a press conference to announce interim findings of its investigation into possible data fraud in the body of work published by Stapel. The official report in Dutch (translated into English using Google software) indicates that the extent of the fraud by Stapel is substantial. Pending further details of the Tilburg Committee’s findings, Science is publishing this Editorial Expression of Concern to alert our readers that serious concerns have been raised about the validity of the findings in this Report.

The Science paper was cited once, by the authors of “Use of Priming-Based Interventions to Facilitate Psychological Health,” which appeared in September in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Update, 5:30 p.m. Eastern, 11/1/11: Why an expression of concern and not a retraction? Monica M. Bradford, executive editor of Science, told us that the journal

[has] not received official notification from the investigation committee that the Science paper is fraudulent so an Editorial Expression of Concern is an appropriate step at this time.

An article on ScienceInsider Monday quoted a statement by Stapel saying that he had “failed as a scientist.”

0 thoughts on “Science expresses “concern” about Stapel paper”

  1. Google translate –

    You read the personal reaction of Professor Stack below.

    October 31, 2011

    In recent weeks I’ve been thinking whether I should respond and, if so, what I have to say. It’s hard to find the right words. The committee has spoken. And now I have and I want to say something, how impossible it is right to say.

    I have failed as a scientist, as a researcher. I’ve updated research and studies feigned. Not once but several times, and not equally, but over a longer time. I realize that through this conduct my immediate colleagues in dismay and anger and I left my field, social psychology, have put in a bad light. I feel ashamed for it and I have great regret.

    Science is about people, it’s teamwork. I have in recent years enjoyed working with many talented, highly motivated colleagues. I committed them to emphasize that I never have been aware of my inappropriate behavior. I offer my colleagues, my doctoral students and the entire academic community, my sincere apologies. I am aware of the suffering and the grief I have caused them.

    Social psychology is a big, interesting, beautiful and strong discipline, provides unique insights into human behavior and therefore still a lot of attention. I made the mistake that I see the truth in my hand I want to put the world and just wanted to make something more beautiful than it is. I have used improper means to the results attractive. In modern science is the ambition level is high and the competition for scarce resources is enormous. In recent years, these pressures become too much for me. I have the pressure to score, to publish, the pressure to always be better, not have faced. I wanted too much too soon. In a system where there is little control, where people often work alone, I am wrong repulsed. I would stress that the mistakes I’ve made, not born of self-interest.

    I realize that there are many questions. My current state constitution does not permit me to answer. I will still have to dig deep to find out why all this happened, what has moved me to do so. I need help I have now also been given.

    Here I want to leave right now.

    Diederik A. Stack

  2. When he says that he did not do it out of self-interest, what does he really mean? Being seen as a star in your field and treated accordingly does not constitute self-interest? I suspect he did not refuse the paid trips to many locations and honoraria to give keynote addresses and all that. It looks like self-interest was at least one component to me!

    1. @Joseph Lakatos: You raise an interesting and critical point. Stapel seems to be giving two reasons why his actions are not “born of self interest.” They are related:

      1. In ¶3 he says, in effect, that his science is a community. He wanted to fit in and advance the interests of that community. In the second half of ¶4 he says that the nature of that community put pressure on him and tempted him to do wrong.
      2. In the first half of ¶4, he says he wanted to improve the world by stating things his community knows to be “the truth” and “beautiful,” without regard to evidence.

      Perhaps all that is just more lies. My suspicion is that it’s all true. That is, social psych really *is* a strongly coherent little community with a fairly homogeneous non-scientific belief system, internally policed by a non-scientific system of incentives and customs.

      Science is usually self-correcting, but scientific institutions are no more self-correcting than any other institutions. The Stapel matter is a rather convincing demonstration that we’re dealing with an institutional failure.

  3. Well said.

    The same in Brazil with many universities, like UNESP Rio Claro. The only solution being a complete institutional reformulation, which can only be preceded by 100% sane psychoanalysis of the problems involved. This is obviously a bit far-fetched, especially when you know what the situation is within the departments and their heads.

  4. Now Erasmus University Rotterdam has sacked cardio-vascular medicine Professor Don Poldermans for scientific misconduct and bringing the institution into disrepute. According to Elsevie, an investigation committee brought the fraud to light. It found that Poldermans had taken blood samples and heart echoes from patients without their permisssion and has reported results which cannot be traced to any patient.

  5. Stapel’s co-author Roos Vonk has been reproached by the Nijmegen University because of “careless professional actions”. However, the report on which they base this decision remains confidential. The students of the university are now demanding this to be made public, in order to help restore scientific integrity. Students unmasked Stapel, and now they again show great initiative.

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