“Fraud committed by any social psychologist diminishes all social psychologists”: New Sanna, Smeesters retractions

jespThree new retractions — two of papers by Lawrence Sanna and one of work by Dirk Smeesters —  have appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The retractions come along with a hard-hitting piece by the journal’s editor.

In a tough soul-searching editorial called “On Fraud, Deceit, and Ethics” (unfortunately only available behind a paywall), journal editor in chief Joel Cooper writes that “Fraud committed by any social psychologist diminishes all social psychologists.” He continues:

The overwhelming preponderance of investigations in our field is impeccably honest and fastidious. It is the way we were trained and the way we train our students. We cut our metaphorical teeth on being creative with ideas but respecting what our data tell us about those ideas. We trust each other to act with respect to the data we collect and to the analyses we perform.

On rare occasion, that trust is betrayed. No one can get into the minds of those who act unscrupulously. Perhaps it is self-aggrandizement, self-promotion or self-delusion that motivates some to betray our trust. Like other major journals in our field, JESP has been betrayed.

The Sanna retractions are for “Rising up to higher virtues: Experiencing elevated physical height uplifts prosocial actions,” published in 2010 and cited 4 times since, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, and “Think and act globally, think and act locally: Cooperation depends on matching construal to action levels in social dilemmas,” also originally published in 2010 and cited 6 times.

Sanna resigned from his post at the University of Michigan in May of last year. These are his sixth and seventh retractions, by our count.

The Smeesters retraction is of “The effect of color (red versus blue) on assimilation versus contrast in prime-to-behavior effects,” published in 2011 and cited just once, by a Nature profile of Uri Simonsohn, the social psychologist who investigated the work of both researchers.

Smeesters resigned his Erasmus professorship last July. This is his fourth retraction.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

33 thoughts on ““Fraud committed by any social psychologist diminishes all social psychologists”: New Sanna, Smeesters retractions”

    1. Social psychology in not supposed to make you able to read minds.
      That’s neuroscience, right? 😉
      You have a lot of literature about fraudulent behavior, cheating and moral judgment and decision-making, but none of this research can help get into the mind of a specific person.

  1. The problem here is that nobody knows for sure how many of the papers published in JESP contain fabricated data. The editor cannot know for sure either. Before they were caught, these two people probably looked solid and people trusted their work. Certainly, there are a LOT of social psychology findings of this kind (like washing your hands vs not affects moral cognition). Many of them probably will not replicate. How many are due to fabrication?

    1. Agreed. This may be the case in other fields as well and not only restricted to social psychology. Unless they are uncovered by readers, they stay as they are.

  2. Great points, Neuroskeptic! Uri Simonsohn definitely should be applauded in any discussion of this matter…

  3. Maybe the editorial thanks Simonsohn, but it is only visible for those who pay to pass the wall.
    It is Simonsohn who deserves payment, and the editor should thank him publicly, visible for anyone; not behind a paywall.

  4. @RealScience: Indeed nobody knows what papers in JESP contain fabricated data. At least many people know now that they don’t know; this is an improvement over the previous situation when they thought the papers were all OK.

    And this holds for a few other journals as well. Last November I pointed here at the journal Psychological Science, which is shamelessly publishing the pathetic Lewandowsky paper about climate change skeptics: http://joannenova.com.au/tag/lewandowsky-stephan/

    Today I requested the editors of Psychology, Crime and Law to retract an ridiculous paper: http://www.keizersenkleren.nl/?p=276. What a mess.

    It is high time for the social psychologists to clean up their own field. But they do not seem to be enthusiastic: http://www.dub.uu.nl/artikel/opinie/belediging-voor-sociale-psychologie.html

      1. I am fine, thanks. The climate change paper is totally wrong. Most people don’t seem to care; I think they should. We are talking about science, not about a silly political game. I mirror your question.

    1. It’s wrong because it’s wrong, or it’s wrong because you’re a denier and the author said mean things about your absolutely insane rejections of all scientific evidence on the topic of climate change?

      1. ‘A denier’ failuretoreplicant?

        Of what? Fraudulent science – certainly not, it is real!

        Of the science truth, certainly not, it is also real.

        We can discuss all data openly and honestly, but we MUST NOT label people on either side as ‘deniers’ or ‘believers’

        As you mentioned ‘denier’, you are not a scientist.

        It is not scientific.

        It is belief.

  5. Its a silly paper, but its only in the Journal for Psychological Science or something equally trivial.

    Its a nice shiny toy that keeps academics that don’t have a useful research interest busy and not down at the mall smoking cigarettes or hassling old ladies.

      1. Instead of talking about ‘deniers’, why dont you talk about the science?

        Remember, it was never called ‘climate chage’ it was called ‘global warming’

        …until a few questions were asked…..

        Now then, after all the rusbbish, the ‘believers’ changed its name to ‘climate change’

        So – which is it – climate change or global warming?

        Quote “Is the climate changing? Of course. The climate always has changed and always will”
        Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/markhendrickson/2012/09/16/climate-change-hoax-or-crime-of-the-century/

      2. “Understanding why people don’t accept climate change”
        Possibly, but that is not what he is was trying to do, he was trying to link people who deny climate change to conspiracy theory believers.
        Some people with conspiracy ideation believe in climate change and some reject climate change, but the vast majority of people who reject climate change are not conspiracy theorists.

        1. But do you have any data that supports this affirmation “… but the vast majority of people who reject climate change are not conspiracy theorists.”
          I’m not saying they are, but I would like to know how are you so sure that they aren’t.

  6. well they say they aren’t. Who am I to doubt them?

    I am not saying it wouldn’t be possible to do a study on the various flavors of climate change denial and various world views that go into them. But the author of this paper is a very strange, bitter man and was not ever intending to do a proper study.

    1. Beyond the fact that your doing an ad hominen attack, can you explain how would you implement such a study? I’m curious about the differences betwen your study and his.

      1. Yes I could, but it is not something that particularly interests me. If you read the various posts on Climate Audit they have a range of useful suggestions. One that I recall involved the use of idiot bait questions – there were indications that some people (only a few, but since not very conspiracy theorists actually answered enough to be concerning) were just picking the stupidest answers possible – so a survey should have included a question like “I believe there are pixies living in the bottom of my garden.” hopefully to try and weed out the obvious fake responses. But I would recommend going through the length discussions on Climate Audit to pick up some helpful tips about how to run a better survey.

        I have had some experience with him – he writes a lot for Australia media – mostly internet media. He comes across as very strange and unhappy. Its not an ad-hominem, or not meant to be, just a genuine impression.
        It would be a worthwhile study – well maybe – but needs to be done by someone who doesn’t feel so passionate about the underlying issue. And maybe a little less downright weird.

    2. The paper by Lewandowsky, Oberauer and Gignac does not claim that “deniers” are for the most part conspiracy thinkers.

      It does show that those in our society that are prone to believing in various conspiracy theories involving government agencies are also more prone to reject the findings of climate science. I wonder why that finding surprised anyone?

      Also, there appear to be three authors on the paper. Are you saying all three colluded?

      1. “It does show that those in our society that are prone to believing in various conspiracy theories involving government agencies are also more prone to reject the findings of climate science.”
        In order to show that they would have had to taken their survey to conspiracy blogs and forums and not to climate change endorsing blogs.
        People who believe in conspiracies are not all one flavor. People who believe anti-banking, Sandy Hook was a false flag operation to take away our guns conspiracies are probably going to deny climate change. People who believe fluoride makes us docile, George Bush did 9/11 anti-capitalist conspiracies are probably more likely to endorse climate climate change. Some people probably just endorse every single conspiracy theory either because they make money from it or they are mentally ill or all kinds of reasons – such people are probably capable of simultaneously believing Big Oil is trying to destroy the planet and climate change is a hoax. Aside from the fact that some people have disordered thinking, what does this really tell us about the motivations of the majority of people who reject the IPCC modelling?

        If you are really interested in this silly paper, then I suggest you read the Climate Audit posts tagged with Lewandowsky, for example:

        “Only two conspiracies had over 250 agree-responses: JFK and Oklahoma, the two conspiracies that, by Lewandowsky’s Moon Landing metric, are perhaps relatively “reasonable”. (Lewandowsky withheld results from the Iraq WMD question.) The differentiation between warmist and skeptic responses was more distinct in the wacko conspiracies with very small counts. In conspiracies with larger counts, the difference was much reduced, with the Oklahoma conspiracy actually accepted by a somewhat higher proportion of warmists than the overall population.

        The results for 9/11, the signature conspiracy of Lewandowsky’s previous editorial, were hardly consistent with Lewandowsky’s expectations, though this was not disclosed in his writeup. Of the 69 respondents who purported to agree with the 9/11 conspiracy, the proportion of warmists and “skeptics” was in almost exact proportion to their overall self-identification.


        Despite Lewandowsky’s contrary statements and implications, even for most of the wacko conspiracies (e.g. the cluster around Moon, AIDS), more respondents professed to be warmists than skeptics. The only conspiracy (or wacko beliefs) with a purported majority of “skeptics” are: the New World Order conspiracy; and purported disbelief in the connection of HIV to AIDS and smoking to lung cancer, both with vanishingly small samples (16 and 11 respectively) and evidently contaminated by fake answers. The anomalous results for the New World Order conspiracy is very suggestive of a second strategy of fake response (in addition to the simple vote-stuffing commented on by Curtis) – a strategy in which the fake respondents were concerned to avoid exclusion by agreeing with the most wacko conspiracies (as, for example, Swami et al 2009, an article cited by Lewandowsky, had excluded Elvis sightings.)”

        Its difficult not to assume bad faith when the title of the paper links climate change denial to moon landing conspiracies and only 10 respondents to the survey actually endorsed moon landing conspiracies.

        Despite this I don’t this I don’t think the paper should be retracted. If we started retracting all psychology papers with stupid methodologies and overdrawn or dishonest conclusions the journals would be empty.

      2. I don’t know why I should put any trust in the analysis put on climateaudit over that of the authors. I read some posts over there, and the writing style and commenters there raise all my alarm bells. Which is quite special, last time I had that feeling I was referred to a webpage of the “National Vaccine Information Center”.
        One reason for those alarm bells is probably the apparent obsession with Lewandowsky, largely ignoring there are two more names on the paper. Interestingly, you ignored my question on that point…

      3. Well I suggest you concentrate on what the owner of Climate Audit wrote and forget about reading the comments.
        I apologize for not taking the time to explain how in the modern academic practice authorship on a paper does not mean an equal contribution, but I felt I had written sufficient details for you to attempt to master already

      4. I thought I already indicated that the writings themselves also triggered my alarm bells, the comments just got them to be really loud.

        Oberauer has also been active in explaining where people have gone wrong in their criticism, so he’s definitely well aware of what was done.

    1. It was a strategy by Luntz, but the IPCC was formed long before, in 1988. What does the CC part stand for? It wasn’t the IPGW.
      Anyone who actually talks regularly to climate scientists knows that global warming is just one of the effects of climate change that they study.

      But, to moderators: you might want to think hard about disallowing this topic from RW unless it is truly germane to the post, as it can hijack any discussion.

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