Diederik Stapel speaks

stapel_npcDiederik Stapel, the social psychologist who has now retracted 54 papers, recently spoke as part of the TEDx Braintrain, which took place on a trip from Maastricht to Amsterdam. Among other things, he says he lost his moral compass, but that it’s back.

Here’s the talk, which lasts 17 minutes:


The floor, as always, is open.

33 thoughts on “Diederik Stapel speaks”

  1. I feel the talk and half the Q&A lacked substantial content. At the beginning he admitted that he comitted fraud, but from then on it was very colourful language and examples that kept his faults at arms length. It was better than a “I’m sorry you were offended” apology, but not by too much.

    Were there Stapel apologists in the crowd?

  2. Again the setting is interesting – can you imagine an American or Brit standing up on a train and answering questions from the public? I think this says quite a lot about the way in which fraud is handled.

    From what I know, in the States and UK, if you commit fraud at a senior enough level (i.e. as an ‘untouchable’) it will be covered up or blamed on someone else – and you can even still win prizes and society presidencies. But at student or post-doc level you get the full weight of the ORI on your back and are cast out of science in the manner of a criminal. One rarely hears of cases in between.

    In this case you see a more measured response. From the start the whole Stapel episode has been dealt with in a much more open and balanced way – which in the long run has to be better than the ‘head in the sand’ approach which is prevalent in the US and UK.

    I agree the speech does not fully get down to the roots of what was done. The idea that one commits research misconduct because of goal obsession isn’t enough for me – because fraud is the antithesis of science itself and to throw your scientific training out of the way can’t happen simply because you pursue other goals.

    But overall it was an interesting video. I don’t think the event rewards Stapel.

    1. …yeah, no. That’s not what happens in the states or UK if it’s scientific fraud. Scientists don’t cover each others’ tracks. Political stuff? That’s a different ballgame…. but a scientist would not be taking to the street in the US to field questions after fraud was committed, not because the fraud would be covered up, but because the general public really wouldn’t care to be bothered.

    2. I fall back to the M.I.S.E. theory (we all do what we do for one or more of the following Money, Ideology, (obtain)Sex or Ego). Stapel got exactly what he wanted, he was back in the news, his ego was fed.

    3. Senior people at top institutions go away when caught. Maybe not all; but a categorical statement is categorically wrong.

      1. Just to clarify, the speakers at TED and TEDx conferences are not chosen by the same group of people.

        From the website (http://www.ted.com/pages/about_tedx): “TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis.”

        Perhaps that is why there seems to be some personal view leaking into the TEDx conferences.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. Immediately after this guy lost his job he started writing a book about his life and fraud. He is now working on a second book, gearing up for a national theater tour and ‘helping’ people and organizations with ‘identity and innovation’ questions. You can also hire him as your personal driver, who promises to have an insightful conversation with you about anything you like. For all the changes he claims to have gone through, he does not seem to have gained the slightest sense of humility, nor lost even an ounce of his shameless desire for attention.

      As others here rightfully point out, his soul searching mainly seems to consist of finding external attributions for his mistakes – he was a lost soul, he got disconnected, he lost his moral compass. He was simply a guy with ‘weak knees’ who ended up in the wrong situation. He completely trivializes the fact that he committed fraud for an extremely extensive period of time and did massive damage to not only the reputation of his field and science in general, but also the many colleagues and graduate students who had the ‘pleasure’ of working with him.

      I am all for the TEDx organizers getting someone to give a talk about scientific fraud. But why not have a respectable researcher up there who actually studied the phenomenon, rather than giving an attention-seeking fraudster who offers no real insight the platform he so desperately craves?

  3. Interesting setting of talks, TEDx Braintrain (well it is within a Train), and 2×8 people give short and prepared talks, so I don’t know how many really were interested to see this specific 16 talk. I do not know if that person really makes a new carreer out of this.

    Anyway, I really like one of the previous responses by “amw”:
    “…From what I know, in the States and UK, if you commit fraud at a senior enough level (i.e. as an ‘untouchable’) it will be covered up or blamed on someone else – and you can even still win prizes and society presidencies. But at student or post-doc level you get the full weight of the ORI on your back and are cast out of science in the manner of a criminal. One rarely hears of cases in between.”
    It seems in physics and chemistry in Germany, there are also untouchables, but they also support their students against the real scientists they plagiarize. There are many aspects of wrongdoing, but German universities are basically not controlled on ethical and scientific levels.

  4. He speaks about him blowing ab his “career”. However I feel like, he would not have had this career without his fraud.

  5. even in this speech, stapel attempts to talk himself out of what he did by explaining how he got ‘disconnected,’ as if by a stroke of fate. consciously cheating on an ongoing basis requires willful intent. he ‘blew up his career’ – but is he sorry for what he did or for having been caught?

  6. As a person with severe bullshit allergy, I was flaring up! You don’t commit academic fraud on 54 publications, then suddenly wake up one day (or decide not to hole up in his cellar as he puts it) hop on a Ted train and change your ways………

  7. People like him must spent time in jail before being allowed to board trains again. Otherwise free seats may soon be difficult to come by.

  8. Somehow I feel like drawing comparisons to Hollywood, where mediocrity combined with notoriety can be used to innovate yourself. Maybe he’ll write a paper about it, or deliver a talk. Perhaps he’s even at the point where he is so famous where grunt work is no longer required.

  9. I think that given the man’s track record, it would be safe to assume that anything he says is pure baloney. Didn’t click the link to the video, since I couldn’t care less what he has to say.

  10. Diederik is a poster child for the age we live in. Watch any TV show with celebrities after they have been caught doing some immoral, illegal act or just been a drunk or strung out on drugs, things that would get the average person arrested and put in jail. These actors etc. are more popular then ever. People flock to their movies, tv shows or books. The press calls them heroic for their “come to Jesus” moment, and is sad statement on modern society.
    I’ve posted this before but Diederik and persons like him will make more money and be more popular after they were exposed than before and his ego won’t allow him to do anything else. The academic community is no different than the rest of society in showing so little outrage over this type of fraud/behavior, as it won’t be long before some university in the united states invites Diederik to come speak and of course pay him and his expenses for the talk.
    It’s just very disheartening to see this.

  11. This speech was only about Diederik Stapel; not about the consequences of his actions for other people whose careers were damaged, whose work suffered set-backs and whose reputation was damaged through his actions. It’s sad that TED lends itself for this. Hearing Diederik only talking about himself trying to serve the justifications for his actions on a platter of folk psychology makes my stomach turn. Please TED, keep on serving starred meals, and skip the train food.

  12. EZ’s comment that the speech was only about Diederik Stapel exactly hits the point. It takes a lot of time toput together 50+ falsified papers. What about making some effort to repair some of the harm- I didn’t hear a word about sorrow for the people he hurt. Ted Talks should be ashamed of this talk.

  13. Why?

    That’s the most important question for me. Why did he do it? He mentions that he had a goal. I then wonder what this goal was/is.

    Maybe he had the goal to show how today’s academia is deeply flawed, for several reasons. Maybe he did it all on purpose, just to show this. How social psychology’s peer-review system is deeply flawed, how you apperently don’t even have to pay back the money from research upon which your made-up papers are based (because “PhD students did do some actual work”, i.c. they were seated behind a computer messing around with fake data and writing up the results based on this fake data), how apparently when you commit fraud you don’t even have to give back your “Dr.”- title. Maybe he did it all to show how “priming”-research has a political agenda to it (keep the masses “stupid” and have them believe all that the high priests of social psychology have to say). Maybe he did it all to show how social psychology has a whole lot of “bad” researchers in it.

    Maybe he did it all on purpose to show how pathetically bad the whole social psychology research world still was and still is…

    Why did he do it, why?

    1. Science has theories, and then you collect data to compare to this theory. If Stapel did it all on purpose (e.g. to enforce measures that better social psychology) then here are some data-points:

      -He actually did research about a social psychologists who commited fraud, and what that would do to the self-image of social psychologists.
      -When he first got caught, he said that “he did not do it for his personal benefit”.
      -Has anyone heard of the whistle-blowers? Why not?
      -This is what he actually said when he ws appointed his position in Tilburg:

      “The freedom we have in the design of our experiments is so enormous that when an experiment does not give us what we are looking for, we blame the experiment, not our theory. (At least, that is the way I work). Is this problematic? No.’ (Stapel, D.A. (2000)

      All the “intelligent” professors present at that speech did not think that is scientifically strange to state? Who are these folks?

      Maybe Stapel deserves a Nobel prize for science…if he did it all to improve matters.

      1. The only scientific thing social psychology produced is showing social psychology (and its scientists) is easily fooled by magical things like “apa guidelines”, “peer-review’, “top tier journals”, and “statistical analysis and the magical p-value”, into believing it is an actual “science”. What’s next: social psychologists start acting like little children when someone wants to replicate their findings? Or, they just throw away any mathematical certainties/ rules that are used to show flaws in social psychology findings?

  14. Reblogged this on lab ant and commented:
    This could have been a very interesting talk, but I was disappointed the moment he just briefly touched the MANY reasons leading to this extend of fraud. I would have been interested in the small steps leading to the personal justification of data fabrication on such a large scale. I was disappointed because I didn’t see any deep self searching nor honest regret of what he did (especially concerning his co authors). I think if he would have documented the process leading up to this horrible example the community could have profited. But his “heart warming” apology felt like a cheap attempt to make some sort of comeback.

  15. Not having a good internet connection. I can’t watch the video.

    However, I will just say the line dividing a successful go-getting PI and the rare disgraced scape-goat can be very fine indeed.

    There are many PIs who have done exactly what Stapel did or more and are given sycophantic media coverage. Stapel has been caught, deserved to have been caught, and thus has paid a far greater, if deserved, penalty than so many other successful researchers. So I don’t think gloating is in order.

    If he was to say what he really thought, it would be along the lines of “But everyone else is doing it.” (Seriously guys – 60% of Americans would deliver lethal electric shocks if requeasted to by someone in a white coat? The whole field has been an in-joke from its inception). But if he did so the howls of his former colleagues would be like the caterwailing of a thousand cats. So you can hardly blame him if his explanations are unsatisfactory. If he revealed his true beliefs you would be even more furious.

    In a way it is like a formal admission of political error by someone guilty of left or right oppositionism before the Party Politburo. The same hypocrisy of on both the petitioner and people hearing the petition is evident.

  16. Stapel committed fraud from the beginning. He is trying to spin and spin and spin. Can we please move on with important matters, and not with this attention seeker?

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