Dutch anthropologist Mart Bax faked 61 papers, says university

free universityA former anthropologist at the Free University in Amsterdam appears to have made up data for at least 61 papers, and invented awards and other parts of his CV, according to a university investigation.

The news was first reported by NRC Handelsblad and the Volkskrant newspaper.

Bax, who studied an Irish town he called Patricksville, a Dutch pilgrimage site he called Neerdonk, and Medjugorje, a Bosnian pilgrimage site, retired from the Free University in 2002. The university began investigating Bax’s work last year after science journalist Frank van Kolfschooten published Ontspoorde Wetenschap (“Derailed science”). In that book, van Kolfschooten raised questions about Bax’s work into an alleged massacre at Medjugorje during the Bosnian War. Bax responded to those questions in April of this year.

Here’s the university’s 67-page report, in Dutch. The university will not take legal action against Bax. It is unclear from the translations we’ve seen whether any of the papers will be retracted, but we’ll update with anything we learn.

Thanks to a number of readers who sent us tips on the story earlier this morning. Updated at 8:45 a.m. Eastern with a link to NRC Handelsblad’s coverage, and at 4 p.m. Eastern (first sentence) to attempt to clarify what exactly may have been wrong with Bax’s papers.

41 thoughts on “Dutch anthropologist Mart Bax faked 61 papers, says university”

  1. One would assume that the final report details papers that are fraudulent. I guess some journals will take immediate action, others will dither and yet others will do nothing, as in the other cases of mega fraud. We can doubtless look forward to an update form Ivan in a year or two tracking the lack of action!

    1. After Stapel, this is yet another shock from The Netherlands!
      I did work with the Dutch for over a decade.
      I was many times in The Netherlands and I was always impressed by their attitude of hard-working, pragmatic, down to earth people who value the Guilder (Dutch currency) more than the Queen.
      I have to tell you that for all Dutch people stealing from them (by misusing their hard-earned tax payers’ money) is one the biggest insults. From that point of view I am really surprised that neither in Stapel’s case, nor in Bax’s case now, there is absolutely not even an attempt to bring these long-time fraudsters to accountability.
      What is moral that the Dutch authorities are passing to their people?
      “Lie, deceive, fabricate, do whatever it needs to get the tax-payers’ money and then, if you are caught in misconduct, we’ll turn a blind eye.”
      Where all this will end???
      I am really DISAPPOINTED by the Dutch!

      1. Stapel did receive some punishement by criminal prosecution.. The sentiment that Stapel and Bax were not punished hard enough is widely shared among the Dutch population. I agree with that in the case of Bax.

        Stapel’s career and reputation was ruined and he has great difficulty to find any other way to make a living, so I think Stapel did receive quite a lot of punishment

        Yes, Bax reputation is ruined too. but I am not sure it still matters for him, taking into account that he is retired already.

      2. As you say, the Dutch ‘value the Guilder (Dutch currency) more than the Queen’ In general, they value money (it is the euro now) over principles, like scientific integrity.

        1. I mean (as stated in my comment below: September 25, 2013 at 8:50 am) that: “I do expect the public in The Netherlands to be utterly outraged (precisely because they highly value their hard-earned Guilder/Euro) and to DEMAND accountability from the editors and publishers who, by ignoring and/or covering up the misconduct, have become associates to the fraudulent authors who acquire public funds (grants) by deception – a criminal offence in most jurisdictions.” The right solution here would be to confiscate and sell all Bax’s assets, and if this is not enough to recover the misused public money (with all the due interest), the balance should be recovered from the publishers. Isn’t that fair and The_Right_Thing_To_Do ?

          1. This is legally and culturally not feasible. As for editors and publishers, legally nailing them as wilful accessories of Bax is impossible. Also, note that a good deal of fraud consisted of listing papers that didn’t even exist, so if there is anyone accountable for that, it is the university that compiles these lists from those submitted by their employees. If universities and publishers are supposed to check, double-check and cross-reference all publications from contributors and employees, they probably need to hire more workers to get things done: nobody wants to spend the money. I don’t even mention the fact that editors and publishers usually span the globe. As for Bax himself, the public money wasted on his fraud, through salaries and grants, needs to be quantified, which will be next to impossible, given that the man also performed educational and administrative tasks. The Netherlands are not the United States, where people can be sued for huge punitive damages, or hanged in public.

            What I like to see changed, is that professionals can be held responsible for reporting scientific fraud they know about, just like people are supposed to call the police if they witness a crime. When I found myself plagiarized, about a fistful of professors expressed their sympathy, agreed that this was not acceptable, while there was no way they were going to support me in this case, probably for political reasons. Their behaviour comes close to a witness who walks away from a rape without calling 911, because he is afraid of the consequences. Dutch science doesn’t need more cowards.

          2. It’s about time publishers hired their authors and academic published their research at universities repositories. Universities and academics are entitled to profit from their products, and publishers should oversee those who publish with them. We should all demand accountability. Enough is enough with this ANARCHY.

  2. An english language account of the disputed massacre claims are here
    http://www.medjugorjetoday.tv/7633/medjugorje-war-massacre-was-a-fraud/ – for interested readers.

    I don’t suppose Bax’s work is any more dodgy than his colleagues or his atrocity stories are any more absurd than 100s of others that came out of the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession – so why he has been singled out is mysterious at this stage.

    In Academia as in newspapers, if it bleeds it leads. If every academic was demolished for accepting silly war propaganda at face value, there would be carnage in the history departments – and many others.

      1. Good point. The original post said it made up data in papers, not made up papers. Fudging data has been the general practice of anthropologists since Margaret Mead decided that sexual repression was the root cause of teenage delinquency and discovered Samoa was a carefree paradise of teenage sex and general peacefulness – something that comes as a surprise to anyone who has ever encountered a Samoan bouncer outside a bar (a ha – say the wily anthropologists – obviously their culture was subsequently corrupted by missionaries).

        But making up papers is altogether more serious. Making up data you are simply cheating the taxpayer, making up papers you are cheating your colleagues.

        1. Making up data is also cheating your colleagues I would say. For instance, maybe a “nice” list of publications (based on making up data) will get you awards, tenure, grants, etc. which could very well have gone to honest colleagues otherwise.

  3. Just finished reading parts of the report:

    Strictly speaking, it is wrong to say the data for 61 papers was faked. Rather at various points he claimed to have written papers (~64) that could not be traced by the investigating committee. Out of a claimed total of 161, this is already quite something.

    Then, it is clear he self-plagiarised massively. At some point for instance, the committee notes 9 basic articles turn on paper into 36 by pulling out all the stops: publishing in different journals, languages, different titles, etc, etc. There are much more examples in the report

    As for actual fraud, this is much harder to answer. There is a culture of keeping sources secret in antropology, which is apperantely grounded in some experience. The problem here is that there is no evidence whatsoever that many of the articles (epsecially published after 1987) refer to real facts. One problem is that Bax kept on changing his story to the committee. For instance, in 1994 or so he reports 140 deaths in a certain town in Joegoslavia. To the committee he says that he knew already in 1995 or so this number is way to high. However, it’s 2013 when he comes with this story…

    1. This note from twistor is correct, Bax didn’t fake data for 61 papers. Maybe this should be updated in the post, Ivan. Probably it is better to keep it more open and state something like ‘things are wrong with 61 papers Bax claimed to have written in his cv’.

      The response from Rector Magnificus Frank van der Duyn Schouten is also completely unbelievable. Moreover, this is quite peculiar, because Frank van der Duyn Schouten was the former rector of Tilburg University who ‘bought’ Diederik Stapel from Groningen University and exactly created the atmosphere in which the fraud of Diederik Stapel could thrive: If Frank van der Duyn Schouten now states: “The fact that Bax could do as he liked for fifteen years points at a difference in culture that used to reign at universities. Respected people could collect power. An unhealthy structure arose in which critique was not accepted”, this ‘unhealthy structure’ was exactly what Diederik Stapel was abusing until just 2 years ago, supported by Frank van der Duyn Schouten.

  4. http://www.nu.nl/binnenland/3582390/oud-hoogleraar-vu-fraudeerde-grote-schaal.html

    Hi all, here they state that there are no plans (yet??) to retract any of his articles. That is ridiculous. The man is retired, but that doesn’t undo the fraud in ready published articles. After retirement, it is apparently nearly impossible to retract a Professor title. They are also not investigating his PhD dissertation and will only attempt to do so when any formal complaints are issued concerning the articles represented in the dissertation. His PhD defense must have been a long time ago, but I don’t think fraud ages. I am Dutch so if you need any proper translations of incoming news in this case, I’m willing to translate them in the comment section.
    Anyway, it sounds like they are still very tired from the Stapel case in the Netherlands. I hope this attitude changes very soon, else they are getting nowhere in reducing academic fraud.

    1. @alicekaren: The title “professor” is not protected by law in the Netherlands; anyone may call themselves a professor. Because itt is not an academic degree, it cannot be withdrawn.

    2. @alicekaren

      How do you retract a chapter in a book? (serious question: my area doesn’t do books 🙂 )

      The report clealy notes that some forms of article exageration Bax engaged in (like making up articles) are now much less likely to succeed (especially a systematic registration of articles). Some push towards registration of source materials would help. However, there may be good ground to keep some material secret in some sciences. It’s not that clear-cut.

      Investigating his PhD is likely to be impossible, both practically as well as legally. Bax will likely claim he destroyed his source material in 2002. Try making a case hard enough to stick legally… Moreover, the committee clearly notes a change in behavior around 1987: the years before seem relatively clean to them. His PhD is not doubted at the moment.

      In a sense this is a *consequence* of Stapel’s ‘activities’: Frank van Kolfschooten would not have written a new edition of his book without it. This book set it all in motion.

  5. This is really depressing. It’s the sort of story that makes one feel that the fundamental contract between academia and society no longer governs. If that statement sounds harsh and/or pompous, that’s probably because it is, both. Still, this exactly the sort of revelation that makes non-academics like myself think, “The hell with all of them. Maybe I should read mysteries and learn to cook better instead of trying to keep up with the last issue of Science.” I think my wife has a copy of that new David Handler around here somewhere …

  6. Rector magnificus of the VU Van Duyn Schouten comments that:
    “The fact that Bax could do as he liked for fifteen years points at a difference in culture that used to reign at universities. Respected people could collect power. An unhealthy structure arose in which critique was not accepted. [..] I cannot exclude that this will ever happen again, but nowadays the means for academics to check each other are much better.” He doesn’t ever expect anything of this scale to emerge again, it is written. (http://www.rtlnieuws.nl/nieuws/universiteit-hoogleraar-genoeg-gestraft-door-verlies-reputatie ; my own translation.)
    I think this assessment is very far from reality, and this “head in the sand” attitude almost as unhelpful for academia as the scandals are.

    1. I think “Free” originally meant free from government interference. It was and officially still is a Dutch reformed university, so the government has little to say about this uni.

      What shocked me is that the Free University does not even try a civil suit against Bax. What is the implicit message? That it is okay to commit fraud as long as you do not get caught before getting retired? Yes, it is fraud (data fabrication): I have read Baud’s report and it is too reticent in its conclusions in this respect.

      Also the fraud was suspected since 2002, according to Baud’s report. Why did it take eleven years?

      1. Free indeed meant free from government interference, as well as free from church interference (although it was and is indeed a protestant university, it would follow it’s own guidance as to the interpretation of the word of God).

        What’s in a civil suit for the university? The man retired 11 years ago, and it’s not like he can pay back much of the research money (presumably, unless he has a large bank account).

        Actually the report does call it fraud (in fact there’s a section of the conclusions entitled ‘Fraud in university reporting’). However the report does make the distinction that because the fake articles never entered the scientific literature and therefore did not distort the debate, this was ‘administrative fraud’, rather than ‘scientific fraud’. The actual term used in the report is ‘arbeidsrechtelijke fraude’ which would translate to something like ‘labour-laws related fraud’. The argument being that this fraud was used by Bax to unjustly qualify himself for the position of professor and to obtain funding, but did not play a role in the scientific debate.

        It taking 11 years to investigate this matter is indeed inexcusable, and I’m also perplexed that no one noticed that Bax essentially only published 1 real article between 1995 and 2002. Didn’t the man have any students or colleagues that decided that one of his articles sounded interesting and looked it up? I realise tools like Scopus and Google weren’t around that that time, but still. I’ve certainly browsed through the output of my supervisor, purely out of curiosity and general interest.

        1. I agree with yout description of labour law related fraud.

          What I meant to say is that there is no mathematical proof dat Mart Bax committed data fabrication and that is the conclusion of the report by the Baud commission. However after reading the report, I think that data fabrication took place beyond reasonable doubt. The explanations by Bax lack all credibility and keep on changing.

        2. ” Didn’t the man have any students or colleagues that decided that one of his articles sounded interesting and looked it up? ”

          This is actually adressed in the report:
          – It is stated there that Bax’s group developed sect-like characteristics, including a strong sense of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. Those not ‘with’ the great leader were put out in the cold. (To me, this is the main point of similarity with the case of D. Stapel)
          – Bax pretended to visit and organize many conferences, but in reality he did not seem to communicate much with ‘outside’: not many people might have been interested.
          – Much of it would not have stood much scrutiny, but there was no reason to suspect it was this bad.

      2. @thinkerandtinker “What shocked me is that the Free University does not even try a civil suit against Bax. What is the implicit message?”

        The implicit message is: we’d rather not have any more negative publication arising from further action we could take.

        1. The Free University has a very closed culture, where unwelcome behaviour is usually hushed up, and whistle blowers are efficiently shut up. The most famous case is that of Stolk, who made up most of his research: he was released with early retirement, and his colleagues were forced to sign an act of secrecy. When I reported a clear case of plagiarism about 10 years ago, the issue was hushed up by the DIrector of the division Computer Science and Mathematics and the Dean of the Department of Science. It is a small case, which will never draw the attention that Stapel, Bax and Stolk did, but the fact that I didn’t even get a formal rejection of my case shows the symptoms of a culture where scientific fraud is routinely swept under the carpet.

    1. YES !!!
      This is precisely what I’m talking about for quite some time, that the editors and publishers should and will be hold accountable one day for ignoring and/or failing to act in cases of misconduct which ultimately is committed with the only purpose to obtain public money (grants) by deception!

      See my comments on September 21, 2013 at12:18 am
      “Unlike a discrete_event misconduct (for example, driving drunk, with high speed, crossing intersection on red, crashing, and injuring someone) which can be covered-up (and berried/forgotten), academic misconduct, once being published, becomes CONTINUOUS and PERMANENT, but more importantly, the misconduct is VISIBLE to anyone at any time.
      I am astonished to see how otherwise highly intelligent people are so naive to think that their misconduct will not be detected, especially in the era of internet. And I am even more astonished to see that their superiors are even more naive to think that their cover-up will be successful! (may be they think that because universities are independent from the state, the state will never demand accountability)
      The question here is whether the publishers will be so naive to think that they can get away (forever) with tolerating editors who (stubbornly) refuse to Do_The_Right_Thing in cases of obvious and straightforward misconduct.”

      I do expect the public in The Netherlands to be utterly outraged and to DEMAND accountability from the editors and publishers who, by ignoring and/or covering up the misconduct, have become associates to the fraudulent authors who acquire public funds (grants) by deception – a criminal offence in most jurisdictions.

      1. May be I miss something but I do not understand why a retraction in the case of Bax is important. I mean, any researcher can use google and find out in seconds that his papers are nonsense.

        1. True, but the fact that this hasn’t happened for decades doesn’t give me even a spark of hope that this will happen in the near future. Science is not the self-cleansing environment that people expect it to be.

      2. The hard-earned taxpayers’ money obtained by fraud (i.e. on the basis of fraudulent publications) should be RETURNED with the corresponding interest. It is not so difficult. See the case of Milena Penkowa and the University of Copenhagen, where, according to Marco (October 6 @ 3:08 pm), “The university paid back around 2.1 million DKK (about 380,000 dollar), Penkowa herself returned 250,000 DKK.”

        1. I don’t know the specifics of the Penkowa case, but according to http://universitypost.dk/article/penkowa-penkowa : “Apart from the scientific fraud, Milena Penkowa has been accused of spending grant money on herself instead of research.” That sounds a lot simpler, i.e. it is tied to a specific grant which was not spent on reasearch, than the Bax case.

  7. This week, the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) announced they see no reason to investigate whether Bax’s thesis is fraudulent. The UvA believes he started his fraud long after the thesis was written.

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