First retraction appears for Dutch anthropologist Mart Bax

ethnicracstudLast September we wrote about the case of Mart Bax, an anthropologist once of the Free University in Amsterdam who allegedly fabricated elements in some of his papers, and claimed to have written more than 60 that do not exist:

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.

Well, at least part of that ambiguity has cleared, with the retraction of a 2000 paper by Bax in Ethnic and Racial Studies. The article was titled “Warlords, priests and the politics of ethnic cleansing: a case-study from rural Bosnia Hercegovina” and has been cited 20 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Here’s its abstract:

There is a tendency among social scientists and others to interpret the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia Hercegovina as the result of a political policy carefully orchestrated from above and systematically carried out. Whatever eruptions of war violence might deviate from this interpretation are generally viewed as primitive balkanism, pointless acts, banditism or mental aberrations. Terms of this kind reflect an uncritical acceptance of a central or national leader perspective, dismissing as deviant everything that fails to go according to plan, and denying the significance of specific local and regional circumstances or failing at any rate to problematize and examine them. This article describes a process the final result of which can be seen as the ethnic homogenization of a region, but only part of its dynamics can be attributed to a policy implemented from above. Rather, its course can largely be traced back to local vendettas and a long-standing conflict between Franciscan friars and diocesan priests. The case illustrates that a systematic study “from below” is crucial to a better understanding of the dynamics and the developmental logic of the processes of ethnic cleansing. The article concludes with some theoretical thoughts which fit into the current debate on civilizing and decivilizing processes.

According to the notice, the paper is being retracted

[A]s a result of an investigation conducted by the Free University of Amsterdam which determined research conducted by and used by Mart Bax as a basis for published work to be the result of scientific misconduct.

The Editors and publishers of the journal, Taylor & Francis, note we received, peer-reviewed, accepted, and published the article in good faith based on warranties made by the author regarding the originality and provenance.

The retracted article will remain online to maintain the scholarly record, but it will be digitally watermarked on each page as ‘retracted’.

For further details, the Free University of Amsterdam’s Report is available online here: (Dutch) or (English).

3 thoughts on “First retraction appears for Dutch anthropologist Mart Bax”

  1. The other RW story states “A 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.” I assume that, in order for that claim to have been made, that it was actually true. It would be extremely useful if the full list of those 61 “invented” papers could be made available, as well as the exact parts of the CV that were fabricated. If the scientific community is not aware of the list of fabricated papers, then how can it apply suitable pressure to retact them. Theoretically, at the speed of the current first retraction (6 months from story break to retraction), it would take as much as 30 years to achieve the retraction of this full fabricated set of papers.

  2. FWIW, I strongly recommend a full reading of the investigating committee’s report. In many ways, it’s scarier than the Levelt committee’s report on Stapel. Unlike Stapel, Bax had a strong theoretical bent and, consequently, the harm done can’t be fixed by surgical extraction of a few superficial studies. One is reminded of the controversies related to the anthropological work of Margaret Meade or Napoleon Chagnon. No matter who is telling the truth, someone clearly is not; and the whole enterprise of cultural anthropology is put in question.

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