Diederik Stapel loses teaching post, admits he was sockpuppeting on Retraction Watch

stapel_npcDiederik Stapel’s reinvention as a teacher at a college in the Netherlands has proven to be short-lived.

According to the NRC Handelsblad, Stapel resigned from the job at Fontys in solidarity with Anton Dautzenberg, whose contract at Fontys was terminated and with whom Stapel had co-authored a play. A performance of that play was cancelled last month.

Stapel, who has 54 retractions, tells Retraction Watch that he “had to resign:”

I was hired to teach a course from September to May. This is also clear from the study guide. I would teach till May. Now they changed that and say it is not a course, only a few guest lectures.

Stapel also admitted today that he had been leaving comments on Retraction Watch using a fake name, “Paul,” and referring to himself in the third person, which we consider sock puppetry. While we welcome anonymous and pseudonymous comments, when we have reasons to believe that a commenter is to be violating our comments policy against unverified claims — as pretending not to be Stapel when you are actually Stapel would be doing — we will try to determine whether the comment is accurate as submitted. When we asked “Paul” whether he was Stapel, he would not say, so we added an editor’s note to all of his comments.

Now he has come clean. In a comment left this morning on the post about his teaching appointment, Stapel writes:

Hello, my name is Diederik Stapel. I thought that in an internet environment where many people are writing about me (a real person) using nicknames it is okay to also write about me (a real person) using a nickname. ! have learned that apparently that was —in this particular case— a misjudgment. I think did not dare to use my real name (and I still wonder why). I feel that when it concerns person-to-person communication, the “in vivo” format is to be preferred over and above a blog where some people use their real name and some do not. In the future, I will use my real name. I have learned that and I understand that I –for one– am not somebody who can use a nickname where others can. Sincerely, Diederik Stapel. People can contact me at info@diederikstapel.com.

21 thoughts on “Diederik Stapel loses teaching post, admits he was sockpuppeting on Retraction Watch”

  1. “I have learned that and I understand that I –for one– am not somebody who can use a nickname where others can”
    I think that the problem was one of misrepresentation rather than one of not being able to use a nickname when others can. The use of a nickname to comment on matters other than oneself is fine.
    For example there was a case here recently where a Nature Materials editor was posting comments on his own journal under a “nickname” which was clearly wrong. Also the fact that comments were made “in the third person” does imply intentional deceit/misrepresentation ….

  2. “I have learned that and I understand that I –for one– am not somebody who can use a nickname where others can.” Surely the difference between commenting on yourself or someone unrelated is obvious? And also the difference between not revealing one’s own identity and pretending to have a different identity? Learning and understanding is easily confessed, but much harder to show, it appears.

    BTW: this is starting to be reminiscent of a childish “the whole world is against me, boohoo” attitude that in dutch social psychology circles might perhaps be referred to as the “Calimero-complex”. [http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calimerocomplex] 😉

  3. Dear Mr. Stapel, will you help me and others expose plagiarizing professors who do tremendous damage? Perhaps you can turn around and do some good by joining our side, you can use your expertise for good. I could use some help.

  4. Dr. Stapel: I agree with Ivan Oransky, @Gary, and @Dave Langers. I am in the large group of people who think your misconduct as a researcher was appalling, and in the much smaller group of people who think you still have much to contribute. I would not consider it inappropriate for you to post on Retraction Watch or elsewhere using a pseudonym on any topic except yourself. From my point of view, if you want to critique someone else’s work in social psychology, you could do so as “Paul.” But if you want to defend yourself, do it as yourself.

    You might consider, before you act, asking a neutral person’s view when you have an inclination to hide what you are doing. Hiding what you were doing was your downfall. If I were you, I would make a solemn vow never to do so again, and I would recruit my family and friends to hold me to that vow.

    I wish you the best on your journey to redemption, in whatever form it takes.

  5. Question to RW: Is the sockpuppeting confirmed by Stapel (besides using the email-address in the comment itself)? If so, which accounts did he use? That information seems to be absent in the comment.

  6. BTW, is there any (anonymous) interview or update of what happened to the people who exposed Stapel (“three young researchers in the Department of Social Psychology at Tilburg University”) ? Or of those whose careers he tainted?

    I mean, he did not expose that science is susceptible to fraud — the whistle-blowers in this and other cases did. He did not set out to expose weaknesses like someone submitting a fake article to, e.g., open access journals, and then revealing the results in a paper. He tried to make a career based on fraud — and he was caught.

    I don’t think he can show how to prevent these cases, or how to catch people who commit fraud. More likely, the ones who exposed him can. The whistle-blowers can tell about how it is like to work with such a person and what might give such a person away — and whether there were warning signs. And what happened, and how they fared.

    There is some information in the report, but personally, that would be the story I would like to see reported.

      1. (Strange, I think instead of the comment I wanted to write, Firefox has used a previous one. Gravatar seems to have had a hiccup. So here the one I wanted to make again.)

        Thank you for the link, I used Google Translate and I think I got the gist of it (kinda like reading Yoda). Two interesting comments by the author:

        “they are the same social psychologists who unraveled the case, armed with the methods of science. Exactly as it should. Jesse, Kees and Kim have proven their incredible hypothesis, not gossip or yelling, but patient, thorough statistical research.”


        Forget the “professional evaluators’ who evaluate scientific articles before they appear in print: surprisingly often it is precisely young researchers who bring scientific fraud to light.”

        1. The report from the Stapel investigation(s) specifically praised the young researchers for their work, while at the same time criticising senior researchers who had the same doubts about Stapel’s work but did nothing.

          The sad thing is that the young researchers is that they can never receive credit for their work, because that would oust them as whistleblowers and most likely destroy their careers. We live in a society where people doing excellent work, that is critically important, have to keep it a secret.

    1. I agree that the whistleblowers can offer more valuable insights on how to *detect* fraud, but I think that Stapel himself can provide more insight into how to *prevent* it. Understanding what motivated his fraud might help preventing it in others. From his book I got the impression that one main factor was his perception that in science, those who are the most thorough/conscientious in their research are not the ones who are rewarded the most. While this is of course no reason to commit fraud, I can imagine that such a situation can foster alienation and cynicism in the long run, making fraud more likely. But of course, for such insights to be valuable we should be able to believe what he says (and using sockpuppets indeed doesn’t exactly help in that respect).

  7. There are a couple of things that make this issue highly problematic in my view:

    1. It gives the impression that Mr. Stapel has learned nothing from his misconduct. He faked participants to defend his scientific ideas about the world, and now he does it again on retractionwatch to defend his name. So much for learning from past behavior.

    2. If it were only about participating in a discussion, one profile would have been enough. Multiple profiles (at least two, judging by the Retraction Watch notes I’ve seen so far) give the impression of manipulation. Especially regarding the possibility to use them to manipulate the up- or downvotes on comments here.

    3. He did not come clean on his own, but only when RW posted notes below his comments. He was busted again due to the vigilance of those around him.

    4. His comment “coming clean” did not include a list of the profiles he used. Not coming clean on his own — even after being busted — puts in question whether he really understand the issue (“I have learned that and I understand that I –for one– am not somebody who can use a nickname where others can.”). No, this is not about using nicknames. I also wonder whether he did sockpuppeting only on this site or on other sites as well.

    5. I find it hard to believe that he did not see a problem in using sockpuppets. Esp. if you reread comments by “Paul” and replace “Paul” with Mr. Stapel. Then it reads as “[I am] one of the few people out there who admitted to his fraud, who helped the investigation into his fraud (no computer crashes…., no questionnaires that suddenly disappeared, no data files that were “lost while moving office”, see Sanna, Smeesters, and …. Foerster)”. It does sound a little different — and somewhat narcissistic — when you imagine Mr. Stapel making them (I am better than *those* fraudsters.). Also a sentence like “it is totally unclear whether he gets paid for his teaching” might be technically correct — as we as readers of this blog do not all know this — I find it very difficult to imagine Mr. Stapel does not know whether he gets paid for his teaching.

    6. There is no apology in the comment in which Mr. Stapel exposes himself for misleading readers or other users of this site who left a comment. Even if he did not know that this would be a problem when he made the comments (so much for “Social Psychology”, but frankly, I’ve seen worse differences between theory and practice) and does not feel at fault, he does have a certain responsibility. As for the “gracious” contact offer, personally I do not want to talk to Mr. Stapel. I do not trust him and judging from this issue, I do not think that trust can be build. So I do not think there is anything to learn. Besides, introspection is pretty much dead and unless he’s a participant in a study (in which case I would listen to the — hopefully more honest — researchers), I do not think he should play any role in science. He’s already shown how not to do it, and now how not to make a(n un)graceful exit.

    7. His behavior puts any comment defending Mr. Stapel (or asking for his help) in question. It could be Mr. Stapel in disguise. Or someone asked by Mr. Stapel to defend him or ask for his help. Also any upvotes for comments defending him or downvotes on comments criticizing him might be made by sockpuppet accounts. Again no self-reflection in his comment addressing this issue.

    I mean, seriously, yes, scientists are rather reluctant to call out frauds. It might backfire. What if you piss someone off and end up in a mud-wrestling match? What if you back a rat into a corner? What if that person — who has already lost his/her career — escalates the conflict and is willing to self-destruct to pull you down? Even if you did nothing wrong (to the best of your knowledge), this person might still make some mud stick to you. And yeah, unfortunately, there’s also honor among thieves. Or rather, some people think that as long as someone much more extreme is around, they can do whatever they want. They can always say that they are not *that* bad. In this sense, frauds do have their uses. And above all, you do not want to give frauds tips how to mislead other better. But still, some things are just … I mean, seriously, waow. I get the “need” to defend ones name, but there’s nothing to defend here. If everything was based on fraud, this person stats at zero, not at “was a tenured professor and dean”. These credentials are void because they were achieved by fraud.

    Hmm, looking at the situation, this is probably a tiny-tiny bit like what his PhD students or Co-Authors felt when they realized he gave them data to analyze that was faked. And as a “sample lesson” this might be interesting, but — according to the comment — it wasn’t intended as such. Again other made this situation a lesson.

    I was very hesitant to write this comment. The issue bugs me too much. But still, I want to stress my overall sentiment: It’s the whistleblowers who should play a much large role even in the aftermath of fraud. The whistleblowers are the ones who defend the integrity of science. They can attest to whether universities really protect them and their careers. There are some interesting reports on them, like the one linked by zwg, or Couzin’s “Truth and Consequences” from 2006. And frankly, they do not sound optimistic. It’s not the frauds who should capture our attention, but that scientists who take science seriously prosper even if they are willing to expose bad science when it also hurts themselves. And they might have some interesting tips to share, beyond what Gunsalus (1998) wrote in “How to blow the whistle and still have a career afterwards”.

    I don’t know, but retractionwatch seems to me like a trustworthy site that defends the confidentiality of their sources. I cannot speak for them, but perhaps if you have a story to tell they listen.

  8. I find this to be quite a LOLfest; however, I’m confused about the actual misrepresentation.

    While not the most common practice in the world, people talk about themselves or even to themselves in the third person from time to time. In fact, there was a recent piece on NPR about the motivational value of speaking to yourself in the third person. Ever write your own bio piece? Is that deceptive? If Paul didn’t explicitly state: I am not Dietrich… I don’t understand how he was deceiving anyone. My name is not QAQ. I don’t think that my previous posts deceived anyone, as people on this site assume that people who don’t explicitly identify themselves are using a pseudonym.

    From his posts I assumed that: “Paul” was a person who may or may not be named Paul, and that “Paul” spoke about DS but in no way claimed to be or not be DS. Therefore, I had reason to assume that “Paul” was or wasn’t DS.

    There is even an e-how on the subject:

    In fact, see:
    (I guess it’s possible that Ivan wrote that)

    But the point is, it’s not clear to me that writing about yourself in the third person is implicitly dishonest so long as one does not explicitly deny their identity.

    1. Of course in some contexts it is OK to write about yourself in the third person – such as when writing a biographical page – but in those cases you do it under your own name. And it’s not deceptive.

      If you do that under a pseudonym without being very clear about who you are, then you are being misleading.

      Consider: if it wasn’t misleading, no-one would do it. Stapel could have written those comments under his own name. But he didn’t because no-one would have taken his self-aggrendizement seriously.

      So he did it under another name. That’s why he did it. He didn’t decide to use the name “Paul” just for fun.

      1. I thought that the whole purpose of a pseudonym (in an online forum at least) was to not have to be clear about who you are.

        “Consider: if it wasn’t misleading, no-one would do it. Stapel could have written those comments under his own name. But he didn’t because no-one would have taken his self-aggrendizement seriously.”

        If DS *did* have a legitimately valid point to make, you might be correct, the only way that it would be taken seriously is if he didn’t attach his name to it… so what exactly is wrong with letting him comment like that? Either he has a legitimate point OR he will just get ignored. By forcing him to use his own name, we eliminate the possibility of a good point being made.

    2. In brief, I think the key issue here is that he is biased, much more strongly so than any other commenter who voices an opinion. He is biased because he is Diederik Stapel himself, whether he writes as Paul or not. And sources of bias are allowed but should be disclosed. (Just like on conferences you should disclose if you have e.g. financial interests.)

      1. I don’t believe that this website requires any disclosure of bias. Are commentators who have personally know the subject OR whose work could be in someway affected by the subject required to explicitly disclose who they are?

  9. Excellent discussion!

    I had limited e-mail contact with Diederik Stapel myself, since I believe he’s somewhat of a scapegoat. Well, at least in the media that I followed.

    Stapel invented lots of data, possibly because he thought he could do better than torturing ‘real’ data until they confess, as many others do in his field. What is worse?

    It is well known that p-values reported in scientific articles tend to peak near an arbitrary level of ‘significance’. I just wonder what goes on in the mind of these people. Something truly different?

    Anyway, for me, it all boils down to credibility. More in general: does a man deserve a second or even a third chance? I myself would seriously consider giving Stapel a (teaching) position if he were objectively the best candidate.

    It’s not possible for me to believe Stapel will not realize – now or in the near future – that he has to take full responsibility for his (continuing?) misconduct. That realization far exceeds simply accepting some kind of punishment. It is foremost about disappointing his beloved ones, as alluded to above. Credit where credit is due.

    1. I once lost several months following a lead from a paper that contained a not “strictly-speaking” false but decidedly misleading entry in the materials and methods section. It didn’t do lasting damage to the project but it slowed it down and wasted a couple of thousand pounds provided by the public for medical research. This was the harm from just one tiny little sentence, which did not alter the conclusions of the paper in question and was not even falsified, just mildly fudged. Now consider the staggering damage this man must have done! His second chance should not be in science, he should look for redemption elsewhere.

      1. Helen,

        What’s your field of research?

        It happens that I wrote a dozen articles with one of the founders of my field (chemometrics). This supervisor was nominated for the Nobel-prize in Chemistry for his ground-breaking ideas. He was adamant about a lot of things, such as
        – the results being reproducible,
        – avoiding unnecessary duplication or fragmentation of material, and
        – providing correct references (give credit where credit is due).

        In short, he taught us how to act as honest persons.

        So, how do you think I feel about ‘bad science’?

        Fraud, or bordering to fraud?

        It turns out that ‘bad science’ happens on a fairly broad scale and one therefore has to deal with it. In my opinion, scapegoating tends to be counter-productive.

        Just out of curiosity I read articles from ~150 years ago (that was absolutely not in the interest of my own research) and they literally taught me that on average science is doing better now. Perhaps you can take some relief from that experience of mine. [Try it out yourself!]

        My impression is that Stapel did relatively little harm. Who was going to follow up his research? After all there was really not much left to do (!). The conclusions being plausible, who wants to know about the data?

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