Psychologist Jens Förster earns second and third retractions as part of settlement

Jens Förster

High-profile social psychologist Jens Förster has earned two retractions following an investigation by his former workplace. He agreed to the retractions as part of a settlement with the German Society for Psychology (DGPs).

The papers are two of eight that were found to contain “strong statistical evidence for low veracity.” According to the report from an expert panel convened at the request of the board of the University of Amsterdam, following

an extensive statistical analysis, the experts conclude that many of the experiments described in the articles show an exceptionally linear link. This linearity is not only surprising, but often also too good to be true because it is at odds with the random variation within the experiments.

One of those eight papers was retracted in 2014. In November, the American Psychology Association received an appeal to keep two of the papers, and Förster agreed to the retractions of two more:

Relations between perceptual and conceptual scope: How global versus local processing fits a focus on similarity versus dissimilarity,” which has 81 citations, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge — three more since we reported in November it would be retracted. “Local and global cross-modal influences between vision and hearing, tasting, smelling, or touching” has 17 citations (one more since in November). Both were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Here’s the text from the retraction note  — the same for both papers:

This retraction follows the results of an investigation by the University of Amsterdam into the work of Jens Förster. The University requested the retraction of this article based on its qualitative judgement of “strong statistical evidence for low veracity”.

The retraction notes also include the abstracts of the papers.

The UvA report that prompted these retractions did not speak to whether the suspect data was “due to witting or unwitting practices,” but another report from the Dutch National Board for Scientific Integrity noted that “the conclusion that manipulation of the research data has taken place is unavoidable.” And as we’ve noted before, Förster has denied accusations of data fabrication — here’s part of a response to the UvA report on his website:

I never manipulated data and never motivated my collaborators to do anything that is ethically questionable.

In June, UvA posted a statement on their investigation:

The journals in which the eight articles in the first category [strong evidence for low veracity] and the three articles in the second category [unclear evidence for low veracity] have been published, will be sent a copy of the report with respectively a request to retract the articles or to consider doing so. The dissertation articles supervised by Jens Förster will also be investigated.

The publisher of the American Psychological Association journals, Rosemarie Sokol-Chang, told us the status of two other papers that made the “strong evidence for low veracity” list:

In November 2015, our Publications and Communications board reviewed four articles that were determined by the University of Amsterdam to have strong statistical evidence for low veracity. We have received a formal appeal for two of the articles:

Förster, J., Liberman, N., & Shapira, O. (2009). Preparing for novel versus familiar events: Shifts in global and local processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138(3), 383-399. doi:10.1037/a0015748

Liberman, N., & Förster, J. (2009). Distancing from experienced self: How global-versus-local perception affects estimation of psychological distance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(2), 203-216. doi:10.1037/a0015671

Given the appeal, our Publications and Communications board will review the cases again in May 2016 before issuing a final decision.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen 

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