Management researcher admits to falsification, resigns

David DeGeest

A business journal has retracted two papers after the corresponding author admitted he falsified his results.

David DeGeest, an assistant professor in the Department of Management and Marketing, has also resigned from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, a university spokesperson told Retraction Watch.

Last month, DeGeest confessed to the Journal of Management (JOM) that he had falsified the results in two papers in the journalone from 2015 and one from 2016.

The papers explored strategies startups can use to increase their odds of survival. The 2015 work was highlighted in the Wall Street Journal, among other outlets; one story in Business News Daily is no longer on the site.

David Allen, the editor-in-chief of the journal, told us:

The Journal of Management undertook the investigation after receiving a query submitted to the Journal [in] January 2018 concerning the results of a published [2015] JOM article for which DeGeest was the lead author. When contacted, DeGeest admitted via email to falsifying results in two published JOM articles (February 7). Communication with Hong Kong Polytechnic University confirmed that DeGeest had also admitted to falsifying results in multiple articles across multiple journals, and HKPU was proceeding with their own internal review processes. All co-authors on the two JOM articles were contacted and given the opportunity to respond. Given the written admission of falsified results, the decision to retract was made around mid-February.

Allen explained:

Dr. DeGeest indicated that he falsified results “with the goal of making the results look better and to support the hypotheses.” Given the intentionally misleading falsifying of results, we have no confidence in the results of the articles.

An associate editor at the journal, Ernest H. O’Boyle, was a coauthor on the 2015 paper. For O’Boyle, the confession came “completely out of the blue:”

The data were legit, but he made up several of the significance tests/effect sizes associated with hypotheses.

When we contacted DeGeest, he said he has no comment at this time:

The retraction notice speaks for itself.

The retractions

Here’s the notice for the two JOM papers, retracted in early March:

After the initiation of an investigation into concerns about the reporting of results, the articles have been retracted as the result of information provided by corresponding author David S. DeGeest, who informed the journal that he incorrectly reported the results of the data analysis completed by him. Specifically, DeGeest notified the journal that many of the parameter estimates and significance tests he reported in the papers are false. DeGeest emphasized to the journal that he acted alone without the knowledge of co-authors.

The 2015 paper, “The benefits of benefits: A dynamic approach to motivation-enhancing human resource practices and entrepreneurial survival,” has been cited three times,  according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. The 2016 paper, “Timing Matters: When High-Performance Work Practices Enable New Venture Growth and Productivity,” has not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

DeGeest and his coauthors appear to have presented similar work to the 2015 paper at a 2013 conference, when DeGeest was a doctoral student at the University of Iowa.

O’Boyle said DeGeest had admitted to falsification in another article, a 2018 paper in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology; O’Boyle told us he informed the journal and the paper will be retracted. We emailed the journal to confirm but have not heard back.

Consequences of misconduct

O’Boyle explained that after the surprise wore off, he felt “a mix of sadness and anger:”

I knew David as a colleague and friend … From this point forward, when a potential employer, old friend trying to reconnect, or even a first date Googles his name, they will see this as the top result. Maybe he deserves that, but it doesn’t make it any less sad. The anger comes from him being willfully unaware of how his actions would hurt others. Three of his co-authors were/are untenured professors when this happened. Some of them were counting on these papers in their tenure push. Now those papers have gone from assets to liabilities. He’s tarnished the reputation of one of the best doctoral programs in the country as well hurting the other schools where he worked.

Elizabeth H. Follmer, a coauthor on both JOM papers, was also angry and shocked when she found out:

The retractions have at the very least introduced some unwelcome uncertainty. I am a tenure-track assistant professor at an R1 university. That means that the number of publications on my CV is my primary metric of success and that number is now smaller. 

But Follmer, an assistant professor at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, noted:

The fact that this negatively affects my career and those of the other co-authors does not change the fact that the retractions were necessary.

O’Boyle said he believes the retractions could compromise his credibility:

I don’t have a good answer to the question, “How do you promote Open Science and ethical research when you couldn’t even detect a fraudster in your own author chain?”. That I wasn’t aware of the misconduct is not an acceptable answer. I can change things moving forward but there’s nothing I can do about having let a friendship interfere with the hallmarks of good research collaboration–healthy skepticism and independent verification.

O’Boyle added:

Fraud doesn’t just hurt the people that read or cited those papers. It hurts the credibility of the field.

Follmer told us she has cancelled all projects with DeGeest:

I had known DeGeest for several years and had trusted him as a colleague. He betrayed that trust.

Update March 21 16:00 UTC: We’ve changed the headline to specify DeGeest was publishing in the field of management, not marketing — thanks to Oleg Urminsky for catching the error. He tweeted:

He was in a joint management/marketing department, but these are distinct fields, and he published in management, not marketing.

Update March 23 15:00 UTC: Sharon Clarke, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, confirmed the 2018 paper has now been retracted. Here’s the notice:

The above article, published online on 11 January 2018 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) has been retracted at the request of David DeGeest by agreement between the authors, the journal Editor in Chief, Sharon Clarke, and John Wiley & Sons. David DeGeest was responsible for introducing errors into the coding used for the meta‐analysis with the result that some of the studies can no longer be included in the analyses. This happened without the knowledge of the co‐authors.

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