Social Psychology Damned Again

An exhaustive report about research fraud committed by social psychologist Diederik Stapel paints a picture of a field beset by sloppy practices and low standards.

By | November 30, 2012

Flickr, sa_ku_raIn a detailed final report about the fraud committed by Dutch researcher Diederik Stapel, three separate investigative panels have heaped further criticism onto the field of social psychology in general. The investigators found that “from the bottom to the top there was a general neglect of fundamental scientific standards and methodological requirements”—a situation that allowed Stapel’s fraud to continue for years.

Several other social psychologists have also come under scrutiny in the past year, and this latest report comes just 2 months after Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote an open letter urging researchers who work on social priming studies to clean up their act. “Your field is now the poster child for doubts about the integrity of psychological research,” he wrote.

With regard to Stapel, who was fired from his position at Tilburg University in September 2011, the report found that he was responsible for data fraud in 55 published papers and 10 PhD theses written by students under his supervision. There were also doubts about another 10 papers, although fraud could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The investigators argued that such misconduct remained undetected for so long because colleagues in the field had not been sufficiently critical of Stapel’s work. And even in papers that were not overtly fraudulent, the panel found serious flaws that led them to conclude that social psychology is a field with a culture of “sloppy” science in which researchers lack a basic understanding of statistics, journal reviewers encourage scientists to leave out unwelcome data, and journals print results that are clearly too good to be true.

“I feel deep, deep remorse for the pain I have caused others. I feel a great deal of sadness, shame, and self-blame,” said Stapel in a statement. “The truth would have been better off without me.”

(Hat tip to ScienceInsider)

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Avatar of: Bill Courtney

Bill Courtney

Posts: 2

December 1, 2012

Well at least the investigation found no evidence of “meta-fraud”, where University managers commit secondary fraud to cover up research fraud.

In contrast, evidence of meta-fraud is presented at


December 2, 2012

Dear The Scientist,

(Preamble: the following content of this post is not in any way to be regarded as a religious argument against Richard Dawkins' understanding of the theory of evolution. Often, when contradicting Dawkins, it is done so within relgious terms. Not in this case. I am not a religious person in that sense and my philosophical and scientific thinking is not based on such understanding in any case. The following post merely sets out, in my opinion, yet another example of how a scientific field is beset by sloppy practices and low standards. In this case, the scientific field practiced and endorsed by Richard Dawkins.)


As a philosopher, it has come to my attention that some statements made by Dr.Dawkins are inconsistent with rational thought, in that some of these statements hold within a contradiction. Furthermore, because Dr.Dawkins' contradictory statements have not been challenged by the scientific community at large, others within the very same community have taken it upon themselves to expand even further onto that which stands on shaky grounds.

In 1986, Dr.Dawkins published ' The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design'

On page 200  it reads: “Before we come to these difficult matters, I must back-track and say a little about the origin of the idea of sexual selection. It began, like so much else in this field, with Charles Darwin. Darwin, although he laid his main stress on survival and the struggle for existence, recognised that existence and survival were only means to an end. That end was reproduction.”

 On page 126, it reads “We have seen that DNA molecules are the centre of a spectacular information technology. They are capable of packing an immense amount of precise, digital information into a very small space; and they are capable of preserving this information – with astonishingly few errors, but still some errors – for a very long time, measured in millions of years. Where are these facts leading us? They are leading us in the direction of a central truth about life on Earth, the truth that I alluded to in my opening paragraph about willow seeds. This is that living organisms exist for the benefit of DNA rather than the other way around. This won’t be obvious yet, but I hope to persuade you of it."

The messages that DNA molecules contain are all but eternal when seen against the time scale of individual lifetimes. The lifetimes of DNA messages (give or take a few mutations) are measured in units ranging from millions of years to hundreds of millions of years; or, in other words, ranging from 10,000 individual lifetimes to a trillion individual lifetimes. Each individual organism should be seen as a temporary vehicle, in which DNA messages spend a tiny fraction of their geological lifetimes.”

Within the above quoted paragraphs I have highlighted some parts, for those are the particulars which are of interest when considering the contradictions held within.

Dr.Dawkins is making reference to 'sexual selection, survival and the struggle for existence' in relation 'as means to an end', and 'such end is to be reproduction'. In other words, 'that living organisms exist for the benefit of DNA rather than the other way around'.

But when we consider the human being and consider this human being, like all other being, to exist within the theory of evolution so described by Dr.Dawkins, it would be contradictory to find the human reproduction aspect to stand as if by choice, for there not only appears to be a choice for humans whether to reproduce or not; there is a choice to reproduce or not. Therefore, the human sexual act is not solely or even necessarily geared toward reproduction. Somehow, somewhere within the human make-up, the genetic information is not telling itself to reproduce. And not only that: the sexual selection made, at least in our understanding of human beings, is not always made with reproduction in mind. The reproduction aspect and the sexual selection aspect are therefore not necessarily connected as such. 

Something else must therefore be of importance within the line-up of continuation of being,  and I would suggest such missing link to be the need to unite. Reproduction is thereby not as end but as inevitability, for it is unity which makes reproduction as possibility and as a possible inevitable aspect. The process I am trying to describe here is much more complex than can be set out within this letter. However, the fact remains that Dr.Dawkins' explanation of the role being played by DNA, namely that the being exists for the benefit of the DNA, and the role being played by reproduction, namely that reproduction is the aim of DNA as an end, is contradicted by the nature of choice.

It is my opion that Dr.Dawkins has set us on the wrong path when regarding the true nature of evolution. Evolution is, let there be no doubt about it. But the process or driving force by which evolution evolves is not as Dr.Dawkins likes us to believe. (By means of reason I have found other contradictions existing within Dr.Dawkins understanding of evolution, but the one mentioned above will suffice here.)

Let us then look further and consider what Dr. Fisher (Helen E. Fisher is an American anthropologist and human behavior researcher. She is a professor at Rutgers University and has studied romantic interpersonal attraction for over thirty years) has been building up over top of Dr.Dawkins (mis)understanding:

Recently, when elaborating on the topic of human love and romantic human love in particular, anthropologist Helen Fisher, had this to say: “I don’t think we are animals build to be happy; we are animals build to reproduce.” (  watched January 10, 2011).

But not long after that, the very same scientist, Helen Fisher, had this to say when appearing as guest on the Joy Behar Show: “..because there is something odd about not having kids. From a Darwinian, evolutionary perspective, you're choosing to not pass on your DNA on into tomorrow and in terms of genetic survival you have lost….. Times have changed so dramatically, and we're finally at a time in human evolution when women can make that choice (to reproduce) and I think that's a thrill." (  Watched January 3, 2011).

At first it may seem as if Dr.Fisher is ready to expose Dr.Dawkins contradiction when she says that there is 'something odd about not having kids', that  'from a Darwinian, evolutionary perspective, you're choosing to NOT pass on your DNA', but in fact she does not point out the contradiction at all. She instead seems to relish in the idea that this is somehow wonderful without giving any explantion, within evolutionary terms, of how it could be so.

Not only does Dr.Fisher manage to expand on Dr.Dawkins' contradiction; she feels free to add whatever her fancy desires when it comes to furthering the explanation of being human. She doesn't think we are animals build to be happy! And she simply takes it from there. Perhaps Dr.Fisher thinks that somehow the being of human could stand apart from the general understanding of evolution, for it seems unclear exactly what she is trying to say there.

I have never seen a more blatant disregard for rational thinking as has been demontrated by Dr.Helen Fisher when brushing over the things she does.

For years, and in a most rational way, I have tried to convince myself that Dr.Fisher and Dr.Dawkins must be right after all because they are experts within their scientific fields and recognized for it. But, for the life of me, I cannot find an outcome other than that the contradiction held within their statements must be real and must be of significance.

As a philosopher I am concerned with the idea that because a scientist has become famous or has become well known to the general public, that perhaps questioning them would be below them or would perhaps be below all of us. Yet questioning them we must for if indeed their statements are contradictory, as I claim them to be, then being famous or well known will only lead to a quicker and faster spread of falsehoods. And that would serve no one particularly well. (For instance, coming to terms with the meaning of ethics or ethical behaviour in humans, the above mentioned contradictory element within the statement forms an obstacle which can not be overcome if the contradiction is not being looked at in a serious manner.)

My hope is that someone with extended knowledge of the theory of evolution will look into this matter with me, for I am not a scientist. Yet, the contradictory statements I am referring to do perhaps belong to the field of philosophy for doing the untangling since we are not really talking about details of workable genetic make-up perse, but rather how the larger theory of evolution must be looked at for further understanding. As a process, a macro look, rather than as a detailed microscopic look.

I will leave you with my webpage on which I have placed a more detailed version of my thoughts under:  'the big picture - Dawkins' flaws. 




Francien Verhoeven










Avatar of: darwinbot


Posts: 12

Replied to a comment from Francien Verhoeven made on December 2, 2012

December 3, 2012

Apart from the fact that I don't understand why this was posted here, here is a short version--from a non-specialist--of a perfectly reasonable explanation for seemingly non-adaptive human behaviour from the point of view of genes; none of this is of course my idea: I believe it was in one of Richard Dawkins' books (The selfish gene, I think), so, nothing new, and no real challenge to Dawkins' version of evolutionary theory.

No one denies, least of all Dawkins, that humans are a very special kind of animal, and of course what makes them special is culture. The very special thing about culture is that it too evolves, and at a rate far superior to genes, so that genetically maladaptive behaviours--suicide bombing, contraception, ...--can spread culturally far faster than genetic natural selection can weed them out, so that these behaviours will persist for a very long time (by human standards, perhaps not by evolutionary standards).

I find this explanation, reinforced by the many findings about human behaviour which are perfectly in line with what one would expect to evolve from good ol' selfish gene selection--sexual jealousy, male 'ownership' of related females' reproductive rights--perfectly rational, and in no evident contradiction with Dawkins-like current undestanding of evolution and natural selection. (But please don't take my word for it, read some more of Dawkins' books, maybe some Stephen Pinker, too...)


December 3, 2012


Thank you for your response. I welcome any feedback on this matter, for that is how we challenge each other.

Why would it not be fitting to have posted my letter on this site? The content of the letter deals exactly with the topic at hand, namely the painting of a picture of a field beset by sloppy practices and low standards (see subtitle underneath headline at the top).

When you read my letter carefully enough, you will find that because the contradiction found within Dr.Dawkins' understanding of evolution has not been suficiently challenged by the scientific community at large, a much better understanding of human behaviour is therefore lacking.

I have read many of Dr.Dawkins' books, including The Selfish Gene, and including The God Delusion. Furthermore, I have watched many debates in which Dr.Dawkins participated, and have listened to many interviews in which he touches upon the subject at hand. Both, the contents of the debates and the contents of the interviews, I have carefully analyzed and taken under consideration. And I have pointed out within my letter: "By means of reason I have found other contradictions existing within Dr.Dawkins understanding of evolution, but the one mentioned above will suffice here." In other words: it's a start.

Of course, the format provided here leaves me little room for setting down all that which can be found to contradict Dr.Dawkins. That's why, at the end of my letter, I suggested that futher reading on the topic can be found at my webpage.

In any case, let me try and deal here with what you have offered as a counter argument in regards to the contents of my letter.

Culture. What is culture but a product of our human understanding. Yes, culture evolves but never independently from humans interacting with that which is all encompassing, such as history (build-up of culture) and future (expectation of culture), and the present (which is more complicated and I will not expand on that here). Culture cannot merely be defined in terms of historic and futuristic outlooks, held in balance by the present, but culture is simultaneously established by means of human interaction ongoing with all else which exists, throughout history and will do so throughout the future.

Culture is a very complicated topic. Yet, without feeling the need to come to terms with a much more defined understanding of culture at this point, it would still be possible to suggest that Dr.Dawkins' misinterpretation of evolution may have had the undesired effect of leading us astray in regards to the understanding of sexual selection and the understanding of resproduction, all within the understanding of an evolutionary process.  I am saying that the macro-look at evolution needs to be reconsidered. (Hence the example given of the manner in which Dr.Fisher freely expands on shaky grounds.I would suggest that reproduction and happiness do not have to be exclusive of each other at all, but that in fact they most often line up together beautifully!)

When Dr.Dawkins suggest that the human make-up is just a vehicle for transport of DNA, and that the genes have only one goal in mind, namely to survive by means of reproduction, then we do find a contradiction in human terms, namely the fact that humans in deed have a choice whether to reproduce or not. Here we have humans apparently saying 'no' to what the genetic information is telling them to do.  I understand what you are trying to use as a counterargument, namely that the humans who choose not to reproduce and the humans who prefer to blow themselves apart (and I will add to that the practice of homosexual behaviour), will never come to have the upper hand in regards to the behaviour of our species at large. In that our species will survive in spite of 'deviant' behaviour. 

But such counterargument does not address the contradiction held within Dawkins' statement as laid out by me. Dawkins is of the understanding thus: " This is that living organisms exist for the benefit of DNA rather than the other way around. "  By which he means that all is geared toward reproduction. And that the reproduction aspect is what makes evolution a possibility. But I am not disputing the fact that reproduction is needed for evolution to occur; I am saying that reproduction is as inevitabiltity, thereby setting the macro-look of evolution in a different perspective. (We will also come to a much better understanding of culture once the reproduction aspect as inevitability  is to be considered.)

Before any reproduction occurs, or can occur, the action of unity needs to take place. And it is the drive for unity which leads to the aspect of reproduction as inevitability. In fact, for humans to decide to not reproduce is exactly explained by the importance of unity, namely that the human being ( within the evolutionary chain) has found a new form of unity which is 'the possibility of contraception'. The idea of active contraception is as unity deposited; as a reproduction coming out of the human mind. This unity (the idea of contraception) in turn forms a new concept for humans to interact with, and as such will be folded into our formation of culture. And simultaneously, the human being, as biological body, as vehicle if you will, will thereby have found unity by doing the living without a biological offspring having been reproduced.  (I've never said that the process of evolution is not a complex process!)

Perhaps Dr.Dawkins tries to brush aside the contradiction held within his understanding of evolution by saying that humans are a very special kind of animal, but such is rubbish, for he would thereby suggest that human beings are to be ruled under different evolutionary terms or drives than other animals. In other words, we would then have to ask Dr.Dawkins if he does indeed believe that humans evolve under a special sort of rule in terms of the theory of evolution. To suggest that humans would have a special rule within the theory of evolution would mean that the theory of evolution is not an overarching theory at all. And where then would that leave the theory of evolution when two wrongs delivered don't make the theory right?

The process of evolution is being guided by a force which is in existence and such force needs to be fundamental. Such force would be funtamental in regards to biology as well as be fundamental for all else existing (including physics, chemistry, cosmology, philosophy, culture and what have you).

I will leave it at that for now. If you feel like debating about this further, I would be happy to do so.

(Thanks for the reading suggestions, but just yesterday I picked up these two books: Time Warped by Claudia Hammond, and A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss, for I believe that the topic of biological evolution needs to be put in a much wider context.)




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