Case of Massive Scientific Fraud

A widely published and highly respected social psychologist is being investigated for fabricating data.

Edyta Zielinska
Nov 2, 2011

FLICKR, PLUTOR

The results of over a hundred research papers published across three institutions are in question as investigators examine the work of Diederik Stapel, one of the Netherlands' rising stars of social psychology.

"People are in shock," Gerben van Kleef, a social psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, told ScienceInsider. "Everybody wonders how this could have happened and at this proportion."

Already 30 papers have been found to contain falsified data, according to Nature. A report issued by Tilburg University, Stapel's employer, includes investigations from University of Groningen and the University of Amsterdam, where Stapel worked previously.

After conducting interviews with dozens of Stapel's students and collaborators, the committee found that Stapel would discuss experiments he claimed he had done earlier or via a network of collaborators, but no experiments were ever actually conducted. Stapel would ask his students or collaborators to analyze reams of data...

The University of Tilburg initiated the investigation after three researchers working for Stapel told the head of the department that they suspected Staple of fraud earlier this year. Shortly afterwards, Stapel reportedly admitted that he had falsified his research, and today he issued a statement apologizing to his colleagues for failing as a scientist.

Science published an editorial expression of concern yesterday (November 1) questioning the validity of research published by Stapel in its April 8th, 2011 issue, but as of yet, no official retractions have been made.

The commission concluded that Staple acted alone, but his actions could affect some 21 PhD theses that may have been published with fabricated data. "I think the impact is going to be particularly devastating for the young people he worked with, but not for the field of social psychology as such," Miles Hewstone, a social psychologist at the University of Oxford, told Nature.