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Nov 3, 2011      `

The excellence of Dutch science & psychology: Diederik Stapel - 3

 

   "La meilleure Philosophie, rélativement au monde, est d'allier, à son régard, le sarcasme de gaité avec l'indulgence du mépris."
   -- Chamfort

 


  "L'honnête homme, détrompé des toutes les illusions, est l'homme par excellence."
   -- Chamfort
 

I changed my epigraphs today, to two of my favourite aphorisms by Chamfort (<- more in English under the link, also by me) but left my title standing, though I have added a " - 3" to the title, that shows it is number 3 in a series started the first day of this month, on what it takes to become a Dutch excellent scientist, in a social science, at least.

Then again I wrote about this yesterday and the day before yesterday, so today I will not add much, and tomorrow I'll probably change the subject.

Meanwhile, I am Dutch; I am a psychologist, in terms of M.A. degrees; and I think I have a considerably better understanding of Dutch psychologists and of psychology in Dutch universities than most who do not have my nationality or degree, while I am also quite a lot more honest than the vast majority of those making money in a Dutch university or parliament. (This is mostly genetical, and apparently very rare in Holland.)

So here is a little more, though I will mostly restrict myself to passing on some I found in Dutch that I have not found in English, so far; to considering the question of what moved Diederik Stapel; and to quoting some from a New York Times article and commenting some on it.

    1. More about the plight of Diederik
    2. Why did professor Stapel commit fraud on a large scale?

   3. Some from and about a New York Times article

1. More about the plight of Diederik

From Dutch texts in the Dutch daily "De Telegraaf", dated yesterday, and the Dutch weekly "Elsevier's Weekblad", with the same date, it seems as if professor Diederik Stapel is in an asylum.

What precisely is the case is not clear: His wife is quoted to the effect that he is very ill, mentally completely down, and does not live at home, but is being taken care of elsewhere.

In case you read Dutch or wish to rely on Google's automatic translation, the last link gives the precise text Stapel's wife is said to have spoken.

I would not be amazed if Diederik is in an asylum, though Mrs Stapel's words aren't clear whether he is, since he fell within a month from being one of the supposed lights of Dutch science, to one of the world's greatest scientific frauds.

Then again, he did it himself, and very consciously and deliberately so, quite possibly for decades.

This leads me to the obvious question:

2. Why did professor Stapel commit fraud on a large scale?

In the same Elsevier's Weekblad, there is, again with yesterday's date, a Dutch article by a journalist who specialized in science for decades, and indeed has a degree in chemistry. Translated, the title and subtitle are these:

    - Diederik Stapel: A junk who had to score
        There is no reason to pity Diederik Stapel, who
        committed fraud on a big scale.

I agree, though it should be added he has a wife and - it seems - young children, who very probably were as surprised as most others seem to have been that Diederik committed fraud many times, during quite a few years, and that since that was established, the chances are that the lives of his wife and children are going to be a lot less priviliged than they were before.

Incidentally, there is an interim-report by a investigatory committee, but one reason that was titled "interim" (it's under the last link, in Dutch and in pdf, 295 Kb), is that while the commission seems certain that Stapel committed fraud in case of at least 30 published papers, and also supplied fake data for at least 12 Ph.D. theses of others, who now are in problems because of that - and see also:

    - Report: Dutch 'Lord of the Data' Forged Dozens of Studies - Science

as yet it is not clear whether he committed fraud in 150 more published papers. He may have, but unless he volunteers the information, it will take a lot of work to find out, and he is said to be so seriously ill that he cannot answer questions.

Personally, I would not be amazed at all if Diederik Stapel used data he had faked himself in nearly all or all of these papers, but then I am a Dutch psychologist who studied in the same university and faculty that produced doctor Stapel, and I have no illusions to loose about the science of psychology as practised in Dutch universities, since the 1970ies at least:

It was a mess; there were hardly any real scientists teaching it, and those who were were mostly removed by the fraudsters and political types; there was no interest in real science; there were no real standards; and everything was up to the scientists themselves, with hardly any controls whatsoever: One had to trust and believe them as authorities, and criticism of their person, intelligence, knowledge or methods was very much frowned upon as very incorrect and disloyal.

I know, e.g. because I was thrown out of the three months of Experimental Practicum all students had to take, because I refused to agree that Togo, at that time a leftist dictatorship much favoured by the leftist students who had the majority in the University Parliament, who seem to have spent many paid holidays there as revolutionary Dutch marxist comrades, was in fact an exemplary sort of country with a great government. (I kid you not. I said then this seemed politicized nonsense to me that had nothing to do with real science: I was kicked out, because - so I was told - I had shown to lack the right kind of scientific understanding and norms. University of Amsterdam, 1981.)

This is emphatically not to say that most psychologists who worked or work in Dutch universities were or are frauds, in Mr. Stapel's way, but it is to say, quite emphatically also, because many psychologists and others who are very pleasantly employed at Dutch universities claim or suggest differently, that anyone who wanted to commit fraud could do so very easily, and without any serious risk of being found out by his or her own colleagues, if only because the dominant morality of the scientific staff was the morality of most any staff: Protect your colleagues and their reputations! Do NOT criticize us and our colleagues of the scientific staff!

That is, if someone, especially with the rank of professor or lecturer of psychology, would have wanted to fake data, or did fake data, very few colleagues would have been in a position to find out, if only because these data tended to be jealously kept private and because most things were to be taken on trust, on the authority of one's professors and lecturers, and that was the morally right thing to do: Trust those with tenure, and defend their personal interests, if you want tenure.

Then again, personally I have no adequate ideas or information about what percentage of Dutch academically employed psychologists produced fake data for their published research. My guess is that it is a fairly small percentage, but my reason for that guess is a fairly cynical one: As soon as one has tenure in a Dutch university, in fact one is a high-ranking municipal or state bureaucrat, and it is virtually impossible to be dismissed - other than for raping a secretary and committing major fraud, and being found out.

This is also why the question with which this section opened, viz. "Why did professor Stapel commit fraud on a large scale?" seems quite easy to answer, at least on a commonsensical level:

(1) he wanted to be the first, the best, the greatest, the famous one, the supposedly brilliant one, and
(2) he did not mind to become so by committing fraud, more or less as sports' heroes quite often turn out to have taken anabolic steroids to help them become first, and
(3) he committed his frauds very deliberately and carefully, and believed that the existing norms in the Dutch universities - leave the researchers be, especially if they have tenure: they must be honest and good researchers - would cover up for him, and probably also that he could bluff himself out of problems, being a full professor.

In Bertrand Russell's words, used in another context, professor Diederik Stapel's motives are quite plain: Fraud "has all the advantages of theft over honest work".

3. Some from and about a New York Times article

There's rather a lot to be found the last days for those searching the net with "Diederik Stapel", but much is also repetitive, and not really well informed.

There was a good article in the New York Times, by Benedict Carey, with this title and link

    - Fraud Case Seen as a Red Flag for Psychology Research

This starts with the following two paragraphs

A well-known psychologist in the Netherlands whose work has been published widely in professional journals falsified data and made up entire experiments, an investigating committee has found. Experts say the case exposes deep flaws in the way science is done in a field, psychology, that has only recently earned a fragile respectability.

The psychologist, Diederik Stapel, of Tilburg University, committed academic fraud in “several dozen” published papers, many accepted in respected journals and reported in the news media, according to a report released on Monday by the three Dutch institutions where he has worked: the University of Groningen, the University of Amsterdam, and Tilburg. The journal Science, which published one of Dr. Stapel’s papers in April, posted an “editorial expression of concern” about the research online on Tuesday.

The third paragraph ends thus, and is followed by a fourth:

Outright fraud may be rare, these experts say, but they contend that Dr. Stapel took advantage of a system that allows researchers to operate in near secrecy and massage data to find what they want to find, without much fear of being challenged.

“The big problem is that the culture is such that researchers spin their work in a way that tells a prettier story than what they really found,” said Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s almost like everyone is on steroids, and to compete you have to take steroids as well.”

Yes - and besides, experiments and data in the social sciences are quite different (less reliable, less precise, less repeatable, all resulting in less predictive validity) from what they are in the physical sciences, that indeed also research far less complex things and systems as a rule.

Furthermore, as to Stapel's modus operandi:

Dr. Stapel was able to operate for so long, the committee said, in large measure because he was “lord of the data,” the only person who saw the experimental evidence that had been gathered (or fabricated). This is a widespread problem in psychology, said Jelte M. Wicherts, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam. In a recent survey, two-thirds of Dutch research psychologists said they did not make their raw data available for other researchers to see. “This is in violation of ethical rules established in the field,” Dr. Wicherts said.

I can assure Dr. Wicherts that I found the same, after having been removed from the Experimental Practicum, and set to do research of my own (suitably approved and published, indeed, eventually - since when I published no more in the science of psychology, having essentially given up on it as a real science) - in 1981.

Now one will very probably find it very difficult to get provably honest, provably reliable testimony of Dutch psychologists about Dutch psychology and psychologists (and many other subjects), especially if this is non-anonymous, but luckily there is more to psychology than the Dutch have delivered in it:

In a survey of more than 2,000 American psychologists scheduled to be published this year, Leslie John of Harvard Business School and two colleagues found that 70 percent had acknowledged, anonymously, to cutting some corners in reporting data. About a third said they had reported an unexpected finding as predicted from the start, and about 1 percent admitted to falsifying data.

I am quite willing to believe it - and "1 percent" must be presumed to be much less often than it does happen in fact, and that simply because publishing in science - whether real or pseudo science - is about money, power, status and careers.

Also common is a self-serving statistical sloppiness. In an analysis published this year, Dr. Wicherts and Marjan Bakker, also at the University of Amsterdam, searched a random sample of 281 psychology papers for statistical errors. They found that about half of the papers in high-end journals contained some statistical error, and that about 15 percent of all papers had at least one error that changed a reported finding — almost always in opposition to the authors’ hypothesis.

Quite so - or at least: quite as it was in the 1980ies, and indeed, next to methodological problems related to such data as were used in psychological experiments, this is one of my main reasons to conclude ca. 1980 that, contrary to what I was told by my professors of psychology, most of psychology was not a real science, but at best a protoscience.

For my terms, see the article Pseudoscience in Wikipedia, which also has the following diagram of relevant terms (I quote without the note-numbers)

The distance between pseudoscience and science is filled with protoscience (and fringe science) which can be understood from the following table:

        Systematized as scientific definition
    Treated with scientific method
  Tries to be science or just looks like science
Superstitions Pseudoscience Fringe science Protoscience Mainstream science

A field, practice, or body of knowledge might reasonably be called pseudoscientific when (1) it is presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research; but (2) it demonstrably fails to meet these norms.

As I said, the above quotation is from the Pseudoscience article in Wikipedia, not from the New York Times, but then here are the last three paragraphs from the latter:

“We know the general tendency of humans to draw the conclusions they want to draw — there’s a different threshold,” said Joseph P. Simmons, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “With findings we want to see, we ask, ‘Can I believe this?’ With those we don’t, we ask, ‘Must I believe this?’ ”

But reviewers working for psychology journals rarely take this into account in any rigorous way. Neither do they typically ask to see the original data. While many psychologists shade and spin, Dr. Stapel went ahead and drew any conclusion he wanted.

“We have the technology to share data and publish our initial hypotheses, and now’s the time,” Dr. Schooler said. “It would clean up the field’s act in a very big way.”

Indeed. I doubt it will happen, though: The existing situation, that is essentially one of trust, is very convenient for all involved, whether bona fides, like most, or mala fides, like some - and besides, it may be difficult to articulate clear and easily applicable rules that apply uniformly to all or most cases of research and data.

Then again, it would be very nice to get much more precision about the data, the methods for gathering them, and the actual persons involved (nearly all experiments in the science of psychology are on first-year students of psychology, for one example), at least if the supposed science based on these data and methods is (to be) published in a scientific journal.

The price for not doing this is delivering "sciences" - proto sciences, fringe sciences - like social psychology in the enterprising hands of such popular and productive professors of psychology as professor Diederik Stapel - who, as long as the type exists, which is as old as man, will remain popular, admired, lauded and put forward as exemplary, until found out, which most of the type will not be, unless ways and means are found to uncover them.


 


P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
 


As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):


1.  Anthony Komaroff Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
2.  Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT: 
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.  Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
9.
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
10.
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam/ with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.



See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.
 


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