Diederik Stapel – The bad news

No year is free of scientific scandal, but 2011 saw some particularly high-profile cases. In October, prominent psychologist Diederik Stapel was fired by Tilburg University in the Netherlands after an investigation committee found extensive fraud in his work. Three months earlier, evolutionary psychologist Marc Hauser resigned from Harvard University following last year's misconduct findings, but while the US Office of Research Integrity continues to investigate the case, exact details of what he did remain remarkably scant. The scandal involving cancer geneticist Anil Potti, who resigned from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in 2010, reached new heights in September, when patients enrolled in clinical trials based on his science brought a lawsuit against the university and the scientists involved, claiming that they had been harmed. And November saw the dramatic arrest and brief jailing of Judy Mikovits, prominent for her work (now partially retracted) linking chronic fatigue syndrome to a virus.

Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel had been called one of the ‘bright thrusting young stars’ of the field before his career imploded this autumn over fraudulent research. In prominent studies that explored prejudices and stereotypes, Stapel didn’t just fudge data, he fabricated entire experiments — seemingly for much of his career, according to a preliminary report issued on 31 October by the three university committees investigating his work. They are still sifting through data from approximately 150 published papers to catalogue Stapel’s misdeeds for a final report to be issued next year.

In my personal opinion, the pressure to perform has gone up so much in all the fields including science; even the greatest thinkers tend to slip down the wrong path. In my short research career so far, I have personally known so many bright guys forging data just to keep their job or funding. It’s time for the researchers as well as funding agencies to sit and analyze this situation. If the same trend continues, a day will come where we wont be able to find even a single passionate scientist.
· · · December 31, 2011 near Singapore, Singapore

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