A culture permeated by ‘flawed science’ surrounded social psychologist Diederik Stapel. This is one reason why his academic misconduct went undetected for so long. The investigation into his practices and the discussion that followed have served as a catalyst for positive change, however. The fraud case has raised international awareness of the importance of scientific integrity. The discussion is now focusing more than ever on replication, data archiving and the general research culture.
This is the conclusion of the Levelt, Noort and Drenth Committees as published in their joint final report on the Stapel case. The report was presented to the Rectors of the universities concerned on November 28. The Committees investigated the periods during which Stapel committed scientific fraud and the publications involved. The Committees identified 55 publications in which it is certain that Stapel committed fraud during his time in Groningen and Tilburg. In addition, eleven older publications by Stapel published when he worked in Amsterdam and Groningen show indications of fraud. The earliest dates from 1996. A total of ten doctoral dissertations supervised by Stapel are ‘contaminated’ (seven in Groningen and three from recent years in Tilburg).
Although Stapel is fully and solely responsible for this extensive case of academic fraud, the Committees are also critical of the research culture in which this academic misconduct was allowed to go undetected. The Committees describe this as “a general culture of careless, selective and uncritical handling of research and data.” They conclude that “…from the bottom to the top there was a general neglect of fundamental scientific standards and methodological requirements.” The Committees point the finger not only at Stapel’s peers, but also at editors and reviewers of international journals.
The three Committees received all possible assistance for their investigation. They conclude that the discussion surrounding the case has led to a series of measures to prevent academic fraud and to investigate suspicions of fraud more effectively. “By establishing committees and issuing reports, organizations such as KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences), VSNU (Association of Universities in the Netherlands), and the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA) all have contributed to the debate about breaches of scientific integrity and their prevention,” according to the Committees. The recommendations presented by the Schuyt Committee (KNAW) similarly contribute to promoting scientific integrity.
In Stapel’s field, Social Psychology, many initiatives have already been taken to improve research practices. For example, the Association of Social Psychological Researchers ASPO is very active in the field of continuing education, data storage and replication.
An English translation of the final report ‘Flawed Science’ by the Levelt, Noort, and Drenth committees is avaliable online (pdf).
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