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Sunday, May 26, 2013
Tired of the endless polls, scientific research and behavioral studies being published? Do they seem surreal, exaggerated or untrue? You are not alone and should be skeptical.
A 2011 article in London’s Daily Telegraph, not widely published in the U.S., reveals the trials and tribulations of a 45-year-old Dutch professor, Diederik Stapel, of the University of Tilburg.
No ordinary professor, Stapel was a world renowned social psychologist with about a dozen scientific projects published in journals around the world. One such published report concluded that “white people are more prone to discriminate against blacks, when encountered in messy environments.”
After learning that Stapel had been dismissed by his university, New York Times reporter Yudhjit Bhattacharjee contacted and persuaded him to spend time answering questions about his research and career. These interviews led to an article published in The Times on April 26.
Stapel’s troubles started when two of his administrative assistants noticed something strange. Participants in his research always seemed to reach very high consensus levels, with little dissent, something abnormal in social behavioral research. They alerted his faculty superior to this anomaly.
This supervisor summoned the professor to discuss his work and scientific methodology used in projects that had been published. One of those projects concluded that “the very thought of people eating red meat caused anti-social behavior.” And capitalism, not surprising in academic research, came under assault with findings “that just being around any suggestion of capitalism made people greedy.”
Not satisfied with his answers, his superior transported Stapel back to the locations named and sites described in his research. Stapel was unable to find even the buildings, much less the physical sites where the actual research was supposedly conducted. Frustrated and shaken, he admitted that almost all of his research over the years was “made up.”
Trying to justify why it happened, the professor complained that academic science, too, is big business. “There are scant resources, you need grants, you need money, there is competition.” He also talked about the need to be published and to make speeches to groups that mattered.
Demands like these exist for most scientific research, even more so when the research has been politicized. This was present for all to see in “Climategate,” the massive leaking of memos, documents and reports at East Anglia University in England in 2009.
These leaks showed that bad science was used to “confirm” environmental claims, warnings and predictions. Memos also showed that scientists who advocated “man-made” global warming deliberately and systematically attempted to discredit those who disagreed with them, tarnishing their reputations and making it more difficult for them to get grants and funds for their projects.
Bhattacharjee’s New York Times article, “The Story of a Con Man,” concludes by saying it “hopes Stapel’s fraud will shine a light on dishonesty in science, but scientific fraud is hardly new. Some scientists consider the fraud insignificant, but scientific misconduct in recent years suggests, at the very least, that the number of bad actors isn’t as insignificant as some believe.”
In this time of political correctness and misinformation, one needs to be skeptical. English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley put it best, “Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed.”
Weather Journal70 Thursday to ice Sunday?