Dutch Researcher Retracts First Paper, Offers 'Apologies'

Deputy News Editor

Today's issue of Science contains the first official retraction of a paper by Diedrik Stapel, the Dutch social psychologist who allegedly made up or manipulated data in dozens of studies. The paper reported on a study finding that a messy physical environment promoted stereotyping and discrimination. Today's retraction notes that an investigation by Tilburg University, for whom Stapel worked until recently, indicated the study's data were fabricated. The retraction, which follows an Editorial Expression of Concern published after the university released its findings at the end of October, offers "apologies from author Stapel" and notes that "Coauthor Lindenberg was in no way involved in the generation of the data and agrees to the retraction of the paper."

The co-author, Siegwart Lindenberg of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands*, e-mailed ScienceInsider last month that Stapel approached him after reading a paper in Science he had authored. They planned follow-up experiments that Stapel then said he carried out. "There was no reason to be suspicious in any way about what he presented to me as the results of the experiments he conducted," Lindenberg noted in the e-mail sent soon after the university released its report. "I still believe that the possibility that disorder affects discrimination is an important idea and worthy of being tested in a way that is beyond suspicion. In fact, I believe that the series of experiments we planned also got to the heart of the possible mechanism. That this series seemingly has not been properly executed or (at least in part) even not executed at all, is therefore a doubly distressing fact."

This issue of Science also contains an editorial on the Stapel scandal in which social psychologists Jennifer Crocker of Ohio State University and M. Lynne Cooper of the University of Missouri call on their field to take steps to prevent similar episodes:

Greater transparency with data, including depositing data in repositories where they can be accessed by other scientists (as is done in some other fields), might have sped up detection of this fraud, and it would certainly make researchers more careful about the analyses that they publish. Although many social psychologists are reluctant to share their data, fearing that their analyses will be criticized or they will be scooped, increasing transparency in this way is important. The zeitgeist around replication must also change, because replication is the cornerstone of a cumulative science. Thus, the field of social psychology needs to develop policies that facilitate and encourage systematic replication. And in all of the sciences, discussing issues related to data replication should become part of student training, along with developing better systems for reporting suspected misconduct or fraud.

* This item has been changed to correctly locate the University of Groningen.

Posted in People & Events