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Social Psychologists Lash Out at 'Attack' in Stapel Report

10 December 2012 1:10 pm
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Social psychologists may be unified in their condemnation of fraudster Diederik Stapel, but some are very unhappy about the exhaustive investigation report about his case that appeared on 28 November. A scathing statement issued on Saturday by the Executive Committee of the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP) describes some of the report's broader conclusions as an "attack" on the entire discipline.

The three committees that wrote the report, led by Willem Levelt of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, looked well beyond Stapel to investigate how his massive fraud—which tainted at least 55 papers and 10 doctoral theses—could have gone unnoticed by co-authors, colleagues, reviewers, and journal editors for years.

The reports contains caveats, for instance when it says that it is "unable to make any statement" about social psychology as a whole. But then it goes on to do just that, the EASP statement says, for example, by stating that "far more than was originally assumed, there are certain aspects of the discipline itself that should be deemed undesirable or even incorrect from the perspective of academic standards and scientific integrity."

"As a community, we repudiate 'sloppy science' in all its forms," the EASP statement concludes, "and, for that reason, we find the conclusions about social psychology contained in the final Levelt report to be unacceptably flawed."

The statement also takes aim at the report's view that reviewers, even at the best journals, are at fault because they failed to notice the "blatant fraud" in Stapel's papers. In an analysis of 40 major fraud cases published in last month's issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, social psychologist Wolfgang Stroebe of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and colleagues showed that it's rare for reviewers to nab fraudsters in any field; there's no reason to single out reviewers in psychology for blame, Stroebe wrote in an opinion piece in his university's magazine last week. The committees "might offer their apology to the many scientists they have insulted with their slanderous conclusions about social psychology," he added.

Asked for comment by ScienceInsider, Levelt e-mailed a standard reply stating that members of the now disbanded panels "are flooded with reactions" and cannot respond immediately to all of them. He appended a few lines to the statement, however, to say:

I do hope that social psychologists, after their repeated (unjustified) criticisms of five lines in our report, will ultimately be prepared to engage in some degree of self-reflection. Our report offers ample, concrete material to do so.