Alt News November 1, 2011
Dropping Science

Yesterday, we told you about a recent victory of science over ideology, in which a physicist had to abandon his earlier views on climate change when confronted with new evidence from his own research. Unfortunately, not everyone is so committed to those ideals.

A Dutch social psychologist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands has apparently been fabricating data and releasing false research for close to a decade. Diedrik Stapel, who has published at least 150 papers since 2004, was found by an academic commission to have used fictitious data for "several dozens of publications" - an embarrassing state of affairs for anyone, but presumably even more so for a professor known as the "Lord of the Data."

Although the commission looking in to the allegations against Stapel has only released an interim report, the early findings don't look good: fake experiments that never took place; imaginary data; manipulated results; even reports of threats and insults against students and colleagues who asked to see the raw data.

So what have we not been learning from Diederik Stopel all this time? A popular scientific expert on Dutch TV, the researcher had revealed to the world such now-questionable findings as the fact that eating meat can make humans more aggressive, as can a messy work environment, and that it can be very important to have a glass of wine with dinner.

It's impossible to say how many people changed their living habits as a result of Stopel's research, but it seems clear that the scientist himself will be undergoing some serious life adjustments. He has already released a statement (for some reason, only in Dutch!), in which he apologizes to his colleagues for his failure as a scientist, and laments that his discipline of social psychology may now be cast in a negative light.

But what about his students? Not only have some of the Ph.D. theses Stopel supervised now been discredited as well, but anyone else who studied under him - especially those who he purportedly threatened for being too concerned about, you know, verifiable data - must surely be calling all of their studies into question. Is it too much to hope that these up-and-coming academics have learned that even the most celebrated researchers are not above a bit of fact-checking - and that if it sounds too good to be true, that it may just be?



Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are pre-moderated/reviewed and published according to our submission guidelines.