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Dropping Science
November 1, 2011
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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?

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