Academic Fraud

An interesting case. Bellesiles? East Anglia? Don’t be silly — this is the Times, after all. But interesting nonetheless.

Science may be a noble endeavor. However, as with professional sports, if there’s enough money or opportunity for self-aggrandizement in it some people will cheat, and some people will be attracted to the enterprise precisely because of the opportunity to cheat. Stapels, the subject of the Times profile, looks like a real piece of work. It will be interesting to see if he succeeds in rehabilitating himself, even if non-academically, as he seems to be trying to do. Perhaps his post-academic career is just beginning.

(Via @blithespiritny on Twitter.)

15 thoughts on “Academic Fraud”

  1. Things can only fall as far as they have risen. As CS Lewis has noted, devils are made out of fallen angels, not fallen cows. The fear of the Mad Scientist since the time of Faust (at least), despite the reality of criminals being largely drawn from the lowest orders of intelligence, bears this out.

    And yet we do expect the respectable, those who have chosen callings which could be noble, to validate our prejudice, eh? (See also, artists who think themselves above the rules because theoretically, they could be misunderstood geniuses.)

  2. Psychology has been subject to these abuses for years. The most appalling is the “recovered memories” hysteria of the 80s and early 90s. At the time there were actually sessions at psychology association meetings to teach attendees how to “find” recovered memories. I became aware of this when I was at Dartmouth and read an account by a father who had lost his entire family after one daughter sought help for bulemia while a student at Dartmouth. The “therapist” convinced her she had been molested by her father and she, in turn, convinced her mother and sister that it was true. The father could do nothing and was excluded from the family on no objective grounds.

    The whole thing finally came to an end when a wine company executive sued Western Medical Center, in Orange County, and won. Suddenly, there was no malpractice insurance for “recovered memory” therapy. The entire field of inquiry collapsed in months.

    Steven Gold, a licensed marriage and family counselor in the Santa Cruz area who has written on mental health issues, said he was not surprised by the verdict, which he characterized as a wake-up call for therapists.

    “It’s a matter for mental health professionals to look at the issues and find better ways of diagnosing and assessing childhood molestation,” Gold said. “It opens up a big question. That’s the importance of the case–to re-evaluate our assessment tools and come up with better ways of handling those cases.”

    This followed the notorious McMartin preschool case. That was a gross miscarriage of justice and there was a history of many other cases. The psychology industry was heavily involved. I was outraged.

  3. There is a website devoted to academic fraud (called Retraction Watch) — it documents and names the malefactors. It has also identified certain academic institutions which cannot be trusted (the administrators turn a blind eye to the fraud perpetrated by their “researchers”.) Great website.

  4. The content of Stapel’s studies, e.g., “a study indicating that eating meat made people selfish and less social” are worthless and stupid. Who could possibly believe this junk? I’m sure he laughed alone while writing his papers: “I can’t believe they pay me to do this!”

    “You seem to regard science as some kind of dodge… or hustle. Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable! You are a poor scientist.”

  5. }}} What the public didn’t realize, he said, was that academic science, too, was becoming a business. “There are scarce resources, you need grants, you need money, there is competition,”

    There’s ALWAYS been those things, you DICK. What causes MOST people to NOT do what you’ve done is things called Honor, Integrity, and an actual devotion to TRUTH. :-/

  6. Why Most Published Research Findings Are False And that’s in hard science without malevolent intent. Why should we expect that those with malevolent intent would avoid such a fertile field financed by notoriously unaccountable public funding? Most of this stuff is unreliable for reasons explained in the paper and because the systems we are now studying are so complex that definitive statements are nearly impossible. See the economy, the climate, and any other area of inquiry that is being used as a political cudgel. We should not stop such research, but we should take it much less seriously until privately financed development has demonstrated its validity.

  7. No doubt at least PART of this chase for notoriety and reward is the cause for this:

    The Scientific Method & Its Limits – The Decline Effect

    It’s especially prevalent in (gasp!! Surprise surprise surprise!!) “the soft sciences”

    Money quote:
    But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.

  8. I think academia is rife with fraud in research. The East Anglia expose was just the tip of the iceberg. Just think of the claptrap we are exposed to every day disguised as “news” – from organizations one has heard little to nothing about – all citing “research” from popcorn being bad for you to ….global warming.

    Throw in grant money and the motives become obvious.

    Forbes Magazine even coined a term for this – Pseudo Science

    Michael – just think of the father’s lives ruined by this “repressive memory” nonsense.

  9. Michael, I was overseas during most of the ‘recovered memory-Satanic abuse day-care’ panic so I only knew of it at second-hand – but I was just appauled and horrified to read of the goings-on, and not just because I had a pre-school aged child in regular day-care. There was no kind of way that the shenanigans charged in McMartin and in a couple of the other abuse scandals could happen in the daycare centers that I knew personally, and so I had to logically extend it out to the daycare centers where it was claimed all these incredible things had happened. Even at a distance it was obvious to me that the children were being hectored and pressured into saying what the investigators wanted them to say. I knew even then that given enough time with a small child, I could get them to say anything I wanted them to say! But the most horrible thing to me was how the co-workers and parents of other children who spoke up in defense of the daycare workers being accused were threatened overtly or covertly by the investigators. ‘Go along with this – or you’ll be suspected/charged – and your children will be taken away.’ It was horrific to read about it all. And yes, I had a whole new appreciation for historical precedents like the Salem witchcraft matter.

  10. Unfortunately,the issue of data integrity is not confined to the social “sciences.”

    Back in the ’80s, when I was in grad school, there was some scuttlebutt that a certain STEM professor had fudged some of his data. I don’t know if he did or not. Students in labs have fudged data, or have thought about doing it.The temptation is always there.

    I have read some blogs- I believe it was AVI who did it- which showed that there was a pretty good correlation between Republicans/conservatives’ increasingly skeptical views of science and increased incidence of scientific fraud. This was NOT about fraud in the social “sciences” – but in the hard sciences. [Chemistry,Physics, Biology…]

    I have long had a very skeptical view towards any conclusions emanating from the social “sciences.” This is not because of the suspicion of invented data, as the Dutch professor had done, but from so many drawing inappropriate conclusions from data. The use of research findings in the social “sciences” to craft social policy- a.k.a. government goodies- has a long and dismal history.

    Recall the term “scientific socialism,” which purported to show that communist dogma had a scientific basis.

    I have seen too many “studies” which purport to show bad things about wingnuts, and good things about libs, to believe they are not more than propaganda. As a PostLiberal, I know what libs are up to.

  11. Some thanks, I believe, to Dorothy Rabinowitz for recovered memory reporting, but some remain imprisoned.
    Questionable studies are more often published if they reinforce establishment or elite belief-systems – this is why real (life style, political, spiritual) diversity in academic circles would seem a clear good. I doubt anyone at Auburn (in history anyway) belonged to the NRA – if they had Belliselles would not have prospered as he did and if anyone at The Chronicle of Higher Education was or had a spouse who was career military, I doubt his later work would have passed muster.
    Then there’s global warming – as my children, clustered to toast the youngest sister in Lincoln, deal with snow and an abbreviated graduation. (OK, one snowfall does not a refutation make, but the patterns don’t seem to reinforce the gospel.)

  12. Bellesiles is out with another book and, no doubt, has loyal readers who believe he was wronged by the criticism.

    For example, from one reader review

    I read this book at the same time I preached a sermon on non violence. I used quotes as well as major themes to show how complex societal violence really is. There are many examples of people who eschewed violence in the book and many who embraced it. Clearly when people are deprived of an ability to feed themselves, keep their land or who experience extreme injustice, a backlash is inevitable.
    At a time in our history when the government was depriving Native Americans of their land and industrialists were depriving workers of their wages, the vacuum in leadership lead to a country in chaos.

    A prophet always can find a follower or two.

  13. “Some thanks, I believe, to Dorothy Rabinowitz for recovered memory reporting, but some remain imprisoned.”

    Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, And Sexual Hysteria by Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters

    Science fads, especially prevalent in (pseudo?) sciences: “recovered memory,” “transactional analysis,” “rolfing,” “orgone therapy,” are incredibly damaging.

  14. That Rabinowitz book is excellent. I remember my first inkling of this coming plague was a TV show on public TV about the “Little Rascals” daycare center in Carolina, north or south, and it was horrifying.

    A good share of this abuse began when parents were informed that day care centers had insurance that would pay for such things. The hysteria wasn’t all irrational.

Comments are closed.