When colleagues called the work of Dutch psychologist Diederik Stapel too good to be true, they meant it as a compliment. But a preliminary investigative report released on October 31 gives literal meaning to the phrase, detailing years of data manipulation and blatant fabrication by the prominent Tilburg University researcher.
“We have some 30 papers in peer-reviewed journals where we are actually sure that they are fake, and there are more to come,” says Pim Levelt, chair of the committee that investigated Stapel’s work at the university.
Stapel’s eye-catching studies on aspects of social behaviour such as power and stereotyping garnered wide press coverage. For example, in a recent Science paper (which the investigation has not identified as fraudulent), Stapel reported that untidy environments encouraged discrimination ( Science 332, 251-253; 2011).
“Somebody used the word ‘wunderkind’,” says Miles Hewstone, a social psychologist at the University of Oxford, UK. “He was one of the bright thrusting young stars of Dutch social psychology — highly published, highly cited, prize-winning, worked with lots of people, and very well thought of in the field.”
Luckily, this time, he was caught out. This underscores very significantly why we need a great deal of oversight in the social sciences.