Faking Science: A True Story of Academic Fraud

By Hauptman, Robert | Journal of Information Ethics, April 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Faking Science: A True Story of Academic Fraud


Hauptman, Robert, Journal of Information Ethics


Faking Science: A True Story of Academic Fraud Diederik Stapel. Tr. Nicholas J.L. Brown. 2014. 216 pp. free. (The English translation is available only online; the original Dutch version, Ontsporing, was published in 20i2.) https://errorstatistics. files.wordpress.com/ 2014/12/fakingscience-20141214.pdf

I was a magician. I created my own reality, and everyone thought it was real.-Diederik Stapel

This is a most unusual confessional monograph, one that offers insights into the life and mind of a now infamous serial fabricator, a Dutch academic psychologist who created his data out of whole cloth and published the results in 50 research papers in some of the most prestigious psychology journals (this entire business is reminiscent of Jan Hendrik Schön, a similar fraudster, whose derelictions are recounted in Eugenie Samuel Reich's Plastic Fantastic). The lessons learned are very simple, but few will heed them: Peer review does little to catch those who perpetrate misconduct and (social) psychology is not a science, otherwise Stapel's work could have been replicated, but questionnaire research yields very different results at different times and in different locations. Indeed, even Stapel admits that, "Nothing was always true; everything was conditional on something, and there were always exceptions. For every 'rule,' it turned out that there was some kind of qualification, some 'but' or 'perhaps' or 'sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't." This is not how physics or even geology operates. Indeed, the investigating committee denounced the "sloppy science" of social psychology research.

Stapel offers insights into his evolving life; what he wished to accomplish; how he went about the easy business of fabricating data and covering his tracks, even when questions were posed; how he managed this deception for a decade; how his innocent student collaborators were hurt and how when they began to suspect that something was wrong, shared this with Stapel's colleagues; and how he felt depressed and disappointed with himself when his academic and personal life unraveled. The original Dutch text must be quite mellifluous, because the translation is lovely: "Inside my head, the clouds of dust rising from the debris of the collapsed towers of my self-image were becoming darker and more impenetrable." Or again: "I'm about to face a veritable tsunami of misery."

Under normal circumstances, miscreants, deceivers, cheaters, liars-academics and other scholars who falsify, fabricate, plagiarize, breach confidentiality, conflict their interests, or otherwise act unethically or illegally, cover their tracks, deny culpability, make excuses, and never write confessional memoirs detailing what they did and admitting that they should have acted differently. Thus, Stapel provides readers with invaluable material (and also manages to expiate his sins): "And now it turned out that I'd committed professional suicide. I'd spent years slowly, carefully, deliberately, and with great precision, digging my own grave. I'd started with a teaspoon, and ended with a hundredhorsepower backhoe. Plenty of other people had slid into this hole, too. My wife and children, the rest of my family, my colleagues, my students: they all got dragged in. ... Everything that I had put my heart and soul into all those years, I had comprehensively destroyed with a web of untruths, prevarication, fairy tales, illusions, fantasies, and big, fat, outright lies. …

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