Monday, March 28, 2016

A review of "Derailment", Diederik Stapel's autobiography

In 2011, social psychologist Diederik Stapel was accused of faking his data.  As allegations mounted, Stapel admitted to fraud and was fired his university post.  The incident was widely covered in the news (I blogged about it here) and is one of the precipitating events for the current conversation in psychology about reproducibility.

Two years after the scandal broke, Stapel wrote an autobiography, "Ontsporing", or "Derailment".  An English translation of this autobiography is now freely available for anyone to read.

If Stapel is an admitted liar, why should we take his autobiography seriously?  The thing is, although less severe forms of scientific misconduct are more common, outright fraud is
rare -- about 1.97% of scientists admit to committing fraud in surveys on the subject (Fanelli, 2009).  Rarer still is for someone admit to fraud publicly and then go on to write about their experiences.  Stapel's autobiography therefore has value in that it provides a window into the psychology of someone who did not just tiptoe the shallows of scientific misconduct, but who dove in headfirst.

In other words, I thought I might learn something about why Stapel decided to commit fraud by reading about his experiences in his own words.  So I did.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Reproducibility is more than the RPP

A bit less than a year ago, in one of the biggest events in psychology in recent memory, a group of researchers published the Reproducibility Project: Psychology, a landmark effort to reproduce 100 findings in psychology journals.  The major result was that, depending on how you measure "reproducibility", between 39% and 47% of the original results were successfully reproduced.  Today, a new comment on the RPP has been published that makes the bold claim that the reproducibility estimates reported by the original team were drastically wrong, and are "statistically indistinguishable from 100%".

Although the commentary does raise some good points -- they note that some of the studies in the reproducibility project depart from the original studies in ways that are likely problematic -- I also think it's easy to lose sight of the broader context when critiquing a single project.  (For those interested, there also may be some problems with the basic claims of the critique)