Monday, November 07, 2011

Diederik Stapel: liberalism codified as science

Dutch scandal shows what kind of manipulation is most intriguing for fraudulent researchers these days

Mindert has already told us that the Netherlands is vigorously discussing the Diederik Stapel scandal but let me admit that I only started to read about it in some detail once I learned that Rush Limbaugh commented on it on his talk show:
Dutch Sociologist Falsified Data to Codify Liberalism as Science
Many of us, including me, sometimes have a problem or two with Rush Limbaugh but I just think he is right on the money (at least) in this case.

To make the story short, Stapel, a psychologist, wrote dozens of articles based on fraudulent and manipulated data. He was accused, then [here a miracle occurs] and then he confessed to his sins, admitting that the accusations are pretty much accurate. He was fired and sued. As a result of these revelations, we know that about 30 papers he wrote are complete bogus. (Check some of the papers he has co-authored during his career.)

Some of the most juicy articles show what kind of results people want to obtain. One of his papers, and this one was based on completely false data, argued that vegetarians are less egotist than meat eaters. Then he wrote various papers claiming that the white people are naturally evil, inclined to discriminate against the blacks when blacks and whites litter and do other things. Also, we could learn that a high population density drives xenophobia. The evidence used to support these bizarre if not comical claims was fabricated (despite the fact that you might want to believe some of these statements, anyway).

Limbaugh says that scientists used to enjoy 100% credibility in the past – before the scientific community was contaminated by various likes of the promoters of the global warming propaganda i.e. doctrines meant to codify political programs (and in recent decades, it's left-wing programs) as science.

Song: Ms Ilona Csáková, Amsterdam, 1995. Stapel received his M.A. cum laude in psychology from University of Amsterdam but he worked in Tilburg.

I think that Limbaugh's statements are exaggerated. Scientists couldn't ever enjoy a complete trustworthiness, especially when you talk about psychologists and other soft scientists. Reasonable people always had to differentiate between things that are highly credible and things that are so unreliable that the statements of these sciences should better be ignored completely. And things in between. The global warming pseudoscience turned out to be a huge blow to the credibility of sciences, including the "physical sciences", but there has never been a qualitative "Yes/No" jump that would transform science from a trustworthy endeavor to an untrustworthy one.

Obviously, despite dozens of papers that turned out to be completely fraudulent, a sensible person shouldn't decide "not to trust science at all". This conclusion should especially be avoided when it comes to scientific disciplines pursued by completely different, and so far more credible, communities. But you should be careful before you uncritically trust someone's claims about new discoveries – but truth to be told, you (and we) should have always been careful!

Humans are not infallible and we shouldn't generalize. However, there's some detailed message coming out of this story, too.

We may look what kind of results the "researcher" wanted to obtain. This is the kind of results that are being rewarded by the university environment these days, largely due to the huge political bias in the academic world. If the researchers (and other people at universities) were perfectly honest and impartial, this political bias wouldn't matter at all because they would always separate their political beliefs from the actual scientific evidence.

Well, once again, people are not perfect. One must be particularly careful about "scientific results" that the dominant groups of people controlling or funding (and hiring in) the Academia could find convenient. Stapel himself was called a "golden boy": degrees cum laude, a huge amount of grants from NWO, papers in Science etc. which is considered prestigious in his discipline: the glory was clearly partly due to his "results" that many people wanted to hear. Institutionally speaking, he wasn't an average scientist but a very successful one. Scientifically speaking, he has always been a pile of garbage. Try to think why it was so. This may be happening in many other contexts except that the fraudsters haven't been quite caught yet.

And we're not talking just about manifestly ludicrous research about "egotist meat eaters" or "hardwired visualization of a black person behind every piece of garbage on the street". There are many claims that pretend to be scientific and that superficially don't sound as childishly biased as Stapel's "research" – but the evidence used to justify them is equally bogus as it is in Stapel's case.

And that's the memo.


  1. Mr. Lubos, while I generally like your blog (found this today), I think you are wrong on AGW. There are three different issues here: whether AGW is a valid scientific theory (and if it is, then it will be valid no matter who proposes it and of his ideology), if so, then whether we should do something about that, if if so, then what we should do. You seem to mistake the first with the latter two, just as I was some time ago.

    Remember that AGW was proposed some 100 years ago; most of climatologists accepted it in 1970s, when no global warming was observed at all; and past 40 years observations more or less conform to the theory.

    Please visit some scientific sites and read more about that (but be carefull to choose not some ecologist or green sites, since they are mostly junk!).

    I am conservative liberal, BTW, so do not think I am some leftist green activists with a mission :)

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  3. Dear Unknown,

    be sure I am not mixing the three questions but it just happens that your answers to all these questions contradict science.

    It's good that you realize that the AGW-promoting websites are being written by politically motivated hacks, crooks, environmentalists, and crackpots. When you eliminate them, you're left with a couple of genuine scientific websites discussing the climate science, such as this blog and a few others.

    I urge you to study the climate articles on this blog from A to Z because you clearly want to talk about this discipline but your current knowledge is basically zero.

    BTW your comment is wrong even in respects that are "apolitical". The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824, much more than 100 years ago. It is one of thousands of effects that matter in the atmosphere and how the whole climate system evolves depends on all of them, not a randomly chosen minor contribution (especially if you choose a gas that is not most important greenhouse gas, and CO2 is not).

    Also, it's totally untrue that in the 1970s, climatologists "knew" that there would be warming. Most of those who were talking about a trend would be talking about a new ice age.

    All the predictions of a "visible" greenhouse warming that were done in the past were safely excluded by the empirical evidence. For example, it's known that the warming trend is at most 35% of what one of the crackpots named James Hansen predicted in his 1988 testimony in the U.S. Congress.