How to hire a fraudster chauffeur

images-16Would you buy a used car from this man? Probably not, but he thinks you might like to hire him as your chauffeur and brilliant conversationalist. I’m not kidding: fraudster Diederik Stapel is now offering what he calls ‘mind rides’ (see ad below video). He is prepared “to listen to what you have to say or talk to you about what fascinates, surprises or angers you”. He is already giving pedagogical talks on a train. This from Retraction Watch:

Diederik Stapel, the social psychologist who has now retracted 54 papers, recently spoke as part of the TEDx Braintrain, which took place on a trip from Maastricht to Amsterdam. Among other things, he says he lost his moral compass, but that it’s back.

Here’s a  rough translation of the chauffeur ad from Stapel’s website (source is this blog):

Always on the move, from A to B, hurried, no time for reflection, for distance, for perspective. […] Diederik offers himself as your driver and conversation partner who won’t just get you from A to B, but who would also like to add meaning and disruption to your travel time. He will […] listen to what you have to say or talk to you about what fascinates, surprises or angers you. [Slightly paraphrased for brevity—Branko]

I don’t think I’d pay to have a Stapel “disruption” added to my travel time, would you? He sounds so much as he does in “Ontsporing”[i],

[i]The following is from a review of his Ontsporing [“derailed”].

“Ontsporing provides the first glimpses of how, why, and where Stapel began. It details the first small steps that led to Stapel’s deception and highlights the fine line between research fact and fraud:

‘I was alone in my fancy office at University of Groningen.… I opened the file that contained research data I had entered and changed an unexpected 2 into a 4.… I looked at the door. It was closed.… I looked at the matrix with data and clicked my mouse to execute the relevant statistical analyses. When I saw the new results, the world had returned to being logical’. (p. 145)

…In Ontsporing Stapel explains the etiology of his fraud by likening it to addiction, although he admits that it is probably a combination of different factors, including: ‘The need to score, ambition, laziness, nihilism, want of power, status anxiety, desire for solutions, unity, pressure to publish, arrogance, emotional detachment, loneliness, disappointment, ADD, addiction to answers’ (p. 226). He also describes various unsuccessful attempts at quitting his ‘drug.’

Given that Stapel’s deception went undetected for many years, one may expect a cunning scheme of data-fabrication. However, the book reveals that Stapel’s trickery was remarkably unsophisticated, even clumsy:

‘I preferred to do it at home, late in the evening, when everyone was asleep. I made myself some tea, put my computer on the table, took my notes from my bag, and used my fountain pen to write down a neat list of research projects and effects I had to produce.… Subsequently I began to enter my own data, row for row, column for column…3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 4, 5, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 5, 4, 3, 3, 2. When I was finished, I would do the first analyses. Often, these would not immediately produce the right results. Back to the matrix and alter data. 4, 6, 7, 5, 4, 7, 8, 2, 4, 4, 6, 5, 6, 7, 8, 5, 4. Just as long until all analyses worked out as planned.'(p. 167)

To any crime there is not just means and motive, but also opportunity. … In his characterization of the latter — the academic environment of social psychology — Stapel insists on the almost complete absence of scientific control structures. This made it just too hard for him to resist temptation:

‘Nobody ever checked my work. They trusted me.… I did everything myself, and next to me was a big jar of cookies. No mother, no lock, not even a lid.… Every day, I would be working and there would be this big jar of cookies, filled with sweets, within reach, right next to me — with nobody even near. All I had to do was take it.’ (p. 164)

[ii] In this connection, here’s a brand new blog by Uri Simonsohn, Joe Simmons, and Leif Nelson: Data Colada: http://datacolada.org.

[iii]Some previous related posts on this blog:

JULY 3, 2013: Phil/Stat/Law: 50 Shades of Gray between Error & Fraud
JUNE 22, 2013: What Do These Share in Common: M&Ms, Limbo-stick, Ovulation, Dale Carnegie?: Sat Night Potpourri
JUNE 8, 2013: Richard Gill Integrity or Fraud…or Just Questionable Research Practices?
JUNE 1, 2013: Some Statistical Dirty Laundry
OCTOBER 25, 2011: Thinking of Eating Meat Causes Antisocial Behavior (Rejected Posts)

Categories: Statistical fraudbusting | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “How to hire a fraudster chauffeur

  1. Perhaps Dr. Anil Potti would find Stapel a sympathetic listener.

  2. Did anyone watch part of the video? I’m somewhat amazed they let him speak on this; I felt sorry for some of the passengers (I think there are like 8 speakers in one train ride). What would you advise the man do?

    • Yes, I watched the entire video, and found it to be quite boring. I do not think that this video benefits him, in terms of diminishing the negative connotation associated with his questionable research practice. In terms of recommending what he should do, I think he should start a career in a completely different field of study – maybe in a different industry (i.e., outside of academia), and even move to another continent (e.g., Africa, Antarctica). Put in another way, he is probably better off doing something totally different from what he did before in a place far away from Europe, so that he has a viable opportunity to change his (public) image.

  3. Jean

    My advice to him: Shut-up, write a book, get over yourself, you are a veritable sociopath–
    While I admire the idea of getting up after falling, and teaching your kids that lesson…Still, the fact that he never admits/confronts what horrible things he did to his students, to his colleagues appalls me.
    His whole speech is: “I, I , I..” “I lost connection to my ‘true self’ and so to others.” [Hmmm, seems to me he visualizes some glorious self that he “really” is–a deception indeed, because his true self was clearly shown through his actions.] He needs to get over himself and try to change his “self”. But on this trip, its always all about him.
    I mean, its not like this is a case where he interpreted data with bias, he didn’t even bother to get data!… “Whaaa…the world is chaotic and I want to make sense of it, have it fit what I think it should be…” Give the man another m&m!
    Worse, he, as our social psychologist here, talks about social connection but he has violated so many and so varied a group of social connections, yet instead of speaking to this,…he rambles on about how he violated his own “learning goal”! (Seriously, get over yourself already, so you violated your learning goal, what the heck do you think you were doing (did) to the learning goals of your graduate students, your colleagues,your profession, the public?!?
    He seems contrite (and charming) but if he could just come out and acknowledge, to say, YIKES! I totally ripped apart the social fabric of my university and world…how my students, colleagues, my profession must be suffering for my failures…:(
    Nope, by the end of the train ride its all about him, ….like I said, a sociopath with a ticket to ride.

    • Jean: I think he should seriously consider becoming a methodological critic of psychology studies; that would be constructive at least.

      • Jean

        That is actually a great idea–and the field sounds like an insider critic who knows all the tricks, (and consequences) would be ideal. 🙂

        • But would people ever give him a chance at this? I think those in experi-psych are too horrified and angry with him.Maybe a change of identity, country…it’s really a strange case.

      • Z

        Like Leonardo DiCaprio working for the anti-fraud division of the FBI at the end of Catch Me If You Can

        • Yes, but I now doubt he is capable of it. I think he’s highly defensive and frankly confused about why he is being regarded as such a big criminal.

  4. In one of the courses I am currently taking (i.e., GRAD 5104), the topic we will be focusing on for the next few weeks – starting tomorrow – is ethics and professional behavior, which seems related to this post. Hence, I recommend checking out the Official GRAD 5104 blog (http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/grad5104/) that already contains several interesting cases of research misconduct, with more to come. The one I found most interesting so far is: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/12/09/2437270/whistle-blower-in-uk-research.html (from http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/grad5104/not-so-smart-after-all/)

  5. I am currently interested in this “ethics and professional behavior” topic also, i have started a professional driver and chauffeur business supplying Manchester and the UK and i take professional behavior very seriously. I recommend checking out the Official website http://www.bookadriver.co.uk

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