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Beyond peer review: Could a new fraud detection tool work in science?

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Rob Sheldon tells us that in “Fraud-Detection Tool Could Shake Up Psychology” (Science, 6 July 2012), Martin Enserink reports a new fraud detection tool for science papers. It’s paywalled, but here’s the gist:

AMSTERDAM—The most startling thing about the latest scandal to hit social psychology isn’t the alleged violation of scientific ethics itself, scientists say, or the fact that it happened in the Netherlands, the home of fallen research star and serial fraudster Diederik Stapel, whose case shook the field to its core less than a year ago. Instead, what fascinates them most is how the new case, which led to the resignation of psychologist Dirk Smeesters of Erasmus University Rotterdam and the requested retraction of two of his papers by his school, came to light: through an unpublished statistical method to detect data fraud.

The technique was developed by Uri Simonsohn, a social psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who tells Science that he has also notified a U.S. university of a psychology paper his method flagged. That paper’s main author, too, has been investigated and has resigned, he says. As Science went to press, Simonsohn saistd he planned to reveal details about his method, and both cases, as early as this week.

There is, of course, a simpler method that you don’t have to pay for: When it comes to social psychology, we are all experts, by necessity. Always distrust social psychology papers, proclaiming a general truth, that do not sound like most people you know.

It’s an outright lie that the popular, proved fraudulent papers were accepted because they were “edgy.” They were not edgy within their own field. Everyone in the field “knew” that flyover country is full of dangerous, irredeemable racists and that Top People sleep around more than the rest of us. That’s the true reason no one in the field questioned what most of us would doubt from experience.

And we can only guess what is going on in other sciences, fuelled by the same sort of problem.

And people wonder why we don’t believe the latest apocalypse, instead of asking basic questions like, how is legitimate trust earned?


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