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An interview with a post-modern, truth-optional scientist

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Anyone remember Stapel?:

Some readers will recall the case of the Dutch psychologist Diederik Stapel, former dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Tilburg University, who was publicly exposed in 2011 for faking his data in several dozen published papers about human behavior that had made him famous – and who, after being caught, decided to publish a book about his con, detailing how and why he’d done it. Uncommon Descent ran a story about the case (see here), and another story about how it was exposed (see here), while James Barham discussed it at further length over on his blog, TheBestSchools.org, in an article entitled, More Scientists Behaving Badly. A story about the case appeared in The New York Times last week: The Mind of a Con Man, by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee.

The case has become something of an academic scandal, not merely because of the fraud perpetrated by Stapel, who doctored his data in at least 55 of his own papers, as well as 10 Ph.D. dissertations written by his students, but also because it cast the entire field of behavioral psychology into disrepute.

An illuminating 2013 piece from the New York Times:

Several times in our conversation, Stapel alluded to having a fuzzy, postmodernist relationship with the truth, which he agreed served as a convenient fog for his wrongdoings. “It’s hard to know the truth,” he said. “When somebody says, ‘I love you,’ how do I know what it really means?” At the time, the Netherlands would soon be celebrating the arrival of St. Nicholas, and the younger of his two daughters sat down by the fireplace to sing a traditional Dutch song welcoming St. Nick. Stapel remarked to me that children her age, which was 10, knew that St. Nick wasn’t really going to come down the chimney. “But they like to believe it anyway, because it assures them of presents,” he told me with a wink….

The experiment — and others like it — didn’t give Stapel the desired results, he said. He had the choice of abandoning the work or redoing the experiment. But he had already spent a lot of time on the research and was convinced his hypothesis was valid. “I said — you know what, I am going to create the data set,” he told me. More.

Note re behavioral psychology and disrepute:

Science or just common sense?

One problem with social psychology’s claim to be a science is that the “edgy” findings so often turn out to be suspect. No surprise there because if they defy normal experience, they probably are suspect.

Put another way, it is easier to tell mature people something about particle physics that truly surprises them (but is true) than it is to tell them something about human nature that truly surprises them (and is also true).

Many people are genuinely surprised to discover that the elementary particles of our universe are non-local. They can be in two places at once. But never mind; that is not something most of us usually deal with in ordinary life. But when social psychologist Diederik Stapel claimed to demonstrate that untidy environments cause more racism, the public was in a better position to judge.

One wishes responsible researchers in any discipline well as they pick up the pieces after a debacle like this.

But let’s not forget, if people honestly believe that our brains are shaped for fitness, not for truth, everything would be fine if Stapel could just silence his critics and get away with it.

Many disciplines face that choice today.

See also: If peer review is working, why all the retractions?

Hat tip: Nancy Pearcey

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3 Replies to “An interview with a post-modern, truth-optional scientist

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    The experiment — and others like it — didn’t give Stapel the desired results, he said. He had the choice of abandoning the work or redoing the experiment. But he had already spent a lot of time on the research and was convinced his hypothesis was valid. “I said — you know what, I am going to create the data set,” he told me.

    That unscientific attitude, an attitude which ignores empirical evidence because of an a priori belief, reminds me of these two comments from Feynman:

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
    Richard P. Feynman

    Cargo Cult Science – Feynman
    Excerpt: “We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.,,,
    But this long history of learning how to not fool ourselves–of having utter scientific integrity–is, I’m sorry to say, something that we haven’t specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you’ve caught on by osmosis.
    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists.,,,
    I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.”
    Richard Feynman – From a Caltech commencement address given in 1974
    http://neurotheory.columbia.ed....._cult.html

    and this one:

    The Scientific Method – Richard Feynman – video
    Quote: ‘If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is… If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL6-x0modwY

  2. 2
    redwave says:

    Excellent comments Bornagain77. What if we simply take the psychologists’ position, concerning the human, at face value?

    Stapel might not be the exception for social psychology studies, in view there is no coherent, unifying theory of the human, from which to design experiments, derive hypotheses, or make empirical claims. If the imaginary reductionist teachings that the human is merely a talking animal, a social animal, a tool driven animal, whatever, is to be believed, then accusing Stapel of ‘faking’ data is either meaningless or just another de-weeding maneuver by his animal tribe. There is the possibility that the human animal is naturally driven by faking, fabricating, deceiving, eluding, such that Stapel has exhibited nothing more than can be expected from an animal. Relegating Stapel to the netherworld, the nonscientific hell from which no redemption is possible, smacks of imposing aetiological and teleological constructs on an animal.

    Stapel’s actions only have meaning in human experiencing if aetiology, teleology, and ontology are meaningful studies for the human as a sentient separable from the animal species. Or, biology is only one part of a complex and whole understanding. Can social and evolutionary psychologists get their story straight, about who is and what is the human? I would suggest they drop the unworkable assumptions and start a new approach or re-admit Stapel into their tribal ceremonies.

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    redwave

    accusing Stapel of ‘faking’ data is either meaningless or just another de-weeding maneuver by his animal tribe. There is the possibility that the human animal is naturally driven by faking, fabricating, deceiving, eluding, such that Stapel has exhibited nothing more than can be expected from an animal. Relegating Stapel to the netherworld, the nonscientific hell from which no redemption is possible, smacks of imposing aetiological and teleological constructs on an animal.

    Exactly. This story is offers a great insight on the teleological assumptions that are built into secular ethics — contradictory and self-refuting.

    The New York times scolds Stapel for using “fuzzy post-modernism” to obscure the truth. But that’s what the Times’ ethos is built upon. Suddenly, however, when it’s time to uphold some kind of moral standard, the Times and the rest of the atheistic-academic community suddenly sound like Sunday school teachers. “It’s bad to fabricate data”. For some reason, nobody can simply explain that we’ve evolved to do such things and therefore lying obviously offers a selective benefit for our species. It should be celebrated and not condemned.

    Stapel explains this quite well:

    “People think of scientists as monks in a monastery looking out for the truth,” he said. “People have lost faith in the church, but they haven’t lost faith in science. My behavior shows that science is not holy.”

    He’s far ahead of the rest of atheistic world — that is, he has taken a half step forward (or backwards) on the path to ‘lived nihilism’. He explains that the ethical system that is condemning him came from the church. But people lost faith in God, but “they haven’t lost faith” in the theistic moral code that they were given by the church, even though those morals are nonsense in the materialist scheme.

    So, people think “science is holy”, and that seems true. They replaced God with the gods of the laboratories. Then they expect those new gods to be all good, all knowing, all truth, and givers of life and holiness. But instead, the new gods fabricate data and want to make money because they can’t even support themselves without marketing a story. That’s quite a lot different from the self-existent, non-contingent, loving, truthful God they abandoned.

    Science is of course about discovery, about digging to discover the truth. But it is also communication, persuasion, marketing. I am a salesman. I am on the road. People are on the road with their talk. With the same talk. It’s like a circus.

    He named two psychologists he admired — John Cacioppo and Daniel Gilbert — neither of whom has been accused of fraud. “They give a talk in Berlin, two days later they give the same talk in Amsterdam, then they go to London. They are traveling salesmen selling their story.”

    Again, he’s correct and his critics can’t understand it. He’s just pointing to survival as the highest value in the atheist-materialist cosmos. Travelling salesmen have to sell their story — it gives them reproductive advantage. Evolution works well this way. Whether the story is true or false is irrelevant. Why does science need to be about the truth? What laboratory test ever showed that?

    The young professor who backed the two student whistle-blowers told me that tweaking results — like stopping data collection once the results confirm a hypothesis — is a common practice.

    Lying in science is a common practice. I don’t think any of the regulars here on UD would be surprised by that. It’s an agenda-driven activity among many.

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