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Stapel fraud case a catalyst for integrity discussion

28 November 2012

In the circles around social-psychologist Diederik Stapel, science ‘failed’ on a major scale. This contributed significantly to the late discovery of the fraud. The investigation into his practices and the subsequent discussion has, however, worked as a catalyst for improvement. The fraud case has led to major awareness of academic integrity on an international scale. Discussions about replication, data archiving and the research culture are being conducted more fervently than ever.

This is concluded by the Levelt, Noort and Drenth Committees in their joint final report on the Stapel Affair. The Committees investigated when and in which of Stapel’s scientific publications fraud was committed. It turns out that Stapel definitely committed fraud in 55 publications during his time in Groningen and Tilburg. In addition, there are a total of 11 older publications from his Amsterdam and Groningen periods in which indications of fraud have been found. The first dates from 1996. In total, ten PhD theses supervised by Stapel are ‘infected’, seven from his time in Groningen and three from the recent past in Tilburg.

Research culture

Although Stapel is fully and solely responsible for this extensive case of academic fraud, the Committees are also critical of the research culture in which this academic misconduct was allowed to go undetected. The Committees describe this as 'a general culture of careless, selective and uncritical handling of research and data.' They conclude that '...from the bottom to the top there was a general neglect of fundamental scientific standards and methodological requirements.' The Committees point the finger not only at Stapel’s peers, but also at editors and reviewers of international journals.

The three Committees were given every assistance in their investigation. They conclude that the discussion around the affair has led to a series of measures to prevent academic fraud and investigate complaints more adequately. ‘By setting up Committees and publishing reports, the KNAW, the VSNU and ALLEA (the federation of All European Academies) have contributed to the debate on the violation of academic integrity and how to prevent it’, according to the Committees. The recomendations of the KNAW Schuyt Committee also made a contribution. Within Stapel’s field, Social Psychology, many initiatives have been taken to improve research practices. For example, the society of Social Psychology researchers, ASPO, has become very active in the field of training, data storage and replication research.

University of Groningen

Following on from this, the University of Groningen has taken action to emphasize the importance of academic integrity to students and researchers. This includes more attention to how research data is processed, drawing up an ‘oath of office’ or a pledge, and more training about academic integrity. The University of Groningen has ‘Regulations for the Protection of Academic Integrity’, which have recently been updated to match the new model regulations of the VSNU. Four confidential advisors have been appointed to whom people can report suspected academic misconduct. PhD students will have two supervisors as standard. The University is drawing up a protocol for research and PhD research.

Code of behaviour and oath/pledge of office

One particular way to underline the importance of academic integrity is the introduction of an oath or pledge of office. When starting their job, PhD students must declare that they will comply with the Dutch Code of Conduct for Academic Practice. Signing for receipt of the Code will also apply to all academic staff.

Teaching

The University of Groningen aims to pay explicit attention to academic integrity in its teaching. Plagiarism is the most important topic at the early stages of a degree programme. Later, this can be further built on by attention to ethical training, to an introduction to regulations, legislation and codes of conduct, and to the culture - the specific academic attitude. During teaching, attention will be paid to careful and accurate collection of research data, and to the pitfalls and dilemmas of methodologies and statistics.

See also: research ethics and Final report

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.50 a.m.
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