stapel and the cookie jar

(Not directly about Stapel, but a demonstration of how much antipathy there is among some well-established psychologists for the recent push for direct replication that has been going on there.)

A comment on one of my recent posts brought up the Stapel case in psychology. That was one of the important inciting incidents for the replication drama in social psychology that I’ve been blogging about.

The Stapel case was epic because so many articles were involved and he was definitely a first-stringer: he’d reached considerable stature in his country and was regularly featured in Dutch media. Also his case was simple, outright fraud, not about “questionable research practices.” Stapel’s case was even responsible for one of the rare cases of an article being retracted by an ASA journal.*

Stapel has a memoir, but it’s in Dutch. Here’s a (translated) money quote from a review, though:

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)

Or, a different way of putting it, if a field knows that nobody is going to check their work, doesn’t it make sense that you are going to have some people plundering the cookie jar? (And with some methodologies, of course, there’s even the idea that nobody could even in principle check the work.)

Of course, one way to think about it is to imagine another institution where people could produce work-that-leads-to-rewards without any accountability that the details of the work were actually done the way people said they were. Wouldn’t we expect the institution to have a corruption problem? Although, of course, a recognizable corruption problem requires two things: corruption and a way of recognizing that corruption is happening.

* I presume there are other cases of papers that have been retracted from ASA journals, but if you know of any, let me know.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

2 thoughts on “stapel and the cookie jar”

  1. I think Gilbert was saying that the replication police, not the research criminals, will disproportionately come from second string researchers, because they’re not bright enough to come up with their own stuff.

    That was one of the reactions in econ when the Amherst grad student found the Reinhart and Rghoff mistake, that he was just a low status junior at a low status program looking for attention and got lucky.

    Pretty old argument here across professions: “we need to keep competition and criticism in the family – competition and criticism are too important to be left to outsiders!” And then there is no competition or criticism.


    1. Yes, that was what Gilbert was saying, that the replicators are second-string researchers, and this is why they are in the business of trying to tear down the first-stringers.


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