The Social Psychology Fake Data Scandal

by Violet Blue on November 6, 2011

A few days ago, this news item caught my eye: Psychologist admits faking data in dozens of studies. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know how important data is around here – the topics of pornography and human sexuality are often presented with false, skewed, or fabricated data (most often, it is anecdotes and stories presented as data). Sex and porn sees things called ‘studies’ that should be labeled as ‘surveys’ or ‘reports’ or even ‘I used Survey Monkey on my class/church/Blogger readers.’ No one checks to see what the root of alleged sex and porn data is. But I do, and I’m not alone anymore.

So it’s really crazy to see that fabricated data came from an actual, vetted researcher – rather than Gail Dines, XXX Church, or The Daily Mail. Basically, in one of the biggest cases of scientific fraud on record, prominent psychologist Diederik Stapel finally admitted fabricating data in dozens of studies. I think the best coverage of the scandal is this post at io9, where they explain it in detail and are completely transparent about being duped by one of the falsified studies.

(…) “We have some 30 papers in peer-reviewed journals where we are actually sure that they are fake, and there are more to come,” says Pim Levelt, chair of the committee that investigated Stapel’s work. If all of these papers are withdrawn, Stapel’s will become one of the worst cases of scientific misconduct in history.

Stapel is the researcher behind a number of eye-catching studies which, prima facie, seem to offer provocative insights into human nature. His research topics range from the effects of beauty product ads on consumer self-esteem, to how urban decay (like littered streets) promote stereotyping and discrimination — the latter being a study we reported on here at io9. (…read more, io9.com)

Naturally I was concerned that I had been fooled as well. I also carefully noted that the scope of his fabricated data has not yet been completely accounted for, and I don’t know how much will be revealed.

I dug into it a bit deeper to see if I could find any other media his fake studies had influenced, particularly around sex and gender. But pretty much *everything* relating to him has been removed from journal websites and publications – I ran across at least one mainstream media news article expressing frustration that they couldn’t find anything either. Still, I didn’t give up, and struck gold in a few places when I went by his last name only (in conjunction with his steady publishing partners).

The following are in the date rangs of falsified studies caught up in this scandal:

Luckily I recently decided not to link to one of these in particular because it seemed… not right. Yay for instincts. If anyone finds more that relate to sex, porn or gender please let me know so I can keep track – and run any corrections if necessary.

Photo via this explicit (mainstream, American porn) gallery.

{ 1 comment }

1 Billy Bob November 6, 2011 at 4:37 pm

The word “data” is a plural form. Your post should read: “…then you know how important data ARE around here…”

By the way, VB, I’m wondering if you ever did porn of some sort? I’ve seen you post a few sexy pictures of yourself but no actual porn. Did I just miss it somehow, or is it hidden on some pay site? Cute, sexy, and smart is always a nice combo. For example, I’ve always thought it is really hot to be able to listen to Tristan Taormino give a lecture and then later watch her perform.

Anyhow, just asking. ( In general asking a person if s/he did porn would probably be rude. I suspect you’re not the sort to be offended by the question and perhaps would instead recognize it as a complement. I know this is an assumption, but I hope a reasonable one. If I’m mistaken, then apologies. )

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