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Nov 4, 2011      `

Some bits about Stapel, science, "science" and fraud in science


Yesterday, after three days of Nederlog about the massive fraud by professor Diederik Stapel, I said I would probably change the topic today, but today's Nederlog again is fraud related, as my title shows, and there also is some more about Stapel:

1. More about Stapel: Dutch interim-report translated
2. A bit about kinds of science and of "science"
3. A bit about kinds of scientific fraud

1. More about Stapel: Dutch interim-report translated

The main news about Diederik Stapel, his massive fraud, and the Dutch university where he was found out must be that the University of Tilburg translated its Dutch interim report to English. Here is the link:

- Interim-report (Tilburg University, pdf, 385 Kb)

If you are interested at all in the subject - scientific fraud, Diederik Stapel or both - and you don't read Dutch, this is mandatory reading, for it gives by far the fullest description how Stapel did it; why he could get away with it for a long time; what in fact he did; and what is being done about it in Holland in the three universities where he worked, and where he did probably produce and publish research in social psychology that was based on faked data, and hence was not really research at all.

And here is a reaction in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Tom  Bartlett, who did read the English version, and summarizes some that concerns Stapel's modus operandi:

- The Fraud Who Fooled (Almost) Everyone

2. A bit about kinds of science and of "science"

I do have an M.A. in psychology, mostly because my main intellectual interest is human reasoning since I was 15, and thought that was the most interesting thing a human being could try to understand, but I very soon found out during my years at the University of Amsterdam that psychology is, for the most part, not what I consider a real science.

This is not primarily the fault of psychologists - though the professional class of them does pretend to know a lot they don't in fact know - because psychology has a very difficult and complex subject, that is made more difficult and more complex by the fact that the working human brain is hardly understood, while everybody else's experience must be guessed at and cannot be experienced by any other person than the one experiencing. (Which makes your experiences for me, and my experiences for you, rather speculative entities, to which we have as little access as to the heavenly paradise some assure us our consciousness will end up in, if we behave well to our priests or clergy.)

Together, these two facts imply that much of psychology, and indeed much of psychiatry, is mostly guess work and hardly real science, in the sense physics or chemistry are real sciences (with precise mathematical theories, that are able to logically entail specific predictions, that can be reliably tested and repeated if true as predicted at all), and therefore both psychology and psychiatry are somewhere on the scale that ranges from superstition (in the case of psychology and psychiatry: religious theories about the soul, and what has been derived therefrom and still remains in popular culture) to protoscience.

For my terms, see the article Pseudoscience in Wikipedia, which also has the following diagram of relevant terms (and I quote without the note-numbers)

The distance between pseudoscience and science is filled with protoscience (and fringe science) which can be understood from the following table:

        Systematized as scientific definition
    Treated with scientific method
  Tries to be science or just looks like science
Superstitions Pseudoscience Fringe science Protoscience Mainstream science

A field, practice, or body of knowledge might reasonably be called pseudoscientific when (1) it is presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research; but (2) it demonstrably fails to meet these norms.

The above quotation and diagram are from the Pseudoscience article in Wikipedia, and there is a link below and here to an interesting article by a space-scientist on the question whether psychology is a science, which has the merits of being clearly written, by someone who knows real science, and who also gives relatively clear definitions.

He also has on his site a useful article on the myth of mental illness including such predictions as

A revolution is taking place in the world of human psychology1. Before the revolution, psychology relied on untested, sometimes untestable assumptions about an abstraction called the mind, and science had no important role. After the revolution, there will be a new science where psychology now stands.
I predict that the present revolution will succeed for the best of reasons — the ascendancy of reason over belief — and twenty years from now an evidence-based medical discipline will have replaced psychology. The latter will continue to exist but will be ranked alongside astrology.

I have one more prediction: all the conditions we now believe to be mental illnesses will either be reclassified as physical illnesses with mental symptoms, or will be recognized as behaviors not meriting the label "mental illness." In short, what we now think of as mental illness as defined above, will be exposed as a myth.

I may return to this in the context of DSM-5, and mention it here only in passing, and to make three more points about psychology or indeed psychiatry as science, which I maintain they mostly are not:

First, especially psychology is a house with many mansions, and it is possible - the hearing of tones (Helmholtz), the study of just noticeable differences (Peirce), the seeing of illusions (Wertheimer), and more - to point to parts of it that have been shown to be amenable to something like real scientific experiments and theories.

Second, even so, the basic problem is that the organ that produces human experience is to this day hardly understood, and the most simple questions (apparently) as - among many others - "Do we have a self?", "What is meaning?", "Why do we have conscious experiences?", "Do I see what you see if we both see the same blue sky?", "Do we have a free will?", "How can the dance of atoms between our ears, that have no experiences, desires, beliefs, or feelings whatsoever, produce our experiences?" have no good answers. (*)

Third, this would not be much of a real problem if most psychological and psychiatric researchers were honest, did know some real science and methodology and statistics, and wrote clearly, honestly and rationally about what they do in fact know and don't know.

The real problem is that with academic psychology one can make a career in academia, and come to hold lectureships or professorates that are much more pleasant and remunerative, and come with much more status, than what one could make as e.g. a PR-advisor for business, whereas in academic psychiatry one also can obtain money (and other pleasant things),  from pharmaceutical companies and support by government officials for producing research - or at least: "research" - that supports the kind of conclusions these parties like to see, and can use to sell drugs with or help implement policies, e.g. to be able to deny ill people help and treatments on the ground that they are not ill but that psychiatry is supposed to have shown they are mad people who believe falsely they are ill, if they are not malingerers to start with.

3. A bit about kinds of scientific fraud

Not having professor Diederik Stapel's physical health, I will only give two references here, and the initial paragraphs, that both concern fraud in science and both are interesting.

First, here is a reference to a bookreview to a book published in 2005 that is about the issue of fraud in science:

- Fraud in Science, by Aaron Swartz, reviewing
  The Great Betrayal, by Horace Juston

Here is the first paragraph of the review:

It can’t happen here. That’s what most scientists will tell you about fraud in science. Science is magically self-correcting, fraudsters are isolated incidents, fraud is something that happens in those other professions. Well, they’re all wrong, as Horace Freeland Judson shows in his new book The Great Betrayal: Fraud in Science. While estimates of fraud — faking evidence, omitting or distorting evidence, and plagiarism — are naturally hard to come by, even very conservative studies place it as high as 10% — a staggering number to those who place their trust in Science.

Second, here is a reference to a fairly long paper by an Australian sociologist, from 1992:

- Scientific fraud and the power structure of science,
   by Brian Martin

that seems interesting, and has as its opening two paragraphs this

Ask most scientists about scientific fraud and they will readily tell you what it is. The most extreme cases are obvious: manufacturing data and altering experimental results. Then there is plagiarism: using someone else's text or data without acknowledgement. More difficult are the borderline cases: minor fudging of data, reporting only the good results and not citing other people's work that should be given credit. Because obvious fraud is thought to be both rare and extremely serious, the normal idea is that it warrants serious penalties.

That is the usual picture, anyway, for public consumption. Probe a bit more deeply into scientific activities, and you will find that fraud is neither clear-cut nor rare. Stories abound of the stealing of credit for ideas. They range from the PhD supervisor who published his student's work under his own name, to the top scientist who, as a referee, delayed publication of a rival's work in order to obtain full credit for it himself -- including a Nobel Prize. There are also stories of various other forms of cheating.

After which Martin proceeds to paint in diverse shades of grey. His last section, Fraud Exposure As Ritual, opens with this, that should be compared with the interim-report of the University of Tilburg linked in the beginning:

It is difficult indeed to publicly expose a scientist for fraud, but it sometimes happens, as the Briggs and McBride cases show. These few cases serve as a ritual cleaning of the house of science (..). In the morality play of storybook science, all are honest except for a few bad apples. When these are exposed, they suffer a severe, yet just, penalty.
Scientists can be quite righteous about honesty in their profession. They typically claim that fraud is very rare, much less common than in other occupations. This belief is made possible initially by the definition of corrupt behaviour, limiting it to particular extreme cases of misrepresentation such as blatant and detectable altering or manufacturing of data. Such behaviour is defined as terrible and punishable. It is conveniently defined as being quite distinct from the wide range of other misrepresentations and biases that pervade scientific practice.

Anyway... some background readings about fraud in the sciences. I suppose I will return to this, quite probably in the context of or with reference to the DSM-5, that seems to me to be another major fraud that awaits uncovering and honest discussion. For this see (from November 1, last, in "Psychology Today"):

- DSM-5 Against Everyone Else, by Allen Frances MD,
  the chief editor of the DSM-IV and opponent of DSM-5

There is presently a petition going on against the DSM-5, for which you can find more information on Suzy Chapman's fine site:

- DSM-5 and ICD-11 Watch

and also here, on Karen Franklin's site. Ms Franklin is a forensic psychologist and former criminal investigator and legal affairs reporter, which background may have given her a more realistic point of view for judging the DSM-5 than is possessed by the honest guys and gals presently fabricating it from thin air, for their own careers:

- DSM-5 petition takes off like wildfire


(*) I wrote: No good answers. I am quite aware there are plenty of answers, especially in the diverse schools of psychiatry, of the questions I listed. My problem is that all of them are for the most part quite speculative, namely for lack of specific knowledge of how the brain works, and apart from that have very little positive evidence for them, and that most that I read in the field of psychiatry appeared to me to be no better founded on rational or empirical principles than is theology.

P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1.  Anthony Komaroff Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.  Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam/ with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.

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