Research Misconduct Cases
Darren Lin, Assistant to the RIO
Fabrication and Plagiarism: Michael LaCour
Michael LaCour is a political science doctoral graduate from UCLA. In December 2014, LaCour and his supervisor, Donald Green, published a paper in Science, which found that personal contact by gay canvassers had lasting influences on voters’ attitudes toward gay marriage. The results from the study refuted the established literature on the persuasive efficacy of canvassing. Research has shown people return to their initial political beliefs shortly after being influenced to be more conservative or more liberal by a canvasser.
As a result, LaCour and Green’s findings were profound and had extensive influence on other political science researchers’ methodologies, the outreach strategies of activists, and the allocation of grant funding. The paper also helped LaCour attain an employment offer from Princeton University. However, such groundbreaking findings would undoubtedly lead to replications. One researcher who attempted to replicate LaCour’s study was David Broockman, who upon doing so, wounded up unraveling a slew of research misconduct by Michael LaCour.
David Broockman, a political science doctoral graduate from UC Berkeley, was the first to attempt the replication, which eventually led to the allegation and the retraction of LaCour’s paper from Science. In 2013, Broockman (a doctoral student at the time) was so captivated by earlier published results of LaCour’s study that he attempted his own replication. The first irregularity he encountered was attaining the necessary resources to run the study. LaCour had apparently surveyed 10,000 subjects who were compensated with $100 each, which amounted to an improbable $1 million for any graduate student’s budget as well as those of the survey companies Broockman inquired for his own replication. Broockman also sent a request to uSamp, the same survey company LaCour used to collect his data, and found out LaCour never worked with uSamp and had instead, fabricated an entire email correspondence with a uSamp representative. Additionally, it was found that LaCour had made up this uSamp representative himself.
Resultingly, Broockman and Josh Kalla, his research partner, continued their investigation, despite discouragement from various mentors. On May 16, 2015, their investigation led to the 2012 Cooperate Campaign Analysis Project (CCAP), a well-known political science data set, which included the same scales LaCour used in his study. Broockman and Kalla noticed the data sets in the CCAP were oddly uniform with the data sets in LaCour’s study. After running a couple of statistical tests, the two were confident LaCour had used this data set as his own in LaCour’s published paper. LaCour had simply replaced missing values in the CCAP data set with 50s to enhance the normal distribution of the data. On May 19, 2015, the day of Broockman’s graduation, Broockman, Kalla, and Peter Aronow (who had joined their endeavors), posted a 27-page report detailing all the irregularities in LaCour’s paper. Donald Green was wholly unaware LaCour had fabricated the data and had taken LaCour’s findings on faith alone. Green immediately sent out a public retraction request to Science after hearing the news.
In the events following, reporters found more evidence of academic dishonesty in the scandal and other aspects of LaCour’s life. When confronted about the raw data used in the study, LaCour said UCLA guidelines had required him to destroy the raw data set, when the guidelines only required researchers to destroy unique identifiers. LaCour also lied about the funding used to support the study in order to give the study more credibility. Additionally, in his job application to Princeton University, LaCour contrived a CV with grants he never won and a teaching award that never existed.
Princeton University has since rescinded their employment offer to Michael LaCour and David Broockman is now a tenure-track professor at Stanford at the age of 26.
Carey, Benedict. (2015, May 29). Study using gay canvassers erred in methods, not results, author Says. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/30/science/michael-lacour-gay-marriage-science-study-retraction.html
Guterman, Lila. (2015, May 22). Author retracts study of changing minds on same-sex marriage after colleague admits data were faked. (Web log comment). http://retractionwatch.com/2015/05/20/author-retracts-study-of-changing-minds-on-same-sex-marriage-after-colleague-admits-data-were-faked/
Morin, Monte. (2015, May 29). Researcher accused of fraud in gay marriage study responds to critics. Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-retraction-response-20150529-story.html
Singal, Jesse. (2015, May 26). The largest funding source listed on Michael LaCour’s CV Is made-up [updated]. New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/05/lacour-made-up-his-biggest-funding-source.html
Singal, Jesse. (2015, May 27). Michael LaCour made up a teaching award, too. New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/05/michael-lacour-made-up-a-teaching-award-too.html
Singal, Jesse. (2015, May 29). The case of the amazing gay-marriage data: How a graduate student reluctantly uncovered a huge scientific fraud. New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/05/how-a-grad-student-uncovered-a-huge-fraud.html
Singal, Jesse. (2015, June 1). Michael LaCour probably fabricated a document about research integrity. New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/06/lacour-probably-fabricated-an-integrity-document.html
Singal, Jesse. (2015, June 22). Princeton University has rescinded its employment offer to Michael LaCour. New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/06/princeton-rescinded-its-offer-to-michael-lacour.html
(2015, June 1). The problem with Michael LaCour’s rebuttal. Discover Magazine. (Web log comment). http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2015/06/01/problem-michael-lacours-rebuttal/ – .VZJzfuf0m77
Fabrication and Falsification: Diederik Stapel
Diederik Stapel was a social psychology professor at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands. In September 2010, he went on to become the dean of Tilburg University’s social and behavioral sciences faculty.
In September 2011, Tilburg University suspended Stapel after allegations of fabrication and falsification of data by three graduate student advisees. The report generated by the committee investigating the allegations found Stapel had made up data in 30 publications.
As outlined in the report published by Tilburg University, The nature of the misconduct indicates the design and preparation of his studies were created in accordance, but the questionnaires used in the studies were never administered to subjects. Instead, Stapel fabricated his own datasets and even sent other previously fabricated datasets to his colleagues with the goal of attaining authorship on their papers. The report also names several previous doctoral dissertations and one then-current doctoral dissertation that relied on the fictitious data generated by Stapel.
Stapel’s lengthy history of research fraud had widespread repercussions. At the individual level, Stapel tainted the reputation of his colleagues, who analyzed fabricated datasets given to them by Stapel, and also drew possible repercussions for the awarded doctoral degrees given to doctoral students under the guidance of Stapel. Even though Stapel’s colleagues and PhD students were not complicit in the research misconduct, the sheer magnitude of Stapel’s fraud will continue to hamper their careers as researchers.
At the university level, Stapel’s fraud has negatively affected all universities previously associated with Stapel, which includes Tilburg, Groningen, and Amsterdam. At the scientific level, Stapel has negatively affected the confidence in social psychological research, publishing companies who published articles with Stapel’s name and fabricated data, grant funders whose funds were used inappropriately, and other researchers who were more deserving of these funds.
Following the investigation, Stapel admitted to the use of fake data in his studies and was subsequently discharged of his position at Tilburg University. He also voluntarily returned his PhD to the University of Amsterdam. After the release of the investigation report, Dutch prosecutors also began a criminal investigation since Stapel’s research funds utilized taxpayers’ money. Stapel was able to reach a settlement where he is to perform 120 hours of community service and forego benefits associated with his former professorship equivalent to 1.5 years of his salary to avoid criminal charges.
Retraction Watch has currently amassed a count of 58 publication retractions due to falsified or fabricated data for Diederik Stapel.
Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit. (2013, June 28). Stapel gets community service for fabricating studies. ScienceInsider. http://news.sciencemag.org/europe/2013/06/stapel-gets-community-service-fabricating-studies
Enserink, Martin. (2011, September 7). Dutch university sacks social psychologist over faked data. ScienceInsider. http://news.sciencemag.org/education/2011/09/dutch-university-sacks-social-psychologist-over-faked-data
Jump, P. (2011, November 28). A star’s collapse: Dutch begin documenting and trying to explain top psychologist’s massive fraud. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/11/28/scholars-analyze-case-massive-research-fraud
Palus, S. (2015, December 8). Diederik Stapel now has 58 retractions. Retraction Watchhttp://retractionwatch.com/2015/12/08/diederik-stapel-now-has-58-retractions/ – more-34952
Tilburg University. (2011, October 31). Interim report regarding the breach of scientific integrity committed by Prof. D.A. Stapel. Tilburg University, 1-21. https://www.tilburguniversity.edu/upload/547aa461-6cd1-48cd-801b-61c434a73f79_interim-report.pdf
Verfaellie, M. & McGwin, J. (2011, December). The case of Diederik Stapel. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2011/12/diederik-stapel.aspx
Plagiarism: Tony Antoniou
Tony Antoniou was the dean of Durham University’s Business School with a DPhil (British equivalent of PhD) from York University. After attaining his DPhil from York University, Antoniou served as a professor of finance and head of the department of economics and finance at Brunel University. In 1988, Antoniou joined Durham University as a professor of finance and chairman of the department of economics and finance. In 2002, he became the dean of Durham University’s Business School. Antoniou had attained a prolific career in academia, publishing a slew of articles in various academic journals, obtaining numerous research grants from both private and public organizations, and mentoring more than 450 doctoral students at Durham.
In September 2007, he resigned as the dean after an allegation of plagiarism in a journal article he had published in 1988, before he joined Durham University. Within two months after the allegation, Antoniou was found guilty of the allegation. Concurrently, York University was also investigating a separate allegation of plagiarism surrounding Antoniou’s doctorial thesis. In November 2007, Antoniou was found guilty of misconduct and sanctioned with suspension by Durham University and stripped of his doctoral degree by York University. It turns out Antoniou had plagiarized parts of his article and DPhil thesis from a number of sources. In March 2008, a disciplinary committee confirmed the charges against Antoniou for both allegations of plagiarism. Following the decision, Antoniou was dishonorably discharged by Durham University.
Over the course of his career, Antoniou had supervised more than 450 doctoral candidates at Durham. Due to the allegations, there were concerns these doctoral students had been negatively influenced through their association with Antoniou. Thankfully, Durham’s Business School doctoral students receive guidance from two advisors and the integrity of the students’ research was never in question.
Bradshaw, D. (2007, November 19). Antoniou loses doctoral degree. Financial Timeshttp://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/0ad70758-9695-11dc-b2da-0000779fd2ac.html – axzz3eTNq0TKf
Tallentire, M. (2007, November 1). Business school dean suspended for plagiarism. Durham Times. http://www.durhamtimes.co.uk/news/1803317.business_school_dean_suspended_for_plagiarism/
Tariq, T. (2007, October 5). Durham professor resigns as dean amid investigation into thesis. Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/durham-professor-resigns-as-dean-amid-investigation-into-thesis/310715.article
Tariq, T. (2007, November 2). Durham don sent on leave. Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/durham-don-sent-on-leave/310969.article
Tariq, T. (2008, March 6). Dean dismissed for plagiarism. Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/dean-dismissed-for-plagiarism/400950.article
(2008, March 1). University fires dean after plagiarism row. The Journal. http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/university-fires-dean-after-plagiarism-4507465
Learning from cases of research misconduct. Two fictional scenarios by James M. DuBois. APA
ORI Research Misconduct case summaries: Compilation of case summaries when punitive administrative action were taken. ORI.
Scientific Misconduct: Resource for scientific misconduct from Explorable.com.
Top Science Scandals of 2012. Cases of scientific misconduct from 2012 by Edyta Zielinska. The Scientist.
Scientific Misconduct search results. Search results for scientific misconduct by The Scientist.
Research misconduct: the poisoning of the well. Paper by Richard Smith. (May, 2006). Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.