Thursday, May 02, 2013

Social Psychology Fraud: Just Tell Professors What They Want To Hear

By Steve Sailer

Here's a long NYT Magazine article on Diederik Stapel, a prominent Dutch social psychologist:

"One summer night in 2011, a tall, 40-something professor named Diederik Stapel stepped out of his elegant brick house in the Dutch city of Tilburg to visit a friend around the corner. It was close to midnight, but his colleague Marcel Zeelenberg had called and texted Stapel that evening to say that he wanted to see him about an urgent matter.

... “What’s up?” Stapel asked, settling onto a couch. Two graduate students had made an accusation, Zeelenberg explained. His eyes began to fill with tears. “They suspect you have been committing research fraud.”

Stapel was an academic star in the Netherlands and abroad, the author of several well-regarded studies on human attitudes and behavior. That spring, he published a widely publicized study in Science about an experiment done at the Utrecht train station showing that a trash-filled environment tended to bring out racist tendencies in individuals. ...

On his return trip to Tilburg, Stapel stopped at the train station in Utrecht. This was the site of his study linking racism to environmental untidiness, supposedly conducted during a strike by sanitation workers. In the experiment described in the Science paper, white volunteers were invited to fill out a questionnaire in a seat among a row of six chairs; the row was empty except for the first chair, which was taken by a black occupant or a white one.

Stapel and his co-author claimed that white volunteers tended to sit farther away from the black person when the surrounding area was strewn with garbage. Now, looking around during rush hour, as people streamed on and off the platforms, Stapel could not find a location that matched the conditions described in his experiment.

“No, Diederik, this is ridiculous,” he told himself at last. “You really need to give it up.” ...

In reality, Stapel had simply made up all the data for this, his most popular study, and at least 54 others. He never carried out the studies; he just typed plausible sounding numbers into his computer.

Not surprisingly, the quasi-bogus field of "priming" attracted Stapel, where, apparently, he first started to get creative.

While there, Stapel began testing the idea that priming could affect people without their being aware of it. ... The experiment — and others like it — didn’t give Stapel the desired results, he said. He had the choice of abandoning the work or redoing the experiment. But he had already spent a lot of time on the research and was convinced his hypothesis was valid. “I said — you know what, I am going to create the data set,” he told me.

Sitting at his kitchen table in Groningen, he began typing numbers into his laptop that would give him the outcome he wanted. He knew that the effect he was looking for had to be small in order to be believable; even the most successful psychology experiments rarely yield significant results. The math had to be done in reverse order: the individual attractiveness scores that subjects gave themselves on a 0-7 scale needed to be such that Stapel would get a small but significant difference in the average scores for each of the two conditions he was comparing. He made up individual scores like 4, 5, 3, 3 for subjects who were shown the attractive face. “I tried to make it random, which of course was very hard to do,” Stapel told me.

Doing the analysis, Stapel at first ended up getting a bigger difference between the two conditions than was ideal. He went back and tweaked the numbers again. It took a few hours of trial and error, spread out over a few days, to get the data just right.

He said he felt both terrible and relieved. The results were published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2004. “I realized — hey, we can do this,” he told me.
Stapel’s career took off. He published more than two dozen studies while at Groningen, many of them written with his doctoral students. They don’t appear to have questioned why their supervisor was running many of the experiments for them. Nor did his colleagues inquire about this unusual practice.

In 2006, Stapel moved to Tilburg, joining Zeelenberg. Students flocked to his lab, and he quickly rose in influence. In September 2010, he became dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He could have retreated from active research to focus on administration, but, he told me, he couldn’t resist the allure of fabricating new results. He had already made up the data for the Utrecht train-station study and was working on the paper that would appear in Science the following year. Colleagues sought him out to take part in new collaborations. ...

The key to why Stapel got away with his fabrications for so long lies in his keen understanding of the sociology of his field. “I didn’t do strange stuff, I never said let’s do an experiment to show that the earth is flat,” he said. “I always checked — this may be by a cunning manipulative mind — that the experiment was reasonable, that it followed from the research that had come before, that it was just this extra step that everybody was waiting for.”

Obviously, with his famous study of white racism at the Utrecht train station, it helps to deliver lessons that the world wants to hear. The problem for honest social scientists is that large parts of reality are more or less off limits. Nobody wants to hear honest, wide-ranging truths about race these days.

For example, to this day, we constantly read denunciations of the IQ researcher Sir Cyril Burt (1883-1971), despite the murkiness of the story. Why? Because his results disputed the idea that heredity plays no role of intelligence. Similarly, the saintly Arthur Jensen was largely shoved down the memory hole so that we had to get a drive going just to get the great man obituarized when he died last year.

Yet, we see the 1960's work of Rick Heber of the Milwaukee Project enthusiastically cited in the NYT a generation after Heber went to prison for fraud.  In Nicholas D. Kristof's 4/15/2009 column in the NYT, he wrote:

"Professor Nisbett strongly advocates intensive early childhood education because of its proven ability to raise I.Q. and improve long-term outcomes. The Milwaukee Project, for example, took African-American children considered at risk for mental retardation and assigned them randomly either to a control group that received no help or to a group that enjoyed intensive day care and education from 6 months of age until they left to enter first grade.

By age 5, the children in the program averaged an I.Q. of 110, compared with 83 for children in the control group. Even years later in adolescence, those children were still 10 points ahead in I.Q."

From the Concise Encyclopedia of Special Education (latest edition 2002):

"The term Milwaukee Project is the popular title of a widely publicized program begun in the mid-1960s as one of many Great Society efforts to improve the intellectual development of low-achieving groups. It was headed by Rick Heber of the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison, who was also director of the generously funded Waisman Institute in Madison. The Milwaukee Project was a small study with some 20 experimental subjects and 20 control subjects. It was not reported on by the investigators in any refereed scientific journals, yet its cost was some $14 million, mostly in federal funds, and its fame was international, since it claimed to have moved the IQs of its subject children from the dull-normal range of intelligence to the superior range of intelligence. ...

Enthusiasm, controversy, and scandal subsequently surrounded the history of the project. Its claimed success was hailed by famous psychologists and by the popular media. Later in the project, Heber, the principal investigator, was discharged from UW, Madison and convicted and imprisoned for large-scale abuse of federal funding for private gain. Two of his colleagues were also convicted of violations of federal laws in connection with misuse of project funds. …. However, the project received uncritical acceptance in many college textbooks in psychology and education."

Why? Because there is a market for lies.


Michael Gove is winning the hearts of British  state school heads

Teaching unions don’t want you to know, but head teachers support Michael Gove's education reforms

Michael Gove gave a seminal though little-reported speech last Thursday, his clearest statement yet of his aim for politicians to hand back the education system to the professionals, as long as they maintain the highest academic standards and prove worthy of the trust placed in them. The national curriculum he is introducing should perhaps be the last imposed from the centre; thereafter he wants schools themselves to develop a variety of high grade curricula.

Mr Gove is going way beyond anything Margaret Thatcher achieved in her 11 years of devolving power from government at the centre. No education secretary in the modern era has matched his vision of a largely autonomous education system in which individual schools, heads and teachers are given back their independence and creativity. Only by releasing dynamism in this way does he believe that British schools will be able to compete with the best in Shanghai, Singapore and Scandinavia.

As Mr Gove told his audience in Nottingham, he wants to sweep away the whole structure that has underpinned schools since the war. Schools themselves should conduct research into what produces great teaching and learning, rather than leaving such studies to universities, which he believes have offered little of practical value in terms of improving schools. Leaders should be trained within schools rather than being sent away to acquire abstract diplomas. Teachers should equally be trained within the schools themselves, rather than learning how to teach in university education departments. He wants schools to help each other to raise standards rather than rely on local authorities. All of this is to be achieved by schools becoming “teaching schools”, a system he conceived and which he sees as akin to teaching hospitals. He was in Nottingham to address the latest cohort of heads whose schools had been accepted on to the programme.

I was in the audience because Wellington College is among the first independent schools to join this programme. I was surprised and delighted by what he said, but was even more astonished by the reactions of my 150 fellow heads from the state sector in the audience. I have been used to state school heads denigrating education secretaries, above all if they are Tories. But most of the audience listened appreciatively, and the questions were supportive and enthusiastic.

Mr Gove hated the close relationship the trade union leaders had with Labour before 2010 – the union leaders even had a pass to roam anywhere in the Education Department. His principal targets in his speech were thus the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the NASUWT, which he described as “increasingly out of touch with the profession as a whole… The leadership teams of the NUT and the NASUWT have demanded their members take industrial action – a work-to-rule – for reasons that are obscure to me but seem to amount to: 'We don’t like the last 25 years of education reform, why can’t we party like it’s 1968?’” He senses that the public are becoming tired of the constant negative attitude of the unions to academies, free schools, lesson observation by teachers and curricula and exam reforms. His solution is to undercut the unions with a new body called the Royal College of Teachers, which would lead teachers as a profession just as the Bar Council and Law Society do with lawyers, and the 15 or so Royal Colleges do with different parts of the medical profession. Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, is contemptuous, believing such a body could not replace a union in fighting for the best conditions for teachers and learners.

“The best thing this Government could do for education,” one state head told me, “would be to abolish the teaching unions outright. The NUT and NASUWT are the worst.” Another said: “The trade union leaders are 100 years out of date: the world has moved on. We are now professionals and they have to reform or die.” An independent school colleague who does much work with state schools said: “The biggest reason why independent schools are so far ahead is that we have so little to do with unions at national level: their negativity and time-watching has held back the achievement of state school children.”

Heads are frightened to say this in public because of fears of reprisals by unions. “They can be very intimidating. If a union decides to target your school, you’re in trouble,” a head told me. Most of those I spoke to draw a distinction between the union leaders and the representatives on the ground, for whom they have much more time. This is certainly my experience: I have often found union representatives to be sensible and constructive. Many heads think they deserve better leaders at the top, who fight for the interests of children without the baggage of ideology, and who don’t resort to strikes. Old-style teaching unions may well be drinking in the last chance saloon unless they can modernise.

A battle royal is being fought for the heart and soul of schools. Mr Gove’s vision, which is shared by some key Labour figures, including Lord Adonis, will probably win the day. A significant number of state school heads and teachers still loathe it, but he is making headway. If Mr Gove can listen as carefully and respectfully to heads as he did last Thursday, he may well carry the day.


Australia: Antisemitic students at Uni NSW

BDS action at UNSW has turned ugly, with anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying material appearing on a Facebook page opposing the opening of a Max Brenner chocolate shop on campus. Postings on a Facebook page promoting today's protest have attacked "Jews and Jew lovers" and said the figure of six million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany was an exaggeration.

PRO-PALESTINE student activists will protest outside a chocolate shop on the campus of a Sydney university, claiming it has links to alleged Israeli war crimes.

Tuesday's rally at noon (AEST) has been organised by Students For Justice in Palestine (SJP) UNSW, with 175 people indicating on the group's Facebook page that they will attend.

The group says the Max Brenner brand is owned by the Strauss Group, a corporation which sponsors the Golani and Givati Brigades of the Israeli Defence Force.

"These brigades have committed war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza and are involved in Israel's continual ethnic cleansing of Palestine," the page says.

"Students and staff of conscience demand that the Max Brenner be shut down! We don't want companies that endorse the Apartheid state of Israel and it's Apartheid practices."

In response to the campaign, a rival Facebook page has been set up called Defend Max Brenner at UNSW that includes a petition under the heading "Don't let them take our chocolate".

The rival pro-chocolate store group says they are students who believe Israeli businesses should not be targeted because of their national origin.

They say Max Brenner Chocolate is Australian-owned and most UNSW students support the store being on campus.

By Tuesday morning, the SJP Facebook had 387 "likes" while 335 people had "liked" the pro-Brenner page.


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