Shady practices in scholarly work

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Sometimes when I seek distraction I scroll through the tweets mentioning #overlyhonestmethods . It is a hashtag used by scientists to admit their methods. It’s amusing, but it’s openness reveals to the reader the less well-known “dark” side of academia (@beckieport made a collection of those tweets). Not everything we do in the name of science demonstrate the rational and well document decision-making we should aspire too.

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For example, the Dutch academic world was rocketed a couple of years ago with major stories about data falsification. We did not only had stories about selectively choosing what observation to keep, but on data falsification. These are part of the greatest “cardinal sin” a scholar can commit. Social psychologist Diederik Stapel was named “Lord of Data” by the Science Magazine after it was found out that he created or manipulated data for many of his papers over several years. At the time the story got out (2011) the university began to inspect 150 papers that he co-authored. Alarming to the academic community should be that one of his paper was published in Science . The falsification of data was to such high quality that the reviewers did not pick it up.

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Other examples are Marcial Losada happiness number, unfortunately a myth that prevails outside of academia, the hopefully discontinued practice of paying for your PhD in Germany as this title opens many doors in a society putting (too much) value on titles, and the inability of German high ranked politicians to ‘cite sources properly’ in their dissertation. The linked article is only about one of many politicians whose dissertation was fraudulent or at least showing blatant disregard to crediting the right owners by citing sources properly.

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Deviating from acceptable scientific standards doesn’t happen in one big jump. We gradually adopt questionable behavior. The environment is also important. Deviating from the norm is only bad if the norm itself is to conduct proper research. However, if some sort of misconduct is acceptable (e.g., putting your friend as a co-author although s/he hasn’t done a thing) then deviating from this norm brings you closer to how scholars should behave.

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I recommend to read the research by Bedeian, Taylor, and Miller (2010) on the credibility bubble in management science . They do not claim that their research reports the actual frequency of questionable behavior, but with their results simply want to draw attention that the management science is also not free of fraudulent behavior. As an appetizer, you might be shocked to realize harking, creating hypothesis after developing results is wide spread, or in other word, is the norm. How common do you think is the withholding of methodological details or results? Are you shocked @datazarina?

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Tweets were randomly chosen.

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