In the world of academia you have what we call “peer reviewed” work, which is research that you do and is analyzed by other academics in your discipline to make sure that it’s valid. Usually this process is enough to find the frauds, charlatans and fakers that inevitably show up in academia trying to create a piece of social science work so outlandish in its conclusions that it’ll get picked up by Popular Science, Time Magazine or CNN. I mean if you write an academic article that concludes:
“White people are more prone to discriminate against black people when they encounter them in a messy environment, such as one containing litter, abandoned bicycles and broken sidewalks”
Everybody from other scientists to cops, mayors and sociologists are going to be looking to interview you, buy your data and otherwise promote your work.
Of course, if that article then turns out to be crap, based on fake data you never collected and with conclusions shrouded in shady logic then you might have some ‘splainin’ to do.
Apparently this is what has happened with Tilburg Prof. Diederik Stapel from the Netherlands. His seemingly groundbreaking psychology research on race and society has been debunked after all these years once several of his graduate students became suspicious about his research methods. Now he’s been fired by his university, is facing charges, and a whole grip of graduate students are after his hide since their PhD’s may not be invalidated by basing their work on his data.
As an academic (full disclosure, I’m a College professor with a PhD in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) there is always a temptation to make outlandish claims in your research to get attention from the popular press. Face it: most college professors are nerds or former nerds and the idea that any of their nerd work might land them on MSNBC with Tamron Hall is enough to make you think about pushing a decimal point here or there to make your results more sexy.
For example, in addition to his work on messy rooms and racism, Stapel apparently produced an article proving that meat eaters were more selfish, less secure and more aggressive than vegetarians. That story made him famous on European television. To be honest, the mainstream press has always loved covering any “academic” story that is controversial no matter how ridiculous or scientifically vapid the experiments may have been. Perhaps, in the future colleges or press outlets will do a better job of checking out someone’s work before hailing them as the hottest new public intellectual. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish my conference paper on why hot women are more likely to be Republicans.
This article originally appeared at Politic365.com.