Opinion: The upside of Stapel’s deception

POSTED: 11/14/11 3:43 AM

Lester Hoekstra, a psychologist established in Rijswijk near The Hague who has made a business of communication consultancy and coaching managers joined what will most likely become a long line of experts on Diederik Stapel and the art of publishing fraudulent scientific research. Hoekstra’s view on Stapel’s scientific crimes are interesting, and at the same time we get the feeling that he is stating something everybody always knew, but never wanted to talk about. Take this: Diederik Stapel has proven that real and made up socio-scientific research is hard to tell apart. Yeah, we got that.

Hoekstra is however more optimistic about the damages Stapel inflicted upon the scientific community than many others.

In an opinion piece that was published in De Volkskrant, Hoekstra wrote that Stapel’s cheating is not as big a disaster as the newspapers have made it appear to be. Damage to the society is limited, it is especially the scientific world that will suffer from it. Prominent scientists have already expressed fear that social-psychological research will no longer be taken seriously. Yeah, we got that, too.

But Hoekstra openly wonders how bad that would be. Where almost everybody else sees negatives, Hoekstra remains optimistic: nobody will happily question the relevance of scientific research, because everybody knows that we  have benefited a lot from it.Yeah, we got that too.

Scientific research founded the pharmaceutical industry, came up with nuclear bombs, surface to air missiles and a lot of other stuff that is now a problem we don’t know very well how to handle. Of course, these scientists were not inthe field of social psychlogy, but maybe they should have been.

Hoekstra gets that too: he wrote that not all scietifc research is useful and that it sounds like a good idea to look at the usefulness of social sciences with scientific openness.
Of course, Hoekstra is preaching to the choir, because he makes a living off psycho-therapy; he is running a psychological consultancy. That does not make his opinion worthless of course, but it is always good to know who you are listening to.

Against this background it is heartwarming that Hoekstra shows the ability to put the matter into proper perspective. We have a tendency, he wrote, to overestimate the value of socio-scientific research simply because it is science. The results of this research are often little more than interesting little facts one could have found also by using some common sense.

“I do not know of any big discoveries with important applications like in the natural sciences.”

Hoekstra wrote that research data hardly play a role in the daily execution of his job as a psycho-therapist, and as far as he knows, this goes for his colleagues in the profession as well. A psychotherapist, he wrote, does not need tables with significant resrearch data, but workable ideas.

Useful psychotherapeutical ideas exist in scientific literature, Hoekstra wrote, but these are theories and models, not the results of modern socio-scientific research. He calls them creations of people who were close to the practice and who had the ability to describe what they observed in a special way. The most wellknown example is of course Sigmund Freud. Scientist have labeled him “not without reason” a dreamer and a quack.

And still, Hoekstra notes, Freud has been more inspiring than modern day social scientists. That’s not because his ideas are supported by solid scientific research, but because his ideas are fashionable. And here is his clincher: for relevant observations of a lasting value one should not rely on scientists, but on novelists like Tolstoi, Couperus, Proust and Mann.

Hoekstra wrote that managers have the results of an enormous amount of scientific management research at their disposal. But management trainers do not rely on scientific research at all; they use a different skill set. If scientific research resulted in better leadership the managers of today ought to be much better than those of a couple of decades ago. And there is no proof to support that preposition, Hoekstra wrote.

The psychotherapist does not want to do away with socio-scientific research, even though its usefulness cannot be established. It belongs as part of our cultural heritage in centers that are subsidized the way museums are. There would be a place for cheater Diederik Stapel in those centers, comparable with that of the forger Van Meegeren in the Boymans van Beyuningen Museum in Rotterdam. (Han van Meegeren forged paintings by Johannes Vermeer and even sold a forgery to the Nazi Herman Göring, a feat that made him popular and infamous at the same time, because it led to his downfall).

Stapel deserves a Van Meegeren-place, Hoekstra wrote, “because he taught social scientists modesty by proving that real and made up results of socio-scientific research are hard to tell apart and that unsound research remains without consequences.”

Amen to that.

Did you like this? Share it:
Opinion: The upside of Stapel’s deception by

Comments are closed.