“I definitely will not miss academia”, says Dirk Smeesters, no longer a professor at RSM. He left after scientific fraud was determined. For the first time he tells his side of the story in EM.
To the question as to why he cheated with his data he responds: “I think researchers want to maximize the usefulness of their data because the pressure to publish is extremely high.” He has no remorse. But he would do things differently if he were to start over: “I would deal with issues that are more relevant to society and that contribute to the wellbeing of people. Then, it would be of lesser importance whether or not something is innovative theoretically or statistically significant. Journals almost exclusively publish studies with statistically significant results, which can indeed lead to massaging your data.”
Smeesters is recovering from poor health at this moment. A burn-out is part of this, he says, so he is ‘rediscovering how to really enjoy life’. When he has fully recovered, he will perhaps teach at a high school or college. In any case, science is not something he misses.
The Flemish professor had already resigned for personal reasons in January. The investigation into his research data was on-going at the time. When this was done in June his resignation was accepted officially.
At first it seemed as if the professor had only been a little creative with his data, later it became apparent that some of his data was fabricated. That is the firm conviction of Uri Simonsohn who is a social psychologist like Smeesters and who discovered the fraud case. Rolf Zwaan, head of the psychology department and chairman of the research commission Scientific Integrity of the EUR, underscores this conclusion. Only Smeesters has a different take on the matter.
The Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) will now have an external party analyse the research culture at the faculty. According to Smeesters, he is by far not the only one who massages data. Furthermore a number of measures have been put in place to prevent any future fraud: there will be seminars for scientific integrity, a standard protocol for data collection and storage, the rules at the Erasmus Behavioural Lab have been tightened, and there is a pilot testing the usefulness of a central data storage for research data.
The full story – on massaging data, data detectives, and shades of grey – will be published tomorrow in Dutch in Erasmus Magazine #4 (available everywhere on the Campus). The English version can be read here tomorrow. TL