Thursday, May 9, 2019

Vive La Fraud?

Hang on to your hats, folks. This is just wild.

If you've never read about Nicholas Guéguen before, read this post in Retraction Watch. Nick Brown and James Heathers go into far more detail in their own blog post.

Guéguen is certainly prolific - a career that spans a couple decades has yielded some 336 published articles. He also has published some books, although I am not particularly familiar with the publisher involved. It's not that the topics of interest are a bit out of the ordinary. Spend enough time in Psychology or any related science for any length of time and you'll find someone researching something that will make you wonder. However, as long as the methods are legit and the research can withstand independent replication efforts, I would hope most of us would accept that the phenomena under investigation are at least apparently real and potentially of interest to some subset of the human species. Sort of is what it is.

Rather, it is the methodology that Guéguen employs that causes concern. In particular, his field research apparently is conducted by beginning research methods students - the vast majority of whom have a minimal grasp of what they are doing - and then published under his own name as if the work were his own (students were apparently never told that this might occur). Worse, at least one student I am aware of, based on Brown and Heathers' work, owned up to the apparent reality that students tended to fabricate results that were turned in for a grade in Guéguen's methods courses over the years. Whether or not Guéguen was aware of that is certainly a worthy question to ask. At minimum, I agree with Brown and Heathers that this is a body of research that deserves careful scrutiny.

Supposedly, two of the articles in question were supposed to have been retracted by now, but apparently are not. My limited experience with editors is that when one is the bearer of bad tidings, the tendency is to ignore for as long as possible, drag their heels even longer, and hope the problem (i.e., legitimate complaints about dodgy research) goes away. Some other things to remember - editors and publishers never make mistakes - according to editors and publishers. When the proverbial truth hits the fan, their legal beagles will provide them with whatever cover is needed to avoid accountability. Regardless, expect a situation like this one to drag on for a while. Heck, it took Markey and Elson how many years to get the original Boom! Headshot! article retracted? I am guessing that in the case of some articles I have been following, it will easily be a couple years before anything even remotely resembling satisfaction occurs. Once things go adversarial, that's just the way it is - and our incentive systems reward being adversarial. The only time a retraction might go relatively quickly (as in a few months) is if you get that one author in a blue moon who hollers at an editor and says "dude, I really made a mess of things - do something." If you find yourself in that situation (try to avoid, please), do save your email correspondence with any editor and associate publishers, publishers, etc. Document everything. You'll be glad you did.

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