Scientific theories cannot be confirmed, an eminent philosopher of science has argued; they can only be falsified. But facts can be confirmed.
And heres a fact about a famous (now infamous) social scientist: Hes a fraud.
Its been confirmed.
The fascinating case of social psychologist Diederik A. Stapel serves as a cautionary tale. The caution is to those of us who write about science, who ruminate on what we read about science in the news, or anyone just curious about the world.
It turns out that not everyone who purports to have discovered something has discovered much of anything. Sometimes theyre simply lying.
Stapel is a liar. Hes been caught. Hes even confessed. In a rare instance of institutional integrity, the administration of Tilburg University has given him the heave-ho.
Stapels chosen social science is the weak, runt sister in the pantheon. It doesnt have the mathematical and logical (and practical) honor that economics trumpets. Sociology encompasses a wider range of methods and targeted research programs. Cultural anthropology has nestled into a niche that seems impregnable: the study of backwater and Third World societies. And history has so august and firm a place in the study of man that no trendy influx of science or scientism into its narrative and archival traditions will lodge it from its high estate.
What social psychology has is charisma.
Its contributors are eminently quotable. They often seem to strike near the heart of what it means to be human. By focusing on the intersection between the individual and his/her mindset in the social context, and seeing how changes in such context can change opinion, feelings, and behavior, social psychologists often intrigue those outside the profession. Journalists adore and cover them.
According to Andrew Ferguson, they get credulous coverage.
Well, it wouldnt be the first time. Credulity is a besetting sin of journalism. Journalists, who pride themselves on being so worldly wise and skeptical, regularly demonstrate otherwise, usually regarding politics. You know the reason; none of us are exempt. Its easy to believe something that supports ones own views.
Stapel was an extremely productive social psychologist. He published a lot, and was often quoted in mainstream media.