Stapel disliked losing

Ex-scientist Diederik Stapel forged the data of his research because he did not like to lose, he says in an interview with Het Financiele Dagblad (FD). ‘My pitfall was that I couldn’t really handle there being a gap between the research results and my ideas.’
By Peter Keizer / Translation by Alain Reniers

In 2011, Stapel was sentenced for data fraud when it turned out that he created a host of research data out of thin air. The former professor of cognitive social psychology worked at the RUG for six years, supervised PhD students and placed his name on many RUG publications.

Stapel is glad that the fraud was eventually uncovered, he says. ‘I’m a free man now, freed from my secrets. There’s a bitter downside, however. It’s unpleasant to be cast aside by many people for years and trying all sorts of things that lead to nothing.’


In May of 2000, he was appointed professor in Groningen; six years later, Stapel left for Tilburg University. During his time in Groningen, he primarily adjusted data – data that undermined his hypothesis was deleted or adjusted. Five years ago, the Levelt committee determined that Stapel had committed fraud in 55 publications with strong indications of fraud for several dozen more articles.

‘I suffered from a kind of nihilistic attitude towards life. I required more and more stimuli to actually feel anything and I looked for it in my work,’ Stapel says in the interview with FD. ‘It began with turning the research results towards the light, so they became more visible. Three research projects turn out well and a fourth contains questions that do not result in the desired outcome. You decide that these are stupid questions. So you fail to report them. I constantly took embellishing reality a step further. I can’t stand chaos and can’t stand losing. I would much prefer to have lived in a world where everything is right and perfectly arranged. But that world doesn’t exist.’


The ex-scientist says that he knew that he was not doing the right thing. ‘I felt dirty after changing or making up data; I would take a shower afterwards.’ He was not working on altering or making up research data all day and night, but would commit fraud ‘for perhaps 30 minutes once every three months’.

Stapel says he suffered from depression after his scam came to light. ‘I was disgusted by myself and wanted to die. I thought: everyone would be better off without me. So many people I had hurt, my family, my PhD students, students, coworkers, it’s best to just be gone,’ he says to the FD.


For some years now, he has been trying to get the ball rolling again. In 2013, he started a consultancy firm and also works as a taxi driver. In September, he was offered a job at Breda University of Applied Sciences, but was fired one week later after the staff objected. Since November, he has been working as a psychologist at the Rodersana addiction clinic.

‘Initially, I thought the wrath was justified, but after five years I think it might be enough,’ Stapel says. ‘No one has to listen to me or read my books, but I want to live. Even on the margins? Yes, please! I hope our society offers some space for reconciliation.’



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