The Guardian long read: the high-tech war on science fraud

Last modified: May 23, 2017

In the summer of 2016 a German psychologist named Mathias Kauff received a disturbing message from a computer program named Statcheck. It stated that ’a 2013 paper Kauff had published on multiculturalism and prejudice appeared to contain a number of incorrect calculations – which the program had catalogued and then posted on the internet for anyone to see’. Kauff was not alone. By that time Statcheck had already worked its way through 50.000 published psychology papers, and had contacted almost every academic working in the field.

This long read Guardian-article vividly tells the story of the launch of Statcheck, an R package designed by the Tilburg University’s Meta-Research Center that automatically extracts statistics from papers and recomputes p values. However, its method of detecting mistakes and making them public, has lead many academics to criticise the program. For example, prof. Susan Fiske (Princeton University) accused Statcheck in an open-ed of being an ”self-appointed data police” and of introducing a new ”form of harassment”.

Although most of the accusations were delivered at Statcheck, computer programs, as we all know, are designed by men. The real actor behind this controversy turned out to be the 25-year-old Dutch scientist Chris Hartgerink (Tilburg University) who launched the program. What is it like to be young and briljant and to have already upset so many of your peers? Hartgerink seems to take it quite lightly: scientific misconduct “is not something people enjoy talking about” but does that mean that the problem should not be raised? Hartgerink certainly disagrees.

Read also this post on StatCheck.

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