The Committee for Academic Integrity, who investigated the issue, confirmed the breaches in a report.
Leiden University will retract two articles by the psychologist, who is now in Germany. Both publications mention much smaller numbers of trial subjects than were actually involved in the underlying experiments and co-authors are missing from, or added to, certain chapters in a book by the researcher. The Committee said the following: “The accused’s conduct towards her colleagues whose positions were dependent on her was not honest, respectful or responsible.”
The report considers several breaches of academic integrity proven and mentions other instances of ill-mannered conduct. Researchers conducting an experiment with hallucinogenic truffles at a festival had not been adequately instructed on what to do in an emergency, for instance. Conducting a statistical analysis and writing part of the report in one day “cannot be reconciled with a sound academic approach”, the report says.
The Committee judged the matter of taking blood samples from 106 trial subjects without permission from the Medical Research Ethics Committee much more harshly. The researcher had submitted a request – and had already received permission from the Psychology Research Ethics Committee at her institute – but made a start with the samples when she had not heard from them in three months. When it became clear that she would not be granted permission, she immediately stopped.
Despite that, the committee considers the matter of the blood samples highly reprehensible: “The seriousness with which our society takes the observance of the legislation in this field is evident from the fact that the law prescribes prison sentences as a penalty for research that does not meet certain conditions, including ethical approval.”
The Committee stressed that the university could report the matter to the police. The university has reported the case to the Inspectorate for Health and Youth Care who may decide to report it to the police if they see fit.
The psychologist had based a grant application on the data from the blood, which may be why she did not wait for permission. “When the accused submitted the grant application, she had not collected that data. Some of the data was collected later, but not published, because it was part of the study for which the accused had taken blood samples without permission. Moreover, the collected data did not produce the effect to which the accused had referred in her application for a grant.”
The researcher has paid back the grant but, according to the Committee’s statement, she “produced results from experiments that had not yet been conducted and manipulated results to present the reality in a better light in other applications too. Furthermore, during the course of an experiment, statistical tests were run continuously and the research population was increased to raise the chances of a statistically significant result.”
Both these practices are breaches of academic integrity, according to the Committee, who have advised the university to investigate all the work the psychologist has done in Leiden. The university has taken that advice to heart and set up a new committee to investigate.
University spokesman Caroline van Overbeeke does not know yet when the committee will start the investigation, “but we will get to work with the utmost speed.”
There is plenty to do: the researcher had worked for Leiden University since the beginning of this century (she was awarded her doctorate here in 2005). The medical data bank PubMed alone contains more than a hundred and forty Leiden publications written by this researcher on a wide range of subjects such as music lessons, cocaine use, amino acids as dietary supplements, creativeness and much more.
The report concludes by saying that “the channels used to track down potential breaches of academic integrity at an early stage have not worked at all in this case.”
Could the fact that the research group’s leader was the researcher’s husband have had anything to do with it? Van Overbeeke: “I cannot discuss the matter. The case will remain anonymous.” The researcher involved and her husband have not responded to our request for more information. “I feel very overwhelmed”, she told us by email.