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Jens Förster under fire, again

Embattled German social psychologist Jens Förster, who has been accused of data manipulation in at least one case, has another credibility problem. In his last public statement, on his lab’s website, Förster  floated the suggestion that another person might have “cooked” the precarious data. “I can also not exclude the possibility that the data has been manipulated by someone involved in the data collection or data processing. …” According to Förster, the experiments were conducted from 1999 to 2008 in Germany, mostly at Jacobs University Bremen, with the help of more than 150 co-workers. This being true would practically leave out any possibility of encircling the real wrongdoer. “However, I had to accept that there is no chance to trace this back; after all, the studies were run more than 7 years ago and I am not even entirely sure when, and I worked with too many people.”
But in the most recent twist of this depressing saga, the magazine “Science” has got hold of some personal e-mails that call into question this line of defense. They are part of the correspondence between Förster and Pieter Verhoeven, his research assistant at UvA from September 2008 to June 2009. In these mails, the two scientists discuss the design of certain experiments which strongly appear to be identical to the ones which, according to Förster , were completed years earlier in Bremen. “For instance, among the stimuli used are three unintelligible audio recordings, which the 2011 paper says were described to the subjects as “Moldavian” poems.”, Science writes. In an 18 May 2009 e-mail, the assistant raises the proposal to describe the poem that way, rather than as Malaysian, because the reader of the poem has a German accent.
Verhoeven underwrites the authenticity of these mails. “Reading back our correspondence 5 years later, I can only conclude we were still working on the exact design of the experiments in May 2009.”  The whistleblower, who exposed the dubious data in Förster’s paper, has informed the University of Amsterdam that six more of his papers contain “statistically improbable data”. Meanwhile, renown blogger Neuroskeptic has reexamined the design and data of the contended paper: “In this post, I examine the data and conclude that data fabrication – whoever is responsible for it – is the only plausible scenario.”
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