… is, if you ask UD, pretty much the formula for some of what goes on under what people at universities call Leadership Studies.

Florida International University, famous for an onfield football brawl, squalid sports teams, and an arrogant high-living president who, when he retired, had a whole campus named after him as an expression of gratitude for what he did with public funds, has put together a real winner of a leadership studies program. Said president – Mitch Maidique – is on the faculty, as is Fred Walumbwa, whose pearls of leadership wisdom (“Always be on the path to leadership…”) adorn the page announcing his appointment.

Walumbwa was only hired last year, and already he’s leading FIU in (about to be) retracted research papers. Five – in one journal, Leadership Quarterly. The editor writes:

In recent weeks serious allegations have been raised about the scientific value and contribution of a number of papers published in recent years in our discipline, five of which were articles published in LQ.

It’s not clear exactly what Walumbwa and his co-authors did wrong, though one would have to suspect they fudged data. Mushy fields like psychology (leadership studies’ sister city) are notorious for retractions – here’s looking at you, Diederik Stapel — and Marc Hauser — etc. — …

Hank Campbell headlines his post about Walumbwa this way:

When Something As Vague As A Leadership Journal Retracts You For Lack Of Data, You Are In Trouble

He goes on to say:

A journal that published papers on something called ‘ethical leadership’ wouldn’t seem to need any strong evidence basis, just a lot of surveys and weak observational claims with pretty words attached, so if it gets so many complaints it retracts five of your papers, you must really be out there.

… Walumbwa told RetractionWatch “We have data, we are working on that now.”

Oh. If you have data, why wasn’t it in the papers? And how did it get published in the first place?

UD thanks David.

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9 Responses to “Junk Research and Arrant Knaves…”

  1. Sherman Dorn Says:

    So what you’re saying is, this stuff is so chock full of empirical rigor that it should be sold at Whole Foods in the homeopathic aisle?

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Sherman: That’s sort of what it looks like.

  3. David Says:

    It’s not all junk science. But unfortunately if someone wants to fabricate or misrepresent their data it requires extra vigilance to spot. Science is self-correcting and this is one of those corrections.

    BTW: When retractions occur in journals such as Stem and Science that was published by researchers from the more basic sciences such as biomedicine, does that mean ALL biomedical research is junk science. Apparently it does following your logic [sic].

  4. JND Says:

    Wow! Back in the graduate school days (before Walumbwa published there), I was a mere editorial assistant for Leadership Quarterly.

    If this all proves to be true, I know of a couple of deceased former editors who are rolling in their graves.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    David: Note that I said “some” of what goes on is junk. Certainly not all.

  6. Dan Says:

    I am wondering what evidence there is for psychology being “notorious for retractions” relative to any other field? Data can be fudged in any discipline – from physics (a la cold fusion) to medicine(Bharat Aggarwal’s cancer research). The article links to one notorious case in the field of social psychology which, coupled with Walumbwa’s antics, seems to be a stretch to claim rampant retraction.

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Dan: I think the main reason psychology is more prone to this (I’ve covered more psychology misbehavior than any other type of academic misconduct on this blog – purely anecdotal, but I think it probably means something) is that many people are intuitively just interested in, receptive to, psychology’s results. It’s easier for psychologists to draw attention to their results, because often those results are telling us something kind of interesting about ourselves (meat eaters are happier people, etc.). We’re not watching (or understanding) physics or immunology results – but huge numbers of people are going to pay attention to results that tell them something about their daily existence – results that often seem to be hinting at ways we could change our habits in order to be happier, more successful, etc. If you look at the bad boy psychologists of the last few years, virtually all of them specialized in releasing possibly weird but provocative and maybe self-improving information about us.

    I’m suggesting that the temptation to produce bogus, attention-attracting results is, for various reasons, stronger in psychology.

  8. John Says:

    Margaret, did you actually read any of the flagged articles? If you had you would find they tell us nothing interesting about ourselves. For instance, the notion of authentic leadership comes from a garbage book by Bill George based entirely on the halo effect. LQ is by no stretch of the imagination a top journal in the field of management, which is even more interesting- if you are going to make up data, why not shoot higher than LQ? Oh yeah, he did, and he is under investigation at a number of other journals. I just hope Florida has the balls to actually fire this douche.

  9. Margaret Soltan Says:

    John: Ah, Bill George. I’ve written about that guy on this blog a number of times. I have never been able to figure out why he’s… anything, much less someone who seems to get respect and attention… But isn’t George exactly your problem, John? Assuming you’re in the leadership field? That’s the sort of jerk the rest of us see… He’s your front bench…

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