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Steely Dan

Beset by accusations of research fraud, Duke professor and public intellectual Dan Ariely has held his ground, admitting a bit of sloppiness but nothing like making up data. Yet an analysis of details in a 2012 paper he wrote about honesty (!) suggests that he may well be responsible for bogus numbers in one of his influential psychological experiments.

And this is not the first time questions have been raised about Ariely’s research in particular. In a famous 2008 study, he claimed that prompting people to recall the Ten Commandments before a test cuts down on cheating, but an outside team later failed to replicate the effect. An editor’s note was added to a 2004 study of his last month when other researchers raised concerns about statistical discrepancies, and Ariely did not have the original data to cross-check against. And in 2010, Ariely told NPR that dentists often disagree on whether X-rays show a cavity, citing Delta Dental insurance as his source. He later walked back that claim when the company said it could not have shared that information with him because it did not collect it.

Ariely is also up against his field’s now-notorious “replication crisis” — a nice way of saying that SCADS of psychological experimental results sure look a whole lot like bullshit. Go here for details.


A photograph in this article features Ariely hanging with Jonah Lehrer at a 2008 science festival. Much like Ariely, Lehrer was a much-celebrated brainiac with frenetic entrepreneurial energy until he went pffff.

Jonah Lehrer’s 2012 book Imagine: How Creativity Works was pulled from shelves after it was demonstrated to contain fabricated quotes purportedly from Bob Dylan and WH Auden. He subsequently admitted to plagiarising the work of others in his blogposts, while critics noted apparent plagiarism and disregard for facts throughout his published work.

UD’s got nothing against operators. America is Land O’ Operators. He’s an operator/He’s a real player, as Fountains of Wayne puts it, and we got ’em growing on trees around here. But don’t believe anything they tell you.

Margaret Soltan, August 23, 2021 8:46PM
Posted in: march of science

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