I could go on and on wondering what made Stapel "fake" his data (according to the report, the data came with a ficticious person who collected and analyzed it). Instead, what I'd like to focus on is the whole issue of data fabrication. Specifically, why faking data is (1) short-sighted and (2) anti-scientific.
Faking data is short-sighted
In the short run, a faked paper might be a big splash and will generate a lot of interest. Such is the case with Stapel's alleged faked data on how eating meat makes people more selfish. This is actually good for you in the short-term because attention that is paid to your paper now is likely to land you a good job, possible media attention, and some respect among your peers.
|Apparently not selfish.|
The problems come when people try to build the scientific literature. If your paper is indeed a big splash type of finding, people will seek to replicate the results and extend them to other realms. If data is faked, there is no possibility of replication. Read that again. If your findings cannot be replicated, they will in essence slowly become less relevant to the field. That's actually not good for you. It's also possible that your findings will be refuted by another team of researchers. This second possibility will draw questions to your research which could eventually illustrate that you are in fact, faking your data. As Stapel learned, faking data comes with heavy long-term costs and moderate short-term gains.
Faking data is anti-scientific
I imagine that people tend to fake data to confirm their own theories about the world. That's an inherently anti-scientific pursuit. Theories themselves should not be judged on how many things they get right, instead they should be judged on how much of the theory can be systematically tested. Take Freud's psychoanalytic theory for instance, almost everything about it is dead wrong. I mean nearly everything (save perhaps transference and a few other ideas)! No matter, we still talk about his ideas with great enthusiasm because they led to a host of testable hypotheses.
|Wrong, but relevant|
Faking data is in my view, essentially about ego. I believe my theories are right and valid and I don't need data to prove that, they just are. In science you don't matter, the science matters. I wish we could all keep that in mind.
Are you worried that many researchers fake their data? Let us know in your comments!
Barrett, L. (2006). Are Emotions Natural Kinds? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1 (1), 28-58 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2006.00003.x