On Ostracism, Forgiveness, Compassion, and Accountabilty

For numerous reasons I am a slow writer. I don’t type. though a nuanced writer I do not naturally dictate into a piece of software like dragon dictate. I’ve never had a secretary. I am a prodigious reader (and have been criticized for reading too much in order to delay writing). I revise multiple times trying to find just the right word, the right tone, the right feeling (This is version 21 of this short piece!). I am interested in so many different things—and therefore easily distracyted from the task at hand (yesterday I was distracted from writing by reflecting on digital doppelnamers!). I have no strong external incentive to write (I am tenured and intrinsically motivated). Are these excuses or reasons?

I am having quite a bit of difficulty writing this piece—and have had that difficulty for the past three years when my identity with my discipline of social psychology became disrupted and unsettled. In my Experimental Social Psychology class the past three years I have been sharing with students a case study of the influential career of European social psychologist Diederik Stapel. May I never be so famous that

  1. my biography is regularly updated in Wikipedia,
  2. my story is featured in the New York Times,
  3. my entire career’s work is evaluated by a Commission,
  4. I’m featured on a TED train special,
  5. and my work is regularly condemned on Retraction Watch.

The past two years I have invited my students to share in writing their reactions to this case study. Before “publishing them” in a blog piece, I was interested in whether Diederik might be interested in seeing them. Thank you, Diederik for replying and sharing some of your experiences over the past three years.

I am left struggling with the questions of at what point is ostracism unwarranted and forgiveness or a variant of compassion warranted. At what point does ostracism degenerate into a witch hunt? How can one both acknowledge and condemn wrong behavior (never forget) and yet not engage in wrong behavior by failing to allow an individual opportunities to show that they have learned from their wrong behavior?

I have much to ruminate about.


0 thoughts on “On Ostracism, Forgiveness, Compassion, and Accountabilty

  1. Personally, I believe that everyone makes mistakes. Some, like Stapel, make larger mistakes. It is impossible to undo the past, but everyone, including Stapel, should strive to make the best out of the future. He should understand the reasons behind the fall of his career, and the media responses following the discovery of the falsified studies. Part of the argument here, I think, is how far Stapel must fall before justice is deemed served. I think it is a very delicate situation.

  2. I believe Stapel’s behavior was selfish, and that some condemnation is warranted. He did not take into consideration the number of individuals that would be negatively affected by his actions. I am empathetic toward Stapel’s graduate students, who had great admiration for him, Their reputations were tarnished, as well as their respect for psychological research. He also tainted the credibility of social psychologists who had cited his fraudulent work. Most importantly, he caused the world to question the validity of psychological research.

    That being said, I agree, it is time to forgive. We must recognize that he is a brilliant scholar. His intelligence and curiosity have led to the creation of studies with potentially groundbreaking implications. He has struggled to regain the trust of scientists around the world, and he may never be entirely forgiven. However, it has been years since this transpired. The extreme criticism no longer serves a purpose, and has become bullying. The time has come for Stapel to live his life free of constant harassment.

  3. Stapel made a huge mistake, which in turn affected the entire psychological research community. A society that already questioned psychological research, now questioned it even more. The graduate students who looked up to Stapel are left wondering what they had spent their time in school doing. Those who referenced Stapel’s work now questioned the validity of their own work. At this point in time, I think we need to forgive Stapel. The damage is done. His reputation is scarred. The hard work of many is gone. But, we can’t turn back the clock. The result of this scandal is a research community that has learned from this and gotten stronger. Psychological research has evolved and grown since. I think this is something to be proud of. At the end of the day… How is Stapel to move on from this if we don’t move on ourselves?

  4. As a psychology major, putting myself in another persons’ shoes is a natural way of thinking. I can only imagine what Stapel is going through 3 years out from the revealing of his secrets, a hint of frustration with the psychology community? Although he may not see any positive outcomes from the situation, Stapel may have helped cease the fraudulence of data in the psychology world. From fear of being caught and ostracized as he was, others may become more honest.

    I think it is time to stop dwelling on the past and look to the future. There is no doubt that Stapel is an intelligent being, and has great potential to produce accurate, REAL information. I give my best to Mr. Stapel to have hope and determination.

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