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SPSP Letter on Responsible Conduct
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August 19, 2012

Dear SPSP Members,

Every now and again, our field gets tested. This is one of those times. In a matter of a few short months, three cases of suspected fraud in the data collecting and reporting process in our field have come to light. In the wake of these cases, there has been a great deal of discussion concerning not only what to make of these specific cases but also about the pressures and practices of our field more generally. Outright fabrication of data is obviously wrong. But what about the "gray areas” of eliminating cases, conditions, or variables? And, in a period of growing suspicion, will people become more cautious and concerned about sharing their data and stimuli? What are the consequences for how our science is viewed both inside and outside the field? These are just a few of the many questions we are all talking about in the aftermath of the cases of suspected and, in some instances, confirmed cased of fraud.

Some will say that our field is in crisis. To that characterization I would add out of every crisis comes opportunity. In my conversations with colleagues throughout the field, I have learned that the discussions they are having with their students about the specific cases and the various questions outlined above have been productive and have afforded opportunities to discuss explicitly a variety of issues that we may have implicitly taken for granted were effectively communicated through our training (i.e., we must uphold the strictest standards of ethical conduct in our research). Students are asking more and better questions about their data and how to analyze them. People are talking about what our goals are as individual scientists (i.e., promoting our science or promoting ourselves). Though prompted by unfortunate circumstances these conversations are good to have and will serve us well in the long run. Indeed, I’m both impressed and inspired by the quality and the depth of conversations we are having and they will serve as the basis for us to move forward with confidence amid the fraud cases.

Some have wondered what our organization is doing to address these issues and others have wondered what they can do as individuals. The Society has, indeed, been working on these issues but the work has been behind the scenes. We would like to share with the community, however, what SPSP has done and will being doing to address the issues. I then offer a few reflections on what you can do as individuals.

What SPSP is Doing

Soon after the fraud allegations were made in the Stapel case, Todd Heatherton, in his role as President of SPSP, appointed a Task Force on Responsible Conduct. The charge of the Task Force was to examine ethical conduct within the field, including what can be done to uncover misconduct, how the field can be more confident about the veracity of collected data, how training within the field can enhance ethical behavior, and how we can generally promote social and personality psychology as a credible scientific endeavor. The Task Force was chaired by Jenny Crocker and included members of the SPSP Executive Committee as well as representatives from a number of other organizations (e.g., APA, APS, SESP, FABBS, SPSSI, SAN, and ARP). The Task Force met at the SPSP meeting in San Diego in January of 2012 and produced a report that outlined a variety of ways we could take positive steps to ensure the integrity of our science. You can read through the report and the Task Force recommendations at:

http://spsp.site-ym.com/resource/resmgr/files/task_force_on_responsible_co.pdf.

The SPSP Executive Committee has devoted a considerable amount of time to discussing these issues and how the organization could play a positive role in addressing the concerns. One of the many ideas we generated was to have a symposium at our meeting in January in New Orleans devoted to some of the questions and issues that seem most pressing for society members. This symposium would provide a forum for our community to come together to discuss the issues and to explore how to best protect our science against temptations of fraud and ensure the integrity of our science.

And, the Society’s efforts do not end there. SPSP is taking initiative to develop new workshops, policies, and standards for responsible conduct in research. The challenges to the field create new opportunities for SPSP to assume professional leadership.

What You Can Do

Our ability to uphold strict standards of ethical conduct is only as good as the efforts made by the members of our community. The single most important thing you can do is to adhere to these standards. If you have questions or uncertainties, ask questions. Make discussions of ethical behavior part of the everyday discussion in your lab. By virtue of how you conduct your science, become a role model for others. The threats to our field’s integrity have made many people uneasy. In some cases, people seem overly suspicious of the validity of others’ findings. In other cases they have become wary when others ask for their data for reanalysis, with the implicit notion that someone might not trust the integrity of one’s science. Against this last concern, a wise colleague recently commented that if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about. Thinking about it this way should put us at ease and allow us to move forward with confidence that our science is strong and that our community, with a very small number of exceptions, has integrity.

The SPSP Executive Committee will continue to work on these issues and we will do our best to keep the membership informed of our efforts.

Yours sincerely,

Patricia G. Devine

President, SPSP, on behalf of the SPSP Executive Committee

 

Todd Heatherton (Past President)

David Funder (President Elect)

Monica Biernat (Secretary Treasurer)

Randy Larsen (Member at Large)

Wendi Gardner (Member at Large)

Sam Gosling (Member at Large)

Jennifer Beer (Member at Large)

Shelly Gable (Member at Large)

Paula Pietromonaco (APA Representative)

Terri Vescio (APA Representative)

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