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Honesty research retracts study over fake data


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Can you trust a psychologist who studies Honesty? 

A Famous Honesty Researcher Is Retracting A Study Over Fake Data

I’ve enjoyed his books and Ted Talks but now wonder about the reliability of what Ariely reported.

Some highlights:

recently, a group of outside sleuths scrutinized the original paper’s underlying data and stumbled upon a bigger problem: One of its main experiments was faked “beyond any shadow of a doubt,” three academics wrote in a post on their blog, Data Colada, on Tuesday.

Ariely, who confirmed that he alone was in touch with the insurance company that ran the test with its customers and provided him with the data. 

Ariely gave conflicting answers about the origins of the data file that was the basis for the analysis. Citing confidentiality agreements, he also declined to name the insurer that he partnered with. And he said that all his contacts at the insurer had left and that none of them remembered what happened, either.

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.

Asked by BuzzFeed News when the experiment was conducted by the insurance company, he first replied, “I don’t remember if it was 2010 or ’11. One of those things.”

The Excel file that was publicly posted — the file with the original data, according to him and his team — was created by Ariely in February 2011, its metadata shows. But Ariely discussed the study’s results in a July 2008 lecture at Google and wrote an essay about it, though with slightly different results, in 2009 for the Harvard Business Review.

Meanwhile, Ariely said he holds out hope that the basic idea of the study still holds true, pointing to other research about “priming” people to be honest. He said that more signature experiments being run in the UK, which have not yet been published, will vindicate him.

The 2012 data “is not to be trusted,” he said. But “there is still the question of whether the principle behind it is correct. Those are separate questions.” 


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