The exposure of a decade-long career of fraud by a social psychologist two weeks ago sent the scientific community reeling. In the aftermath, another social psychologist claims that social psychology can heal itself with its own principles. Buried within her arguments, though, are Christian presuppositions.
A column in this week’s Nature (Nov 9, 479, 151 (2011) | doi:10.1038/479151a) begins, “The extensive academic fraud of Diederik Stapel has rocked science. Social psychologist Jennifer Crocker traces the destructive path that cheats follow.” (See 11/5/2011.) In her article, “The road to fraud starts with a single step,” Crocker goes on to say in her article, that destuctive path is allowing one to become accustomed to little sins one at a time, till one becomes insensitive to the magnitude of evil:
To understand fraud in science, the useful lesson is the significance of that first tiny step. Every minor transgression — dropping an inconvenient data point, or failing to give credit where it is due — creates a threat to self-image. The perpetrators are forced to ask themselves: am I really that sort of person? Then, to avoid the discomfort of this threat, they rationalize and justify their way out, until their behaviour feels comfortable and right. This makes the next transgression seem not only easier, but even morally correct.
Even though the fraud Stapel was a renowned social psychologist, Crocker believes that social psychologists are the ones to conquer fraud. “Why would someone with obvious intelligence, ambition and talent risk everything by falsifying data?” she asked. “Social psychology offers us a way to answer such questions.” For support, Crocker referred to a 1963 experiment that showed humans can become callous in inflicting pain on others. But can these physicians heal themselves? If so, how?
To understand fraud, we should think about how it begins and escalates, not how it ends. By the time such fraud is exposed, bad choices that would usually lead to only minor transgressions have escalated into outright career-killing behaviour.
It begins, she continues, with small steps. Her argument was basically to watch out for the slippery slope – that temptation to cheat that besets everyone. Those who fail need to be punished severely for the good of science, but we are all beset with original sin:
The well-being of science and our society requires that fraud be punished severely. But a heavy focus on fraudsters may also conveniently divert our attention from the fraudster within us all. Who cannot find places where they took a first step, or perhaps several steps, down one slippery slope or another? The road to fraud probably starts out with a step taken because of some egotistical fear or anxiety — fear of losing someone’s respect, for example, or of letting others down, the fear of being seen as a loser, of being a failure, or of not getting the job, the grant or the award that one covets.
Scientists need to encourage those who yield not to temptation, who think about the disastrous consequences of fraud, and who report fraud for the common good. For those who avoided the temptation, “The slippery slope beckoned, but they acted for the common good, and we should thank them.”
Well, isn’t this something. Crocker steals all the goods from the Christian smorgasbord and then sells them in her own Social Psychology restaurant. Is she a Darwinist, as almost all Social Psychologists are? (if they weren’t, they would be in church, and get a real job during the week). She talks about the “fraudster within us all” (the Fall), the temptation to sin, morality, the common good, encouragement, and thanksgiving. Let’s see her derive any one of those from an amoral, aimless, purposeless, unguided process of evolution!
The world has known sin, righteousness and judgment since Adam and Eve without the help of Social Psychology Fraudsters, Inc. We don’t need Crocker to act as their spokesperson, press agent, spin doctor, sin doctor, or moralist. That would be like pigs selling deodorant. She’s only pointing out what her own conscience screams into her head, that there are standards of right and wrong to which we are all accountable. Do her a favor and invite her to church.
Exercise. The headline asserts that scientists need Christianity to avoid fraud. Critics will complain that the moral principles espoused in our commentary are shared by other world religions, or even secular societies. Explore this criticism and either defend or refute it.