Top 10 Secrets of Effective Liars
Extreme Fear Blog
by Jeff Wise
May 3, 2010
As I've written earlier, human beings have an innate skill at dishonesty. And with
good reason: being able to manipulate the expectations of those around us is a
key survival trait for social animals like ourselves. Indeed, a 1999 study by
psychologist Robert Feldman at the University of Massachusetts showed that the
most popular kids were also the most effective liars. Just because our aptitude is
hardwired doesn't mean it can't improve with practice and skill. Here are ten
techniques that top-notch liars use to maximize their effectiveness. (By the way,
this information is offered as a way to help detect deceit in others, not to practice it
#1 Have a reason. "Prisons are filled with bad liars," says psychologist Charles
Ford, author of the book Lies! Lies! Lies!. "The good liars are out running
HMOs." So what's the big difference? Basically, says Ford, the trick is to
lie as little as possible - only when you actually have something to gain.
"Pathological liars can't stop themselves from lying, so they tell a lot of little lies
and wind up getting caught," he says. Truly expert fabricators, on the other hand,
save their ammunition - they don't bother to lie unless it's going to get them
something they really want.
#2 Lay your groundwork. Don't wait until you're under the interrogation lamp to
start putting your story together. A 1990 study by psychologist Bill Flanagan
showed that liars who had worked out the details of their stories beforehand had
significantly more success than those who hadn't. As in everything, practice makes
perfect. "It's easier to catch someone in lie the first time they tell it," says
psychologist Dr. Cynthia Cohen
#3 Tell the truth, misleadingly. The hardest lies to catch are those which aren't
actually lies. You're telling the truth, but in a way that leaves a false impression.
Technically, it's only a prevarication - about half a sin. A 1990 study of pathological
liars in New York City found that those who could avoid follow-up questions were
significantly more successful at their deceptions.
#4 Know your target. Good liars have the same gift as good communicators: the
ability to get inside the listener's head. Empathy not only clues you in to what your
subject wants to hear, it will help you avoid stepping onto trip wires that will trigger
their suspicions. "To make a credible lie, you need to take into account the
perspective of your target," says Carolyn Saarni, co-editor of the book Lying and
Deception in Everyday Life. "Know what they know. Be aware of their interests and
activities so you can cover your tracks."
#5 Keep your facts straight. "One of the problems of successful lying is that it's
hard work," says psychologist Michael Lewis. "You have to be very consistent in
doing it." That means nailing down the details. Write down notes if you have to.
"One of the things that trips people up is that they give different information to
different people, who then start talking about it and comparing notes," says Dr.
Gini Graham Scott, author of The Truth About Lying.
#6 Stay focused. "When I'm trying to catch a liar, I watch to see how committed
they are to what they're telling me," says Sgt. John Yarbrough, interrogation expert
with the LA Sheriff Department's homicide bureau. "If I accuse someone of lying,
and they're not very committed to the statement they just made, a red flag goes
up." One of the reasons most people make bad liars is that they find lying a deeply
unpleasant activity. Fear and guilt are evident in their facial expressions. They
want to get the process over as quickly as possible, so they show relief when their
interrogator changes the topic. That's a dead giveaway. Really good liars, on
the other hand, actually enjoy the process of deceiving other people.
"The best liars don't show any shame or remorse because they don't feel
it," says Cohen. "They get a thrill out of actively misleading others. They're
good at it, and they enjoy the challenge."
#7: Watch your signals. It's folk wisdom that people fidget, touch their
noses, stutter, and break eye contact when they lie - the proverbial
"shifty-eyed" look. But research has shown that just isn't so. In his 1999
study of high school students, Feldman found that nonverbal signals were
crucial in determining who got away with telling lies. "The successful kinds
were better at controlling their nonverbal signals, things like the amount of eye
contact and how much they gestured," he says.
#8: Turn up the pressure. If your target has clearly become suspicious, it's time to
raise the emotional stakes. "The best liars are natural manipulators," says
Sgt. Yarbrough. He cites as a perfect example the scene in Basic Instinct where
Sharon Stone is brought to the cop station for questioning and winds up flashing
everyone a glimpse of her Lesser Antilles. "She was turning them on," Yarbrough
explains, "and that's a form of manipulation - using sexual or emotional arousal to
distract the interviewer."
#9: Counterattack. The fact is, just as most of us are uncomfortable telling
lies, most are uncomfortable accusing others. This discomfort can be
used in the liar's favor. "You'll often see politicians respond to accusations with
aggression," says Stan Walters, author of The Truth About Lying: Everyday
Techniques for Dealing with Deception. "What they'll do is drive critics away from
the issue, so they're forced to gather up their resources to fight another
#10: Bargain. Even when the jig is up, liars can often escape the worst by using a
process psychologists call bargaining. "You want to soften, alleviate, or totally
eliminate feelings of responsibility for the lie," explains researcher Mary
DePalma. "If you can decrease responsibility for blame and the anger that goes
with it, you're really looking at a much better outcome."
"Tabloid": The beauty
queen who "raped" a
Jul 14, 2011
...[Errol] Morris sees truth as
maddeningly difficult to find
or to recognize, and believes
that human stupidity and
vanity and self-deception
often prevent us from seeing
it. He even suggests that at
certain moments truth may be
situationally unknowable, as in
the lessons on America's failure
in Vietnam delivered by the war's
chief architect, Robert S.
McNamara, in Morris'
Oscar-winning "The Fog of War."
But that's quite a different matter
from claiming that truth does not
exist or is entirely relative.
Truth and Lying
Success of lying depends
on most people telling the
Doctors, lawyers and teachers
lie on important occasions, but it
works because they profess to
believe in truth, and demand that
others tell the truth.
Dutch psychologist admits he made up research data
By Kate Kelland
Nov 2, 2011
(Reuters) - A Dutch psychologist has admitted making up data and faking research
over many years in studies which were then published in peer-reviewed scientific
Diederik Stapel, a psychologist working at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, said
he had "failed as a scientist" and was ashamed of what he had done, but had been
driven to falsifying research by constant pressure to perform.
The respected journal Science, which published some of Diederik Stapel's work earlier
this year, issued an "expression of concern" editorial in which it said it now had serious
concerns about the validity of Stapel's findings.
Stapel was suspended from his position at Tilburg University in the Netherlands in
September when an investigation was launched by the university into his work.
"The official report ... indicates that the extent of the fraud by Stapel is substantial,"
Science's editor-in-chief Bruce Alberts wrote in the journal's online edition Science
Express. The editorial was posted online late on November 1.
In a statement posted on the internet via the Dutch newspaper Brabants Dagblad this
week, Stapel admitted to falsifying data and apologized for his actions.
"I have failed as a scientist, as a researcher," he said. "I have adjusted research data
and faked research. Not just once, but many several times, and not just briefly, but
over a long period of time.
"I am ashamed of this and I am deeply sorry."
Science published a study by Stapel and colleague Siegwart Lindenberg in April which
found that people are more likely to discriminate against others when their
surroundings are disordered and messy.
Alberts said he now wanted to alert readers "that serious concerns have been raised
about the validity of the findings in this report."
The process of peer review, in which other scientists are asked to critique and analyze
a paper before it is accepted for publication in a journal, is designed to minimize the
risk that false data will get through, but it is not infallible.
British doctor Andrew Wakefield was exposed as a fraud and struck off the medical
register in Britain in 2010 after his paper on links between autism and the childhood
measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was discredited and withdrawn by The
Lancet, which originally published the research in 1998.
Stapel said in his statement the pressure to succeed had been too great.
"I was not able to withstand the pressure to score points, to publish, to always have to
be better," he said in his statement. "I wanted too much, too fast. And in a system
where there is little control, where people often work alone, I took the wrong path."
Do liars assume that
everyone else is just like
they are? It would appear
that this is the case.
34% of the population surveyed
disagrees with the following article
that says that everybody lies just
like Lance Armstrong. I am one of
them. I know people who are
inveterate liars, and people who
can be trusted. Some people lie a
lot, and some people lie rarely. I
suspect that people who lie project
their own habit on others when
they convince themselves that
I'm not saying that all truth-tellers
are morally superior. Maybe we're
just lazy. I certainly don't want to
be bothered remembering multiple
accounts of an event. Also, it's
more relaxing when you tell the
truth. You don't have to worry
about getting caught lying.
More importantly, only a few
shameless bullies like Lance
Armstrong and Marion Jones
have the nerve to sue others for
telling the truth. That's a
shameless, abusive thing to do.
Like Lance Armstrong,
we are all liars, experts
The lies the disgraced champion
cyclist told may be no bigger or
more persistent than those we all
tell, psychologists say. His were
just more public, and the stakes
[Maura Larkins comment: This
article actually does not offer
any statistical support for the
idea that we are all like Lance
Armstrong. The article does say
that lying is "pretty much
universal." That's different
from "universal." I wonder what
the actual studies show.]
By Melissa Healy
Los Angeles Times
January 19, 2013
Though we profess to hate it, lying
is common, useful and pretty
much universal. It is one of the
most durable threads in our social
fabric and an important bulwark of
our self-esteem. We start lying by
the age of 4 and we do it at least
several times a day, researchers
have found. And we get better with
In short, whatever you think about
Lance Armstrong's admission this
week that he took performance-
enhancing drugs to fuel his
illustrious cycling career, the lies
he told may be no more persistent
or outsized than yours, according
to psychologists and others who
study deception. They were just
more public. And the stakes were
"People do it because it
works," said Robert Feldman,
dean of social and behavioral
sciences at the University of
Massachusetts in Amherst and a
leading researcher on the
psychology of lying. "We get away
with lies all the time. Usually
they're minor: 'I love your tie.' 'You
did a great job.' But in some cases
they're bigger, and in Armstrong's
case, he was pretty confident he
could get away with it."
It's not easy to lie. Psychologists
and neuroscientists have found
that — initially, at least — deceit
requires mental exertion for most
of us. The effort to reconcile a lie
with the truth — or with our notions
of ourselves as good people —
takes up so much brainpower that
as we do it, we may actually forget
to perform such effortless acts as
To sustain a lie over years, and
against mounting evidence of its
untruth, liars large and small must
"develop an infrastructure around
it," Feldman said — a litany of
justifications that makes it possible
to cling to deception and convince
ourselves that we are good people
in spite of it.
"But as time goes on, it gets
easier," Feldman said.
For Armstrong, who has been
stripped of seven Tour de France
titles and an Olympic bronze
medal, the justifications for his
long-standing deceit were on full
display during two nights of
televised interviews with Oprah
Winfrey. Acknowledging that he
took a forbidden drug that
increases oxygen retention in the
blood, he noted that his dose was
"not a lot." He said he rationalized
his illicit use of testosterone by
convincing himself that it probably
made up for the loss of the male
hormone that resulted from his
treatment for testicular cancer.
"It's probably a tribute to the
human ability to rationalize,"
said Daniel Ariely, a Duke
University behavioral economist
and author of the book "The
(Honest) Truth About Dishonesty."
"We really have this amazing
capacity to tell ourselves the
story about why what we're
doing doesn't represent
dishonesty in any way."
Though we may lavish our
indignation on the practice, lying
certainly isn't rare. During a 10-
minute conversation between
two strangers, 60% lied at least
once, Feldman reported in a 2002
study in the journal Basic and
Applied Social Psychology. Those
liars told an average of two to
Though men were more likely
to lie to make themselves feel
good, women more often lied
to make their conversation
partner feel good. Either way,
Feldman said, the urge to make
oneself likable and competent was
a powerful motivator.
To lie in the first place, as well as
to keep the lie going over time,
requires two things: motivation and
justification. Whether the
motivation is money, fame,
status or the high esteem of
others, it must be
counterbalanced with enough
justification that we can
sustain our image of ourselves
as good people, said Shaul
Shalvi, a psychologist at Ben-
Gurion University in Israel.
In his lab in the Negev desert,
Shalvi found evidence that when
faced with an opportunity to lie,
subjects made a quick but precise
calculation of that balance. Study
participants were shown to a quiet
place and given a die to roll. What
they came up with on their first roll
would determine their reward, they
were told: the higher the roll, the
more money they would be given.
When given three chances to roll,
subjects frequently lied, reporting
not the value of their first roll but
of their highest roll, Shalvi and
colleagues found. But when they
had only one chance to roll the
die, far fewer of them lied: Given
a single, clear outcome,
subjects could not "fudge" the
truth with the justification that
they had, after all, gotten a higher
number at some point in the game.
The results were published last
year in the journal Psychological
For Lance Armstrong, Shalvi said,
the decision to lie could have been
easy. With much to gain — and
hence, high motivation —
Armstrong could tell himself he
was inspiring people with his story
of triumph over cancer; that he
was using his fame and money to
help cancer patients and find a
cure; that he was universally
admired for his grit and his skill as
an athlete and a team leader.
Armstrong probably drew on these
lofty accomplishments not only to
justify his denials of using banned
substances, Shalvi said: They
would probably have been a
crucial piece of personal armor as
Armstrong lashed out at those who
crossed him, telling lies and filing
lawsuits that hurt teammates and
Not all of us tell lies so big, or for
so long, Shalvi said. Some of us
are also cognitively better
equipped to lie — and
therefore, more likely to do so.
[Maura Larkins' comment: I
disagree with this. Those who
are better equipped cognitively
can also figure out the downside
of lying. Perhaps those who are
greediest lie the most.]
In a series of experiments, Ariely
and Francesca Gino of Harvard
Business School assessed a wide
range of cognitive skills in a group
of volunteers and then put them
through a battery of challenges
that gave them ample opportunity
to lie and cheat. Those subjects
who had scored highest on
attributes such as creativity
and flexible thinking — but not
intelligence — were most likely
to engage in deceitful
behavior. And when subjects
were encouraged to think
creatively as they completed the
tasks, they were more likely to
take shortcuts and stray from the
"Not only do naturally creative
people cheat more than
uncreative people," Ariely and
Gino wrote in a 2011 study in the
Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology. "Subjects cajoled into
thinking outside the box became
cheaters too. This suggests that
the creative process isn't just tied
to dishonest behavior: It actually
[Maura Larkins comment. This
is ridiculous. Obviously, the
situation in which the lying
takes place matters. Flexible
thinkers might be more likely to
lie about a game because they
perceived it, rightly, as
unimportant. But they might be
less likely to lie about something
important for the very reason
that they are flexible--they can
switch gears. Inflexible people
who lie about a game would
more likely lie about something
important for the very reason
that they are inflexible--they
can't switch gears.]
People who are highly creative
appear to have the vision and the
flexibility of mind to find
justifications for their deceptions,
and quickly, Ariely said. For
Armstrong, whose racing style
suggests he was creative and
flexible in taking advantage of
openings to victory, those same
qualities might have allowed him
freer rein not only in concocting
deceptions, but in justifying them
"This is how lies become self-
perpetuating," Ariely said.
Armstrong admits doping in "toxic" tale
By Julian Linden
Jan 18, 2013
Lance Armstrong ended years of vehement denial on Thursday by finally coming
clean and admitting he had cheated his way to a record seven Tour de France titles
with systematic use of banned, performance-enhancing drugs.
Confessing his "toxic" tale to chat show host Oprah Winfrey, the cyclist described
himself as a "flawed character" while at last owning up to being at the center of one of
the biggest drugs scandals in world sport.
In one word at the beginning of the interview broadcast worldwide, cancer survivor
Armstrong confirmed his place in any gallery of fallen icons who have shamed their
sport, the likes of drug-cheat sprinters Ben Johnson and Marion Jones.
"Yes," he replied when asked directly whether he had used performance-enhancing
Winfrey rapidly fired questions at him, offering the 41-year-old little respite, grilling him
about every aspect of his tainted career.
Without hesitation, and showing no signs of emotion, Armstrong replied "yes" to
questions about whether he used specific drugs, including erythropoietin, human
growth hormone, and blood doping.
When asked why he had repeatedly lied about using banned substances until
Thursday's startling admission, he told Winfrey: "I don't know I have a great answer.
"This is too late, probably for most people, and that's my fault. I view this situation as
one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.
"This story is so bad...so toxic...
Armstrong said he had never considered himself to be a cheat and had been
sure he would get away with it, until out-of-competition tests were introduced and
testing procedures dramatically improved.
The last time he cheated was in 2005, he said, when he won his seventh Tour de
France on the streets on Paris. He made a comeback in 2009 but said he never used
"I looked up the definition of a cheat to gain an advantage. I didn't view it
that way. I viewed it as a level playing field," he said.
Armstrong's admission came months after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)
released a detailed report describing him as the ringmaster of the "most
sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport
has ever seen."
While he confessed to cheating and bullying, he denied several of the other
accusations that have been made against him...
|San Diego Education Report
Lance Armstrong, liar and
Lance Armstrong may be sued
by Emma O’Reilly, the former
masseuse and assistant on the
US Postal team
Emma O’Reilly, who was called an “alcoholic
whore” by Lance Armstrong, is considering
taking legal action against him.
Lance Armstrong may be sued by Emma O’
Reilly, the former masseur and assistant on
the US Postal team
By Brendan Gallagher
20 Jan 2013
O’Reilly, a masseuse and assistant on the
US Postal team, suffered the verbal
abuse from Armstrong and then the
nightmare of a 2½-year lawsuit after
she made the revelations about the
disgraced cyclist in a 2004 book.
But although she is considering taking legal
action against Armstrong, she said on
Sunday she was also weighing up whether
to show him the compassion he never
Her dilemma seems to demonstrate that of
cycling generally. There is the desire to
punish the man for his monstrous behaviour
but, at the same time, also a hope that an
olive branch will encourage him to tell the
complete truth, providing the sport with
information it badly needs.
“Sometimes in life you should stand up and
be counted and women should not be
spoken to, and spoken about in the way he
did,” O’Reilly said on Sunday when asked
about the legal action she might take...
People shouldn’t be able to speak about
other people like that and get away with it.
The libel laws in England did protect Lance
and they didn’t protect the people telling the
truth. That is something that has to be
Ivan Fernandez, sportsman
(Of course, everyone watching
the race would have known
Fernandez didn't deserve to
win, so we don't know how he
acts when no one is watching.)
Ivan Fernandez Anaya,
Intentionally Loses Race So
Opponent Can Win
A Spanish runner has shown the world
that sometimes, just sometimes, winning
Last month, Spanish athlete Ivan
Fernandez Anaya impressed the world
by giving up victory to do the right thing.
According to El Pais, it happened as the
24-year-old raced a cross-country event
in Burlada, Navarre on Dec. 2.
In second place to Abel Mutai, the
Kenyan athlete who won a bronze medal
in the London Olympics, Anaya
suddenly had a chance to surge ahead.
According to El Pais, Mutai mistakenly
thought the end of the race came about
10 meters sooner than it did, and
Then, he “looked back and saw the
people telling him to keep going," Anaya
told CNA. "But since he doesn't speak
Spanish he didn't realize it."
So Anaya slowed, guiding Mutai to the
actual finish line.
Story continues after photo
And he didn't think much of it, either.
Anaya told El Pais:
"I didn't deserve to win it. I did what I had
to do. He was the rightful winner. He
created a gap that I couldn't have
closed if he hadn't made a mistake. As
soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I
wasn't going to pass him."
|Ivan v. Lance: Winning isn't everything
|The Mind of a Con Man
The New York Times
By YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE
April 26, 2013
...Stapel’s fraud may shine a spotlight on dishonesty in science, but scientific fraud is
hardly new. The rogues’ gallery of academic liars and cheats features scientific
celebrities who have enjoyed similar prominence. The once-celebrated South Korean
stem-cell researcher Hwang Woo Suk stunned scientists in his field a few years ago
after it was discovered that almost all of the work for which he was known was
fraudulent. The prominent Harvard evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser resigned in
2011 during an investigation by the Office of Research Integrity at the Department of
Health and Human Services that would end up determining that some of his papers
contained fabricated data.
Every year, the Office of Research Integrity uncovers numerous instances of bad
behavior by scientists, ranging from lying on grant applications to using fake images
in publications. A blog called Retraction Watch publishes a steady stream of posts
about papers being retracted by journals because of allegations or evidence of
Each case of research fraud that’s uncovered triggers a similar response from
scientists. First disbelief, then anger, then a tendency to dismiss the perpetrator as
one rotten egg in an otherwise-honest enterprise. But the scientific misconduct that
has come to light in recent years suggests at the very least that the number of bad
actors in science isn’t as insignificant as many would like to believe. And considered
from a more cynical point of view, figures like Hwang and Hauser are not outliers so
much as one end on a continuum of dishonest behaviors that extend from the cherry-
picking of data to fit a chosen hypothesis — which many researchers admit is
commonplace — to outright fabrication. Still, the nature and scale of Stapel’s fraud
sets him apart from most other cheating academics. “The extent to which I did it, the
longevity of it, makes it extreme,” he told me. “Because it is not one paper or 10 but
Stapel did not deny that his deceit was driven by ambition. But it was more
complicated than that, he told me. He insisted that he loved social psychology but
had been frustrated by the messiness of experimental data, which rarely led to clear
conclusions. His lifelong obsession with elegance and order, he said, led him to
concoct sexy results that journals found attractive. “It was a quest for aesthetics, for
beauty — instead of the truth,” he said. He described his behavior as an addiction
that drove him to carry out acts of increasingly daring fraud, like a junkie seeking a
bigger and better high...
Stapel brought out individually wrapped chocolate bars for us to share. As we ate
them, I watched him neatly fold up his wrappers into perfectly rectangular shapes.
Later, I got used to his reminding me not to leave doors ajar when we walked in or out
of a room. When I pointed this out, he admitted to a lifelong obsession with order and
Several times in our conversation, Stapel alluded to having a fuzzy, postmodernist
relationship with the truth, which he agreed served as a convenient fog for his
wrongdoings. “It’s hard to know the truth,” he said. “When somebody says, ‘I love
you,’ how do I know what it really means?” At the time, the Netherlands would soon be
celebrating the arrival of St. Nicholas, and the younger of his two daughters sat down
by the fireplace to sing a traditional Dutch song welcoming St. Nick. Stapel remarked
to me that children her age, which was 10, knew that St. Nick wasn’t really going to
come down the chimney. “But they like to believe it anyway, because it assures them
of presents,” he told me with a wink...
What the public didn’t realize, he said, was that academic science, too, was becoming
a business. “There are scarce resources, you need grants, you need money, there is
competition,” he said. “Normal people go to the edge to get that money. Science is of
course about discovery, about digging to discover the truth. But it is also
communication, persuasion, marketing. I am a salesman. I am on the road. People
are on the road with their talk. With the same talk. It’s like a circus.” He named two
psychologists he admired — John Cacioppo and Daniel Gilbert — neither of whom
has been accused of fraud. “They give a talk in Berlin, two days later they give the
same talk in Amsterdam, then they go to London. They are traveling salesmen selling
The car let out a warning beep to indicate that we had exceeded the speed limit.
Stapel slowed down. I asked him if he wished there had been some sort of alarm
system for his career before it unraveled. “That would have been helpful, sure,” he
said. “I think I need shocks, though. This is not enough.” Some friends, he said,
asked him what could have made him stop. “I am not sure,” he told me. “I don’t think
there was going to be an end. There was no stop button. My brain was stuck. It had
to explode. This was the only way.”...
Stapel was the youngest of four children. The family lived near Amsterdam, where
Rob, a civil engineer, worked as a senior manager of the Schiphol Airport. Stapel told
me that his father’s devotion to his career led him to grow up thinking that individuals
were defined by what they accomplished professionally. “That’s what my parents’
generation was like,” he said. “You are what you achieve.”
In high school, where Stapel says he excelled in his studies and at sports, he wrote
and acted in plays. One of his friends was a student named Marcelle, a fellow actor
who would later become his wife. After school, Stapel briefly studied acting at East
Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania before deciding his acting talents were
mediocre and returning to the Netherlands to get an undergraduate degree in
For his dissertation, Stapel did a series of experiments showing that whether people
assimilate or contrast depends on context. In doing these studies, Stapel had to go
through the tedium and messiness that are the essence of empirical science. To
prime subjects, he designed word puzzles that, when solved, led his undergraduate
volunteer subjects to words like “intelligence” or “Einstein.” Then he asked them to
read a story about a character and score the character on a numerical scale for
intelligence, friendliness and other traits. Stapel found that when subjects were
primed with something in the abstract, like the word “intelligence,” they tended to find
that trait more readily in themselves and in others, judging, for instance, a story
character as more intelligent than they otherwise would have. Yet when they were
primed with an example of the trait — the word “Einstein” — they tended to make a
comparison, judging the story character as less intelligent.
Stapel got his Ph.D. in 1997. Koomen, who is still a professor at Amsterdam, does not
doubt the integrity of Stapel’s experiments for the doctorate. “Stapel was an
extraordinarily gifted, enthusiastic and diligent Ph.D. student,” Koomen told me via e-
mail. “It was a privilege to work with him.”...
At Amsterdam, Stapel and Zeelenberg became close friends, working at two opposite
corners on the same floor of the department. Zeelenberg was from a blue-collar
family; Stapel came from a more privileged background. Unlike most graduate
students, he wore suits on occasion. Zeelenberg recalls him as being obnoxious and
cocky at times, but only because “he did know things better.” He was also a “friendly,
supportive warm guy,” Zeelenberg said. When Stapel and Marcelle decided to marry
in 1997, Zeelenberg attended Stapel’s bachelor party on a boat ride along
In one experiment conducted with undergraduates recruited from his class, Stapel
asked subjects to rate their individual attractiveness after they were flashed an image
of either an attractive female face or a very unattractive one. The hypothesis was that
subjects exposed to the attractive image would — through an automatic comparison
— rate themselves as less attractive than subjects exposed to the other image.
The experiment — and others like it — didn’t give Stapel the desired results, he said.
He had the choice of abandoning the work or redoing the experiment. But he had
already spent a lot of time on the research and was convinced his hypothesis was
valid. “I said — you know what, I am going to create the data set,” he told me.
Sitting at his kitchen table in Groningen, he began typing numbers into his laptop that
would give him the outcome he wanted. He knew that the effect he was looking for
had to be small in order to be believable; even the most successful psychology
experiments rarely yield significant results. The math had to be done in reverse
order: the individual attractiveness scores that subjects gave themselves on a 0-7
scale needed to be such that Stapel would get a small but significant difference in the
average scores for each of the two conditions he was comparing. He made up
individual scores like 4, 5, 3, 3 for subjects who were shown the attractive face. “I
tried to make it random, which of course was very hard to do,” Stapel told me.
Doing the analysis, Stapel at first ended up getting a bigger difference between the
two conditions than was ideal. He went back and tweaked the numbers again. It took
a few hours of trial and error, spread out over a few days, to get the data just right.
He said he felt both terrible and relieved. The results were published in The Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology in 2004. “I realized — hey, we can do this,” he
Stapel’s career took off. He published more than two dozen studies while at
Groningen, many of them written with his doctoral students. They don’t appear to
have questioned why their supervisor was running many of the experiments for them.
Nor did his colleagues inquire about this unusual practice.
In 2006, Stapel moved to Tilburg, joining Zeelenberg. Students flocked to his lab, and
he quickly rose in influence. In September 2010, he became dean of the School of
Social and Behavioral Sciences. He could have retreated from active research to
focus on administration, but, he told me, he couldn’t resist the allure of fabricating
new results. He had already made up the data for the Utrecht train-station study and
was working on the paper that would appear in Science the following year.
Colleagues sought him out to take part in new collaborations...
He began writing the paper, but then he wondered if the data had shown any
difference between girls and boys. “What about gender differences?” he asked
Stapel, requesting to see the data. Stapel told him the data hadn’t been entered into
a computer yet.
Vingerhoets was stumped. Stapel had shown him means and standard deviations and
even a statistical index attesting to the reliability of the questionnaire, which would
have seemed to require a computer to produce. Vingerhoets wondered if Stapel, as
dean, was somehow testing him. Suspecting fraud, he consulted a retired professor
to figure out what to do. “Do you really believe that someone with [Stapel’s] status
faked data?” the professor asked him.
“At that moment,” Vingerhoets told me, “I decided that I would not report it to the
If Stapel’s status served as a shield, his confidence fortified him further. His
presentations at conferences were slick and peppered with humor. He viewed himself
as giving his audience what they craved: “structure, simplicity, a beautiful story.”
Stapel glossed over experimental details, projecting the air of a thinker who has no
patience for methods. The tone of his talks, he said, was “Let’s not talk about the
plumbing, the nuts and bolts — that’s for plumbers, for statisticians.” If somebody
asked a question — on the possible effect of changing a condition in the experiment,
for example — he made things up on the spot. “I would often say, ‘Well, I have
thought about this, we did another experiment which I haven’t reported here in which
we tried that and it didn’t work.’ ”
And yet as part of a graduate seminar he taught on research
ethics, Stapel would ask his students to dig back into their own research and look
for things that might have been unethical. “They got back with terrible lapses,” he
told me. “No informed consent, no debriefing of subjects, then of course in data
analysis, looking only at some data and not all the data.” He didn’t see the same
problems in his own work, he said, because there were no real data to contend with.
The professor, who had been hired recently, began attending Stapel’s lab meetings.
He was struck by how great the data looked, no matter the experiment. “I don’t know
that I ever saw that a study failed, which is highly unusual,” he told me. “Even the best
people, in my experience, have studies that fail constantly. Usually, half don’t work.”...
But when the professor looked at the data, he discovered inconsistencies confirming
his suspicions that Stapel was engaging in fraud.
The professor consulted a senior colleague in the United States, who told him he
shouldn’t feel any obligation to report the matter. But the person who alerted the
young professor, along with another graduate student, refused to let it go. That
spring, the other graduate student examined a number of data sets that Stapel had
supplied to students and postdocs in recent years, many of which led to papers and
dissertations. She found a host of anomalies, the smoking gun being a data set in
which Stapel appeared to have done a copy-paste job, leaving two rows of data
nearly identical to each other...
Marcelle described to me how she placed Stapel inside an integrity scanner in her
mind. “I sort of scanned his life in terms of being a father, being my husband, being
my best friend, being the son of his parents, the friend of his friends, being a human
being that is part of society, being a neighbor — and being a scientist and teacher,”
she told me. “Then I found out for myself that all of these other parts were really O.K.
I thought — Wow, it must be Diederik and science which is a poisoned combination.”
Nonetheless, she experienced waves of anger. She was furious thinking about the
nights when Stapel wouldn’t come to bed because he was working on his research. “I
said, ‘It’s for science,’ ” she told me. “But it’s not.” She struggled to understand why
he had plied his students with fake data. She explained it to herself as a twisted effort
by Stapel to give his students a perfect research life, similar to the one he built for
himself. In doing so, of course, “he made their worlds really unhappy and imperfect,”
In late October, nearly two months after the scandal broke, the university issued an
interim report portraying Stapel as an arrogant bully who cozied up to students in
order to manipulate them. Stapel broke down after reading the personality
assessment. “He was calling for his mother, he was freaking out,” Marcelle told me.
“He was trying to get out of the window.” Stapel’s psychiatrist prescribed extra
medication, and a friend made him promise Marcelle that he would not kill himself...
Schwinghammer left teary-eyed. “It was good to have seen you,” she said. A year
later, she told me she had forgiven the man but not his actions. “There are good
people doing bad things,” she said, “there are bad people doing good
things.” She put Stapel in the former category...
The field of psychology was indicted, too, with a finding that Stapel’s fraud went
undetected for so long because of “a general culture of careless, selective and
uncritical handling of research and data.” If Stapel was solely to blame for making
stuff up, the report stated, his peers, journal editors and reviewers of the field’s top
journals were to blame for letting him get away with it. The committees identified
several practices as “sloppy science” — misuse of statistics, ignoring of data that do
not conform to a desired hypothesis and the pursuit of a compelling story no matter
how scientifically unsupported it may be...
The young professor who backed the two student whistle-blowers told me that
tweaking results — like stopping data collection once the results confirm a hypothesis
— is a common practice...
Unlike Schwinghammer and a few others, most of his former students have not
responded to his apologies. Late last year, the Dutch government said it was
investigating whether Stapel misused public funds in the form of research grants.
I asked Zeelenberg how he felt toward Stapel a year and a half after reporting him to
the rector. He told me that he found himself wanting to take a longer route to the
grocery store to avoid walking past Stapel’s house, lest he run into him. “When this is
all over, I would like to talk to him,” Zeelenberg said. “Then I’ll find out if he and I are
capable of having a friendship. I miss him, but there are equal amounts of instances
when I want to punch him in the face.”
Common tactic: the liar says the person who is telling the truth is crazy
Russia's Putin rejects Kraft Super Bowl ring claim
16 June 2013
File photo of President Vladimir Putin with diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring
The ring had belonged to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft
Vladimir Putin's spokesman has denied a report that the Russian president
mistakenly pocketed a Super Bowl ring during a 2005 visit by a US tycoon.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was quoted as saying he had shown Mr
Putin the 4.94-carat, diamond-encrusted ring while in St Petersburg.
"I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket," Mr Kraft told an awards gala,
according to the New York Post.
But the Kremlin spokesman insisted the ring had been a gift.
The ring was one of around 70 given to the Patriots team after they won Super
Bowl XXXIX in February 2005, five months before Mr Kraft's trip to Russia. It is
said to be worth $25,000 (£16.000; 18,700 euros).
The Post reported last week that Mr Kraft had told a ceremony at Carnegie Hall in
New York how he had wanted the ring back but had been advised by the White
House to treat it as a gift.
"I took out the ring and showed it to [President Putin], and he put it on and he
goes: 'I can kill someone with this ring'," the Patriots owner was quoted as saying.
Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he had himself seen Mr Kraft present
the ring to the president and suggested that any suggestion that he was put
under pressure should be an issue for "detailed discussion with psychoanalysts".
"If the gentleman is really experiencing such excruciating pain from his loss... the
president is ready to send him any other ring he can buy for that kind of money,"
he told reporters in London, where Mr Putin was having talks with UK Prime
Minister David Cameron.
A Kraft Group spokesperson played down the story on Sunday, telling the
Associated Press that Mr Kraft was very happy his ring was at the Kremlin and
that it was a "humorous, anecdotal story that Robert retells for laughs".