Wetenschap - 22 november 2011

Professor Roos Vonk reprimanded

Professor Roos Vonk has acted unprofessionally in the notorious meat study which claims that meat brings out the worst in people, in which she worked together with defrauder Diederik Stapel. But she has not committed fraud, rules Radboud University Nijmegen.

Vonk was brought into discredit when it appeared that the 'meat study' which she spoke much about in the press was a figment of Diederik Stapel's imagination. The conclusion - meat eaters are loutish - did not seem to hold water. The Radboud University appointed its Academic Integrity Committee to investigate the conduct of the Nijmegen professor in social psychology.
This investigation has now been completed but not made public. Instead, the university's management published a statement based on the report. In it, the executive board of the Radboud University comments on Vonk's actions in terms which cannot be mistaken: she has drawn 'hasty conclusions' from data that she herself had neither collected nor at least checked. According to rector magnificus Kortmann, Vonk has 'discredited the academic community, the Department of Social Psychology and Radboud University'.
The university feels that even though Vonk's involvement in the study was 'limited', nevertheless, by presenting herself as a co-author to the public, she has taken on shared responsibility for the results. The university holds her extra accountable 'given her role in the debate on the cattle industry (bio industry).' Vonk was chair of the animal rights society 'Wakker Dier' from 2005 to 2008. For this reason, she 'should have been extra critical of her own approach'.
However, the university will not take any further action against her. Vonk has a good record of service and it has not been determined that she was 'consciously' negligent in her conduct.
Vonk, in her own statement, describes this as a 'hard lesson'.  On Twitter, she writes: 'I get hell because of the meat blunder'. She realizes her mistake in presenting herself as co-author in a study which she was hardly involved in, and in publicizing it so quickly in a press release. Vonk adds that the results of the meat study had seemed clear and were in line with earlier research: 'In my enthusiasm about the findings, and in my confidence in a highly esteemed colleague, there was no doubt in my mind about the reliability of the results, and I allowed myself to get carried away and to release the conclusions prematurely. This issue has once again reminded me that an academic researcher must always raise questions.'
She also states that although she has difficulty with certain conclusions in the report, she does not want to 'bicker' about these further.
Vonk is not the only one to bear the blame, adds the university. Its Media Relations Office too did not exercise sufficient care concerning the research and should not have issued the press release.

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