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Posted on Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 11:38 a.m.

University of Michigan professor resigns amid questions about his research

By Kellie Woodhouse

In the midst of resigning and accusations of generating skewed research, a former University of Michigan psychologist has asked that three of his papers be retracted from a scholarly research journal.


Lawrence Sanna

University of Michigan photo

According to a report in Nature, University of Pennsylvania researcher Uri Simonsohn —whose apparent uncovering of fraud in a prominent Dutch researcher's work made news earlier this year— says he's uncovered "unlikely" data and results in studies published by former U-M faculty Lawrence Sanna.

Nature reports that Sanna resigned in May, but that the reasons for his resignation are unknown.

The editor of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology told Nature that Sanna recently asked the journal to retract three of his papers, published between 2009 and 2011 when Sanna was a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. UNC apparently investigated Sanna's research methods, but did not publicly disclose the results of the investigation.

Read the full Nature article here.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Seasoned Cit

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 1:03 a.m.

When was he at the UM ? Was any of the questionable research done at the UM? Leaving "former" out of the headline was really a lame excuse for trying to attract attention to the story.


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

All US higher ed institutions will protect their reputations and not release any information publicly if it potentially "tarnishes" their reputation, unless required by law. UM is no different than UNC or Penn State (Sandusky) or Florida A&M (band hazing death), or any other institution in the US. The university in the Netherlands, however, was much more ethical and released the information regarding their review of fraudulent data by a researcher (Smeesters). Excerpt from the Nature article: "Smeesters' resignation was announced on 25 June by his institution, Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, which undertook a review and concluded that two of his papers should be retracted. Sanna's resignation, by contrast, remains mysterious: UNC did not release the results of its review, and the University of Michigan will not explain why Sanna resigned."


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 1:28 a.m.

Alan: the first paragraph of my post is not a direct quote. The first paragraph is my opinion and I am entitled to use any interpretation I prefer. The second paragraph is a direct quote from the Nature article.


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

You changed the wording. Smeesters' data was "questionable", not "fraudulent". For me, personally, this raises more questions about the validity of research in social psychology than the work of individual researchers.


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

Maybe he's incompetent. I've never known a social science or education researcher who understood statistics. The smart ones ask for help. Maybe studying whether standing on a chair makes you more altruistic is not a subject which lends itself to statistical analysis or adequate control. I looked in my driveway this morning and the average car was red with standard deviation zero. To suggest a big conspiracy on the part of the university is ludicrous.


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 11:49 a.m.

Sanna has published several more papers after he came to UM. The UM may also have recieved federal grants with him as the principle investigator. In both cases, the UM is obligated under its research integrity policy to initiate an investigation if there is any reason to believe that the data may be fraudulent. They are also obligated to refund any federal money that was misused. The fact that he resigned does not affect the University's responsibility to conduct such an investigation.


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 4:35 a.m.

And do you know that they didn't?


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 4:29 a.m.

Sanna faked his research, "allegedly" at least, while he was at the UNC. If you want to fault the U-M talk about the "allegedly" pedophile doctor at the hospital or something else that happened on msc's watch.

G. Orwell

Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 2:09 a.m.

Corporations and governments get professors to lie for them all the time. How do you thing Monsanto and Big Pharma get people to believe their products are safe. Oh, there is that lie about global warming now call climate change. A MIT professor actually said normal office fires can melt steel. That was the reason given for how the Twin Towers collapsed in 10 seconds. How guilable is the public.


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 1:33 a.m.

And yet, in the sense of "beguiled" . . .

Madeleine Borthwick

Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 9:19 p.m.

G. Orwell, it's spelled g-u-l-l-i-b-l-e, not "guilable".......


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 1 a.m.

Please explain to me why the headline read: 'University of Michigan professor resigns amid questions about his research'. He's a former UM professor according to your own article. Let me get this straight. He's accused of twisting the data to make his conclusions fit but's writers can do the same to hype a headline? New lows in scholarship and journalism.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.

Don't don't forget that these "unlikely data" brings more federal funding for UM and other universities. Ask for investigation? You are fired!


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 10:26 p.m.

This can't be!!! Someone from our precious UofM faked research? I am at a loss to defend this and will be permanently affected by this devastating information. I think that the UofM should confirm factually, the fraud and recover any and all wages paid. Then __itcan him.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 12:21 a.m.

Hey, Goob....Read the dang article!


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

Next step will be Wayne State rescinding his degree


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 6:11 p.m.

The way I'm reading this, Sanna engaged in the alleged research misconduct while he was a professor at the University of North Carolina. Before any of the irregularities were discovered, he was hired as a professor by the University of Michigan. The University of North Carolina investigated his research and discovered a problem after getting a tip from an outside source. Sanna was then confronted with this information and immediately resigned his position at Michigan before Michigan could do any investigating on its own. What, exactly, would you expect Michigan to do in this situation, other than accepting his resignation? Would you expect them to issue a press release? If they did, what would it say?

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 12:20 a.m.

Say It: Nor should they, in my opinion. Personnel issues usually are confidential. Contrary to the beiiefs of the FaceBook age, there still is something called privacy.

say it plain

Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 10:42 p.m.

Well, but we already know from other recent UM employee scandals that they do not comment on their employees' reasons for leaving, right?


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 10:30 p.m.

UofM could have easily made it known that the services of this individual were terminated due to a change in employment conditions. Very simple!

say it plain

Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

Is this dude here now? If not, then it should be "FORMER" UM prof, no!?


Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 4:28 a.m.

It says he left in May


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 5:15 p.m.

Once again the University of Michigan knows about misconduct but does not think it is their duty to inform the public. If the UM does not disclose misconduct as the reason someone is forced to resign then another university may make the mistake of hiring them. That is what happened with an Israeli professor charged with possession of child pornography who resigned and was hired by a University in Israel, only to be embarrassed when published a story about the case. The UM is no more transparent than Penn State was when they think a story will hurt their reputation if it becomes public.


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

Mick 52: Agreed with everything you wrote except "...and if an institution will only release confirmation of employment and dates of employment, the applicant should not be hired." That last part is problematic as you know there are two sides to every story. Dissolution of employer and employee relationships are multifactorial and perhaps a better way to state your comment would be "...and if an institution will only release confirmation of employment and dates of employment, the applicant should be questioned about this thoroughly).


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Personnel files are not public.

Ed Kimball

Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

There's a difference between error and misconduct. To me, the implication of some kind of error in Sanna's result is clear, but the implication of misconduct is less so. The resignation implies misconduct more than the retractions.


Sat, Jul 14, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

"I happen to be an expert on scientific misconduct, since I have been involved in a number of such investigations." On which side?


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 10:57 p.m.

I happen to be an expert on criminal, non criminal and ethical misconduct and I know of no obligation of an employer to inform the public. In fact often when behavior issues arise in the termination discussions agreements are made on both sides to not publicize information in order to confirm a settlement and to agree there will be civil litigation. What I am still seeing is hiring of individuals without appropriate back ground investigations being done. A good background investigation will uncover inappropriate behavior and if an institution will only release confirmation of employment and dates of employment, the applicant should not be hired.

Laura Jones

Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 9:50 p.m.

A2citzen. I don't know if it was fraud one way or the other, however, but article clearly states "UNC apparently investigated Sanna's research methods, but did not publicly disclose the results of the investigation". So, yes, there is a clear innuendo of misconduct. Coupled with the naming of him as having "unlikely" data (polite speak for fraudulent), I think it unlikely the articles were pulled for editing. If it quacks like a duck........


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

trespass, you state: "the story said ...his research methods were investigated by UNC..." No. The story states "...University of Pennsylvania researcher Uri Simonsohn...says he's uncovered..." Online research does not show when he left UNC and came to the U-M but according to the article: "....UNC apparently investigated Sanna's research methods, but did not publicly disclose the results of the investigation..." How do you infer from this article that the U-M knew about any wrong doing? UNC was aware, but how the U-M? And your an EXPERT on scientific misconduct? And I'm a simean jet pilot.

Angry Moderate

Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 8:11 p.m.

Huh? It is extremely unusual for a professor to retract multiple published articles.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

It's not uncommon for researchers to recall published papers if they feel they need to address supporting data. I'm not saying there was no misconduct, but the story here doesn't have any supporting evidence of that.

Angry Moderate

Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 6:31 p.m.

Why would he need to *retract* three published articles to "address" a false accusation of misconduct?


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 6:27 p.m.

Are you reading the same article as everyone else? Your assumption that UM was, in some way, hiding misconduct of a faculty member is quite a leap of faith based on the information available in this story. Perhaps Dr. Sanna has requested that his publications be retracted so that he might address some of the "unlikely" data. One person in the world questions his data and all of a sudden he's being accused of misconduct? There's a chance that he just made a mistake (humans do that sometimes). If UNC didn't disclose the results of their investigation, it's possible there was no issue with his research. Everything, so far, is allegations and innuendo.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

@cgerben- I happen to be an expert on scientific misconduct, since I have been involved in a number of such investigations. The story said that his research methods were investigated by UNC and he retracted three articles. It is wishfull thinking on your part to assume that there was no misconduct.


Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 5:34 p.m.

Pray tell, where in this agonizingly thorough news brief did you decipher that UM "knows" about "misconduct" and failed to inform the public. To what misconduct are you referring? Are you a closet expert in research methods? If so, please tell us since may be your duty to do so.