Allegations arise in Peterson trial survey

Several university students said Thursday that they fabricated survey results factored into in a judge’s decision to move Scott Peterson’s capital murder trial out of Modesto…. [T]hey made up every answer on all the surveys they submitted because they found it difficult to gather legitimate data.

They did it, they said, because they were short on time and money. They were required to participate in the survey for 20 percent of their grade and were given no money for dozens of lengthy long-distance phone calls, they said. —Stapley and CoteAllegations arise in Peterson trial survey (Modesto Bee)

I’m blogging this as another in a long series of reasons why my students shouldn’t trust the results of every survey they encounter. The poll, a student project due last month, has not been identified as having been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Instead, it was submitted to the court by the professor who assigned the poll. The lawyers who objected to its legitimacy had sufficient reason to be suspicious.

Stephen Schoenthaler received an “outstanding professor” award from California State University, Stanislaus in 2002. According to that press release (praising “research as well as teaching accomplishments”), the U.S. Congress had recently appropriated half a million dollars for a large-scale test of his research supporting a link between crime and diet.

Schoenthaler announced the poll assignment two days before Thanksgiving break, which obviously ticked off some of the students; maybe they were even further annoyed when they saw him in the media, taking credit for their work. Schoenthaler doesn’t seem to have a curricular web page, so I wasn’t able to find the syllabus or a response from Schoenthaler (other than his telling the Bee reporter he was shocked).

According to this article, Schoenthaler “has said he hoped to provide a public service and perhaps save taxpayer money.” That’s a very noble goal, but requiring his own students to pay for it? Not so noble. Still, these are apparently senior criminal justice students; they should know that two wrongs don’t make a right.

In a statement released yesterday, the CSU-Stanislaus president wrote, “This is a very serious matter. We have immediately initiated an inquiry to examine these allegations according to our policies and procedures. We will conduct an extensive review to compile the information necessary to determine exactly what happened and the appropriate course of action. Scientific misconduct and academic dishonesty are serious breaches of professional ethics and research standards that are not tolerated at this university.”