A three-part series of posts by Christos Halkiopoulos
A previous post here concerned a series of scandals involving research malpractice by leading academics at the University of London. After much hesitation and with sadness, I must report further cases of research misconduct involving institutions of this same University.
I claim that research, mostly carried out while I was a BSc student at University College London (UCL), was later plagiarised by Professor Michael W Eysenck and a group of collaborators in a major research programme. This programme was associated with a significant set of highly cited, career-building publications, conference talks and book chapters.
UCL itself was not involved in any of the skulduggery. The misconduct took place while I was doing a PhD under the supervision of Michael Eysenck at Birkbeck College and, later, at the Royal Holloway College. Eysenck’s collaborators, Andrew Mathews (King’s College London) and Colin MacLeod (University of Western Australia), were then both at St. George’s, University of London.
Despite numerous investigations, all discussed here, I am not satisfied that the issues involved have ever been properly addressed, or that the serious consequences these academics’ gross misconduct had on me have been acknowledged. If the misconduct of a group of academics seriously harmed me, the way some of these investigations were conducted leave me mystified, concerned, and deeply disappointed.
My decision to make all of this public should not surprise any of the parties involved. All have been warned that this may be the only remaining way for me to achieve some closure. Of little practical value at this stage, I hope that my revelations can help reduce the chances that some future young researchers endure a similar fate.
Every substantial claim in this series of posts is fully documented in official reports, scholarly publications and private correspondence held by me. The evidence can be provided on request to legitimate parties.
The three posts are rather long. I was urged to shorten them, but I needed to include the details because they all seem so relevant to my case. This level of detail reflects the complexity of what is involved. Over 35 – 40 years, publications and private communications kept metamorphosing, from partial acknowledgements of my contributions to signs of serious plagiarism; from reasonable statements to outright lies; and from gestures of apparent generosity to cynical exploitation.
Although some of the material presented may be a bit technical for some readers, no knowledge of psychology is required to understand the nature of my complaints, or the way they have been dealt with by the institutions to which I addressed them. After six formal investigations of my plagiarism complaints, the reader can judge which way the scales of justice are falling.
I will address all the comments readers of these blogs may wish to make. I welcome, in particular, interventions by the individuals and institutions mentioned in the blogs. Should corrections be viewed as necessary, I will be only too happy to make them.
It is informative to quote the ‘Correction Notices’ that have appeared on publisher Routledge/Taylor & Francis’ bookseller sites:
Correction notice: Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role as the inventor of the Dot Probe Paradigm and for the design and execution of the experiment discussed in C. D. Spielberger, I. G. Sarason, Z. Kulczar, and J. Van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion, Vol. 14. London: Hemisphere. [See under ‘Support Material. Ancillaries’].
1st Edition, Stress and Emotion, Edited by Charles D. Spielberger et al.,1991: “Correction notice: In chapter 6, on pages 78-83, Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role in the design and execution of the experiment discussed”.
Anxiety: The Cognitive Perspective, Michael W Eysenck, Psychology Press, 1992: “Correction notice: In chapter 4, on pages 70-71, Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role in the design and execution of the experiment discussed in Eysenck, M. W. (1991 a). Trait anxiety and cognition. In C. D. Spielberger, I. G. Sarason, Z. Kulczar, and J. Van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion, Vol. 14. London: Hemisphere.
Let us begin…
1.1 Introduction and Epilogue: Mathews Finally Reveals the Dot-Probe-Paradigm Inventor and Eysenck Admits Plagiarism (or…Do They?)
1.2 1980-1981: My Final Year at UCL and BSc Dissertation.
September 1985: In Michael Eysenck’s Office at Birkbeck College.
The 1986 Paper ‘Motivated’ Footnote, APA Involvement and MacLeod’s Imagination.
2.1. From Birkbeck to the Royal Holloway
2.2. Birkbeck and Royal Holloway Investigations.
3.1 Francis and Taylor Investigation.
3.2 Journal of Abnormal Psychology Investigation.
3.3 The University of Western Australia Investigation.
3.4 The St. George’s (University of London) Investigation.
Introduction and Epilogue
2004: Mathews Finally Reveals the Dot-Probe-Paradigm Inventor and Eysenck Admits Plagiarism (or, Do They?)
Starting a story in the middle may be unusual but can serve a purpose:
Then Michael Eysenck made contact, and we picked up the idea for the dot probe method from his student, Chris Haliopoulos. I certainly remember that being a really fun time.Andrew Mathews being interviewed in 2004; in Yiend, 2004, p.13.
This is from a chapter written by T. D. Borkovec for the book Cognition, Emotion and Psychopathology (Theoretical, Empirical and Clinical Directions). This book was edited by Jenny Yiend as ‘a tribute to Andrew Mathews, distinguished researcher in cognition and emotion’ (Yiend, 2004; back cover). The quote above is the last sentence of a paragraph, written “In Andrew’s own words”, which summarises how his and his colleagues’ interest in cognitive approaches to the study of psychological disorders culminated in the dot probe paradigm.
Here are a few crucial characters:
and, of course, the ‘Dot Probe Method‘ aka ‘Dot Probe Technique‘ or ‘Dot Probe Paradigm‘.
Michael Eysenck and Andrew Mathews are well-known in general and clinical psychology circles; indeed, they are celebrated psychologists. Both have books, or special journal issues, published in their honour. The book honouring Mathews was mentioned above. Michael Eysenck is honoured in a special issue of the Journal of Cognitive Psychology. In this issue one reads the following: “This special issue is a tribute to Michael W. Eysenck, a distinguished pioneer in the field of cognition and emotion, and the founding editor of the Journal of Cognitive Psychology” (Derakshan and Kostoe, 2012).
“Chris Haliopoulos”, on the other hand, does not exist.
However, as Andrew Mathews confirmed, the person with the name that he meant to write – Christos Halkiopoulos – does exist. And that is me!
The ‘Attentional Probe Paragigm’ has been described as ‘innovative’ and ‘ingenious and it has been highly influential in the study of attentional biases (e.g. see Yiend et al., 2013). It can be used to explore how attention is allocated between two concurrent channels of information (more about this later). By the end of July 2022 the paper by MacLeod, Mathews and Tata (1986) that introduced the paradigm had been cited 4,245 times. Two of the authors, MacLeod and Mathews, were at that time working at St George’s University of London. I will refer to them as the ‘St. George’s group’.
The quote cited above is clear enough, isn’t it? It sets the record straight, doesn’t it?: The idea for the dot probe technique comes from a (misspelled) Halkiopoulos. Well, not exactly, as this has not always, or even often, been the case either before, or after Mathews’ declaration. This, perhaps, explains why the name of the person who had the idea for such an influential paradigm is rather obscure.
What follows sets a complicated record straight. It addresses both those who agree and those who dispute Mathews’ statement.
As for Michael Eysenck, the same Eysenck as in Mathews’ quote above, he was once my PhD supervisor. He also had, in the same year, something to communicate:
…I admit that I gave you insufficient credit when I wrote about your experiment. It is true that your name was always associated with the study, but it is fair comment that my [sic] implication I exaggerated my non-existent role in the research itself. Accordingly, I am sorry and must accept the basic rightness of what you say…Email from M W Eysenck to C Halkiopoulos, 24/6/2004.
Eysenck was responding to my accusation that he had plagiarised a pioneering experiment of mine. In fact, one that made the first use, albeit in a different modality, of the paradigm referred to by Andrew Mathews. Stripped of inessential details, this is Eysenck’s admission that, while he was my PhD supervisor, he plagiarised important experimental research of mine, research that had been completed years before we ever met.
1980-1981: My Final Year at UCL and BSc Dissertation
It is the 1980-1981 academic year, my final year as a BSc Psychology undergraduate student at UCL. When the time came to decide what to do for my final year’s dissertation, I had a look at a notebook where I was recording research ideas. I read an idea, dating from my second-year cognitive psychology exam revision period, which was linking research on selective attention (auditory and visual) with the Freudian notion of repression. Having written it down I started thinking of experimental techniques which could be used to explore it further.
Among the rest of the options there was reference to Colin Cherry’s dichotic listening task and the idea that repressors, performing on such a task, would perhaps divert their attention towards a competing attentional channel to defend against threatening input to the attended channel. Non-repressors, on the other hand, would be showing an attentional capture response, with the threatening information making increased demands on their attentional resources. I remember very distinctly my strong conviction that, if research were to address such biases, it should involve at least two concurrent attentional channels. It was also clear in my mind that, as in everyday life, the channels could be in any modality, or indeed any combination of modalities.
I contacted Professor Norman Dixon to see if I could work under his supervision on attentional biases and defensive processing. I had read and admired his book on subliminal perception, and especially his work on perceptual defence (Dixon, 1971), and my thinking had been influenced by his work. He liked my initial ideas very much, but he wanted something more specific. In particular, it was not clear how I would be measuring attention allocation between the two channels, be they visual, auditory, or whatever.
My solution was to use reaction times to sensory probes (e.g., auditory or visual), following neutral and threatening inputs to the two channels, as a measure of attentional resource allocation. The attentional probe paradigm was born. I thought of using my paradigm in the visual modality (dot probe technique) but that proved difficult for an undergraduate project. I decided to pursue my ideas in the auditory domain (tone probe technique).
Professor Dixon was enthusiastic about my attentional probe paradigm which he called ‘ingenious’. He liked that I was using a two-attentional channels paradigm. He must also have sensed his influence on my thinking, not least in my choosing to measure attention allocation by the way participants would respond to neutral stimuli (tone probes) with a neutral response (key-pressing), thus avoiding all the criticisms, based on the notion of response bias, levelled against so many of the ‘New Look’ experiments at that time.
The experiment, when I finally carried it out, was very successful, despite the small sample size. Moreover, I had by then studied in great detail the work of Mathew Erdelyi (e.g., Erderlyi, 1974; Erdelyi and Goldberg, 1979), as well as several other similarly minded theorists, and I was determined to do a PhD in cognitive-affective interaction and, more precisely, some sort of cognitive psychodynamics.
Unlike what happens nowadays, working on cognitive-affective interaction was not mainstream during that period. A (then) recently published paper by Don Norman, with the catchy title “Twelve issues for cognitive science”, provided for me a timely motivational push to pursue how emotion may affect information-processing (Norman, 1980). It formed the basis of the first part of my BSc dissertation. The middle part was based on Erdelyi and Goldberg’s attempt to claim the importance of the repression notion for modern cognitive psychology (Erdelyi and Goldberg, 1979). The final part introduced my attentional probe paradigm and described the first experiment making use of it to successfully demonstrate the relevant attentional biases. It followed directly from the theoretical work undertaken in the previous two sections. My BSc dissertation hurriedly hand-written by an undergraduate revising for his finals, is now available here.
Although Professor Dixon was positive towards my doing a PhD with him, I ended up applying for a PhD at Birkbeck where generous funding for my research seemed to be available. Two possible supervisors emerged, Glynn Humphreys and Michael Eysenck. It was decided I would be working with Eysenck.
So, that is how I came up with the idea of the attentional probe paradigm and how I made a first use of it in the auditory modality. And that is how I ended up being supervised, starting in January 1983, by Michael Eysenck at Birkbeck College.
September 1985: In Michael Eysenck’s Office at Birkbeck College
A visit to my PhD supervisor’s office, during a September afternoon in 1985, was supposed to be uneventful. Michael Eysenck had mentioned he had some ‘stuff’ for me, so I dropped in to collect it. Sitting behind his desk, he was holding in one hand a few papers and, while seemingly ready to give them to me, he strangely lowered his body and with his other hand he retrieved, as if from nowhere, an additional paper. He placed the newcomer under the rest of the pile. Although his movements and facial expression seemed weird, little did I know then that the long and convoluted story that additional paper was initiating would have dire consequences for my academic progress, future professional prospects, and well-being.
I left Eysenck’s office and travelled home as usual on the London Underground. But, on this occasion, I did not complete my journey. I remember distinctly that, as soon as I sat down in the train, I went straight for that last paper. I started reading. It did not take long before I reversed my journey’s direction and returned to the college. Pleasantries decidedly out of reach, I stormed into Eysenck’s office. I was extremely angry. The paper was using the attentional probe paradigm that I had devised but nowhere was there any mention of my name.
Shocking yes, but not entirely unexpected. The clouds which were now delivering thunder had appeared quite some time before that day. Several months earlier, Eysenck had casually mentioned that he “had taken the liberty to talk about [my] attentional probe paradigm to a couple of researchers at St. George’s”. When I heard this I became very upset. Soon my anger was joined by intense worry.
Was my precious idea going to be stolen?
The 1986 Paper’s ‘Motivated’ Footnote, the APA Involvement and MacLeod’s Imagination
Michael Eysenck tried to calm me down. He said he would talk to the St. George’s group. He also muttered that he “was not afraid of them”. Soon after that I complained to my departmental head and contacted Andrew Mathews.
To cut a long story short, I was informed that the paper had been accepted for publication by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and was by now in the printers, so nothing could be added to the text. Apparently, only a brief acknowledgement was possible, so the printed paper carries the following footnote on its first page:
Thanks are due to C. Halkiopoulos, whose unpublished doctoral research at Birkbeck College, London, motivated the development of the current paradigm.MacLeod, Mathews and Tata, 1986, p.15.
When this acknowledgement was suggested to me, I made it clear to everybody, including in writing to the Head of my Department (letter to Professor Summerfield; 25 May 1986) that I would never accept it. I repeatedly insisted that if the paper was published in that form, I would accuse them of plagiarism. This acknowledgment was not only inadequate. It also was mystifying. What does it mean: ‘motivated’?
I would go on insisting to Mathews and Eysenck that the 1986 paper plagiarised my ideas. Mathews would eventually write to me that “he regretted” that they did not acknowledge my contribution enough (letter from A Mathews; 8 February 1988). Moreover, in a 1990 paper Mathews moved even further in the right direction.
In an initial unpublished experiment by a student of Michael Eysenck (C. Haliopoulos), high trait anxious Ss were found to detect tones in a dichotic listening tape more rapidly if these followed a threatening word. Converting this to the visual modality, we found a similar effect in clinically anxious (GAD) Ss.A Mathews, 1990, p.459.
The rendering of my research may not be ideal here, and my name is misspelled once more, but what is important to note is that you can only ‘convert’ something that already exists. And what pre-exists here, according to Mathews, is my attentional probe paradigm and the first use of it in the auditory modality by myself. As for Eysenck, who had leaked my paradigm and scientific findings to the St. George’s group without my consent or knowledge, he eventually credited me as the originator of the paradigm in several of his publications, as well as written correspondence to me, e.g.:
“…I agree with you that you have not received your due recognition, but I have done my best, I have specifically identified you as the originator of the paradigm in about 15 manuscripts…”Letter from M Eysenck to me, dated 9/11/1988.
The breakdown in trust between me and my supervisor was not easy at all. Be that as it may, both Mathews and Eysenck have acknowledged publicly that the attentional probe paradigm is mine, that the idea for the probe dot technique used by MacLeod, Mathews and Tata (1986) was taken from me via Michael Eysenck, and that the highly significant findings the technique reveals about human anxiety, threat and attention were all originally of my making. It took quite a few years for such unambiguous attributions to be admitted. Still, having it claimed by two leading specialists, intimately involved in the relevant research project that the idea for the dot probe paradigm was mine, is of great importance.
But important issues remained unresolved. To this day the much-cited 1986 Journal of Abnormal Psychology article remains untouched, still carrying that improperly worded acknowledgement. A few months ago, I wrote, with relevant documentation, to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology’s Editor-in-Chief, Professor Angus MacDonald, asking him to respond to all this. This triggered an immediate inquiry which involved the editorial team and their Chief Editorial Advisor, Professor Jennifer Crocker. I discuss this investigation later. Suffice to note here that soon after I wrote to Professor MacDonald, he sent me their conclusions. I quote from the relevant email below:
…Halkiopoulos’ work was not properly acknowledged in the introduction of the MacLeod et al. (1986) manuscript. Halkiopoulos’ dissertation…provided the theoretical foundation and a template for the paradigm that was adapted to the visual modality by MacLeod et al. The footnote only notes that this work ‘motivated the development of the current paradigm’. Harris Cooper’s book on ethical choices in research describes this as intellectual theft or insufficient description of the origins of the idea…Email from Professor MacDonald to me, dated/4/2021; emphasis added.
Professor MacDonald’s statement is the first time in this whole sorry saga that the term “intellectual theft” has been used. Although this was too late to undo the damage that the misappropriation of my research had caused me, I was satisfied with the outcome of their investigation and their proposal to contact the authors to change their publication in a way that acknowledges my contribution. In fact, if that proved unsatisfactory to me, Professor MacDonald went on, “then there is a further path for [my] concerns” which could involve going all the way up to the APA Publications Board (from the same email).
Resolving the issue by directly contacting the St. George’s group has not proved easy. A red herring has also been cast across the trail. Andrew Mathews’ collaborator (and co-author of the 1986 paper), Colin MacLeod, wrote to me recently to claim that, as a matter of fact, they had not used my paradigm at all. Rather, he went on, both my work and theirs had used a ‘pre-existing paradigm’. He was replying with an email (dated 11 February 2021) to my request to comment on an article I was writing on the early history of the dot probe paradigm. Colin MacLeod has not responded to my request to name this ‘pre-existing paradigm’, or to explain why his views on this matter differ so dramatically from those of Eysenck and Mathews. Actually, MacLeod bluntly cut off our correspondence writing that he does not want us to exchange any more emails. Yet I had only contacted MacLeod once in over 30 years.
So, in his attempt to deny any influence by me in developing the dot probe paradigm, Colin MacLeod denies the originality of their own work as well. Not only does this go against all those clear statements by Mathews and Eysenck but it also contradicts his language in his published works. He often describes the dot probe paradigm as ‘novel’ and as a clear departure from previous unsuccessful attempts to investigate attentional biases in processing threatening information. For example, in a 1988 paper MacLeod and Mathews write:
We have recently introduced a novel visual probe paradigm that avoids such interpretative problems by requiring subjects to make a neutral response (button pressing) to a neutral stimulus (dot probe), following the presentation of differentially valenced stimuli [.]MacLeod and Mathews, 1988, p.656, emphasis added.
There is no mention of my name anywhere in this paper. Yet it was me, in my attempt to investigate attentional biases in the processing of threatening information, who first utilised a neutral response to a neutral stimulus in investigating attention allocation between concurrently presented word pairs. The St. George’s group were fully aware of all this before they embarked on their own use of this paradigm. And anyway their story is internally inconsistent. If they were not plagiarising my paradigm, whose paradigm were they plagiarising? MacLeod and Mathews called it “novel”, and MacLeod also claimed to me that it is based on a pre-existing paradigm. None of this adds up.
Of course, as I discuss later, they could have arrived at the paradigm via alternative routes. But, as Mathews clearly states, and Eysenck plentifully confirms, they did not. Retrospectively charting a different route to the paradigm, as MacLeod tried to do, would be laughable if it were not for the consequences that such flights of imagination currently have.
I am informed by the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology that, according to their journal’s regulations, they cannot effect any changes to the 1986 paper without the agreement of all three authors. This is simply bizarre. The circumstances in this case are far from usual because my role as the originator of the paradigm has often been i) made deliberately invisible and ii) denied. For the three co-authors to agree to clearly and unambiguously acknowledge my role as the originator of the paradigm puts many of their multiple publications into a quagmire of confusing fact and fiction over several careers and decades.
They will also need to admit that they publishing another – invisible- author’s intellectual property as their own.
It is high time that somebody takes responsibility for this obvious example of “intellectual theft”, to use one of the terms quoted by Professor MacDonald. But the only way to bypass the authors, Professor MacDonald claims, would be if a University investigation supported my claim that the St. George’s group got the idea for the dot probe paradigm from me. Such an investigation, in fact two, have been carried out and I report on them later. In fact, I report on several relevant investigations.
To be continued.
© Christos Halkiopoulos, 2022
I was born in June 1958 in the idyllic Greek island of Lefkada. After my high school studies, I moved to Britain with the intention to study psychology. I did my A-Levels in Oxford. They included psychology, something which deepened even further my interest in this amazing subject. I completed my BSc in Psychology at UCL in 1981. My plan by this stage was to become a successful research psychologist. And that is what several among the academics who knew me at the time were suggesting and expecting. I always had a strong interest in psychodynamic approaches. Being at UCL, I could not escape developing a strong interest in strict experimental approaches. The two approaches interacted magnificently and I started, even during my BSc years, doing some serious work on motivated information-processing.
My BSc dissertation sought to establish attentional biases in the processing of emotional information by individuals with different ways to deal with threat. That is how in 1981 I developed my attentional paradigm and I made the first use of it in the auditory modality. I decided to do a PhD on precisely this area. I wish I had insisted on staying at UCL to work with Norman Dixon, somebody who had influenced my thinking and had supervised by dissertation.
My supervisor was Michael Eysenck, first at Birkbeck College and then at Royal Holloway College. This did not work at all well. This is what the blogs that follow are all about.
I have three children with my first wife, two daughters and a son. My current partner is also a psychologist. Despite our multiple ethnic backgrounds we are all also happy British citizens.
I used to describe myself as a philosopher by interest, a psychologist by training and a teacher by (happy) accident. The ‘accident’ has a lot to do with what happened with the issues described here. I am no longer teaching. I taught psychology with enthusiasm for decades and I have co-authored a couple of psychology textbooks. Moreover, I have trained International Baccalaureate® psychology teachers all around the world on behalf of the IB Organisation. Immensely pleased with all of this.
What I did not yet manage to do though is to reach for the sky of my dreams: Be the successful psychology researcher in cognitive psychodynamics! But my story is not yet finished…
At some stage I specialised in Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck and after relevant training and experience I ended up as both an ABP-Certified Business Psychologist and one of the first BPS-Chartered Coaching Psychologists. Although not a substitute for my original plans, I adore using psychology to help those experiencing life challenges and especially those with motivational issues (I refer to myself as a double specialist in procrastination, for example).
Yes, I had problems, serious ones with the characters that figure extensively here. But, hey…life is good and there are very few problems that cannot sense the healing magic of the Ionian blue, the colour of the sea in my native Greek island.Christos Halkiopoulos, 29 July, 2022