‘This American Life’ to address retracted segments on air

May 22, 2015
Category: Newsletters

This week’s broadcast of “This American Life” will include a note from host Ira Glass addressing an academic article, used in a previous episode of the show, that has come under heavy fire this week.

The study, which purported to show how individuals could be swayed on the issue of same-sex marriage by talking to gay people, was featured in episode 555 of “This American Life,” “The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind.” The article was also covered by several major news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

“I talk about it in a program note in this week’s show, and refer listeners to our website where we tell the full story of the Science article’s retraction,” Glass told Poynter via email.

The article came under scrutiny this week after an academic paper from scholars David Broockman and Joshua Kalla found irregularities in research published in “Science” co-authored by UCLA graduate student Michael LaCour and Columbia University professor Donald Green. According to Broockman and Kalla’s paper, surfaced first by Retraction Watch, LaCour admitted to “falsely describing at least some of the details of the data collection.”

Since then, all of the news organizations mentioned above have appended notes to their stories calling attention to the flawed research. LaCour tweeted that he was “gathering evidence” for a response.

Glass says “This American Life” won’t devote a show to the retraction this week.

“We’re not doing a full story on the air this week for two reasons: this has gotten decent coverage elsewhere, and our theme this week is Americans in China,” Glass wrote. “Doesn’t really fit the theme. It’s possible that we’ll return to this in more depth in a later episode, if further reporting leads to details and insights that warrant it and that haven’t been covered elsewhere.”

After news of the faulty research surfaced this week, Glass began investigating the matter. Dave Fleischer, project director at the Leadership LAB at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, told the host he thinks “data was being fabricated from the beginning.” According to a “This American Life” blog post published Wednesday, Fleischer said he observed LaCour examining fake data in real-time:

Ira asked Dave Fleischer, “If the data isn’t real, if he isn’t really doing surveys, then what would you be looking at? Just things he had made up earlier?”

FLEISCHER: You know Ira, I do not know the answer to that question. But my suspicion is yes. We are looking at something that he had made up.

“This American Life” has in the past devoted airtime to addressing questions about its own reporting. In 2012, the show aired an episode titled “Retraction” that re-reported many of the fabrications contained in a previous broadcast, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to “Sunday’s broadcast” of “This American Life.” As the show’s website notes, broadcast times differ depending on listener location.


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