Vox retracts story based on fraudulent research

May 20, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

Vox | The Washington Post | The Huffington Post | “This American Life” | The New York Times | The Wall Street Journal

At least five news organizations have re-examined stories based on fraudulent research published in the academic journal “Science” that purported to show people could be swayed to accept same-sex marriage by talking to gay individuals.

The re-evaluations came to light after the research, conducted by scholars Michael LaCour and Donald Green, came under scrutiny by political scientists David Broockman and Joshua Kalla. They found problems with the publication, which was covered by “This American Life,” The New York Times, Vox, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post and others.

A Vox.com story by senior correspondent Dylan Matthews published in April 2014 now carries the following retraction:

Update: It turns out that the Michael LaCour and Donald Green study described here really was “miraculous”: it wasn’t true. Two other political scientists, David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, tried to conduct an extension of the study, and ran into a number of irregularities, not least an unusually high response rate among survey participants. When they contacted the survey firm they believed performed the study and asked to speak with an employee believed to have helped, the firm said it was unfamiliar with the project, had no employee by that name, and didn’t have the capabilities to run many aspects of the study.

Eventually, LaCour confessed to “falsely describing at least some of the details of the data collection.” Green retracted the study on his website and has requested that Science, the journal that published the study, retract it as well. LaCour was set to become an assistant professor at Princeton this July, but Retraction Watch’s Ivan Oransky notes that this position has been scrubbed from LaCour’s personal website.

In the interest of full disclosure, my original post describing the study is below. But in light of the retraction, don’t believe any of its findings.

Vox’s story now carries a new headline: “Popular study on same sex marriage attitudes was based on fabricated information.”

“This American Life” host Ira Glass tells Poynter he’s reading the retraction and that the radio show plans to issue “something” later. He also tweeted about the revelation Wednesday morning.

Later Wednesday, “This American Life” retracted a segment of the episode, “The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind,” that relied on the research. Glass added a note to “This American Life”‘s blog acknowledging the retraction and providing further background details.

The New York Times added an editor’s note to its original article Wednesday afternoon acknowledging the retraction request:

An article on Dec. 12, 2014, reported on a study published by the journal Science that said gay political canvassers could change conservative voters’ views on gay marriage by having a brief face-to-face discussion about the issue. The editor in chief of the journal said on Wednesday that the senior author of the study had now asked that the report be retracted because of the failure of his fellow author to produce data supporting the findings.

The Washington Post has published a story about the retraction, which cites its own coverage among media reports that ran with the research. The Post also added an editor’s note to its original article:

Since the publication of this post on a study examining how easily people’s minds can be changed concerning same-sex marriage, a co-author has disavowed its findings. Donald P. Green is seeking a retraction of the study from the journal Science, which originally published the research.

The Wall Street Journal also followed suit:

NOTE TO READERS: According to an Associated Press report, data in the Science magazine study to which the article below alludes have come under question, as one of the authors of the study has asked the magazine to retract it.

The Huffington Post on Wednesday also appended a lengthy note to its original article. It reads, in part:

Earlier this week, Columbia University professor Donald Green requested the retraction of an article he co-authored that was published last year in Science magazine. The article purported to examine data that found face-to-face conversations with supporters of same-sex marriage tended to change the opinions of those who oppose the practice.

Green’s letter to Science requesting the retraction cited his co-author Michael Lacour’s “failure to produce the raw data,” along with inconsistencies in that data discovered after publication by another team of researchers. Academic watchdog website Retraction Watch posted an excerpt of the letter Wednesday.

Green told The Huffington Post that the journal was “moving quickly” to respond to his letter.

(h/t Retraction Watch)

We’ll update this story as it develops.


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