May 22, 2015


Author retracts study of changing minds on same-sex marriage after colleague admits data were faked (Ivan Oransky, Retraction Watch)

In what can only be described as a remarkable and swift series of events, one of the authors of a much-ballyhooed Science paper claiming that short conversations could change people's minds on same-sex marriage is retracting it following revelations that the data were faked by his co-author.

Donald Green, of Columbia, and Michael LaCour, a graduate student at UCLA, published the paper, "When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality," in December 2014. The study received widespread media attention, including from This American Life, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post,  The Los Angeles Times, Science Friday, Vox, and HuffingtonPost, as LaCour's site notes.

David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, graduate students at University of California, Berkeley, were two of the people impressed with the work, so they planned an extension of it, as they explain in a timeline posted online yesterday:

As we examined the study's data in planning our own studies, two features surprised us: voters' survey responses exhibit much higher test-retest reliabilities than we have observed in any other panel survey data, and the response and reinterview rates of the panel survey were significantly higher than we expected. We set aside our doubts about the study and awaited the launch of our pilot extension to see if we could manage the same parameters. LaCour and Green were both responsive to requests for advice about design details when queried.

Earlier this month, they began a pilot of their extension. They soon realized that

The response rate of the pilot study was notably lower than what LaCour and Green (2014) reported.

When Broockman and Kalla contacted the firm they thought had performed the original study upon which the Science paper was based,

The survey firm claimed they had no familiarity with the project and that they had never had an employee with the name of the staffer we were asking for. The firm also denied having the capabilities to perform many aspects of the recruitment procedures described in LaCour and Green (2014).

Posted by at May 22, 2015 3:49 PM

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