This is indeed a very big deal, as Science is the top science journal in the world, and the senior author is a well-respected political scientist.
The study was published last December in Science, and received lots of media attention. It found that a 20-minute, one-on-one conversation with a gay political canvasser could steer voters in favor of same-sex marriage. Not only that, but these changed opinions lasted for at least a year and influenced other people in the voter’s household, the study found.
Donald Green, the senior author on the study, retracted it on Tuesday shortly after learning that his co-author, UCLA graduate student Michael LaCour, had faked the results. Science posted an official “editorial expression of concern” — a very big deal in the science world — on Wednesday afternoon.
This American Life, the hugely popular radio program that featured this study in an episode in April, interviewed Green on Wednesday about the problems with the study.
“There was an incredible mountain of fabrications with the most baroque and ornate ornamentation. There were stories, there were anecdotes, my dropbox is filled with graphs and charts, you’d think no one would do this except to explore a very real data set,” Green told the show’s host, Ira Glass. Green also told Glass that LaCour is still claiming the data is real.
The problems came to light after three other researchers tried, and failed, to replicate the study. David Broockman, of Stanford, Joshua Kalla, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Peter Aronow of Yale found eight statistical irregularities in the data set. No one of these would by itself be proof of wrongdoing, they wrote, but all of them collectively suggest that “the data were not collected as described.”
Data-fakers, read this takedown and beware!