24 May 2015

Study Supporting Gay Marriage Was Faked

Fake Study
A seemingly groundbreaking and widely publicized study reported in Science magazine this past December 2014 was a fake and the authors are trying to draft a retraction..

The study appeared to show that openly gay activists in California had persuaded conservative voters to change their minds in a lasting way by engaging the voters in "heartfelt, reciprocal and vulnerable conversations" about being gay during door-to-door advocacy campaigns. It was co-authored by Michael J. LaCour, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Donald P. Green, a professor at Columbia University.

For the gay rights movement, who have no scientific basis at all to support their claims so far, the results of the study was good news. It suggested that the country’s shift on gay rights was, at least in part, the movement’s doing, and it provided a template for advocacy going forward. Gay rights advocates in Ireland reportedly based their strategy before a national vote on same-sex marriage this May on LaCour and Green’s results.

That was the case until an impeccable report was issued on 19 May by two University of California, Berkeley, graduate students and a Yale professor. They said there are enough questions about the data to warrant retracting the study. Retraction Watch broke the story on 20 May about what students David Broockman (soon to be an assistant professor at Stanford) and Joshua Kalla and Yale professor Peter Aronow found.

The LaCour-Green study had examined the work of activists with the Los Angeles LGBT Center. After California’s gay marriage ban passed in 2008, activists at the center had more than 12,000 one-on-one conversations in Los Angeles neighborhoods with people who overwhelmingly supported the ban. LaCour’s idea was to see if those conversations produced any lasting change. He purportedly designed a randomized experiment to replicate those conversations, with a series of follow-up surveys online to test how the anti-gay voters felt about gay rights and gay marriage over time. Those who were contacted by the openly gay canvassers showed substantially more positive attitudes toward gay marriage as much as nine months later.

At least, that's what the published study said in December. But now it appears those critical follow-up surveys may not have been conducted as described.

Unimpressed with the finding, Broockman and Kala wanted to examine the research. In January 2015, they found some patterns in the data that seemed to be too perfect - statistically speaking, there was less variance in the results than there should have been. Some social scientists had noticed this when the study was first published.

As Broockman and Kalla continued their work, they wrote in their report, they uncovered more irregularities. When the pair noticed that their own study had a much lower response rate (the proportion of people contacted who actually respond to a survey), they asked the survey firm that allegedly gathered data for LaCour, Qualtrics, how it achieved such a high response rate. They said the firm replied that it had no record of the project.

This is what happened next according to their report and Green's letter to Science:
"The statistical irregularities continued to mount, and the pair recruited Aronow to help with their analysis. Last weekend, Broockman and Kalla contacted Green. Green said that he had joined the study after the data had been collected and thought that the irregularities Broockman and Kalla had uncovered were, indeed, highly suspicious. Green reached out to LaCour’s adviser at UCLA, professor Lynn Vavreck, and the two of them decided that Vavreck would confront LaCour and ask him to provide his data. Initially, LaCour claimed he had accidentally deleted the file with the necessary information, but again Qualtrics said it could not verify that the data had been deleted or that the study took place. It seemed increasingly clear to Green that no follow-up surveys had ever been conducted and that LaCour may have taken data from existing studies and manipulated the numbers to achieve the results he wanted."
Green said that he was shocked and dismayed by the revelations about the data set. "There was a mountain of fabrication," he said. "Graphs and charts and anecdotes and stories of every possible sort about these surveys. So it didn’t occur to me that the whole thing was fabricated because every time I had a question, it seemed as though [LaCour] had an answer."