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Major Gay Marriage Study Was Fabricated, Author Admits

A study purporting to show that people’s views on gay marriage could change simply by meeting gay people has been retracted following revelations that its data was fabricated.

The study was published last December in Science, and prior to publication drew a great deal of attention from the American media. Vox, for instance, described the findings in the study as “kind of miraculous.” As it turns out, that’s exactly what they were, because they were apparently made up.

According to the study, people from communities hostile to gay marriage could have their opinions shift dramatically after spending just a few minutes speaking with a gay person who canvassed their neighborhood promoting gay marriage. Not only that, but this could have a spillover effect, making not just the people themselves more pro-gay but also other people who lived in the same household.

The study, among other things, lent support to the notion that those opposed to gay marriage simply don’t know or interact with open homosexuals. More broadly, it was seen as an important development in the science of how people can be convinced to change their minds on ideologically-charged issues.

The study began to fall apart when students at the University of California at Berkeley sought to conduct additional research building off of it, only to find major irregularities in how its research was apparently conducted. For example, thermometers used to measure participants body temperatures produced consistent, reliable information, even though they are known for producing relatively unreliable numbers.

Also, the data recovered had an exceptionally consistent distribution, with not a single one of the 12,000 supposed participants providing anomalous or unusual results. In other words, the study’s data was too perfect to be believable.

Donald Green, a professor at Columbia University and a co-author of the paper, made the decision to retract it after having a confrontation with co-author Michael LaCour, a graduate student at UCLA. While LaCour maintained that he hadn’t fabricated the data, he was also unable to produce the original source files supposedly used to produce it. When he failed to write-up a retraction, Green took the initiative and did so himself.

“I am deeply embarrassed by this turn of events and apologize to the editors, reviewers, and readers of Science,” Green told Retraction Watch, a science watchdog website.

LaCour, the graduate student accused of fabricating at least some of the data, made a Twitter post Wednesday afternoon saying he was “gathering evidence” about what had occurred:

(1/2) I read “Irregularities in LaCour (2014),” posted at http://t.co/SJ3jE89XeD on May 19, 2015 by Broockman et al. I’m gathering evidence

— Michael J. LaCour (@UCLaCour) May 20, 2015

(2/2) and relevant information so I can provide a single comprehensive response. I will do so at my earliest opportunity.

— Michael J. LaCour (@UCLaCour) May 20, 2015

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