Photo of the day

From National Geographic Found:

Boys dressed up in school uniforms pose with king penguins at the London Zoo, 1953. Photograph by B. Anthony Stewart and David S. Boyer, National Geographic Creative

Boys dressed up in school uniforms pose with king penguins at the London Zoo, 1953.PHOTOGRAPH BY B. ANTHONY STEWART AND DAVID S. BOYER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

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The biggest political science fraud ever

I don’t think I actually ever mentioned the recent Political Study that showed amazing amounts of attitude change when a person had a talk about gay marriage with an actual gay person.  But you likely heard about it anyway, because it got a bunch of coverage– including playing a major role in a This American Life episode.

So, here’s the amazing thing– the data this is all based on was faked by a graduate student.  And the co-author on the paper, Donald Green, is one of the most esteemed names in the study of elections (by all appearances, it appears that he was duped as well).  It’s really a pretty amazing story.  Vox has the best run-down of the matter I’ve seen:

Last year, UCLA grad student Michael LaCour and Columbia political scientist Donald Green published a startling finding, based on a experiment they ran: going door to door to try to persuade voters to support same-sex marriage works, they found, and it works especially well when the canvasser delivering the message is gay. They even found spillover effects: people who lived with voters who talked to a gay canvasser grew more supportive of same-sex marriage, too…

The findings were, as it turns out, too miraculous. Green has retracted the study, and asked the journal Science to do the same. LaCour, it turned out, faked the data

LaCour was set to become an assistant professor at Princeton this July. Any reference to that job has been removed from his homepage. But the page still features a long list of media outlets that have covered his research. Just about every place you can think of covered the same-sex marriage study: This American Life, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Science Friday,Bloomberg Politics, Huffington Post, and, of course, me at Vox. We all got it wrong.

Personally, I believed the study was sound because it came from sources I trust. Ironically, Broockman — who’ll start as an assistant professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business this fall — was the one who first alerted me to the study he’d wind up exposing as a fraud. David’s an old friend and often passes along papers he thinks I ought to cover. Here’s what he said on LaCour and Green: “Deep. Compelling. Awesome … The most important paper of the year. No doubt.”

The whole article explains how the data was faked and how the fakery was uncovered.  Likewise, I would not question anything written by Don Green that’s been through peer review.  But not many of stop to consider that data is being faked.  Certainly shows the importance of replication.  And probably the importance of replication before we all go trumpeting some world-changing result.

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