Faking Social Science for the Cause
One of the authors of a recent study that claimed that short conversations with gay people could change minds on same-sex marriage has retracted it.
Columbia University political science professor Donald Green’s retraction this week of a popular article published in the December issue of the academic journal Science follows revelations that his co-author allegedly faked data for the study, “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support of gay marriage.”
The study received widespread coverage from The New York Times, Vox, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others when it was released in December.
By Wednesday afternoon, news organizations including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Vox, The Huffington Post and NPR had issued editors’ notes regarding their initial coverage of the study.
I am confident, indeed shot through with metaphysical certitude, that the news media will give as much attention to this outright fraud as it did to debunking the mere political incorrectness of the findings of the Regnerus study (for which Regnerus was vindicated, by the way), a social science study whose results served to undermine the Cause.
A graduate student friend in medicine told me not long ago that she had decided to take her medical career in a different direction after an internship at a highly prestigious research institution. She said she observed the widespread practice of graduate students fudging data to get desired results — this, with the full knowledge, consent, and even encouragement of their supervisors. It wasn’t major fraud, she said, but it was fraud, and it was done as part of a general ethos of tweaking scientific results to get the outcome needed to guarantee grant money. Nothing political there, but she said the whole experience disillusioned her about the supposed disinterestedness of science. The method, she said, is supposed to be disinterested, and it is, but science is still carried out by scientists, who are human beings, not robots. She didn’t want to be the sort of scientist who got sucked into the maelstrom of ego and competition for grants, fearing that she would start to fudge data because everybody else was doing it.
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