Behind Science Fraud, Chapter 5

We began this new occasional series with the story of the Science magazine study about how people changed their mind on gay marriage based on a short conversations with a real live gay people, but in which the data was faked by the graduate student co-author, Michael LaCour.

It now appears that LaCour, whose pending appointment at Princeton based on his work is in doubt, made up more than just his data. He appears to have claimed on his CV a UCLA teaching award that doesn’t exist. I’ll let New York magazine pick up the climax of the story from here:

I emailed LaCour for comment, and he asked if I’d hold off on publishing this until he released a planned statement about the whole affair. I told him I couldn’t unless the statement contained information pertinent to the nonexistent teaching award. Shortly thereafter, a browser extension I installed to notify me when his website changed pinged me. His website’s link to his CV, which he’d taken down down recently, is now back up. This version no longer lists the Emerging Instructor Award, and the entire “Original Grants & Data” section has been cut.

LaCour then emailed me again: “I’m not sure which CV you are referring to, but the CV posted on my website has not had that information or the grants listed for at least a year.” As of 6:20 p.m., the CV with the false information can still be viewed on the UCLA website.

I think it was the British politician Denis Healey who is credited with the First Law of Holes, which goes: If you’re in one, stop digging. LaCour apparently didn’t learn the First Law of Holes in his social science methodology classes.