Paging Dr. Emily Litella: Another Science Fraud Exposed

Last December Science magazine published the results of a survey that found people who had a conversation of at little as 20 minutes with a gay person changed their mind about gay marriage. You may well wonder why Science, usually concerned with settled scientific matters like global warming climate change, would jump on a research survey more suited for a public opinion or social science journal, and further you’d wonder why we’d want to rely on social science surveys to advance our judgment of this moral and legal controversy. (What next: open-office plans are really a sneaky gay plot to promote gay marriage, too? Because with no doors, no closets to hide in!)

The full article, “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality,” is in the magazine’s closet behind the magazine’s paywall, but it isn’t very impressive. In fact it looks rather like a first-year graduate student survey project, and the conclusion has all of the usual tropes of such academic work today, including the phrase you see in almost all social science articles that prove a small and obvious point—“further research is needed.”

Our experimental results demonstrate that active contact is capable of producing a cascade of enduring opinion change. Further research is needed to assess the extent to which the strength, diffusion, and persistence of active contact’s effects depend on how groups come together, the salience of their identities, the issues they discuss, and the manner in which deliberation takes place.

Well guess what mom? One of the co-authors has asked Science to retract the article because he claims the data was faked by his graduate research assistant co-author. There’s a more detailed account of how the study collapsed in the Retraction Watch website. Apparently some other researchers were intrigued that the study differed from previous similar surveys and attempted to replicate the study, but couldn’t. The graduate student who compiled the data was subsequently hired at Princeton. Let’s see if he keeps his job.

Good thing fiddling with the data never happens in climate science. Oh, wait. . .