The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
From Thursday's ScienceInsider (John Bohannon):
Amid a tidal wave of criticism, Science is retracting a study of how canvassers can sway people's opinions about gay marriage published just 5 months ago. The retraction comes without the agreement of the paper's lead author, Michael J. LaCour, a political science Ph.D. student at the University of California (UC), Los Angeles. LaCour's attorney has told Science that LaCour made false claims about some aspects of the study, according to the retraction statement, including misrepresenting his funding sources and the incentives that he offered to survey participants.
"In addition to these known problems, independent researchers have noted certain statistical irregularities in the responses," Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt wrote in the retraction statement. "LaCour has not produced the original survey data from which someone else could independently confirm the validity of the reported findings."
McNutt wrote: "The reasons for retracting the paper are as follows: (i) Survey incentives were misrepresented. To encourage participation in the survey, respondents were claimed to have been given cash payments to enroll, to refer family and friends, and to complete multiple surveys. In correspondence received from Michael J. LaCour's attorney, he confirmed that no such payments were made. (ii) The statement on sponsorship was false. In the Report, LaCour acknowledged funding from the Williams Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. Per correspondence from LaCour's attorney, this statement was not true."
But the allegations about the study go far beyond these admitted misrepresentations—rather, there is doubt about whether the survey was even conducted as LaCour described (even setting aside the cash payments question); for more, see the post by Jesse Singal (Science of Us, New York Magazine). LaCour posted a 23-page response Friday, but Jesse Singal's follow-up is skeptical:
Those who read the Broockman report, or the detailed Science of Us tick-tock of Broockman's work published yesterday, will recall that Broockman and Kalla discovered that the survey company LaCour claimed to have used, uSamp, said it had never worked with him. Moreover, the employee at uSamp LaCour said he had worked with ["James Peterson"] doesn't exist….
And yet LaCour doesn't address this in his response. The name "uSamp" is absent from his document, and there is (perhaps unsurprisingly) no attempt to explain Peterson (LaCour didn't respond to a request to comment for this post). Instead, the reader is invited to hear LaCour's side of a non-sequitur debate in which he is the only participant.
(Note that I'm unacquainted with any of the main characters here; though this happened at UCLA, it's outside my department, and outside my modest set of non-law-school contacts.)