This is when statistics are believed when they confirm a bias even without the standard vetting, which normally, when a study finds something revolutionary, the study has to be validated by replication by a third party; which in the case looked at in this fine article—which also examines progressive’s successful strategy of cultural change—from Crisis Magazine, wasn’t done.
The social science world is reeling as it becomes clear that one of their newest rising stars, Michael LaCour, is a fraud. As a graduate student at UCLA, LaCour co-published an electrifying paper claiming to show that, contrary to conventional wisdom, people’s long-established views can be changed quite easily through a brief encounter with a sympathetic figure arguing the opposite. To show this, canvassers (ostensibly) went door to door speaking with neighborhood residents about same-sex “marriage.” According to LaCour, speaking with a homosexual person about his desire to marry had a significant and lasting impact on the views of people who had previously claimed not to support same-sex “marriage.” He claimed as well that the shift impacted other residents of the same household who were not present for the original conversation.
The paper was published in Science in December of last year, and earned LaCour attention from major news outlets all over the country, along with a job offer from Princeton. Two weeks ago, another doctoral student from UC Berkeley released damning evidence that the study was fraudulent. The dust hasn’t fully settled yet, but it’s hard to see at this point how LaCour can salvage either his position or his career.
Various lessons have been drawn from this unedifying case. Economics professor Tim Groseclose made the interesting suggestion that the academic community is likely to see more such cases, given the way graduate students are incentivized to work with complex statistical techniques that authors don’t fully understand. Certainly we should all view “definitive studies” with a healthy skepticism, knowing how easily data can be falsified or fudged.
Several others have noted how amply the episode illustrates the Academy’s proclivity towards confirmation bias. Social scientists were thrilled with LaCour’s (faked) results, for reasons we can all readily imagine. How wonderful to think that the fight for “marriage redefinition” could be won so easily! No doubt it was also gratifying to receive what appeared to be confirmation that opposition to same-sex “marriage” was mostly rooted in ignorance and bigotry, which the slenderest ray of human sympathy could easily dispel. Wanting desperately to believe the message, researchers didn’t look too hard at the actual data.
There is, however, another point that I would make in light of this sorry episode. As beleaguered traditionalists in a losing cultural battle, we often overlook the extent to which progressives win, not through actual persuasion, but rather by projecting an aura of inevitability with respect to their desired outcomes. Many Americans are persuaded to reconcile themselves to progressive views, not because they really believe in a “right to marry” (for example), but more because it just seems to them that resistance is futile. Ironically, we ourselves often help to feed that narrative with our dour assessments of the inevitability of cultural decline.
Retrieved June 2, 2015 from http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/time-to-question-inevitability-of-gay-marriage