The University has revoked its offer to hire Michael LaCour, who allegedly altered data sets in an academic study, as an assistant professor in the Wilson School after a review of the allegations, University spokesperson Martin Mbugua said.
LaCour coauthored a December 2014studyas a doctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles, which received nationalmedia attentionfor purportedly showing that opponents of same-sex marriage could be reliably persuaded to change their minds after just one conversation with a gay person.
The prominent journal Science issued aretractionof the study onMay 28. According to the retraction, LaCour did not agree to the retraction, but his coauthor did.
LaCour hasmaintainedhe stands by his results, according to TheNew York Times.
LaCour did not respond to requests for comment. LaCour's coauthor and Columbia professor Donald Green, who also recommended LaCour to the University, declined to comment. Dean of the Faculty Deborah Prentice deferred comment to Mbugua. Wilson School dean Cecilia Rouse said she was unavailable for comment. UCLA political science department chair and former University professor Jeffrey Lewis declined to comment.
According toBusiness Insider, LaCour issued a statement in late May saying he had not falsified data and had destroyed data that would vindicate him afteran independent group of researchersnoted alleged irregularities with his dataand reported them to Green. However, LaCour reportedly toldThe New York Timesthat he had not erased any raw data.
Science receives 14,000 submissions per year, of which seven percent, or around 980, are accepted, Natasha Pinol, a spokeswoman for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science, said. Of those articles accepted, around two dozen are clarified or otherwise corrected each year and "a handful" are retracted, she said.
Pinol noted the LaCour-Green article was accepted before the journal implemented an extra step involving manuscript review by expert statisticians affiliated with theStatistical Board of Reviewing Editors, a step which may have identified the statistical irregularities that the independent researchers later found. Between two and nine reviewers are assigned to each submission, she added.
The New York Times reported that LaCour has already said he had lied about who had funded the study in an attempt to add credibility to his work. The Ford Foundation and the Williams Institute at UCLAhave saidthey are not connected with LaCour's research in any way despite having been listed as funders of the research.
Anotherallegationagainst LaCour, according to Business Insider, is that he falsified data in a study called "The Echo Chambers Are Empty," which purported to show that most partisan-minded people consume centrist media, not politically slanted media.
LaCour was hired by the University several months ago and was supposed to start work at the beginning of July.
Mbugua said the University will not provide further information about the case.
Stanley Katz, a Wilson School lecturer who was not involved in LaCour's hiring but has taken part in previous Wilson School hires, said he found the matter disturbing.
“You wonder what went wrong in the vetting process. Clearly some of the people who are now withdrawing support for him were among those who recommended him in the first place,” Katz said. “The kinds of letters we require misled us.”
According to Katz, the hiring process at the Wilson School is complicated, requiring not only a command of public policy but also interdisciplinary expertise as well, which can involve evaluations from University professors outside the Wilson School.LaCour was being evaluated by the politics department in addition to the Wilson School, Katz said.
Politics chair Nolan McCarty deferred comment to Mbugua. Several politics and Wilson School faculty contacted deferred comment to Mbugua, declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
Katz noted that rescinding an offer of hiring is rare at major universities.
“The thing to remember for an appointment like this, with research of this kind, is that even a well-trained, serious, responsible person can read material, and not be aware that there is either a serious inaccuracy or, much more important, a misrepresentation. It really depends on other researchers going in, using the ideas to try and produce the same results,” Katz said, referring to the fact that LaCour's study was called into question when independent researchers set out to replicate LaCour's results.“I think that explains why people of the politics department didn’t pick this up. It’s not as though they weren’t paying attention.”
The paper was published in Science under the title, “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality.”