Same Sex Marriage Study: At least 12 News Outlets retract or add Editor's Note - iMediaEthics

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At least 12 news outlets have added statements to their coverage of a study published in Science journal last year. (Credit: Science)

Since the news broke that a study on same-sex marriage published last year in Science may be based on fabricated information, most of the news outlets that reported on the study have warned readers about the problems with the study they covered.

As iMediaEthics previously reported, one of the study’s co-authors Donald Green issued a retraction request after saying he learned there were problems with his co-author Michael LaCour’s work. While LaCour hasn’t spoken out yet and said he is still working on a response, Green said at first LaCour “confessed to falsely describing at least some of the details of data collection,” Retraction Watch reported. LaCour later said he didn’t fabricate and that instead he can’t find research evidence to support his study.

The discovery was made when two graduate students tried to further the research and encountered problems. For example, when they went to Qualtrics, the company who LaCour said he got the survey data from, Qualtrics said it couldn’t find that data.

A spokesperson for UCLA, where LaCour is a Ph.D. candidate, told iMediaEthics: “UCLA expects its students to demonstrate integrity in all academic endeavors.  UCLA is reviewing allegations regarding data published by UCLA graduate student Michael LaCour.  UCLA will assess these allegations pursuant to UCLA policy and in a manner that provides due process to Mr. LaCour.”

Below, see a collection of editor’s notes added to news reports because of the questions raised by the study.

1. The Washington Post has added an editor’s note to its story: “Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this post on a study examining how easily people’s minds can be changed concerning same-sex marriage, a co-author has disavowed its findings. Donald P. Green is seeking a retraction of the study from the journal Science, which originally published the research.” Science told iMediaEthics it is reviewing the case.

2. US News added this editor’s note to its Dec. 22, 2014 story that reads: “Editor’s Note: The data used in the study recently were found to have been falsified,” linking to its report on the debunking

3. This American Life retracted its report on the Science study. “Our original story was based on what was known at the time,” This American Life‘s Ira Glass wrote in part. “Obviously the facts have changed. We’ll update today as we learn more. The apparent fakery was discovered by researchers at UC Berkeley and Stanford who tried to replicate the findings in the original study. How they figured it out is a great story in itself.”

4. New York Magazine‘s Dec. 11, 2014 story, “A 20-Minute Chat with a Gay Person Made People Much More Supportive of Gay Marriage” now has this note: “(UPDATE: This study has been retracted by Science. Science of Us has posted an explanation here.)”

5. Bloomberg tacked on an editor’s note to its Oct. 6 story, “How do you Change Someone’s Mind About Abortion? Tell Them You Had One.” That reads:

“EDITOR’S NOTE, May 20, 2015: The findings from the field experiment on attitudes toward gay marriage conducted by UCLA graduate student Michael LaCour described below—which were published in the journal Science two months after Bloomberg Politics reported on the research—have been called into question by co-author Don Green, who yesterday requested that the journal retract the article. ‘Michael LaCour’s failure to produce the raw data,’ Green wrote to the journal’s editors, ‘undermines the credibility of the findings.'”

6. BuzzFeed added an editor’s note to its Dec. 11, 2014 story, “Scientists Report Gay People are the Best at Changing Minds on Marriage Equality.” It states: [Update: The study described in the article below was retracted in May 2015 after the lead author said his co-author faked data. BuzzFeed News reports here.]

7. Business Insider‘s May 12, 2015 story, “How to convince anyone to change their mind on a divisive issue in just 22 minutes — with science,” has this update.  “*Update 5/20: While trying to follow up on the study cited in the story below, researchers have found that some of the data in the original study was falsified. The authors say they’ve requested that the paper be retracted from the journal Science.”

8. Vox retracted its story on the study earlier today, warning readers “don’t believe” it.

9. The New York Times added an editor’s note to its two stories on the study, a spokesperson for the newspaper told iMediaEthics. The editor’s note on The New York Times‘ Dec. 12, 2014 story, “Gay Advocates Can Shift Same-Sex Marriage Views,”  and the New York Times’ Dec. 18 story, “How Same Sex Marriage Effort Found a Way Around Polarization” reads:

“An article on Dec. 12, 2014, reported on a study published by the journal Science that said gay political canvassers could change conservative voters’ views on gay marriage by having a brief face-to-face discussion about the issue. The editor in chief of the journal said on Wednesday that the senior author of the study had now asked that the report be retracted because of the failure of his fellow author to produce data supporting the findings.”

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan told iMediaEthics she doesn’t plan to address this issue in her blogs or columns and pointed us to the Times‘ PR.

10. The Los Angeles Times added a note to its Dec. 12, 2014 article “Doorstep visits change attitudes on gay marriage.” That update, at the bottom of the article, states: “May 20, 2015: Science published an ‘Expression of Concern’ about the study reported on here. ‘Serious questions have been raised about the validity’ of the report, which claimed that skeptics of same-sex marriage could be persuaded to accept it after talking with a gay lobbyist for 20 minutes. One of the study’s co-authors, Donald Green, said he no longer has confidence in the data and has requested that the study be retracted. Read our full story here.”

The Los Angeles Times also posted a follow-up story on the news, a spokesperson for the newspaper told iMediaEthics.

11. Mother Jones added an update to its Dec. 18, 2014 story, “How a 20-Minute Conversation Can Convince People with Anti-Gay Views to Change Their Mind, a spokesperson for the magazine told iMediaEthics. The update reads: “The following study was retracted following allegations the data had been faked by a co-author. “I am deeply embarrassed by this turn of events and apologize to the editors, reviewers, and readers of Science,” author Columbia University political science professor Donald Green said. The original article follows but be forewarned that its contents are no longer credible given this revelation.”

12. The Wall Street Journal posted this “note to readers” on its Feb. 25, 2015 story, “Gay Marriage: How to Change Minds.”

“NOTE TO READERS: According to an Associated Press report, data in the Science magazine study to which the article below alludes have come under question, as one of the authors of the study has asked the magazine to retract it. Read the article.”

UCLA and Columbia issued a press release last year touting the study.  iMediaEthics has written to Columbia for comment.

Other outlets that reported on the study without adding a flag to readers about the study’s retraction request as of 3 PM EST are:

UPDATED: 5/20/2015 5:57 PM EST Added responses from UCLA, additional info from the New York Times

UPDATED: 5/20/2015 8:32 PM EST Added response from the Los Angeles Times

UPDATED: 5/21/2015 12:42 PM EST Updated with notes from Mother Jones and Wall Street Journal

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Same Sex Marriage Study: At least 12 News Outlets retract or add Editor’s Note

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