Funding for Retracted Science Study Was Misrepresented

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The graduate student who organized and directed a newly-retracted study about the effect of gay political canvassers on voters’ attitudes toward same-sex marriage did not have funding from the sources he had named in the published study itself, according to the institutions purported to have made the financial contributions.

Science, a leading scientific journal on Thursday retracted the study co-authored by Michael J. LaCour, a graduate student in political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, saying he had misrepresented data in the study published in December and falsely identified the study’s sponsors. His co-author, Donald Green, a political scientist at Columbia University, could not be reached for comment, but had asked Science to retract the study.

Mr. LaCour said Thursday in an email that he would provide a “definitive response” to the charges by Thursday night, but as of Friday morning he had not done so. The post by Science noted that Mr. LaCour did not agree with the retraction.

Mr. LaCour posted on his Facebook page months ago that he would soon be moving across the country for his “dream job” at Princeton University. The college has said it was looking into its decision but by early Friday had not made a determination. Martin A. Mbugua, a spokesman for the university said by email Friday that Princeton is “expecting his response and we’ll review all available information and determine the next steps.”

The Ford Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, and the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A., all confirmed in interviews or by email that they had not provided any money to Mr. LaCour or the research project.

The Haas fund donated $75,000 to the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the advocacy center that canvassed voters in conservative pockets of Los Angeles County and worked with Mr. LaCour as part of what it thought was a rigorous study, according to Dave Fleischer, director of the center’s leadership lab. But Mr. Fleischer said that the money went primarily to pay salaries of staff at the center, and also provided pizza for canvassers, who were all volunteers. Mr. LaCour was supposed to be responsible for surveying the attitudes of the canvassed voters and his analysis was supposed to be independent of the center. “We obviously never gave him any money because his responsibility was to raise his own money,” Mr. Fleischer said.

The unraveling of the claimed funding helps account for Mr. LaCour’s failure to follow the study methodology he had laid out. Mr. LaCour had reported getting a high response rate for his surveys, and the reason journal reviewers believed that rate to be plausible was because he said he had paid participants, according to Marcia McNutt, the editor in chief of Science. Mr. LaCour has acknowledged in a letter to Science, through his lawyer, that he did not pay people as he had claimed.

In that letter, Mr. LaCour said that, instead of payments, he had convinced people to participate by entering them in a drawing to win an iPad. Mr. Fleischer said that the iPad drawing was in fact Mr. LaCour’s first idea, back in 2013, and said that it had become clear quickly that it would not be enough of an incentive to get people to participate in the study.

In an interview, Mr. Fleischer said his center was considering contacting the voters who were canvassed to see if any of them had actually filled out any surveys for Mr. LaCour. “If Mike LaCour continues to misrepresent what he did and show no remorse, then of course we’re going to continue to investigate more fully the extent of the misrepresentations he made to us,” Mr. Fleischer said.

Lauren Jow, a spokeswoman for the Williams Institute said that the group had had conversations with Mr. LaCour when his now-retracted study was in its initial stages. Mr. LaCour talked about applying for a grant but never completed the formal application process, she said.


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