Science Retracts 2014 Study of Attributions About Gay Marriage Over Objections of Lead Author

This retraction had been anticipated, but just a little while ago, Science made it official. The 2014 study of attitude change toward gay marriage had been widely criticized. The now-retracted study abstract indicated that brief contacts with pro-gay marriage people could generate significant attitude change.

Can a single conversation change minds on divisive social issues, such as same-sex marriage? A randomized placebo-controlled trial assessed whether gay (n = 22) or straight (n = 19) messengers were effective at encouraging voters (n = 972) to support same-sex marriage and whether attitude change persisted and spread to others in voters’ social networks. The results, measured by an unrelated panel survey, show that both gay and straight canvassers produced large effects initially, but only gay canvassers’ effects persisted in 3-week, 6-week, and 9-month follow-ups. We also find strong evidence of within-household transmission of opinion change, but only in the wake of conversations with gay canvassers. Contact with gay canvassers further caused substantial change in the ratings of gay men and lesbians more generally. These large, persistent, and contagious effects were confirmed by a follow-up experiment. Contact with minorities coupled with discussion of issues pertinent to them is capable of producing a cascade of opinion change.

Science’s Office of Public Affairs provided the following press release:

Subject:For Immediate Release: Retraction of Science Report by LaCour and Green
Date: May 28, 2015 at 2:00:16 PM EDT
Dear Science press package registrants,
Today, Thursday, 28 May, 2015, Science, with the concurrence of author Donald P. Green, is retracting the 12 December 2014 Report “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality,” by Michael J. LaCour and Dr. Green. Mr. LaCour does not agree to this retraction.
Science provided three key reasons for the retraction: (1) the misrepresentation of survey incentives; (2) false statements of sponsorship; and (3) the inability to produce original data, which makes it impossible to verify or alleviate concerns about statistical irregularities documented in an independent online response to the original work. Please refer to the “summary of irregularities” cited in the retraction.
Science had previously published an Editorial Expression of Concern about the study, on Wednesday, 20 May, 2015, to alert readers to the fact that serious questions had been raised about the validity of the study’s results. This was after receiving a retraction request from Dr. Green, on Tuesday, 19 May, 2015.
Reporters registered with EurekAlert! can also refer to the original Science Press Package summary of this study and related materials, which have been updated with a retraction notice.
A link to a related news story by John Bohannon, a contributing correspondent to Science’s news department, can be found here:
Links to Retraction and other Materials Cited Above:
Independent Online Response:
Editorial Expression of Concern:
Original Science Press Package Summary:
Science Press Package Team, Office of Public Programs
American Association for the Advancement of Science
1200 New York Avenue, NW | Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-326-6440 | E-mail:
Twitter: @scipak |


On science and religion

In his book, Rock of Ages, Stephen Jay Gould has this to say about science and religion:

Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain those facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve. Similarly, while scientists must operate with ethical principles, some specific to their practice, the validity of these principles can never be inferred from the factual discoveries of science.

I have been accused recently of being a religious bigot with an aim to furtively introduce religious dogma behind a scientific facade. In addition to making ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims (“…[I] criticized NARTH in order to make way for his own version of reparative therapy by another name”), Peterson says I put religious beliefs before science in thinking about matters of sexuality. I have addressed these matters before but I want to do so again in a more general manner.

Briefly and generally, about science and religion, I suggest that science concerns itself with “what is;” while religion is more concerned with “what ought to be.” Science is descriptive, religion prescriptive. As Gould notes above, values cannot be reliably inferred from the factual discoveries of science. Einstein said similarly: “For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.”

For those who believe science directs moral choosing, I would be interested in hearing how individuals should gain their moral compass from a fact or finding of research.