Dirty Sexy Science


Chris lives in Austin, TX, where he once shook Willie Nelson's hand.

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107 Responses

  1. Glyph says:

    This post page-loads funny for me – anyone else? Missing sidebar, social media icons compressed/columned, etc.

    “note that his research was on persuasion”

    With the way he almost pulled this off and parlayed it into gain, I’m starting to think LaCour DOES know something novel about persuasion.Report

    • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

      Yeah, it looks weird for me too. Not sure how I did that.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Ah, I fixed it. The last link’s tag was unclosed, and that apparently breaks everything.Report

      • aaron david in reply to Chris says:

        Like many others, I too will say Great Job Chis! These have been excellent, and very informative.

        My main thought comes back to Science magazine itself. What is the current editor doing to help prevent this from happening? It seems that the magazine has become a gateway to academic treasures, and if so, what steps are they performing to help prevent fraud, and also to preserve or rebuild the perception of integrity that they currently have/had? I have no idea if you can answer that question, but it is one that I feel should be asked.Report

        • Chris in reply to aaron david says:

          Science, like most journals, relies heavily on the entire system to prevent frauds of this sort. Their primary focus in peer review is on the quality of the reported research — its methods, its data, the analyses, etc. If the peer review system has to shift its focus to fraud detection, it will become even slower and more burdensome, which is not a good thing for science.

          That’s not to say that, if there is evidence of fraud that is readily apparent to reviewers, that shouldn’t be a real issue. It’s just that, most of the time, when a paper gets to the peer review process it has already been vetted at multiple levels by multiple people in the field, so that the real concern of the peer reviewers should be on the methods and results.Report

  2. Rose Woodhouse says:

    I can understand what motivated the guy (NOT excuse it!). A PhD is a hell of a long road and academic jobs are few and far between. A publication in Science can mean the difference between having job security with decent pay and summers off, versus living hand to mouth, possibly requiring public assistance, as an adjunct with no benefits.

    But it amazes me the degree of effort required to pull off such a charade. Part of what was sexy about the experiment was the idea and the design. Even without such dramatic results, it might have gotten noticed. Had he actually run the experiment, he could have found out!

    Anyhow, it’s extremely worrisome to wonder just how many experiments have falsified data. And how many policy decisions have been based on them.

    Sorry, not saying much of interest, just smh.Report

    • Chris in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      But it amazes me the degree of effort required to pull off such a charade. Part of what was sexy about the experiment was the idea and the design. Even without such dramatic results, it might have gotten noticed.

      This is probably true: even if he’d used recycling (one of his control conditions) and gotten these results, it would have made ripples, though perhaps those ripples wouldn’t have been quite so big (like, no This American Life episode, but still get mentioned on NPR).

      Also, one of the things his response hints at is that they initially submitted the paper to a major political science journal, and it was rejected. They then did some extra work (or fabricated some extra work) and submitted it to Science.Report

  3. zic says:

    The difference between achievement and accolade stuns.

    But I really like the phrase, “dirty sexy science,” science is sexy; most particularly the legitimate, well researched kind.Report

  4. Oscar Gordon says:

    If one were to pick a researcher whose work has consistently been reported in the popular press for years and visit his or her lab, one would undoubtedly find a myriad of potentially sexy research projects underway. One would likely see that as each version of a project fails, new, slightly different versions are run, with the process continuing until the desired results are achieved.

    This seems to call for a change in what is expected of scientists seeking publication. Say, a requirement to produce upon demand or publish all related results of a research program, successful or otherwise. And make related do a lot of work, so research can’t be structured such that every run is it’s own program (perhaps lump it by grant, or some such?).

    Honestly I think we should be publishing, somehow, all failed results anyway, to minimize duplication of effort failure.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I think @oscar-gordon is right about the necessity of publishing failed results (which of course are often as interesting!). Maybe journals should aim for a certain percentage of published studies to be failed results? Or append replication attempts to initial studies, at least online?Report

    • Chris in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      There is actually a solution to this that is already in practice primarily in pharmacy research: pre-registration. If you want to publish a study, you have to pre-register it with a research database. This registration entails indicating your hypothesis, your methods, the predictions your hypothesis and methods yield, and perhaps things like the results of power analyses and required sample size. This makes it much more difficult to just run study after study until you get publishable results.

      Apparently political science is taking steps towards implementing a system like this, and there is already a pre-registration database. In the Science paper, LaCour and Green say that their study was pre-registered, but unsurprisingly, it wasn’t. So LaCour contacted the organization that hosts the database and told them that his study is not in their database, and then gave them a fabricated PDF receipt that was supposed to indicate he’d registered the study. The problem for LaCour was that their system didn’t produce anything like what he gave them (seriously, did he think they would not know their own system?!).

      Anyway, I think this is probably better than publishing null results generally, because it helps prevent gaming the system with multiple versions of the same study until non-null results are obtained, without clogging up the system of peer review and publication with a bunch of uninteresting null results.

      However, when it comes to replication or competing, well-established models, there should be a better system for the publication of null results. I think this may actually become more common, but less as a result of cases like this than because scientists are beginning to recognize the importance of null results in a lot of ongoing debates between competing models.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chris says:

        That’s cool, I didn’t know such systems were being put into use. Hopefully they will become more widespread. Thanks!Report

        • Chris in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I knew about it in pharmacy, where the practice of running multiple studies can be extremely damaging, but until I read about LaCour’s almost comically bad attempt at post-registering his study in the pre-registration system, I didn’t know it was used in political science.

          Given that LaCour keeps producing laughably bad forged documents, I’m starting to think that we’re all in a movie about a bumbling con artist.Report

  5. Marchmaine says:

    I’ve enjoyed all of your essays on this topic… they remind me of my graduate student days flirting with HPS as a discipline. This episode with the passage of time will be the nucleus of some not yet born PhD candidate’s dissertation in HPS.Report

  6. Saul Degraw says:

    Semi OT perhaps but maybe not: How much do you think the LaCour affair is going to damage the reputation of science?


    The above article seems like it is going to be the social media story of the day.

    The article covers a tweet by an artist named Zahira Kelly that allegedly implies all scientific inquiry is invalid because much of science is done by white dudes. Now I agree that science has an unsavory past in many ways but I don’t see how this can lead someone to dismissing the entirety of science.Report

    • aaron david in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Something tells me that l’affaire Kipnis is going to have legs.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to aaron david says:

        The complaint against her was already dismissed. There could be a public opinion campaign though.Report

        • aaron david in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Its not that the complaint was dismissed, its that it even took off. To paraphrase Jaybird, “Its not the destination, its the ride there.” Very stifling of free speech.

          Things like Kangaroo courts tend to scare the shit out of people, and when these things start happening to people who are basically on the side of the SJW’s, such as Kipnis, people really start to take notice.Report

    • Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Oh, the kids are reading Irigaray again.Report

      • aaron david in reply to Chris says:

        They have Luce morals.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        Oh my goodness, the last time I heard that name, I was listening to NIN’s “Broken” on my yellow sports walkman.

        Which, I suppose, doesn’t tell you anything because I could have been doing that a week ago.

        But Broken was newly released, at the time.Report

        • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

          You’re welcome. 😉

          Seriously, I think a lot of people would find her interesting if they gave her a chance. That’s not to say they’d agree with her in the least, but at the very least she might make them say, “You know, there are some interesting questions we’re not asking.”

          Unfortunately, it appears that the person Saul mentions just read it and said, “Oh, she’s absolutely right, it is sexed, and racialized!”Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

            We didn’t have Poe’s law at the time but I remember thinking something to the effect of “this… this can’t…”

            The whole question of the degree to which our unexamined biases color our thinking is a very, very important question. I don’t think that she asked her questions in a way that resulted in others being inspired to examine their unexamined biases, though.Report

            • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

              I dunno. I mean, I did, even if I think E=MC2 as a sexed equation makes no sense as a critique of either the equation or physics more generally. And I suspect a lot of people did, just not the right people (I mean, most of the people who read Irigaray, at least the ones who weren’t hate reading her because of Sokal, were feminists and anti-colonialists and such already).Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                The Science Wars still confound me. I look back and think “how in the hell did that happen?”

                I suppose I should see it as having been inevitable…Report

              • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                The science wars happened for the same reason New Atheism happened: science’s supporters don’t think it is a symbol system, and lash out at anyone who says otherwise or who naively attempts to promote something that is.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Chris says:

                Well, I mean, Irigaray was staggeringly idiotic, a living caricature of of an active mind. There are good sociological critiques to make of science, but they can be better made withing the boundaries of science, including cognitive science and linguistics, wherein the real useful aspects of post-whatever-ism can be found.

                Which is to say, yes, the way we structure our thought carries along a lot of bias. But when you try to find gender in math — well you are basically practicing the occult at that point. It’s just nonsense dressed up in emotionally appealing symbols. Blah!

                And I blame the whole post-colonial “mood” for Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS policies — and that shit has a body count to match most shitty colonial endeavors.

                If you put your principles of social justice at odds with science, you are going to kill people.


                On the other hand, watching smug, white college professors grouse is rather pleasing. It’s hard to be sympathetic to those guys.Report

              • Chris in reply to veronica d says:

                “Idiot” is too strong. She’s a smart woman who raises interesting questions, but is sloppy.

                I reread the essay last night, and remember now that Sokal made up the E=MC2, which is pretty ironic. I feel bad for repeating it. Sokal, to me, is sort of like Rand or Dawkins in that I have trouble taking seriously anyone who takes him seriously, as his critique is as sloppy and ignorant as he claims its object is.

                Of course, in the essay Irigaray makes up a Nietzsche quote, so…

                The essay would be much more interesting if Irigaray knew more about science (and if she didn’t misquote Nietzsche, which is one of my pet peeves).Report

              • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

                Whoever fights Nietzsche misquotes should see to it that he does not fall into an abyss.Report

              • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

                Ah yes, I believe that was in one if his later works, Küss mein Arsch ;).Report

              • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

                You might enjoy this: Mark E. Smith “debates” Shane MacGowan, in re: Nietzsche.


                (Money quote, from MES: “You don’t know fish-all about Nietzsche, pal!”)Report

              • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

                Oh man, that’s my new email signature.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

                (Watch me do my trick of making Chris’s wallet open.) Walter Jon Williams wrote a story called The Last Ride of German Freddie, an alt-hist in which Nietzsche took part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.Report

              • Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I joke sometimes, but I didn’t know it was possible for my mind to explode until this moment.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

                WJW is one of our best writers of alt-hist. He wrote another story in which Byron became a soldier instead of a poet and beat Napoleon at Waterloo (that’s the premise, not the story itself), and yet another in which Poe became a Confederate general.Report

              • Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I’m just imagining Poe insulting his men and fellow officers until they turn the cannon on his tent.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

                WJW is an amazing writer. He deserves an MD post (which I’ll get around to real soon now.) And Duck likes him too, which proves he has a wide audience 🙂Report

              • Richard Hershberger in reply to Chris says:

                Could you expand on the bit about Sokal? I read him, back when this was a thing.Report

              • Chris in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

                This particular thing? Sokal quotes Irigaray as saying that “E=MC2 is a sexed equation” (he actually has a long “quote” from her about why it is one), when she said no such thing, which is typical of his writing on the topic. He did the “hoax,” submitted it to a journal with no scientists to review it, they trusted him, then he made them a laughing stock. He then made a career writing about stuff he didn’t understand, in fields he had no knowledge of, in order to tear them down. And when what they’d actually said wasn’t enough to humiliate them, it appears he just made shit up. Basically, he did exactly what he accused “postmodernists” of doing.Report

              • Richard Hershberger in reply to veronica d says:

                I have a friend who is a sociologist, and one of the smartest people I know. She once gave me her take on the whole pomo thing as having originated as a useful critique of how we know what we know, or perhaps why we think we know what we think we know. People then got so excited by this that they took the idea and ran with it far past the point where it was useful or interesting, much less valid.Report

              • Chris in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

                There were a lot of things going on in “postmodernism.” On the one hand, there was a lot of really interesting philosophical stuff going on by a lot of really interesting thinkers, which took place firmly within a philosophical tradition that had diverged in a visible way from the Anglo-American tradition around the turn of the last century. This fact made it difficult for many English speakers to grasp what was going on, which in some cases (see, e.g., John Searle) led to unwarranted derision.

                Then, in the 70s and 80s, especially the 80s, those philosophical ideas bled into some other fields primarily in the U.S., most notably anthropology and English. The problem was, the people who were reading Deleuze and Derrida in American English departments hadn’t read Aristotle or Duns Scotus or Fichte, much less Husserl or Brentano or Bergson, so they were removing the works from their contexts and then applying them, without a full grasp of them, to their own fields. The results were predictably bad for the most part. There was some interesting stuff in the heady days of theory, but for every interesting work there a dozen graduate students writing nonsense that combined some terms from Lacan with some terms from Derrida and some quotes from Jane Austen into a tossed word salad.Report

              • zic in reply to Chris says:

                Honestly, whenever I hear the term ‘postmodern’ or any of it’s variants, I have know idea what it means. How can something be after ‘modern?’

                Now I realize it can be a name for an era; but it’s like this confused way of talking about the near past; or so it seems to me.

                Now feel free to tell me why that’s wrong; I’d welcome the information. But thinking long term, unless we change the meaning of ‘modern,’ this will, eventually, in no way be the modern age, should we be so lucky. Unless we’re talking about changing the meaning of modern, or the current age, to the century after the industrial age.Report

              • Chris in reply to zic says:

                All I know is, we have never been modern.Report

              • zic in reply to Chris says:

                meh, we’ve never been more modern than we are right now, and when someone, and by the time you read this, it will be pre-modern.Report

              • zic in reply to Chris says:

                Is that any good? It seems rather obvious — but because we deal with individual perspective and have to break complex problems into smaller problems, rarely have just the right information for the questions we’re asking, forget that there are multiple answers because we live in a multiverse, it’s probably good to remind folks that things are interconnected and no person will ever understand, and it’s likely that humans are incapable of observing and measuring many of the interconnections, and so must infer them, and often we don’t know what we know, so can’t infer and fill the space until we settle on some lexicon, be it math or language or image our sound, to fill the conceptual space so that we can discuss how individual academic specialities benefit from interacting with other specialities.

                We miss the forest for the trees; too often see the flower but not the bee that stings.

                *I worked really, really hard to write this sentence.Report

              • Chris in reply to zic says:

                Obvious to you and I, perhaps, but that book was one of the major shots taken in the “science wars.”Report

              • Bruce Webb in reply to zic says:

                Well it might help if you release that the word ‘modern’ was not exactly a temporal term as much as a fashion one (in the larger sense of fashion). That is to say something was ‘modern’ was to say that it was some combination of ‘au courant’ and precedent breaking. In this it shared the same time and space as a near contemporaneous word the ‘novel’. The error, if error it was, was the broadly shared assumption among ‘modernes’ that society had entered a new state of being that would be marked by permanent progress towards final answers culminating in such things as Classical Mechanics (late 19th century) and Logical Positivism (c. 1920s).

                Post-moderns instead mocked this whole vision (one that had gone from Anglo-German to Anglo-American) by presenting a new one that can be seen as a merger of the three H’s: Husserl, Heidegger, and Heisenberg. Which then got taken up in a fundamentally playful style by the post-war French philosophers and even historians. (You can see the French Annales School and its emphasis on “la longue duree” as a rejection of the periodization that gave us the ‘modern’.)

                How can something be ‘after modern’? Just stop thinking of ‘modern’ as an open system and instead think of it as a fixed era with determinable (within a range) start and stop dates and a certain mindset about the nature of progress.

                Perhaps the prototypical image of modernity is ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and assuming that the future is ‘giants all the way up’ much as certain ancient world views had the universe as ‘turtles all the way down’.

                And yeah I know this is a little facile muddled and throwing a lot of disparate stuff against the wall. But then that is the typical objection of all post-modernism. E.g. Foucault and Derrida in their separate but linked battles with Searle.Report

              • zic in reply to Bruce Webb says:

                “Everyone in your culture knows that the world wasn’t created for jellyfish or salmon or iguanas or gorillas. It was created for man.”


              • But when you try to find gender in math — well you are basically practicing the occult at that point.

                You are precisely practicing the occult at that point. Recall that the Pythagoreans, who thought that numbers had mystical properties, considered odd numbers male (and thus lucky) but even numbers female (and thus unlucky).Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:

            No cause is so noble as to not attract dunderheadsReport

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Question: For all this ‘panic’ that school admins seem to have with regard to student complaints & emotions (& customer satisfaction), I have to wonder, has anyone ACTUALLY looked at the enrollment numbers of schools that cater heavily to student feelings as opposed to those that only deal with the more egregious incidents? Are schools who treat students like adults who should have some emotional resilience actually hurt by it? Do their enrollments decrease? Does their reputation amongst other institutions & employers?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


        Interesting questions. The issue is how do you determine which schools do what. I suspect that no one could devise a list diving schools into categories without involving our own political biases and assumptions. I think a lot of talking about the categories is going to devolve into swipes at the Seven Sisters. I imagine that public universities are more suspectible to the customer service problem because they are more tuition dependent. Many elite colleges and universities seem to largely avoid the luxury dorm problem.

        The interesting thing about the Vox article is that the guy teaches at a small public university in the Midwest which is not the type of place one normally associates with these stories.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          I’m just at a loss as to what these schools are so afraid of? Are kids really choosing schools based on how well the school caters to their emotional stability? Is that really entering into their calculus? Are they transferring to other schools after hurt feelings are not being taken seriously? This is something we should be able to get data on.

          Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon, but this seems like a panic over anecdotal evidence instead of hard data.Report

        • greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          The biggest example of hurt feelings the prof had to deal with was from someone complaining he was “communistic” or some such word. That doesn’t sound like a complaint from a leftie.

          But i’ll second Oscar’s point about a lot of this being anecdata. Certainly some of it is weapons grade stupid. But its hard to see how big of a problem this actually is. These are college kids we’re talking about, they do tend towards the self-righteous and to lack perspective. On most of the same campuses as people talk about this crap there are all sorts of other things going on; drunken frat/sorority parties, hyper focus on football or other sports and generally immature behavior.Report

      • aaron david in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Actually, I think it is too soon to tell on these issues. Most of it seems to have only cropped up in the last few years, but I do remember the seeds being sown when I was in school in the early nineties.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to aaron david says:


          The big issue is that there are a lot of colleges and universities in the U.S. and so far we have only really heard a handful of stories and essays. We still can’t tell how much this is a thing and how much this is an isolated issue. Most college classes at most universities will go without incident including ones with controversial opinions.

          I remember the whole PC wars of the early 1990s but what is interesting is that those were gone by the time I was in college from 1998-2002.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Have the donation numbers changed?

        I imagine that there are a non-zero number of schools for which the endowment is more important than enrollment numbers (to the point where they worry about turning away n% of applicants rather than n+5% of them).

        The endowments, however, *DO* go up or down.

        That’s where I reckon the pain would be.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      @saul-degraw it seems to me that Professor Schlosser is taking Artist Kelly out of context. And so are you.

      First, the tweet doesn’t say ‘all’ it says ‘most’. Second, the tweet is talking specifically about evolutionary psychology, which has a lot of bunk, but worse, has a lot a layperson misappropriation and misattribution.

      The tweet is basically correct, or at least defensible, in saying that a lot of scare quote ‘science’ (the ‘scare quotes’ are key here) is merely used to back up one’s own preconceptions and biases. Science, without the scare quotes, should be used to attack one’s preconceptions and biases. That’s how we figured out heavier objects don’t fall faster than lighter objects because they are heavy, that the speed of light in a vacuum is a constant irrespective of the speed of the observer, and that Jim Parsons is a one note actorReport

    • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      It also seems to me that the article is much more about your usual wheelhouse subjects of the tenuous job security of adjuncts and the relatively bleak job market of academy minded Ph.D.s than what he says is ‘the real problem’ of ‘social justice’.Report

  7. James K says:

    Thanks again for reporting on this story Chris.Report

  8. trizzlor says:

    >>That is, though again we cannot be sure, it appears that the fact that he was studying such attention-grabbing topics as gay marriage, abortion, and media bias got him hired at Princeton.

    Just in terms of ROI, a Science paper all but guarantees a dozen easily publishable follow-up papers in lower-tier journals: replications, slight tweaks to the methodology, reviews, perspectives, etc. Even if LaCour made no future discoveries, it’s likely that he would have paid for himself at Princeton (in terms of publications and/or grants) on the back of this one paper. In an ideal world, this is the just reward for uncovering some low-hanging fruit that seriously advances the field. In the real world, it creates a shoot-the-moon mentality that may do more harm than good.

    Also, while this isn’t directed at Chris who’se been doing a great job of chronicling the LaCour fiasco, it’s important to keep in mind that the last big scientific misconduct case lead to a suicide ( http://www.nature.com/news/stem-cell-pioneer-blamed-media-bashing-in-suicide-note-1.15715 ). So UCLA should be as concerned about LaCour’s mental health as they are about his fraudulent behavior.Report

    • Damon in reply to trizzlor says:

      “So UCLA should be as concerned about LaCour’s mental health as they are about his fraudulent behavior.”

      Why? He committed fraud. Are we concerned about a criminal’s mental health when he’s caught committing a crime? Not so much. We lock them up. If you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime.Report

      • trizzlor in reply to Damon says:

        I don’t think death is an appropriate punishment for scientific misconduct. The university (and to a lesser extent the scientific community) still has a responsibility to their students. If they know that their actions can lead to mental instability and self-harm, then they have a duty to take all necessary precautions.Report

        • Damon in reply to trizzlor says:

          Death isn’t the punishment. The punishment is him being fired, enduring social / professional scorn, blackballed from his field and never able to get work in his chosen field, or such.

          Him choosing to end his life because he can’t cope with the consequences of his actions isn’t. I have little sympathy for someone who choose to do something wrong and then seeks “help” to deal with the crap they unleashed on themselves.Report

          • trizzlor in reply to Damon says:

            Perhaps I’m reading too much into your use of scare-quotes around the word help, but we’ll have to agree to disagree if you don’t think self-harm risk is a serious mental-health issue and that a university has a responsibility to help such at-risk people regardless of their misconduct.Report

          • Chris in reply to Damon says:


    • Glyph in reply to trizzlor says:

      UCLA should be as concerned about LaCour’s mental health

      What should they do, exactly? When someone is associated with high-profile fraud, in any field (for ex., Mark Madoff committed suicide, though he was never actually charged), the resulting backlash is likely to be very stressful (honestly, the strain of maintaining the fraud in the first place was probably psychologically stressful, even before the cracks started to show).

      I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but so long as UCLA is being honest/factual about the situation and not slandering/libeling LaCour, it appears to me the responsibility for LaCour’s mental health resides with LaCour and his family/friends. I don’t know what UCLA can do for him.Report

      • trizzlor in reply to Glyph says:

        I think UCLA should offer LaCour extensive mental-health services and emphasize their importance to himself and his family. We in the scientific community should put pressure on UCLA to do so and emphasize that it would be unacceptable for them to let LaCour fend for himself. This is the kind of situation where UCLA most likely wants to cut their ties as quickly and aggressively as possible and they need to be made aware that the PR consequences of doing so are worse than weathering the storm and providing LaCour with help.Report

        • Glyph in reply to trizzlor says:

          Interesting. I’m not against this, exactly, but I guess I would want to know more before I’d say they have any obligation to do so.

          If I committed high-profile fraud, my employer would probably want to cut ties with me ASAP, and I can’t say I blame them – but of course, a student’s relationship with their school is somewhat different than employer/employee.

          To the degree that LaCour’s mental stress appears to be largely self-inflicted, it seems *somewhat* untoward to ask someone else to foot the bill/take the initiative in attempting to help him with that; but again, we might do that if someone, for example, got themselves in deep with an addiction (on this front, I believe my employer would actually try to take this route – people with drink/drug problems supposedly will be offered help, before the company will consider termination).

          What if it turns out LaCour is not mentally ill, exactly – at least, not in any way that can be easily helped – but is instead some sort of megalomaniacal sociopath? Mightn’t he then use any continuing relationship with UCLA to his advantage? Is it better for them to just cut ties? “PR consequences” are nothing to be sneezed at, especially in any field that turns heavily on reputation, which it seems to me academia should.Report

        • Damon in reply to trizzlor says:

          Yeah I don’t see why I, as a taxpayer, unless you’re telling me UCLA is 100% private, should have to foot the bill for his mental heath issues related to his criminal acts. In addition, since he had “help” with his fraud, this situation needs investigation and those who provided lax oversight etc deserve to be punished as well.Report

        • Bruce Webb in reply to trizzlor says:

          This is a weird kind of classism that holds that because LaCour was “almost one of us/you”, which is to say a bona-fide scholar that he deserves support in a way that the hundreds of students who washed out of academia at lower levels do not.

          Does UCLA owe counseling to every sophomore that flunked out? To every undergraduate whose dreams of advancing to a name grad school were dashed by that one D they got for plagiarizing “just ONE term paper”.

          Christ I dropped out of not just one but two top-five PhD programs. Mostly due to my own weaknesses but in the second case due to a lack of institutional support and what can only be considered a failure in the admittance process (I got admitted by one group of professors who passed me on to another that were neither equipped or interested in supporting my particular area of study). And I was pretty bummed about it at the time and still twenty years later. But I never expected nor do I think I should have expected UC Berkeley to pick up my psych bills.

          “Pour LaCour”. Well what about “Poor freshman whose mental illness resulted in an inability to cope with campus life and expectations”. Sorry kid, take your job at a call center and dream of what might have been.Report

          • Chris in reply to Bruce Webb says:

            He’s still a student, technically, I believe.Report

          • trizzlor in reply to Bruce Webb says:

            I can’t respond at length right now, but I think you and Damon are missing the fact that a student/university relationship is fundamentally very different from an employee/employer relationship. Just from a teaching standpoint, Chris outlined why LaCour’s department and adviser share a lot of the responsibility for allowing this to happen to begin with. But there is also a broader culture of treating students like members of an academic community, where the university and department serve as mentors for the student and shepherd their long-term academic career. LaCour has not yet been convicted of anything and continues to be a student at UCLA, so the university owes him their services[*]. In general, I would argue that if a university was aware of a serious pattern of students dropping out – for whatever reason – and then committing self-harm, they would still have a responsibility to protect such students to whatever extent it was feasible; but LaCour’s situation is even more cut-and-dry.

            [*] BTW, if the community spirit stuff all sounds like hippy communism, even a profit-motivated university still has a rational self-interest to maintain it: most of the quantitative people I went to grad school with gave up huge industry pay-checks in exchange for 60-hr weeks making peanuts in large part because they knew they were joining an academic community and not just becoming an employee.Report

            • Damon in reply to trizzlor says:

              Unless he was living off loans, he was getting paid for his work. If he was getting paid for his work he’s either an employee or a contractor.

              I address the issues of his supervisors and mentors above.

              Regardless, if he’s fired or expelled, assuming mental health was covered either as employee or as student, he’d be neither after he’s fired and expelled, so he’s entitled to nothing more than packing his stuff up and leaving the campus.Report

              • zic in reply to Damon says:

                I think he’d be entitled to cobra; he’d have to pay full price for it, and with Cobra, you’re not eligible for an ACA subsidy.Report

              • trizzlor in reply to Damon says:

                We’re starting to repeat ourselves. I’m not talking about UCLA’s legal liability, I’m talking their academic responsibility. Go talk to some grad students and ask if they see themselves as employees or contractors. Are they putting in a 9-5 workday for their boss, collecting their paycheck, living for the weekend, etc. etc. Academia doesn’t that work that way. Every PI has to do a substantial amount of “community service” if they want to get tenured. Every grant has to include a “broader impacts” section if the grant writer wants to get funded. Service to the students is ingrained in all aspects of academic work. UCLA is entirely within their rights to tell grad students “you’re just an employee, and as soon as it looks like you’re a liability, we’re cutting you loose” but I think that would be incredibly short-sighted.Report

      • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

        A agree with trizzlor. What’s more, while I don’t think anyone believes that the vast majority of the blame for this is LaCour’s, with much of the remaining blame going to Green, his adviser and his department are not blameless. He shouldn’t have been in a position to do this, and was only able to because there was absolutely no oversight of his research. Honestly, I can’t imagine how he was able to. I mean, as a graduate student conducting my own research, I had a great deal of freedom, but there were way too many eyes watching me for me to even dream of faking whole studies or making up data. Clearly UCLA is just giving students free rein, which means they’re failing them, and that includes LaCour. That he committed fraud within the context of that failure does not make it less of a failure.Report

        • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

          Sorry, I didn’t see this before I replied to @trizzlor . This makes sense to me.Report

          • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

            One of the things that struck me about this from the beginning is how all of his research was with people at other institutions. He has a publication with his adviser, but it’s the methodological one. What the hell was his adviser doing with him? Does she not do research anymore? If not, why the hell is she taking grad students? If so, why aren’t her grad students working on that stuff, at least early in their careers?Report

            • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Chris says:

              In phil, it’s a feather in your cap to work with someone outside your PhD-granting institution. Is that not the case in science?Report

  9. Damon says:

    “Granted, LaCour has shown himself to be habitually professionally dishonest, admitting to lying about awards, grants, and methods both on his CV and in his published work..” And yet no one seemed to have caught that.

    He made it all up and someone finally got around to looking into it. Shesh.


    “it must be said that we are all complicit: we are the ones who click on the links to articles about sexy research, and we are the ones who buy the books scientists write about their sexy research.” Err no. That some researcher has crafted a “sexy” new study and made the news that I watched on TV or such doesn’t make me part of the problem.Report