How Science Works, Concerning that Retracted Gay Marriage Survey, and the Ironies

New York Times op-ed: What’s Behind Big Science Frauds?

Other links:

SFGate: Study retracted: 20 minutes actually CAN’T change a homophobe’s mind

The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova: How a Gay-Marriage Study Went Wrong

This concerns a report from a few weeks ago that I blogged about here — Links and Comments: Politics and Ideology; About Changing One’s Mind — concerning a series of in-person interviews with people about subjects including gay marriage. The results indicated that when the interviews were themselves gay, and had personal stories to tell, the interviewees often changed their minds, with lasting results. Somehow the personal connection made a difference. (The study included other topics, such as abortion, where the interviews had themselves had abortions, and explained the circumstances that led them to such a difficult decision.)

Now, suddenly, the lead author of that report has asked to retract its conclusion, because apparently the grad student who did the research cannot produce his evidence. Perhaps he faked it? Or something more complicated? That grad student plans a formal reply by the end of the month.

But this is how science works. Yes, scientists are people too, they are given toward mental biases such as confirmation bias, and there is huge pressure on grad students to produce results worthy of publication in prestigious journals.

But the fakers will be found out, whether they were deliberate or subconscious; that’s how science works. Results must be validated and reproduced. If not they will be corrected or withdrawn, as has happened here. For now.

(In contrast, when was the last time some religious pundit — insert any of dozens of names here — declared that he’d made a mistake, and his previous condemnation of this or that group was in error? Rather, see the current news about Mike Huckabee defending the Duggars. He has very different standards for those on his side and those on his other.)

Ironies:

In my earlier post I noted how this result challenged my provisional conclusion that most people simply cannot change their minds about anything. (Scientists supposedly are willing to, when evidence and studies shift, but even they sometimes have difficulty due to the psychological biases we are all given to.) This new development retracts the challenge to that conclusion.

And yet — here’s this huge political results in which a popular vote in Ireland has approved same-sex marriage (e.g. CNN), a circumstance unthinkable a decade or two ago.

What happened? Is it because people *change their minds*??

Or, perhaps, the march of history, the arcs of progress, depend on the old folks dying off and the younger generation, with a wider experience of the world and a great understanding of that world, take over?

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