In the fallout of last week’s unraveling of a much-touted study in Science about attitudes toward same-sex marriage, there have been some questions about the sources of funding Michael LaCour, the UCLA grad student at the center of the controversy who is accused of faking data, claimed to have received for his research. Virginia Hughes of BuzzFeed reported last week that spokespeople for three of the sources listed in the acknowledgements sections of the study — the Ford Foundation, the Williams Institute at UCLA, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., Fund — told her that their organizations hadn’t actually contributed funds to LaCour’s research. We can now add another name to that list.
More than one person in the academic world told me that the “Original Data & Grants” section of LaCour’s curriculum vitae — basically just a longer, academic version of a résumé — is wildly unrealistic. For various institutional reasons, it’s simply difficult for graduate students in political science to rack up all that much grant funding. And yet LaCour lists $793,000 worth of grants received from various foundations, including the Haas and Ford foundations, on the strength of his persuasion research. (LaCour appears to have pulled the CV down from his website sometime over the last few days, but I downloaded a copy before he did.)
The largest of these is a $160,000 grant in 2014 from the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. But Patrick J. Troska, executive director of the foundation, which is focused on projects that combat discrimination, wrote in an email to Science of Us, “The Foundation did not provide a grant of any size to Mr. LaCour for this research. We did not make a grant of $160,000 to him.”
A political science professor at a large research university told me that the numbers on the CV should have stood out to the many older, more experienced researchers LaCour interacted and worked with during his time as a Ph.D. student. “It should have been a really big red flag,” said the professor, who didn’t want to be named since “academia is a small world.” Suffice it to say there’s probably a lot of information about LaCour’s research and funding claims that has yet to come out.
Update: As of 2:50 p.m., a PDF of LaCour’s CV with the fake grants listed on it is still accessible via the UCLA website.