After two weeks, Lacour is an academic cadaver. His response was weak and even hilarious. Unfortunately, all the public debate has only focused on him and the real wrong doers of this story, Lynn Vavreck and Donald Green have avoided public scrutiny. There are only few threads in Political Science Rumors that tried to discuss about their misbehaviour, but the majority of the colleagues do not want to talk about their role, because they know that undermines the discipline.
In fact, the unique productive debate aroused from all this mess is how to undercover an academic fraud. It is easy and it is not the way used by Broockman, Kalla and Aronow. After writing a less complete report, they should have send to Science editor alerting him about the importance of the fraud and the possible consequences to the discipline and, more important, alert him that the fraud was so obvious that more early than later it would be discovered.
It was exactly what I did when I suffered a case of plagiarism from a graduate student who had an absent advisor. The journal sent my report to the plagiarist and he understood that he acted wrongly driven by the pressure to publish and the lack of supervision over his works. The journal retired his paper, I did not destroy the career of a grad student and he learnt that he needed a new advisor. Obviously, he did not try to fly so high as Lacour and the case was not important, but I understood that, despite his sins, the bigger responsibility was over the shoulders of the seniors. Thus, I have serious doubts about what really happened with the Lacour’s case.
Why did not BAK send the report directly to Science in order to convince them of the necessity of pursuing an internal inquiry? The first reason will be the fame of exposing the case, but it has its cons. It is good and bad fame at the same time, although BAK look too young and too immature to realize what they really have done (Guys, life is not a movie, it is not a game: no one will trust in you).
Likewise, the storytelling of BAK is incoherent. They were trying to replicate a study to prove that it was a fraud… no, they thought that the study was right, tried to replicate it and they discovered accidentally that it was a fraud. No, it was not an accident, they approached to Lacour to gain his trust with the excuse of the reproduction but they were following the tracks of the fraud… What? Do you think we are idiots?
It does not make sense, because the great truth, the great truth that is intended to cover, is that the study is an enormous and obvious fraud. The unexplainable fact is how it was published. The total failure of the working system of a discipline found in networking. Vavreck published with Lacour and promoted and introduced him to big bosses without caring whatever he did. Lacour published with her and, after this, he did not have problems to fool Green and use his reputation to promote his work. Green was victim of his vanity for having other hit and of a sloppy and unfair way of working that allows this kind of quid pro quos between young scholars and seniors. Lacour is a wonderful trickster that has proved the total incompetence of the university system. The peer reviews did not review carefully the article, because they knew that Green was one of the authors, since the paper had been previously promoted in order to pass the peer review. Even worse, Green was in the committee of the dissertation evaluating the job he had done with Lacour, and Vavreck with her publications with Lacour was also there with her husband. Can you stop to publish before the defence of the dissertation, please? End the salami tactics, it is a wrong behaviour, despite its efficiency. Stop make up friendly committees.
My guess is that Green thought after the first Gelman’s doubts that might be the article was not so robust and decided to look it in detail. Then, he realized the big red flags and that he had been fooled by Lacour. Probably, Broockman had also previous suspicions and he intended to prevent Green, who did not take him seriously. However, in some way, Green has used Broockman to build up an amazing research that has revealed a truth that only the quants and the reproduction would have been able to discover. Albeit the inconvenient truth is that quant techniques and reproduction were not necessary to discover this. Only Vavreck doing her work or Green not being so sloppy to ride over the work of others would have been enough. Green is trying to cover his back under the report of BAK and this explains why they did not send it directly to Science. In that case, Green would have not possibilities to escape of the punishment of Science, because he would have been also a fraudster. So, writing this report and sending it previously to Green was the only escape route he had after the media coverage of the paper. So, sorry, there are no heroes and Green has a lot of things to explain.