Jul 23

En la vida real, las victorias siempre tienen un sabor amargo. Lograr tus propósitos requiere de costes a nivel personal que jamás puedes saber con certeza si valieron la pena. Es otro ejemplo más de la absurdidad del homo economicus, ya que no hay forma de hacer un cálculo utilitario de nuestras decisiones y de las consecuencias que provocarán. Por esa razón, aquellos que todavía conservamos una brújula moral no estropeada por el oportunismo sin límites no solemos preguntarnos qué podemos ganar o perder, sino más bien qué está bien o qué es digno o indigno de la imagen (nuestra identidad moral) que nos hemos hecho de nosotros mismos gracias a las personas que comparten nuestras vidas. Si todo tu entorno espera de ti que obres decentemente, sueles comportarte decentemente. Si hasta tus padres saben que eres un miserable y te lo consienten, elevas la mezquindad a virtud al proclamar que todos somos agentes racionales egoístas carentes de cualquier límite moral y de ese modo justificas tu cobardía y servilismo.

Sirva esta introducción para expresar mi alegría por mi primera victoria frente a mi antiguo centro de trabajo, la Universitat de València. El pasado 27 de mayo de 2015 la UV cambió todos los baremos para las contrataciones de profesorado (aquí se puede consultar el nuevo baremo de la Facultad de Geografía e Historia: https://www.uv.es/geohdocs/Baremos/BAREMO_AYUDANTES_DOCTORES.pdf), así como el reglamento que regula las contrataciones. A título personal, debería ser una gran alegría, porque hace ya casi cuatro años que empecé esta batalla. Dediqué el agosto de 2011 a hacer este informe para Joves Investigadors que analizaba los baremos de contratación para las plazas de Profesor Ayudante Doctor y explicaba cómo se cocinaban las comisiones de contratación. Desde entonces, participé activamente en reuniones y presiones varias, todas ellas infructuosas, para lograr cambiar las malas prácticas institucionalizadas.

Por otra parte, en septiembre de 2014 me consideré víctima de esas mismas malas prácticas y abandoné mi antiguo departamento en señal de protesta y presenté dos recursos que en total sumaban más de ochenta páginas explicando todos los problemas de procedimiento, irregularidades, conflictos de intereses y criterios arbitrarios aplicados por la comisión. No sólo era una denuncia, era un estudio de todos los defectos de procedimiento que la normativa permitía. Después de todo, como secretario de Joves Investigadors llevaba más de cuatro años asesorando a investigadores que habían sufrido situaciones similares y ofreciéndoles orientación por si decidían judicializar su caso. Todos optaron por desistir, gran error, como siempre.

En este país nos quejamos mucho, se protesta mucho en los pasillos, pero casi nadie se atreve a defenderse con todas las de la ley, porque es caro, lento y agotador. Es necesario una posición desahogada y tener buenos contactos o amigos en la abogacía, además de ser capaz de entender de temas judiciales uno mismo si no quiere sentirse al albur de los otros durante los trámites kafkianos que demoran el fallo final. Es comprensible, pero, al mismo tiempo, eso obliga a quienes sí tenemos la facilidad o la posibilidad de defendernos a hacerlo, porque hay muchos que, simplemente, no se lo pueden permitir.

Por lo tanto, cuando la comisión de garantías de la UV falló en mi contra, no dudé y acudí a un buen abogado, a un abogado importante. El caso estaba armado y bien armado y las probabilidades de ganarlo en un juicio son altas. Sólo hacía falta un abogado importante y se puede decir que eso obró la magia. Después de cuatro años estériles intentando que la UV tuviese la voluntad necesaria de hacer cambios, he visto como en menos de dos meses se ha cambiado todo el proceso de contratación. Es una decisión inteligente, porque llegado el día que pierdas un juicio, te permite contestar a la prensa que todo no ha sido más que una pequeña anomalía que ya fue corregida por la propia UV al detectarse.

En resumen, protestar con buenos abogados cuando tienes un caudal de pruebas irrefutables a tu favor sí sirve para cambiar las cosas. Toca resignarse menos y pleitear más.

NOTA: Otras universidades españolas ni siquiera publican el baremo, ni los miembros que forman la comisión o la lista de candidatos admitidos. Por otra parte, en los países anglosajones las garantías todavía son menores, ya que no hay ninguna normativa que regule el proceso, que es totalmente discrecional. Si alguien piensa que en España hay más corrupción o clientelismo que en otros países, le recuerdo que la única diferencia es que como aquí tenemos normas para impedirlo que nos saltamos a la torera, se nota más. En los otros países, como dichas normas no existen, se disimula más. Por lo tanto, al abordar este tema se requiere más rigor que soltar los cuatro tópicos del experto de barra de bar titulado en cuñadismo sobre los vicios de España.

Jun 22

Have Spanish scholars failed?

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I post here the conclusions of my last paper Neglecting the 19th century. Democracy, the consensus trap and modernization theory in Spain, published by History of the Human Scienceshttp://hhs.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/04/20/0952695115579588.abstract

Ideally, a deadlock should not exist within academic debates, because an open debate has to generate controversy in order to encourage research into the lack of supporting evidence for or the inconsistency of theoretical explanations. Controversy rather than competence for tenure should drive research. However, political institutions prefer consensus to controversy and when fields of knowledge are related to political activity it is difficult to keep debates fair and rational.

In theory, independence should be the hallmark of scholarly activity. Our work has to be free of partisanship, although political parties and the media provide a platform to draw the attention of the public and its academic consequences. The dilemma does not have an easy solution. A partial solution may be to express our moral and intellectual motivations openly. Although this proposal may sound simple, the fact is that when accepting that such motivations exist, we change our aims of analysis and discussion and, at the same time, create questions about our ability to reach the ideal of scientific neutrality. Obviously, abandoning scientific neutrality can open the gates to epistemological anarchism, but, in the end, the scientific community should operate as a model for public debate. Since academic authority should come from the robustness of debate, openness and leverage are necessary. Casting doubt over theories is the best way to test them, and whether such theories are finally universally accepted or not will result from their resistance to criticism.

Likewise, putting aside sterile objectivity would lead to a set of civic values shared by the scholarly community: an extremely difficult task that is necessary to confront the traumatic past in order to explain the civic responsibilities demanded by democratic systems. Consequently, a respectful and open academic controversy is fundamental to the development of democratic societies. We must be more interested in the exchange of ideas and arguments than in the increased production of papers or in citation index rates.

In conclusion, it is likely that the present economic and institutional crisis in Spain is due to the fact that both the public and scholars have neglected their duties. Our national success was, according to Modernization Theory, the Spanish Transition and society was possibly overwhelmed by the self-righteousness of political parties that praised themselves for leading the country to advanced democracy. The Spaniards, as modern democrats, were free of the threats of populism and corruption, because the right approach of the social sciences was to reduce the citizen to the category of consumer.

It is also likely that social scientists who have received more institutional and public attention were the most confident about the virtues of our political framework and such confidence might not help to detect and understand weaknesses in the framework. In order to maintain the narrative of the Spanish Transition, Modernization Theory has provided the key tools with which to block public debate about the Second Republic and the Spanish Civil War. As a result, MT is popular among and respected by Spanish academics, despite having been subject to harsh criticism during the last 50 years. However, the institutional and economic crisis has interrupted this narrative of success and revealed the political aims of hegemonic paradigms such as MT. If economic prosperity does not guarantee a foolproof democracy, MT is mere wishful thinking.

Jun 08

How academic blogs sought a technocratic coup in Spain

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Three years earlier I did not write regularly on internet, I only wrote books and papers and I would never have thought about carrying a blog. However, during the 2012 I started to post commentaries in two academic blogs to discuss their points of view about Spanish politics and the role played by the scholars in a democracy and I have finished in an open controversy with Spanish mainstream economists and political scientists. The main reason of this succession of events is easy to understand: they had a political agenda devoted to promote among public medias the idea of a technocratic government led by themselves. This is the summary of how their coup failed.

At end of 2011, the conservative party PP had a landslide victory that gave them the absolute majority in the Parliament. In the previous months, two academic blogs, Politikon and NadaesGratis, praised its leader, Mariano Rajoy, while blamed the protests of 15M for being a populist movement against the parliamentary democracy. They had high hopes of deserving important appointments in the government or, at least, having a decisive influence. Nevertheless, things started to go wrong. The PP did not reach a great result in the autonomous elections of Andalusia in March of 2012 and the bankruptcy of Bankia was not possible to cover for more time. Although the political scientist Jorge Galindo of Politikon was licking the ass of Mariano Rajoy a few days before the bail out of Bankia, it was clear that Spain faced great problems and the European Union would be fundamental to solve them.

In this situation, the most prominent members of Nada es Gratis wrote in El País a famous article against the policies of the Government. It was a radical shift in their public compromise and the beginning of a public campaign in favour of the political regeneration of the country. They used their academic authority to present themselves as the neutral technical solution to our problems. If the popular protests of 15 M were claiming for more democracy, they proposed more reforms dictated by the IMF, more market and less democracy. When these things were happening, we could see what was behind their arguments and which were their real intentions. Now, we know that the Professor Luis Garicano of the LSE, met with Mariano Rajoy these days and tried to convince him to demand the intervention of the troika in Spain and the formation of a technocratic government supported by two big parties, the PSOE and PP. Obviously, Garicano should have been minister.

It would have been an action similar to the Monti solution for Italy or Papademos for Greece, although there was a huge difference: in Spain this government would have had more than three years to apply its policies. Three years without democratic controls in the parliament and three years to save the political system of the threat of a real democratic reform from bottom up. They tried it hard, they had the support of important medias and they tried to talk in the name of the all academia, but Mariano Rajoy did not want to share the power with outsiders of the party. He did not need the approval of the PSOE, he had all the power and giving positions to these new comers would have meant less pieces of cake for the loyal members of his criminal organization (yes, the PP is a criminal organization. The funny point is that the technocrats who called us peronistas for saying this, now state the same).

Thanks to the arrogance and self sufficiency of Mariano Rajoy, the modest proposal of the technocrats failed, but they went on promoting their political plan for Spain. It was during this campaign that I started to take part in the internet debates and when I realized that, if it was necessary, they did not have doubts to use the censorship or to bully the critics. They said that the reason was the irrationality of the arguments used by common people, but when other scholars started to debunk their argument, they also used the same bully technics and censorship. Some one might say that it was the same of the debates between the economists in USA, but here the colleagues of Nada es Gratis used the anonymity to insult the economists who did not share their points of view. A healthy public debate.

However, their attempts to drive the politics of the country from their independent blogs were overruled by the irruption of the party Podemos. After the entrance of Podemos, the technocratic plan made not sense. The threat of the democracy (sorry, populism, because all democracy that is not narrowed by liberal creed is always populism) force the technocratic regenerationism to defend again the political system. Then, in a new shift they praised our new King, Felipe VIth, as salvator of the country and the beginning of the regeneration movement. In a bizarre way, they stated that it had been validated scientifically that the monarchy was the best option to Spain. That it is not a joke, it was their Science.

The good new is that after the coronation of Felipe VIth they had no more options that finally being involved in politics. They became the think tank of the center right party UPyD but, in the end, they have joined the liberal right party Ciudadanos, whose program is the IMF recommendations. At least, we can say that in Spain IMF runs for elections and they try to have a democratic legitimacy. It makes the Spanish case very interesting and even an anomaly. After their failed coup, the technocrats have become politicians and their pretentions of narrowing the democratic space of the public debate in the name of the science that they represent as scholars is now a nonsense, because they are simply politicians.

Jun 02

How Green used Broockman to expose Lacour and save his ass: a hypothesis

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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.

May 26

Although I taught History in the Political Science degree of my former university, I do not have a great appreciation for political scientists. As historian compromised with an old fashioned code of ethics, I look them too close to political parties, too ambitious and receiving a lot of funds from institutions precisely for stating what politicians want to hear. In the same way, since my field of expertise is the History of Education and Social Sciences, I’m not capable of understanding what makes different a political scientist from an economist or sociologist. Political scientists who are quants devoted to experimental research are some kind of economist doing sociology using the techniques of the psychology. As the classical character Ian Malcom resums here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PLvdmifDSk), they take the techniques and legacy of other disciplines and use them in their own benefit without being bounded by the tradition of the discipline.

On another hand, I had direct public confrontations with the Spanish Political Scientists that confirmed my biases. Here, in Spain, they work together as an old boys’ club or invisible college receiving a lot of funds from political institutions in order to legitimize the two big Spanish Parties and the majority of them do not have any interest in following the rules of the academic debate. They are not scholars but politicians, because they have been promoted at the beginning of their careers by scholars-politicians. Therefore, my last paper published by History of the Human Science is a total attack on how they have used the Modernization Theory in Spain to build up the official consensus towards our political system.

I know that all my laments are not more than envies of a scholar from a minorized discipline, but there is a part of truth. A truth that political scientists fear and explains their reaction to the Lacour-Green case. At first, I thought that the protection offered to Donald P. Green by his colleagues was a cynical exhibition of double standard, but the story is a bit darker. It is a collective reaction to defend the reputations of the discipline because they know that it is at stake. They know that the public will figure out what is behind this affaire and conservative politicians might cut their funds to their liberal agenda (Note: I’m not a conservative, I’m an unemployed scholar independent from political parties’ agenda, two facts not correlated).

Thus, the political scientists have started a narrative to defend their rank of science and have explained the fraud as a sign of their fortress, because, as science works and they are scientists, they can catch the dishonest colleagues. A narrative that necessarily has to make of Donald P. Green a hero, as we can read in the article of The New Republic: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121872/michael-lacours-gay-rights-canvassing-hoax. The problem is that there are a few lies in this story, a lot of incoherence and, worse, a very small triangle formed by the three main characters, the villain Michael J. Lacour, the opportunist boss, Donald P. Green, and the detective who discovered the fraud and former disciple of the opportunist boss, David Broockman. A very close triangle of three scholars who shared academic careers and who might have not be driven by, at least, the pursuing of the truth.

First of all, the most important lie of the story: we are not talking about one paper, we are talking about one dissertation for Ph.D (http://static1.squarespace.com/static/53b226f6e4b04c885d525058/t/54dbe43ce4b0b1158bbbd802/1423696956491/LaCour_CV.pdf). A dissertation that has a committee: Lynn Vavreck (Chair), John Zaller, Don Green, Jeff Lewis, David O. Sears (Psychology) & Tim Groeling (Communications). A dissertation that was published previously as an article with the firm of one of the members of the committee: Don Green. To sum up: a conflict of interests that per se invalidates the committee. This is not a common small fraud, this issue is bigger and involves a lot of people and a way of working and self promotion in North American universities that does not fit well with the scholar’s ethics.

Likewise, the role of Donald. P. Green in the article is the question that he and his colleagues are trying to cover with the complicit of the scholar community, because it compromises their previous behaviours and double standards. A stupid line of defence that is allowing a growing criticism from right sectors (http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2015/05/tales-of-two-social-scientists), although the real problem is that the conservatives are right in this affaire. May be, at the beginning, Donald P. Green could control the storytelling in front of the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-a-gay-marriage-study-went-wrong) but The New York Times is doing a more serious coverage.  The damages control will not endure much more time. As historian, I have no doubt: historical and journalistic methods work and, in the end, we will carry out with the most accurate version possible of the truth.

The second lie (or if you prefer the amazing relation of events) is how the fraud was discovered. According to the heroes (http://web.stanford.edu/~dbroock/broockman_kalla_aronow_lg_irregularities.pdf), they needed only four days to realize that there was a fraud and write a technical report. Even more, David Broockman, the leader here, did this inquiry justly after receiving his Ph. D. (clever guy, better shooting a colleague after passing the committee evaluation) and determined that Lacour was guilty and Green innocent. However, it is really relevant that Broockman and Green had a previous publication together (https://scholar.google.com/citations?view_op=view_citation&hl=en&user=Ifl1VQEAAAAJ&citation_for_view=Ifl1VQEAAAAJ:LkGwnXOMwfcC). It is also important that Broockman only needed three days to contact Peter Aronow and convince him to collaborate in the debunking of Lacour and destruction of his career, especially if we take into the account that Aronow, Lacour and Green also had published together (https://scholar.google.com/citations?view_op=view_citation&hl=en&user=I6w3HcsAAAAJ&citation_for_view=I6w3HcsAAAAJ:ye4kPcJQO24C). Mhm… political scientists are a very small group of people with a strong determination and efficiency.

Why did they do this? Obviously, to cover Green’s back and this is not an interpretation but Broockman’s words to The Chronicle of Higher Education (http://m.chronicle.com/article/We-Need-to-Take-a-Look-at/230313/):

Q. Donald Green is a well-known and well-respected researcher. How did it feel to approach him and say that you thought his study was invalid?

A. One piece of context is that Josh and I wouldn’t be studying political science if it were not for Don Green. He was our undergraduate adviser at Yale. We trust his integrity more than anything else in this discipline.

Also, I knew the paper had appeared with only Michael’s name on it before Don’s name appeared on it. Mike had done this as his project, and had only later decided to invite Don to help him with the data analysis. That is not at all a strange thing. The essence of graduate school is some version of working with faculty in a way where you’re both contributing something to research projects.

But because I knew that the issues in the data set were collected by LaCour — and that Don was not involved at that time — I knew that if our concerns were true, it would not have looked like Don was involved in any malicious activities. I felt very comfortable going to Don and raising my concerns.

Well, why Broockman and his team jumped Lacour and exposed him publicity without a chance to reply or defence is clear: it was done to protect Green wile throwing Lacour under the bus. The independent and honest scholars who catch the fraudsters and the poor and naive Professor fooled by the fraudster have discussed previously the version of the events, because they knew that it would be covered by the press. What happens here? According the interview:

Q. This study made a big splash when it was published, in December. The upshot of the study seemed hopeful. One way to read it was to say that empathy, even among strangers, can override people’s deeply held political beliefs. What was your first reaction when you read this study?

A. I was probably one of the most enthusiastic boosters of the study, for a few reasons. I myself am gay. I also have spent a lot of time going door to door for causes that I care about. And we know vanishingly little about how that kind of work should be done, if it works, or how long it lasts.

The study provided incredibly clear answers to those questions. Methodologically, it indicated a way of doing research that made those questions all of a sudden much more answerable. Since I became aware of the results, I had basically changed my own research agenda to try to do some of this work.

Q. Had you talked to Michael LaCour about the design of his study as he was working on it?

A. I don’t believe I spoke with him at that time. I spoke with others who were thinking about the design. But I was aware that this study was going on from the beginning, and supported it enthusiastically until last Friday.

Q. When did you first have doubts that the findings were genuine?

A. The nature of the work that we do as quantitative researchers is that you allow the data to tell you what you think the truth should be. You don’t take your views and then apply those to the data; you let the data inform your views. I don’t think it really crossed many people’s minds that there might be some issues with the data or the procedures.

I think it was early 2015 that I started working with my colleague Josh Kalla on trying to do a set of follow-up studies — finally acting on the enthusiasm I had for their design. We started reviewing aspects of the data just to form our own expectations about what it might take to do a new study. When we looked at those statistics in this study, they just surpassed our most optimistic prior expectations. So that provided some hint. But I just shook it off because it just didn’t seem like even a proper thought to have, that the data would not be accurate.

It is true that Broockman was an enthusiast of this research of his previous boss. In his TW account, he wrote the sixth of April of 2014 (https://twitter.com/dbroockman/status/451571256458883072): This experiment by @UCLaCour and Green is no doubt the most important paper written this year. So important. http://conference.mpsanet.org/papers/archive.aspx/2011/135227 …

(Note: is it not a bit dishonest promote your own research by social media previous to send it to a top journal using the Professor’s connections and before the same Professor would be member of your Ph. D. committee? Ah, no, it is the new way of doing research of the North American universities and their rockstars. The path to Princeton. We are so sloppy in the old Continent…)

Anyway, Broockman, who has a close relation to Donald Green, who promoted the paper one year ago, did not talk about how to do the experiment with Lacour. A bit strange: why not talk with him about this in more than one year? On another hand, we have the thread of Political Science Rumors of December of 2014: http://www.poliscirumors.com/topic/huge-hoax. Some people expressed there their doubts about a possible hoax and some people say that an uploaded data analysis of the article has been deleted. Yeah, they are rumours, but it does not sound really well.

But do not raise your questions, science works, quant approach works and even works better with experiments. We can replicate them, it is a science, we are not wasting huge amounts of public money, we are not collecting data with the principal aim to feed with public funds companies that hire us as experts. We are doing this in the name of the science, in the name of the progress. Universities have not converted in factories of prefabricated knowledge run by executives who want to increase the production and the benefits. Nothing is wrong here, these triangles are so common in all disciplines.

Nevertheless, the smoking gun was not found thanks to a quant analysis. According to Broockman:

Q. It sounds as if your own confirmation bias was at work, so it probably took a pretty overwhelming realization to overcome that.

A. These things were kind of in the back of my head, but I kind of put them to rest. On Friday, I finally decided to contact that firm [which had supposedly recruited subjects for the study] and say: Here’s what we’re trying to do, and do you think you would be able to do that? But what they in fact said was: This request is very strange because we don’t do that kind of work, and the person you’re asking for does not exist here.

Q. Is that the moment when you realized, Oh my God, something is very wrong here?

A. Yes. And I think on some level what it took was that combined with the uneasiness we had had in January. And those two things were necessary for us to say, “Holy crap, we need to take a look at the data.”

Thus, it was very easy to find the fraud. Especially if we think that Michael Lacour affirms the reception of 235.00 dollars in grants to conduct this research (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53b226f6e4b04c885d525058/t/53e19e4ae4b07387b0d9b0b0/1407295050731/LaCour_CV.pdf). No, this is not a problem of the peer review. It’s bigger and touches directly a glamorous way of doing research that desires universities driven by market forces. The same market forces that drives the MTV and their pop stars. Please, leave the academia and go to the medias for not coming back.

May 23

Calvinist academic double standard

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There is a scandal in the Academia. Someone has falsified his data and he has been exposed by David Broockman, Assistant Professor, Stanford GSB, Joshua Kalla, Graduate Student, UC Berkeley and Peter Aronow, Assistant Professor, YaleUniversity. They attempted to reproduce the article: LaCour, Michael J. and Donald P. Green. 2014. “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality”. Science 346 (6215): 1366-1369 and found inconsistencies of the data that they have explained in detail here: http://web.stanford.edu/~dbroock/broockman_kalla_aronow_lg_irregularities.pdf

The report was sent to Donald P. Green, Professor of Political Science in the University of Columbia, who started an inquiry that finished with this retraction request to Science (reproduced at the end of the previous inform):

Nueva imagen Calvi

After reading these apologies, I only can ask myself what the role of the Professor Donald P. Green was in this paper or to sum up: what has he done to receive the recognition of the co-authory at the same time that he had not any of its responsibilities? Especially if we take in account that Michael J. LaCour is a Ph.D. Candidate of Political Science in UCLA. I have to confess that I’m fearing the exhibition of an exercise of Calvinist Ethics in the future social punishment of LaCour (Calvinist Ethics are the lack of sympathy towards the fallen angel, because the system is always perfect or, in my point of view: the practice of being strong with weak people and weak with strong people).

Probably, I am a bit unfair in my approach to the subject. However, since 2011 I’m the Secretary of Joves Investigadors, an association of predocs and junior postdocs that works as some kind of union to protect our rights in front of the abuses that we suffer from the big bosses in the academia, independently if they are very efficient producing research, knowledge or simply raising abnormal parameters used to weigh the quality of our work, because we only care about how they treat their inferiors. Therefore, I have a direct contact with the dark side of the academia and my public compromise against bad practices had brought me a lot of troubles as mobbing in my former university (well, it is one of the reasons of being now an unemployed scholar).

Nevertheless, the construction of the narrative of the responsibilities has started and I dislike his tone. (For example, the title of the debunking report is Irregularities in LaCour (2014). All the focus is on one person, the smaller guy. Ok, he is the villain, but he is a third class villain. Even more, if we compare him with the group of economists of the Harvard University Russian Economic Team, a.k.a the bunch of Larry Summers, he would be a seventh class villain). Anyway, it seems that he had a dishonest behaviour, but I do not agree with how this case has been judged, for example, by the social scientist Rick Wilson in his blog: https://rkwrice.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/transparency-openness-and-replication/

His main argument is: science works. A very controversial assumption, especially if you assume that social sciences are science. Obviously, if they are a science such as hard sciences, the problematic of ethical and ideological biases are reduced. Unfortunately, social sciences are not a science. Although it is an endless debate, for me, as historian, it is clear: Economics and Sociology are subfields of History, but they are in the “social sciences” faculties, while we are in the humanities area. There are no epistemological or scientific reasons for this separation. It is a hierarchy of the disciplines that is social constructed. Political scientists, sociologists and economists desire wearing the white coat of physicians in order to strengthen their academic authority over public policies. Consequently, they receive a lot of funds, public attention and job opportunities thanks to this institutional reputation of being scientists with a social utility, although the problem is to know to whom is useful what they say. In the same way, they feel proud of the rigour of their mathematical approach (or may be better say economic approach to human behaviour), what finishes in their usual self righteousness.

It does not mean that all is permitted in academic debates, that there are no rules or methods and we only suffer a struggle of power inside an epistemological anarchism. It means that social sciences are, as the History, a matter of rhetoric: basically persuasion. And we have good and bad arguments to persuade and even few good mathematical arguments to persuade and thousands and thousands of poor papers plenty of bad mathematical arguments to persuade (ok, there are also thousands and thousands of postmodern papers plenty of cheap talk). However, focusing on the mathematical analysis gives us the security of the rigour to draw clear lines where the clear lines are not possible, but we can denounce with total moral integrity our immoral cunning fellows. Albeit the real problem might be that the cunning colleagues are smart enough to not being caught and their dishonesty is not so easy to detect. Science is not working, we detect obvious and clumsy falsification of naive scholars who wanted to go one step further of classical paper making and networking of invisible colleges.

Likewise, the role of Donald P. Green in this affaire deserves a really narrowed reflection from Rick Wilson: I suspect that this case will serve as a cautionary tale. Michael LaCour had a promising career ahead of him. I’ve seen him present several papers and I thought all of them were innovative and tackling hugely important questions. Now, however, I do not trust anything I have seen or heard. My guess is that his career is destroyed. While we stress that our students adopt ethical norms of scientific integrity, it is equally important to enforce those norms when violated. I assume that will happen in this case. This case also raises the question of the role of LaCour’s co-author in monitoring the work and of LaCour’s advisors. All of us who have co-authors trust what they have done. But at the same time, co-authors also serve as an important check on our work. I know that my co-authors constantly question what I have done and ask for additional tests to ensure that a finding is robust. I do the same when I see something produced by a co-author over which I had no direct involvement. This is a useful check on findings. Of course, it will not prevent outright fraud. In a different vein students are apprentices. Our role as an advisor is to closely supervise their work. Whether this role is sufficient to prevent outright fraud is an open question.

So, the academic system works something like: “you have to do all the hard job and we will publish an important paper for benefit of both, but, if you fail, it will be only your fault”. As I stated: a very efficient way of production. I have never been co-author. I always distrust of this way of carrying research. For me, it is more related to networking, quid pro quo, self exploitation, unequal exchange, paper making than to the pursue of the core of values we assume (you know: seeking the truth without caring about personal economic calculus of our work). But the point is that these arguments of Rick Wilson might be seen more as a disclaimer made in the name of Donald P. Green, a professor, a colleague, than the beginning of a deep debate about his responsibilities.

Here, as always, we have the political problem of the trust. Rick Wilson states: All of us who have co-authors trust what they have done. Eh… the trust is only possible among equals and here is the omitted problem: the lack of equality between the parts of the implicit contract (we always face the same problem when we deal with liberals and their contractualism as the root of social order). There is no equality in the distribution of work and there is no equality in the share of the negative outcomes, but both are co-authors. Obviously, some thing is wrong here.

Rick Wilson points out part of the problem in his last argument: the incentives for scholars is a bit perverse. Getting a paper published in Science orNature is a big hit. Getting media attention for a novel finding is valuable for transmitting our findings (but see the retraction by This American Life ). We put an enormous amount of pressure on junior faculty to produce in the Big 3. By doing so, we ignore how important it is for junior faculty (and for senior faculty as well) to build a research program that tackles and answers questions through sustained work. Incentivizing big “hits” reduces sustained work in a subfield. Of course major Journals (I’ll capitalize this so that you know I’m referring to general journals in disciplines) often are accused of sensationalizing science. The Journals are thought to prioritize novel findings. This is true. While Editor at AJPS I wanted articles that somehow pushed the frontiers of subfields and challenged the conventional wisdom. My view is that the Journals are part of a conversation about science and not the repository for what is accepted “truth.” Articles published in top Journals ought to challenge the community and spur further research.

Ok, I agree, but he is so short in his analysis. Why focusing on the incentives and not in the origin of these incentives? Probably, because the problem is the attempt to apply the rules of the market to the university in order to increase the efficiency and the excellence in the production of knowledge. The artificial competitions promoted by, precisely, the neutral social sciences and so wonderful described by Mathias Binswanger here: http://book.openingscience.org/basics_background/excellence_by_nonsense.html

Consequently, the problem is the market or if you prefer: capitalism. The problem is thinking that all social situations can be driven correctly by the rules of the free market: this mantra that we need more and more competence, stress more the people to force them to work more and better, or that the winners deserve bigger rewards and the losers being expelled from the system. We need more rankings, more excellent universities and hire more scholars graded from excellent universities. Even more, we need to hear the winners, and the winners study political science or economics or, even worse, they are billionaires as Bill Gates who want to develop the world while they design the syllabus of the History subject in secondary education (it is not a joke: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/magazine/so-bill-gates-has-this-idea-for-a-history-class.html?_r=0).

However, if you want to win in a match, integrity is a real inconvenient, a comparative disadvantage. Besides, we are talking about the real world with their complicated and ambiguous rules, where honesty is an annoyance to win, except if you believe in some kind of predestination that guarantee always the salvation of the best. In this case, winning is the proof of your virtue. On the contrary, if you are not a Calvinist, you will understand that the results of competence are more dishonest behaviours, more quid pro quo mechanisms, more old boy’s club, more invisible colleges, more hierarchical structures and the consequent academic cleansing of the heterodox, independent or humble scholars who dislike the assertivity demanded by competitive promotions.

These criticisms notwithstanding, we are pure. Ritually, we will punish too ambitious scholars in front of the public, especially if they are not professors, to prove that we don’t have rotten fellows and all this business of the academia is not increasingly related to personal ambitions such as publish an editorial hit or being an academic starlet in mainstream media… sorry, I’m not being fair again. But I fear a puritan reaction to this case and not a serious debate about what is wrong in the brave new way of understanding knowledge that North American universities promote. It is even possible that I’m only driven by my personal prejudices. After all, I’m some kind of Max Weber’s disciple who sees the capitalism as the Calvinism at work.

Historia versus Economía