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Trust me on that: I've done a survey.
"Wait a minute," somebody in Cyberland protests. "Can I please see details on the polling process and the specific questions asked?"
What, you don't believe me!? Would it help if I produced an official-looking news release?
I am joking, of course.
But my point is serious, given recent headlines concerning a maligned study on same-sex marriage opinions that drew a ton of media coverage:
The news sparked a front-page story in Tuesday's New York Times:
The Times reported:
He was a graduate student who seemingly had it all: drive, a big idea and the financial backing to pay for a sprawling study to test it.
In 2012, as same-sex marriage advocates were working to build support in California, Michael LaCour, a political science researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, asked a critical question: Can canvassers with a personal stake in an issue — in this case, gay men and women — actually sway voters’ opinions in a lasting way?
He would need an influential partner to help frame, interpret and place into context his findings — to produce an authoritative scientific answer. And he went to one of the giants in the field, Donald P. Green, a Columbia University professor and co-author of a widely used text on field experiments.
Last week, their finding that gay canvassers were in fact powerfully persuasive with people who had voted against same-sex marriage — published in December in Science, one of the world’s leading scientific journals — collapsed amid accusations that Mr. LaCour had misrepresented his study methods and lacked the evidence to back up his findings.
So what is the journalistic lesson here? Glad you asked.
Enter James Warren, chief media correspondent for the Poynter Institute, one of journalism's leading think tanks:
A now notorious study on same-sex marriage underscores a frequent newsroom reality: Political polling or a piece of academic research arrives and is by and large blindly passed along to readers, viewers and listeners.
If it’s seemingly headline grabbing, like the derided study on whether gay canvassers could change voters’ views in fundamental ways, the “news” value rises.
And in an era in which social media and competition make speed the frequent priority, there can be more of a chance that bad research is transmitted without much double-checking of methodology. Most newsrooms simply aren’t equipped to scrupulously double-check, and often not inclined if the origin of the research seems to be a reputable organization or individual.
“It’s a huge concern,” Bill Marimow, editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and a Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter, told me. “It is fraught with peril to look at study and go on the air or on the Web.”
Want more insight? Head on over to Poynter.org and check out Warren's full piece. It's definitely worth your time.
After you're finished reading, come back here or tweet us at @GetReligion and answer this question: Do you see any religion ghosts in the coverage of the original study or the follow-up headlines?
Might journalists have responded more skeptically, say, to a survey purporting to show short discussions by Christian conservatives easily win over converts to the traditional marriage side?