Wandering Eye: Faked data in a gay marriage study, 6,500 new Scrabble words, and more

Yesterday, Edward Ericson Jr. called attention to a New York Times piece that focused on a truce amongst Paterson, New Jersey "informal youth groups," as Ericson playfully called them. The hesitancy to call these violent groups that deal drugs "gangs" is in part the result of Paterson police director Jerry Speziale who decided not to call them gangs either and said, "they are more neighborhood clusters than traditional gangs... This does not mean they are any less violent." We found Speziale's parsing interesting and looked the guy up. It turns out he has an insanely detailed and totally captivating Wikipedia entry. It's nearly 8,000 words long, and details many of his policy changes and big busts as well as a number of interesting though probably not really Wiki-ready anecdotes. A personal favorite begins: "On August 31, 2007, Speziale was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the graduating police recruit class when he nabs a suspect in a brook after dragging one of his detectives," and goes on to tell a rather horrifying story of a detective dragged behind his stolen police car for "about 700 feet." Speziale and others pursued the car thief into a "slimy brook," where the suspect was apprehended. The entry ends with: "'When your guys go in the water, you go too,' said Speziale, in a telephone interview. Speziale was wearing dress pants, new socks and his police boots at the time. All of them, he said, were ruined by the slimy water. He arrived at the event for his speech late, and a little bit wet." The whole thing reads more like an outline for a fascinating memoir to come than, you know, a Wikipedia entry, so check it out. (Brandon Soderberg)

 

It was a feel-good story for progressives: just a short conversation with a gay person could change people's minds about gay marriage, flipping opponents into supporters. That's why the results made the rounds in the New York Times, This American Life, The Wall Street Journal and HuffPo, among other places. There was just one problem: the data was faked. As Retraction Watch reports, the study, by Michael J. LaCour and Donald P. Green, called "When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality," was retracted after other researchers, who tried to extend the study and build on it, contacted the survey firm that the original researchers said conducted their survey. "The survey firm claimed they had no familiarity with the project and that they had never had an employee with the name of the staffer we were asking for. The firm also denied having the capabilities to perform many aspects of the recruitment procedures described in LaCour and Green (2014)." It will be interesting to see how the major media that covered the initial story handle the retraction. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

The big news in the world of linguists and Scrabble tile-throwers everywhere yesterday was that Collins, publisher of the official Scrabble dictionary, had added 6,500 new playable words, including text speak and millennial slang such as "thanx" and "tweep." Collins' head of language content explains that "their word list is based on printed evidence of word use. If you can find it written in enough places, they'll include it." Plenty of staunch Twitter traditionalists were none too pleased, as you can see in this blog post on The Washington Post. "You might as well change the rules of Scrabble entirely and ALLOW PEOPLE TO MAKE WORDS UP," says one tweet. LOL, whatevz. (Brandon Weigel)

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