Last night I listened to This American Life #584 For Your Reconsideration. I did not listen to the original podcast last year with the researcher, Michael LaCour, who is now accused of fabricating the data for his research study. I looked up some articles about it online though after listening to the podcast. LaCour had finished his doctoral thesis and was ready to start a job at Princeton University. He co-authored an article based on the lies and saw it published in a respected magazine, Science. They retracted the article when the lies were discovered. He had been a guest on This American Life to talk about his work. As I listened to the words of those involved in this project, I understood their expressions of disbelief. Why did a man who had the education and knowledge to conduct the study honestly choose to fabricate? One colleague described LaCour as a smart and caring guy who loved his work. So why did he lie? Another colleague says that it would have been easier to do the work than fabricate the lies and charts and data. So, why did he lie? Those involved can offer no explanation. He seemed to have no reason to lie. He sabotaged his own career. His job offer at Princeton disappeared, and his reputation was damaged. He did not need to fake it, so why did he lie? Only he can answer that question. Perhaps he could not offer an explanation that most of us might understand. I wonder what would have happened if the deceit had not been discovered. Would he have gone on to fabricate other research in new projects? Would he have felt guilt about his lie or would he have just enjoyed the respect of being a published researcher? Would he ever have felt guilt towards the others who had contributed their time and efforts to the project?
One of the very first statements made to us when we learned of the accusations against our son was “(so and so) has no reason to lie.” The response to that is that everyone lies, and the reasons may only be known to the person telling the lie.