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Researcher accused of fraud in gay marriage study responds to critics

Michael LaCour, the UCLA political scientist accused of falsifying results in a highly publicized same-sex marriage study, lashed back at his critics late Friday by issuing a 23-page response that also included apologies for "misrepresenting survey incentives and funding."

LaCour has been at the center of an academic firestorm since May 19, when a team of researchers published information online that raised serious questions about the validity of a study he co-wrote in the journal Science last December.

In his response, which was emailed to the Los Angeles Times on Friday, LaCour called his critics' behavior "unethical" and said he was unable to provide supporting evidence for his findings because survey data had to be destroyed to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of study participants, as required by UCLA.

"I take full responsibility for destroying data in the interest of institutional requirements," LaCour wrote.

He also suggested that researchers who published a criticism of...

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Don't worry, pet owners: Experts say H3N2 dog flu is no cause for panic

There's a new strain of canine flu in the U.S., and it has some pet owners worried about their furry family members.

More than 1,000 dogs caught the illness during a recent outbreak in Chicago, and infections are reportedly emerging in other states, including California. But the H3N2 canine flu -- not to be confused with the seasonal H3N2 human flu that sickened so many people last winter -- is no cause for panic, experts say.

Most dogs won't get seriously ill if they catch dog flu. What's more, a contagious virus in dogs is unlikely to spread rapidly (as flu can in people) because dogs simply aren't as mobile, or as social, as we are.

"In humans, this would be a pandemic virus," said Colin Parrish, a virologist at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine and member of an informal task force tracking the canine flu's spread and effects. "But dogs don't fly around the world in large numbers and shake each other's hands. Because they don't have the same social structure as humans,...

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Sleep: Caretaker of memories, repairer of prejudice

Learning new stuff takes sleep. Robbed of the restorative balm of slumber, research demonstrates that the human brain will quickly lose its ability to make and hold on to new memories, and learning takes a dive.

A new study, however, finds that sleep is also crucial to unlearning stuff that we may have committed to memory without a proper quality-control check.

Implicit biases -- those stereotypes about gender, race, age and ethnicity that you might never own up to but which nevertheless color your reactions to people and situations -- are laid down early, and they are surprisingly hard to break.

In a study published Thursday in Science, psychologists from Northwestern University note that although a systematic retraining session can begin to undo implicit biases, its impact is fragile and fleeting. With just a nudge -- a news report, a personal interaction that supports a long-held implicit bias or just the passage of time -- the effects of training aimed at countering such unconscious...

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Hubble spots a high-speed collision in an extragalactic jet

A high-speed, extragalactic jet of high velocity plasma has grown brighter over the last 20 years, and now scientists know why.

Using data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers were able to show that over the last two decades one glowing knot of material in the jet slammed into another glowing knot just ahead of it. Now, the two knots are merging into one.

This bumping and merging of the two blobs of plasma is known as a shock-collision and gives energy to the particles involved.

"It basically makes them accelerate, and when they accelerate they tend to radiate at higher energies," said Eileen Meyer of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. 

"We'd never seen a collision before, so to see them merge into one blob and get brighter is very exciting," said Meyer, who led a study describing the findings published this week in Nature.

The jet Meyer and her colleagues observed is about 1,300-light-years long and very narrow. Meyer said it is less dense than our atmosphere...

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Retraction of gay marriage study leaves L.A. canvassers feeling jilted

Laura Gardiner knew she was making a difference with her work.

As national mentoring coordinator at the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Leadership Lab, she and her colleagues had toiled to train 1,000 volunteers who had fanned out across Los Angeles and beyond, lobbying voters in precincts that had cast ballots against gay rights.

The idea was to push back against prejudice, house by house — and over the years, the group's internal evaluations indicated, the Leadership Lab had gotten quite good at changing voter minds.

When an independent study published in the prestigious journal Science confirmed the group's success, Gardiner had been thrilled.

Then, last week, a report was issued raising significant doubts about the study's validity.

“It felt like being cheated on in a relationship,” she said Thursday after the journal issued a formal retraction. “Breakup songs have been cathartic this week.”

The study had excited readers well beyond Gardiner's circle for its surprising conclusion that a...

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Quick start to HIV drug treatment can cut risk of illness, death in half

An international clinical trial involving nearly 5,000 people with HIV confirms that treatment with antiretroviral drugs should begin sooner rather than later, the National Institutes of Health announced this week. In fact, the benefits of early therapy were so clear that the study was stopped early so that everyone in the trial could receive the drugs.

Participants in the Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment, or START, study who initiated treatment when their immune system was still strong were 53% less likely to die or develop a serious illness compared with those who delayed treatment until their immune systems had been weakened by the human immunodeficiency virus.

People diagnosed with HIV in the United States already start treatment at an early stage, when their count of CD4+ T-cells is still above 500 per cubic millimeter of blood. (The CD4+ count for a healthy adult ranges from 500 to 1,200 cells/mm3.) But doctors had no firm evidence that this approach was better than delaying...

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