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More problems with a famous campus sexual assault study

In 2002, Michael Finkel was fired from the New York Times after the newspaper discovered that his feature story was not about a single victim of the African slave trade, but actually a fake character made up of several men he had interviewed in the region.

It appears that same tactic has been used by researcher David Lisak, whose theory about serial rapists on college campuses has heavily influenced campus sexual assault policies and who was featured prominently in the film, "The Hunting Ground."

Lisak gives a presentation about sexual assault that includes a video "reenactment of an interview conducted by Dr. David Lisak … as part of a study of men who had raped but were never reported or prosecuted for their crimes." The video shows Lisak interviewing "Frank," an actor purported to be reading a transcript from an interview Lisak actually conducted as part of his research.

"Rather, he is an aggregation of several interviews from Lisak's dissertation research, which raises the level of concern by an order of magnitude," wrote Reason's Linda LeFauve. "Material cut-and-pasted is material at risk of serving an agenda. Had Lisak described the video as intentionally designed to make a point, it might —might — even be an understandable agenda were it not for the two problems already noted: It is based on material decades out of date, and it is edited to make a point about serial predators not backed by research."

The interviews used to create "Frank" came from Lisak's Duke University dissertation, submitted in 1988. This suggests the interviews are three decades old, yet are being used to suggest a modern problem.

This is the latest problem with Lisak's research, discovered by LeFauve. In July, LeFauve discovered that Lisak's study purporting to show that the majority of campus rapes were committed by a small number of predators was severely flawed. For one thing Lisak didn't even do the research that he used to make that determination, but combined it from research conducted from his students. Further, the study's respondents were not limited to college students and had nothing to do with campus sexual assault.

"Nothing about the studies from which he repurposed data depended on survey respondents being students, or acts they reported taking place while in college. Nothing in the research protocol indicates prospective respondents were even asked whether they were students when they agreed to complete very personal surveys in exchange for $3," LeFauve wrote. "There is not a single statement in the paper about assaults taking place on or near a campus; there is not a single reference to the campus environment."

Lisak's research has been used to implement draconian campus sexual assault policies based on the belief that accused students are likely to be violent predators. With this many problems surrounding Lisak's research, it's time to rethink the extreme response to claims of a campus rape epidemic.

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