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Publication Of Invalid Anti-Gay Regnerus Study Referred To Committee On Publication Ethics

by Scott Rose on July 5, 2012

in Discrimination,Legal Issues,News,Politics,Scott Rose

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In recent weeks, the publication of a study by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas, Austin in the Elsevier scientific publishing company’s journal Social Science Research has been fueling unjustified political contempt for gay people.

Though Regnerus’s study is not sociologically valid, he, his funders, and other enablers have been misleading the public about the scientific merits, and/or lack thereof, of his study.

This article is the story of how Elsevier decided on July 4, 2012 to refer the publication of Regnerus’s study to the Committee on Publication Ethics.

INTRODUCTION: REGNERUS’S INVALID STUDY

Mark Regnerus’s scientifically invalid parenting study appears to violate the published ethics guidelines of Elsevier, the company that owns and operates the journal Social Science Research, in which Regnerus’s offending article appeared on June 11, 2012.

Regnerus alleges that his study shows that children raised by homosexuals are faring dramatically worse, as young adults, than those raised by heterosexuals. Yet, as is easily verifiable, Regnerus made no valid comparison between children of heterosexual and homosexual parents or guardians. His work has been definitively rejected by respected sociologists and professionals in relevant additional fields, and championed only by religious right-wing figures with established histories of opposition to LGBT equality.

Regnerus’s study currently is being used as a political weapon by anti-gay-rights forces all across the United States, where a prominent Republican, Rick Santorum recently disgraced himself by asserting that a child is better off with a heterosexual father in prison than with two loving gay fathers in the home. Regnerus has frequently implied opposition to marriage equality, for example, in his editorial One Man, One Woman, One Marriage. His editorial title there is precisely the political position of his study’s funders. Regnerus furthermore appears never to have expressed support for the rights of gay parents. That would not be of consequence, were his science sound, but it is not. It appears beyond doubt that Regnerus is politically in cahoots with his study’s funders. If he wants to adjust that appearance, he should immediately express personal support for marriage equality, on grounds that marriage equality supports family stability for those gay and lesbian couples raising children. Do not hold your breath, expecting Regnerus to make such a public declaration; he is beholden to his study’s anti-gay-rights funders. Disingenuous, duplicitous declarations about Regnerus’s supposed scientific independence from his study’s funders —  coming from the University of Texas, Austin, or any other source — must unwaveringly be countered with the mountainous evidence that Regnerus appears not to be independent from his study’s funders.

UNDERSTANDING THAT REGNERUS MADE AN INVALID COMPARISON IS NOT DIFFICULT

The reason Regnerus’s study is scientifically invalid, is that he made no valid sociological comparisons. For an introduction to the scientific concept of validity, go here.

Whereas;

1) Regnerus’s heterosexual control group was comprised of the married heterosexual parents of his young adult survey subjects, the;

2) young adults he surveyed who had been raised either by men who have sex with men (MSM), or women who have sex with women (WSW) mainly were;

3) the offspring of failed marriages in which one spouse was heterosexual and the other homosexual.

As Regnerus himself reported in his study, for those of his survey subjects who were raised by MSM or WSW — (whom Regnerus misleadingly labels as “Gay Father” and/or “Lesbian mother”, about which, see more below) — “a failed heterosexual union is clearly the modal method.”

Thus, Regnerus is not even attempting to deny that he did not make a valid comparison.

REGNERUS’S DATA DO NOT SUPPORT HIS CONCLUSIONS

Regnerus compared people raised by stable heterosexual couples, to those raised by unstable mixed-orientation couples, and then declared that “gay” parents have significantly worse child outcomes than do heterosexual parents, though his data does not support that conclusion.

For Regnerus’s comparison even to have begun to be valid, he would either have had to compare 1) stable same-sex-headed households to i) stable heterosexual-headed households, or 2) unstable heterosexual households to ii) unstable mixed-orientation-headed households.

There is no need for any further discussion as to whether Regnerus made a sociologically valid comparison; he did not. This issue alone is the beginning and the end of whether his published study is valid.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Nathaniel Frank said that Regnerus: “fails the most basic requirement of social science research — assessing causation by holding all other variables constant.”

To illustrate what Dr. Frank means, if 1) Regnerus wanted to determine through sociological research how child outcomes differ between heterosexual and homosexual parents, then 2) instead of doing what he did, comparing children of stable heterosexual couples with children of unstable mixed-orientation couples, he either would have had to compare 3) children of stable heterosexual couples with i) children of stable gay couples, or 4) children of unstable heterosexual couples with ii) children of unstable gay couples.

In the 21st century, it is severely exasperating that one must keep repeating the A,B,C’s of Sociology, in the face of Regnerus’s absurdist, disingenuous misrepresentations of his own supposed field.  In his written study, Regnerus says that his sampling method — (the strategy used for reaching suitable survey subjects) — is superior to many methods used for previous studies of gay parenting. He specifically notes that although researchers commonly note the limitation of their sampling methods, “it is often entirely lost in the translation and transmission of findings by the media to the public.”

It therefore is dismaying, nay, flabbergasting, that Regnerus appears on ABC-TV, and elsewhere, bragging about his sampling methods, falsely alleging that he found that child outcomes for heterosexual parents are better than those for homosexual parents, and yet, he does not explain 1) what constitutes a valid comparison in sociology and 2)  that he did not make one.

Talk about things getting “entirely lost in the translation and transmissions of findings to the public.” Regnerus verifiably is a hypocrite, with hypocrisy being defined as “the practice of professing virtues that one does not possess; falseness.”

Additionally it must be said, that using a convenience or a snowball sample, rather than a probability sample as Regnerus did, does not in itself invalidate a sociological analysis, but using an invalid comparison in an analysis does. Regnerus knows that, but has been propagandizing with his study anyway. There is some appearance that Regnerus has deliberately been attempting to muddy the waters of public understanding of the basics of Sociology as a discipline, the better to promote his invalid study. He has talked and talked and talked to the public about the marvels of probability sampling, and how his sampling method was superior to that used for studies showing good results for gay parents, but he never explains to the public what constitutes a valid sociological comparison.

REGNERUS HAS EXHIBITED ADDITIONAL, VERY SUSPICIOUS PROFESSIONAL SHORTCOMINGS

A word is in order regarding Regnerus’s continual references to his study subjects’ parents as “LM” and “GF” for lesbian mother and gay father; those are the designations he erroneously uses throughout his study.

Regnerus did not research whether his study subject parents were gay or lesbian. He admits as much in an article in Slate, where he wrote apropos of his survey question in which respondents were asked whether their parent had ever had a same-sex romantic relationship. Regnerus says:  “I realize that one same-sex relationship does not a lesbian make, necessarily. But our research team was less concerned with the complicated politics of sexual identity than with same-sex behavior.”

The correct professional sociological designations for the parents whose children Regnerus studied are MSM (men who have sex with men) and WSW (women who have sex with women). As UC Irvine Professor Tom Boellstorff puts it in explaining the reasons for using MSM and WSW instead of “gay” or “lesbian;”

“the term MSM   . . . ostensibly separates behavior from identity and is thereby more inclusive than the term “gay.”

This particular issue could not be any plainer. Regnerus admits he was less concerned with sexual identity than with same-sex behavior. Sociologists concerned with same-sex behavior and not sexual identity use MSM rather than gay because the designation separates behavior from identity.

We should be mindful that when Regnerus emphasizes “homosexual behavior” over identity, he sounds to be echoing the common anti-gay bigot taunt that homosexuality is “a behavior.”

When Regnerus refers to his study subject parents as “Lesbian mother” or “Gay father,” he is being inaccurate and misleading. Without any reference to the anti-gay-rights crusaders who funded Regnerus’s study, one absolutely can demonstrate that Regnerus’s study is invalid and unprofessional, yet it should not go ignored that Regnerus is making distorted uses of sociological terms, which distortions happen to fit well with his funders’ political demonization of homosexuals.

Peer reviewers and editors, competent and of good faith, would not have allowed such glaring errors through into publication.

Incredibly, though Regnerus could not be bothered properly to pose questions concerning the “complicated politics of sexual identity” to ascertain whether his study subjects actually had been raised by gay parents, his Survey Instrument asks the young adult respondents when they last masturbated, and whether they have ever had anal intercourse. Regnerus gives the following definition for anal intercourse: “By anal intercourse, we mean when a man inserts his penis into his partner’s anus or butt hole.”

What that has legitimately to do with measuring child outcomes is anybody’s guess.

Whether a young adult has ever  had anal intercourse or not — and that is all Regnerus asked; whether these young adults had ever had anal sex — is no measure of the quality of parenting the person received when growing up. That Regnerus posed that question in his survey is a marker of his not acting in good faith.  Regnerus takes his Catholic faith very seriously; the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls masturbation “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”  We do not know whether that can help us to formulate any idea of why Regnerus asked survey respondents when they last masturbated,  but Elsevier’s executives above the level of Social Science Research editor-in-chief James Wright should not continue to permit their company’s publication to defame gay and lesbian parents through a study that 1) did not measure child outcomes for gay parents; 2)  misleadingly labels as “Lesbian mothers” and “Gay fathers,” persons whom sociologists accurately instead label as MSM and WSW; and 3) ridiculously asked study subjects when they last masturbated and if they have ever had anal sex.

Elsevier CEO Youngsuk Chi’s History of Enabling Vicious Anti-Gay Political Bigots

Elsevier is the Amsterdam-based scientific and medical publisher that owns Social Science Research. Youngsuk Chi is Elsevier’s CEO. He additionally holds various official positions at Princeton University, such as Trustee of the Princeton University Press, which may in part explain how Robert George has gotten certain known falsehoods about gays published with the Princeton name attached to them.  Princeton Professor Robert George, head of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, had a hand in getting Regnerus his $55,000 “planning grant,” and in getting Regnerus his study funding, once Regnerus’s study plan was approved. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2012 Intelligence Report on Robert George’s National Organization for Marriage is titled National Organization for Marriage Continues to Spread Lies About Gays.  Regnerus’s planning grant of $55,000 — a hefty sum for a planning grant in Sociology — and later the remainder of his known $785,000 in study funding, came from the Witherspoon Institute. Robert George is a Witherspoon Senior Fellow; Witherspoon President Luis Tellez is a NOM board member.

The question of whether Chi, with his authority over some publishing at Princeton, has ever enabled NOM’s Robert George to publish anti-gay lies, has yet to be fully researched. Read the article Princeton Complicit in Prof. Robert George’s Hate Speech here.

Elsevier CEO Youngsuk Chi has made political donations to Senator Tom Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the most virulent political gay-bashers in the United States. NOM’s Robert George drafted a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage throughout the country; Inhofe supports that. He has voted against prohibiting job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and has a policy of not hiring gay or lesbian staffers. He has said that he is “very proud” that there has never been a homosexual relationship in the recorded history of his family.  Inhofe is notorious for running campaigns on the basis of “God, guns, and gays” in which he inflames anti-gay sentiments in voters in order to attract votes for himself.

In 2008, Chi donated to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who fiercely opposed DADT repeal, opposes extending federal rights and benefits to same-sex couples, and is adamantly against marriage equality and civil unions for gay people.

Elsevier presently is boycotted by over twelve thousand researchers, including Sir William Timothy Gowers, FRS, a Royal Society Research Professor at the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics at Cambridge University. Speaking about the boycott to the New York Times, Dr. Ingrid Daubechies, president of the International Mathematical Union said “We feel that the social compact is broken at present by some publishing houses, of which we feel Elsevier is the most extreme.” For 2010, Elsevier had revenues of $3.2 billion.

Go here to read the article NOM-Regnerus ‘Gay Parenting’ Study; A One-Percenter Dirty Campaign Trick.

As I previously reported, 200+ Ph.D.s and M.D.s have sent a Letter of Complaint to Social Science Research about its publication of Regnerus’s study.

“SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH” EDITOR-IN-CHIEF JAMES WRIGHT

Dr. James Wright is editor-in-chief of Social Science Research, the journal in which Regnerus’s paper appeared on June 11, 2012. He is the Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida.

Wright is a co-author of the paper Attitudes Toward Gay Marriage in States Undergoing Marriage Law Transformation.

Therefore, one would expect him as a sociologist to be able to recognize an invalid comparison in a paper submitted to Social Science Research.  One also would expect him, as a sociologist who has studied attitudes towards marriage equality for gay couples, to understand the distinctions between “MSM” and “gay” and “WSW” and “lesbian.”

I asked Wright his reactions to the Letter of Complaint about his publication of the Regnerus study.

Wright said that as the letter was calling for a public accounting of the internal processes by which the Regnerus paper was vetted, reviewed and accepted for publication, he was asking Editorial Board member Darrne Sherkat to undertake that audit.  He said Sherkat’s findings would be published in the journal in November. That step alone plainly does not address the particulars and the urgency of the matter. For one, as Wright appears to have committed the infraction of publishing an invalid sociological study, we can not rely on anybody over whom he has power to investigate him. Additionally, as the paper, with its invalid comparison and invalid assigning of the terms “Lesbian mother” and “Gay father” to parents not really known to be homosexual, must not be left benefiting from an unwarranted imprimatur of scientific respectability throughout the 2012 election season in the United States.

Wright additionally told me this: “I think the findings speak less to the parenting skills of same-sex parents than to the extraordinarily challenging social environment in which these parents tried (and are trying) to raise their children.” He added:  “Given that social environment, the surprise to me is not that the reported differences could be found in the data, but rather that they were not larger and more pervasive.”

Williams Institute Distinguished Scholar Dr. Gary J. Gates says that Wright’s assertion about social stigma is “just not relevant, since the Regnerus paper didn’t address the core question supposedly motivation the research; do children with LG parents differ from children with non-LG parents.” Gates also says: “The Regnerus paper did not provide any evidence that children with lesbian and gay parents are different from children with non-gay or non-lesbian parents. To assess that, he would have had to compare children with heterosexual parents to children with homosexual parents, regardless of whether their heterosexual parents were single, divorced or married. He simply did not do that.”

To elaborate on Gates’s remarks, it would be sociologically valid to compare single heterosexual adoptive parents with single gay adoptive parents, but not to compare single heterosexual adoptive parents with married gay adoptive parents, if one aimed to study the difference between homosexual and heterosexual parents.

Repeating for emphasis and for reinforced understanding, in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Nathaniel Frank said that Regnerus: “fails the most basic requirement of social science research — assessing causation by holding all other variables constant.”

Notice Wright’s carelessness in his remarks. He said that he thinks Regnerus’s findings speak to the social situation in which “these parents tried (and are trying) to raise their children,” as if any of the parents of the young adults Regnerus surveyed were still “raising” the young adults Regnerus surveyed. Wright was talking about Regnerus’s findings, so his reference to “these parents” logically has to be to the parents of the young adults Regnerus surveyed, and not to any actual gay parents raising children now, as Regnerus did not study them so can not possibly have made any findings about them or their social situation. Whereas Regnerus himself has admitted that most of his study subjects were products of failed heterosexual marriages, Wright is talking about “these parents” as though the parents in a failed heterosexual marriage in the 1970s were the same as gay parents raising children now.

Wright’s competence to think professionally as required about Regnerus’s study is in question. One could get the impression that some force steered Regnerus towards Social Science Research knowing certain things about Dr. Wright, including that he was going to publish the anti-gay Loren Marks’s study simultaneously. When civil rights leader Julian Bond learned of NOM’s internal strategy documents talking about plans to “drive a wedge” and to “fan hostility” between African-Americans and gays, he said: “It confirmed a suspicion that some evil hand was behind this.”

ELSEVIER DECIDES TO REFER THE WRIGHT-REGNERUS MATTER TO THE COMMITTEE ON PUBLICATION ETHICS

I wrote to Elsevier, asking for comment from company CEO Youngsuk Chi. I wanted to know if he believed Regnerus’s study was scientifically sound, and how Elsevier planned to respond to the ever-widening scandal surrounding Wright’s publication of Regnerus’s invalid study. An Elsevier spokesperson responded, saying they were leaving to Wright, as editor-in-chief of Social Science Research, the responsibility of overseeing a review of how the Regnerus paper came to be published. I sent back a response ending thusly: “Is Elsevier going to acknowledge that this scandal requires review from an impartial expert from outside Social Science Research with no conflict of interests with the journal’s staff, or is Elsevier going to continue acting with dangerous complacency?”

Elsevier’s Harald Boersma, Senior Manager for Corporate Relations, replied by saying “in order to establish beyond reasonable doubt whether Wright followed due process in the handling of this material, we will be submitting this case to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) which is a forum for editors of peer-reviewed journals to discuss issues related to the integrity of the scientific record.” Boersma further said; “We take our professional responsibility very seriously and we therefore use the established escalation procedures for cases like this.”

COPE’s Code of Conduct for Journal Editors is here. A record of past Complaint resolutions may be viewed here.

The Code of Conduct says, among many other things, that all editors are expected to maintain the integrity of the academic record, and that errors, inaccurate or misleading statements must be corrected promptly and with due prominence.

The Singapore Statement on Research Integrity notes that there are “principles and professional responsibilities that are fundamental to the integrity of research wherever it is undertaken.” One of the Statement’s Principles is; “Honesty in all aspects of research.”

When Mark Regnerus says that his sampling method was better than that used for studies showing good child outcomes for gay parents, without saying that his study’s comparison is invalid, he is not being honest in all aspects of research.

Here’s hoping that no monkey business plays a role in the Committee on Publication Ethics’ review of the publication of Regnerus’s study.

New York City-based novelist and freelance writer Scott Rose’s LGBT-interest by-line has appeared on Advocate.com, PoliticusUSA.com, The New York Blade, Queerty.com, Girlfriends and in numerous additional venues. Among his other interests are the arts, boating and yachting, wine and food, travel, poker and dogs. His “Mr. David Cooper’s Happy Suicide” is about a New York City advertising executive assigned to a condom account.

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{ 2 comments }

Scott_Rose August 5, 2012 at 1:35 am

Hello: Please consider signing and sharing this petition. The petition demands that the Editorial Board of the journal Social Science Research retract the notorious, invalid, defamatory, anti-gay Regnerus gay-parenting “study.” According to the journal’s own Peer Review Policy, it takes MONTHS for the editor to locate experts to carry out peer review of submissions on esoteric topics like gay parenting. But, SSR’s editor James Wright did NOT get topic experts, the BIGOTS he had do the peer review had CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, and Regnerus’s submission was accepted for publication in only 5 &frac12; weeks, LESS TIME than the journal usually spends just to LOCATE expert peer reviewers. Be sure to read the full petition text inside the petition at this link: http://tinyurl.com/8q7ync4

Pentuin August 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Actually, I don't understand the criticism. Other than attributing motive to Regnerus and Wright (which I won't get into because it's inherently invalid) the main substantial methodological objection is the following:

"For Regnerus’s comparison even to have begun to be valid, he would either have had to compare 1) stable same-sex-headed households to i) stable heterosexual-headed households, or 2) unstable heterosexual households to ii) unstable mixed-orientation-headed households."

Obviously there aren't any stable same sex households to compare intact heterosexual households to because same sex unions don't produce children (other than rare cases of insemination with donor sperm or of a donor womb) so the first part of that requirement is irrelevant and hypotheses about it are non-falsifiable. Nevertheless there could be some of these insemination cases included, but at most only a few. However, Regnerus actually compares the households under study with a number of other "unstable" kinds of parenting situations, including: Adoption, late divorces, stepfamilies, single parent households, and "all other." (By the way the sociological term for this is intact vs disrupted not stable vs unstable.) The children of parents where the female parent reported having a lesbian experience faired worse than biologically intact families, of course, but they also faired worse than all of these other kinds of parenting situations. So the contention that his study is invalid because it doesn't make comparisons between other "unstable heterosexual households" and "unstable mixed-orientation-headed households" is false. He does precisely that, unambiguously.

Now it's true that the mixed-lesbian-oriented-headed households don't do a *lot* worse than the other categories, but the point is that they're consistently worse across a broad spectrum of outcomes and the differences *are statistically significant*. Regnerus is getting a bad rap. The implication is precisely what Regnerus says it is.

As for sociological relevance we haven't even begun to unpack the reasons *why" these households do worse or how important the results are. The differences are small but significant. That's interesting because one would think "disruption is disruption" and the reasons for the disruption wouldn't matter very much. Well, they don't… but they matter some.

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