We have been reporting on a politically-motivated hoax “study” of supposedly gay and lesbian parents, funded through the National Organization For Marriage-linked Witherspoon Institute and carried out by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin (UT). The hoax study has been weaponized for use against gay rights in the courts and during the 2012 elections.
This reporter sent UT an Open Record Request for communications between Regnerus and his Witherspoon authority funder W. Bradford Wilcox.
In response, the University of Texas sent Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott a letter asking for authorization not to honor the Open Record Request.
Here is a letter subsequently sent to Abbott, explaining that the public has an overwhelming, legitimate interest in his telling UT to release the requested documentation.
September 28, 2012
Honorable Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas
Open Records Division
Price Daniel Building
209 W. 14th Street, 6th Floor
Austin, Texas 78701
In Re: Open Record Request #3 from Scott Rose to
The University of Texas at Austin – AG ID# 471661 (OGC#146221)
To Texas Attorney General Abbott:
I made the above-referenced Open Record Request for 1) communications between 2) UT’s Mark Regnerus and W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of 3) The Witherspoon Institute’s program for Marriage, Family and Democracy, which is: 4) the chief funding agency for Regnerus’s New Family Structures Study (NFSS) carried out at UT.
For the record, Witherspoon’s 2010 IRS 990 form describes the NFSS as an “achievement” of Wilcox’s Witherspoon program.
I requested the communications because Regnerus and Wilcox have been deliberately dishonest in their public statements about the NFSS. They are seeking to mislead the public into believing that Regnerus carried out his study independently of influence from his study’s funders. Their deliberate dishonesty has undermined the trust on which science is based. Fulfillment of my Open Record Request is essential to beginning to restore public trust in science. The public has a legitimate interest in having access to the requested communications.
As UT explained to you in its September 24, 2012 letter about my Open Record Request, Regnerus and Wilcox have collaborated on NFSS data collection and data analysis. Indeed, Wilcox was issued, and signed, the Regnerus NFSS study consulting contract — for data analysis — to which UT assigned the “UT EID or Doc ID” number ww2897. The record shows that Wilcox was paid $2,000 for that one contract.
Despite the clear documentation that Regnerus collaborated with his study’s Witherspoon funding agency representative Wilcox, both Regnerus and Witherspoon repeatedly have lied to the public by saying that no NFSS funding agency representative has participated in NFSS data collection, data analysis, study design, et cetera.
In his published study, which appeared June 10, 2012 in the Elsevier journal Social Science Research, Regnerus wrote: “the funding sources played no role at all in the design or conduct of the study, the analyses, the interpretations of the data, or in the preparation of this manuscript.” A PDF of “Additional Analyses” of the NFSS that Regnerus recently had accepted for publication in Social Science Research for November repeats that same deliberate lie.
Please note, Attorney General Abbott, that Wilcox is on the editorial board of the journal that published Regnerus, Social Science Research. Regnerus’s submission received no valid peer review prior to publication, as the peer reviewers were non-topic-experts with conflicts of interest. Note also that in his published study, Regnerus states that a “leading family researcher” from the University of Virginia was on his study design team. Wilcox is Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
Witherspoon established a stand-alone website to promote the NFSS to an international public. Wilcox obviously has editorial authority over that site. On the Q&A page of that site, Question 13 reads: “What involvement did the Witherspoon Institute have in the design, implementation, or interpretation of the NFSS?” The deliberately misleading response that Wilcox’s Witherspoon Institute gives is: “In order to insure that the NFSS was conducted with intellectual integrity, beginning from the earliest stages the Witherspoon Institute was not involved in the Study’s design, implementation, or interpretation.”
In a study of this sort, interpretation and data analysis coincide. Data collection certainly coincides with study implementation. Witherspoon incontestably is lying in its Question 13.
These are far from being the only ethically-challenged public communications about the NFSS that Regnerus and Wilcox have made. Along with three other Witherspoon authorities, Wilcox signed an open letter in support of Regnerus under the banner of Baylor University, without disclosing that they are Witherspoon authorities and that Witherspoon funded and is promoting the NFSS. Wilcox’s Baylor letter, furthermore, contains multiple distortions of the scientific record.
No scientific authority without a conflict of interest with the NFSS has vouched for its methodology. In fact, in Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management, the following 8 parties filed an amicus brief, in which the NFSS methodology is analyzed as being scientifically unsound: The American Psychological Association, The California Psychological Association, The American Psychiatric Association, The National Association of Social Workers and its California Chapter, The American Medical Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychoanalytic Association.
Additionally, a group of over 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s in fields relevant to the NFSS sent the journal Social Science Research a letter expressing concerns about the study’s lack of intellectual integrity as well as about the suspicious rush publication schedule for it. The signers of that letter now include the President of the American Sociological Association, Dr. Erik Olin Wright, and the editor-in-chief of the premiere journal in this field, the Journal of Marriage and Family.
One example of the umpteen manifestly false and absurd “findings” in the NFSS will for now suffice. Regnerus asked his respondents “Have you ever masturbated?” According to Regnerus’s NFSS Codebook on UT’s NFSS site, 110 of Regnerus’s 2,988 respondents chose not to answer that question. However, 620 respondents between the ages of 18 and 39 said that no, they had never once in their lives masturbated. That data obviously does not correspond to empirically understood reality. The more so that Regnerus claims his study is generalizable to the entire population of the U.S., meaning, that according to Regnerus and Witherspoon, out of every 2,988 Americans aged eighteen to thirty-nine, 620 ( six-hundred-and twenty) have never once in their lives masturbated.
Witherspoon authorities and their associates are using the NFSS in the courts and in political campaigns, despite the manifest unreliability of the study. While UT alleged it was conducting a misconduct inquiry into Regnerus this summer, it had conflicts of interest; UT officials had placed advertorials for the NFSS as a favorable example of what the university produces. Throughout the inquiry, UT’s Communications Director David Ochsner was given to the public on the Witherspoon site as the contact for information about the NFSS. At one point when I attempted to supply UT attorney Jeffrey Graves with documentation relevant to the inquiry, he told me in an e-mail that UT did not need to hear anything more from me.
In its letter, UT tells you that the state’s investment in UT’s research efforts must be protected. That actually is an excellent reason for my Public Record Request to be honored, as all other state investments in research at UT are imperiled by the way that the NFSS has undermined the trust on which science is based. The public understands that Regnerus, Wilcox and Witherspoon have deliberately lied about the NFSS. The public understands that such organizations as The American Medical Association have — in official court filings — declared the NFSS’s methodology scientifically unsound. Therefore, the public looks at all research done at UT with suspicion. That suspicion, furthermore, is amplified by the matter of UT Professor Charles Groat. Groat conducted a study without disclosing his conflicts of interest. At first, outside groups urged UT to investigate, but the university refused. Only after additional pressure was brought to bear did UT decide to review the matter.
UT additionally told you that my Open Record Request must not be fulfilled because the NFSS “data can be used to validate the original survey instrumentation.” UT appears to be telling you that the public should not be allowed to fact-check the NFSS.
UT’s claim that people could use the requested communications as products for sale is absurd. Since his study was published, Regnerus has been saying he will release his raw data “soon.” The study is plainly irredeemably defective; no serious-minded sociologist of integrity wants anything to do with it or its methods. By contrast, allowing the public a better chance to understand exactly what Regnerus, Wilcox and Witherspoon have been lying about will go some distance toward restoring trust in science.
All arguments UT presents against release of the requested documentation are outweighed by the overwhelming legitimate public interest in release of the documentation. Regnerus, Wilcox and Witherspoon have told the public deliberate lies about the NFSS in hopes of better promoting the study to the public, out of non-science-based motives. The entire balance of public investments in research at UT — other than the NFSS — is in jeopardy so long as the requested communications are not released.
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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