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Opinion: Regnerus Anti-Gay Scandal — Elsevier Corporate Greed Drove Publication?

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BRIEF STORY BACKGROUND

As previously reported, Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin took $785,000 — (through his long-time personal friend W. Bradford Wilcox of the anti-gay-rights Witherspoon Institute) — and produced a fraudulent anti-gay “study” that is being used as a political weapon to inflict harm on innocent gay people.

Counter to all science publishing ethics, the study was published without benefit of valid peer review. Indeed, the peer review of the Regnerus study, and of a study by Loren Marks propagandistically paired to it, was marked by corruption and improper insider influence. Wilcox is an editorial board member of the Elsevier company’s journal Social Science Research, which published Regnerus. Wilcox, furthermore, is a paid Regnerus study consultant. It appears he also did some peer review of the paired Regnerus and Marks studies.

Whereas the peer reviewers allowed the Regnerus study’s glaring methodological failures through to publication, a mass of experts in the academy expressed concern that the scientifically invalid study had been published, and at that, on a suspicious rush schedule.

According to Dr. Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, the mere fact that peer reviewers had conflicts of interest means that the Regnerus study did not have valid peer review. Gates is seconded in that opinion by Vanderbilt University Sociologist Tony N. Brown, Editor of the American Sociological Association’s American Sociological Review, who has said: “journal editors should always seek knowledgeable reviewers who do not have any conflict of interest regarding the submitted author or the study’s funder.” (Bolding added).

Gates further says: “We need to get answered the question about why the Regnerus study was published in a rush, with no valid peer review. Other issues surrounding the Regnerus and Marks studies may be interesting, but the core question relates to the fact that the study was published in a suspicious rush without valid peer review. What caused Social Science Research‘s editor-in-chief James Wright to publish this study in a rush, without valid peer review? We need that question answered.”

REED ELSEVIER CORPORATE GREED DROVE THE PUBLICATION OF THE REGNERUS STUDY

In the response to the letter from over 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s, Social Science Research‘s editor-in-chief James Wright assigned SSR editorial board member Darren Sherkat to an “audit” of the publication process of the Regnerus and Marks studies.

In his audit, Sherkat admits that the Regnerus study is not scientifically valid, and that the peer review failed, yet he exonerates Wright and the peer reviewers from all accountability for their gross dereliction of duty. He says that the unethical process through which the Regnerus study was published is just “business as usual” at Social Science Research.

Sherkat actually analyzes how the publication of the scientifically invalid Regnerus study has harmed Social Science Research‘s scientific reputation, in context of explaining how corporate greed drove the publication of the Regnerus submission. Yet, very disturbingly, Sherkat said that had he been in Wright’s shoes, he may well have made all of the same publishing decisions. In other words, Sherkat is more devoted to his boss James Wright and to his greedy corporate Reed Elsevier bosses than he is to ethical science publishing.

Apparently, other anti-gay-rights organizations such as Regnerus’s personal friends at the Witherspoon Institute could fund an endless series of fraudulent studies booby-trapped against gays or against other minorities, and Social Science Research would publish all of them without benefit of valid peer review.

In his audit, Sherkat explains the role that parent company Reed Elsevier played in pushing greed to predominate over ethical science publishing in the Regnerus scandal.

The Regnerus publishing scandal actually is much broader than just the Regnerus and Marks papers. Three Regnerus study commentaries published alongside the Regnerus and Marks papers were done by three persons without same-sex-parenting science expertise, and with conflicts of interest in commenting on the study. Those three are 1) UT’s Dr. Cynthia Osborne, Regnerus’s co-researcher on the “study;” 2) Dr. Paul Amato, a paid Regnerus study consultant; and 3) David Eggebeen, a Witherspoon bigot crony who supports the continuation of sexual orientation apartheid.

Here is part of Sherkat’s explanation of how Reed Elsevier greed is driving the publication and promotions of the wide-scaled anti-gay Regnerus scandal:

“Controversy over sexuality sells and in only a week after publication these papers have already skyrocketed to the most downloaded papers published in Social Science Research.” (Bolding added). “But neither paper should have been published, in my opinion. Undoubtedly, any researcher doing work on same-sex parenting will now have to address the Regnerus paper, and these citations will inflate the all-important “impact factor” of the journal. It is easy to get caught up in the empirical measures of journal success, and I believe this overcame Wright in driving his decision to rush these into print. The fetishism of the journal impact factors comes from the top down, and all major publishers prod editors about the current state of their impact factor. Elsevier is particularly attentive to this and frequently inquires about what Wright is doing to improve the already admirable impact factor of Social Science Research. As social scientists, popularity should not be the end we seek, and rigorous independent evaluation of these manuscripts would have made Social Science Research a less popular but better journal.” (Bolding added).

In his CYA “audit,” Sherkat further wrote:

“once they were accepted there was an unseemly rush to publication.” He continues: “that was justified based on the attention that these studies would generate. The published responses were milquetoast critiques by scholars with ties to Regnerus and/or the Witherspoon Institute, and Elsevier assisted with the politicization by helping to publicize the study and by placing these papers in front of the pay wall.” (Bolding added).

SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH’S JAMES WRIGHT, BRAD WILCOX AND DARREN SHERKAT GUILTY OF GROSS DERELICTION OF DUTY

The Social Science Research editors contrived an “audit” of the publication of Regnerus’s pseudoscience to create an appearance that they had behaved responsibly when they manifestly did not behave responsibly.

In interviews that Wright and Sherkat gave to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the upshot is that all of the gross dereliction of duty that SSR people committed in relation to the Regnerus pseudoscience scandal can be explained away and shrugged off because people are just so darned busy these days.

Additionally, Sherkat did write in his audit: “scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process.”

That is where the community must demand that Reed Elsevier and Wright do the right thing by retracting the Regnerus study from publication. The study could then be put through valid peer review prior to any future eventual re-publication. It simply must not be allowed to stand, that Reed Elsevier, Wright, Sherkat and Wilcox continue to abet fraudulent attacks against innocent gay people. These malefactors’ admixture of corporate greed and/or indifference to harm their actions are unjustly inflicting on innocent human beings is appalling.

Here is an example — from the Chronicle article — of Sherkat’s cavalier article about the editors’ and the peer reviewers’ gross dereliction of their professional duties. The following quote is in relation to the peer reviewers’ having allowed the Regnerus study through to publication, even though Regnerus made no scientifically adequate determination of whether he study respondents actually had “same sex parents,” as Regnerus claims in his study conclusion.

“At the same time, he,” — meaning SSR’s Sherkat — “sympathizes with the task of the overburdened reviewer inclined to skim. Because of how the paper was written, Sherkat said, it would have been easy to miss Regnerus’s explanation of who qualified as “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers.”

That is exactly why only gay parenting topic experts can be used to peer review a scientific journal submission on gay parenting.  You do not ask a therapist to peer review a submission about the latest techniques in brain surgery. Here is how Sherkat continues with his duplicitous, self-serving alibis for the peer reviewers’ gross dereliction of professional duty:

If a reviewer were to skip ahead to the statistics in the table, it would be understandable, he said, to assume that the children described there were, in fact, raised by a gay or lesbian couple for a significant portion of their childhoods. In reality, only two respondents lived with a lesbian couple for their entire childhoods, and most did not live with lesbian or gay parents for long periods, if at all.”

In the Chronicle interview, SSR’s editor-in-chief James Wright uses a euphemism to describe how corporate greed led him to publish the Regnerus submission without benefit of valid peer review:

“In his audit, Sherkat reveals that all the reviewers declared that the paper would generate “enormous interest.” Enormous interest leads to citations and downloads, which is how a journal’s relevance is judged. The higher the impact of its papers, the greater its prestige. Wright acknowledges that he was excited about the interest the paper would no doubt inspire, and he wonders in retrospect if “perhaps this prospect caused me to be inattentive to things I should have kept a keener eye on.”

CONCLUSION

The anti-gay-rights Witherspoon Institute funded Regnerus’s pseudoscience out of contempt for gay human beings and their rights.

The Regnerus “study,” 1) propagandistically paired with the Marks study, and 2) unethically pumped up further through Regnerus-and-Marks-studies-related propaganda pumped out by 3) the three non-topic-expert commentary writers with conflicts of interest, was 4) illicitly helped through to publication by the presence of Witherspoon’s Brad Wilcox on the Social Science Research editorial board.

The community now must — with unwavering determination — demand that the Regnerus study be retracted from publication and put through valid peer review prior to any eventual future re-publication.

The Regnerus pseudoscience scandal undermines the trust on which science is based.

This was hardly the first time that narrow-minded bigots ever commissioned a “study” for use as a political weapon against a minority.

We must now step up to the plate and demand that scientific standards be upheld, so that no other minority is similarly victimized through a combination of bigots’ spite and corporate greed in the future.

In 2010, Elsevier reported a profit margin of 36% on revenues of $3.2 billion. Elsevier accounts for 28% of the revenues of the Reed Elsevier group (₤1.5b of 5.4 billions in 2006).

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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