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Regnerus Anti-Gay Scandal — UT Fails To Investigate, Further Damaging Public Image

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INTRODUCTION

A fraudulent, anti-gay “study” that Mark Regnerus carried out at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) became the object of a scientific and scholarly misconduct inquiry there in June.

UT officials have now abdicated responsibility by failing to proceed from an inquiry to a full investigation, preposterously justifying their decision by alleging that the scientific failings of the Regernus study can be classified as “ordinary errors.”

Meanwhile though, a mass of scientists has expressed concern that the study does not support the conclusions it offers.

Has UT’s reputation in the academy — and beyond — been irredeemably besmirched?

The school did —  only recently — have to be pressured into looking more deeply into a blatantly dubious matter involving its professor Charles Groat, who had completed a study which concluded that fracking is safe, without having disclosed that he sits on the board of a fracking industry company.

Writing in Scientific American — no less — David Wogan, an energy and policy writer who happens to be a former student of Groat at the University of Texas, said that the Groat scandal is damaging to the University of Texas at Austin.

This article will explain that UT’s decision not to investigate Regnerus is contributing to his pseudoscience’s effect of seriously undermining the trust on which science is based, even as it is handing his funders and other anti-gay bigots a cudgel with which to beat innocent gay victims over their heads in the public square, something at which they were already very well practiced.

BRIEF BACKGROUND OF THE ANTI-GAY-RIGHTS REGNERUS SCANDAL

Mark Regnerus — though trained as a sociologist — is not an expert in family sociology.

Still less is Mr. Regnerus competent in the esoteric field of same-sex parents’ child outcomes.

That made it possible for Regnerus’s anti-gay-rights funders to have the hate speech they commissioned from Regnerus wear the trappings of science while failing to observe the rigorous methodology and standards of evidence that characterize real science.

It was, indeed, just absolutely dismaying to learn that the anti-gay-rights authorities of the Witherspoon Institute had recruited Regnerus — a non-topic expert — for a study allegedly to be on “same-sex parents'” child outcomes, sealing the deal with a known minimum of $785,000.

Those same anti-gay-rights Witherspoon villains also wield power at the top of other anti-gay-rights organizations with very long, shameful histories of distorting the scientific record to poison people’s minds against gays as a class of people.

Top Witherspoon authorities also wield power over — (to cite just one of many examples) — the so-called National Organization for Marriage, which has told the public that homosexuals are sub-human and deserve to die.

These bigots have a track record of filthy dirty deeds: the truth will out in the end, whether UT investigates Regnerus or not.

WITHERSPOON’S BRAD WILCOX’S ROLE IN THE REGNERUS SCANDAL

W. Bradford Wilcox of The Witherspoon Institute, as happens, is a long-time personal and professional associate of Regnerus.

He also is Director of the anti-gay-rights Witherspoon’s program on Family, Marriage and Democracy.

As Witherspoon’s 2010 IRS 990 form shows, the Regnerus study is a project of Brad Wilcox’s Family, Marriage and Democracy program.

Wilcox is in on the Regnerus pseudoscience hoax, up to his neck.

Additionally, Wilcox is an editorial board member of Social Science Research, which published the Regnerus study.

Surely it was not mere coincidence that the Wilcox-Witherspoon-commissioned Regnerus “study” was published — but — (and this is of prime importance in the scandal) — without benefit of valid peer review — in a journal where Wilcox sits on the editorial board.

The Regnerus study was approved for publication in Social Science Research on a suspicious rush schedule that violated Social Science Research‘s own, publicly-published Peer Review Policy.

That policy states that papers are matched to peer reviewers according to their expertise. But none of the Regnerus study’s peer reviewers were same-sex parenting experts. And, whereas the policy warns authors that it takes months for the editor to locate esoteric topic expert peer reviewers, the Regnerus study was accepted for publication just 41 days after submission.

And it gets better. (Or, really, worse.)

Wilcox also was a paid consultant on the Regnerus study. Furthermore, he apparently was, additionally, one of the peer reviewers who ignored the study’s glaring scientific failings, rubber-stamping it for publication, though publication was not scientifically justified. Wilcox, furthermore, was not the only paid Regnerus study consultant allowed to do peer review. That alone means that the study did not receive valid peer review. By Social Science Research‘s own admission in its “audit” of the publication of Regnerus’s study, the peer review failed.

To repeat the point for emphasis: outside observers affirm what the journal itself admits — the Regnerus study did not go through valid peer review.

And, a mass of scientists have caught the glaring scientific errors that the Regnerus study’s peer reviewers — in their peer review failure — let through to publication. One in that mass of scientists is the President of the American Sociological Association.

Compounding Wilcox’s problems with multiple apparent fiduciary conflicts of interest in relation to the Regnerus study, Witherspoon created a stand-alone website for the Regnerus study.

And on Witherspoon’s online publication Public Discourse — over which Wilcox exercises editorial authority — there now is an anti-gay-rights essay based on gross misrepresentations of the Regnerus study, by Robert Oscar Lopez, who openly admits in his essay that Regnerus recruited him online, in relation to support for his study. Just because Wilcox and Regnerus are being open about doing this sort of thing, does not mean that this sort of thing conforms to the American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics.

To spell this out now: Witherspoon’s Wilcox clearly abused the public trust — through his authority and influence at Social Science Research —  to get published there — without benefit of valid peer review — the pseudoscience financed by his anti-gay-rights organization, The Witherspoon Institute, and carried out by his long-time friend Mark Regnerus.

To spell this out even further: Had Regnerus’s pseudoscience been submitted to any scientific journal of integrity where a Witherspoon official did not exercise editorial board influence, it would never have been published.

REGNERUS STUDY UNIFORMLY REJECTED BY QUALIFIED EXPERTS

In the course of investigating the Regnerus scandal, I have solicited opinions about the scientific validity of the study from umpteen accomplished scholars. One expert in research methodology and analysis — and a person known not to support marriage equality for same-sex couples  — told me this: “I agree that the analytical approach left much to be desired.  I am surprised that the peer reviewers didn’t demand better, even if they were inclined to recommend publication.” That same scientist  took a deeper look at the study, such as it is, and told me that that nearly all of the “bad” child outcomes of the study correlate to the study’s subjects having been victims of bullying. He said: “Any serious analytical work with this data will have to take bullying history into account.”

Yet the study’s sponsors are using it to shore up their toxic, hateful arguments that schools should not include “sexual orientation” in their anti-bullying policies.

The first question observers with respect for science asked themselves upon seeing the Regnerus study was: “How did these glaring scientific errors make it past those who peer reviewed it for the journal Social Science Research?”

Another characteristic question frequently posed about the Regnerus study in the academy was: “Given that this study does not support the conclusions it offers, why did the peer reviewers not demand a professional-level study before approving it for publication?”

One scientist summed up the relevant issues in the following way. Her statement is a little long and technical for inclusion in this article, but worth plowing through for its substantive, science-based indications that the Regnerus study — commissioned as it was by the anti-gay-rights Witherspoon Institute — is a hoax:

“It is safe for me to say that the methodology used in Dr. Regnerus’ study is highly unusual and unlikely to pass critical commentary in” . . . “peer-reviewed journals. The study was not an experiment in any sense of the word, although the data analysis proceeded as if it were. This was a random sample survey; researchers working on a random sample survey study refrain from using the language of experimental design in analyzing and discussing their results. Because the trait in question, having a parent who at some point had a same-sex relationship, is confounded with a host of other variables in the Regnerus study, the appropriate methodology would have been a multivariate linear regression model that ‘controlled’ for the sources of difference between those respondents with ‘gay’ parents and those without, such as race,  parental education and income, parental divorce, religious participation, etc. Why Regnerus did not conduct and report such an analysis is beyond me (he actually says he DID conduct such an analysis in his article but then decided not to present it to the reader).  Even a controlled, multivariate analysis would be inadequate here, however, since there are a host of UNMEASURED variables that might be different across individuals but could not be controlled in the analysis (such as health of the parents, parental time with the children in adolescence, etc.). Regnerus analyzed his data as though it were a multi-group experiment, thoroughly documented differences between his married biological parent group and his ‘gay’ parent group, and then issued a disclaimer that he really didn’t know what was producing the differences since this was not an experimental study. Well, duh. A reputable social scientist would not have stopped there. The strange thing is that the journal Social Science Research has always had the reputation of being an extremely methodologically sophisticated journal. How this happened in that journal seems incredible to me.”

Where that expert said “A reputable social scientist would not have stopped there,” the expert was saying that Regnerus is disreputable. UT officials should take that hint.

SO, HOW ARE REGNERUS’S “ORDINARY ERRORS” — (COUGH, COUGH) — CONNECTED TO MISCONDUCT?

It is simply not credible that a trained sociologist would produce this study — so resoundingly condemned in the academy on purely scientific, methodological, and analytical grounds — without his relations with his anti-gay-rights funders having had a corrupting influence on him. The dismal scientific level of the “study,” combined with certain other documented facts of the matter, is direct evidence of misconduct. What are some of the “documented facts of the matter”?  Well, for instance, the study being introduced to, and then published; 1) without benefit of valid peer review; by 2) a journal where the study’s main funder is on the editorial board, also was a paid study consultant and appears to have been one of the study’s peer reviewers.

I repeat: Had Regnerus’s pseudoscience been submitted to any scientific journal of integrity where a Witherspoon official did not exercise editorial board influence, it would never have been published.

University of Texas at Austin officials can say what they want: the overwhelming consensus in the academy is that Regnerus’s study’s failings do not constitute mere “ordinary errors.”

When the major professional associations in the following are going on official record — precisely saying that the Regnerus’s study’s failings are not “ordinary errors,” this is another place where UT officials should take the hint that the Regnerus study goes way beyond “ordinary errors”:  1) the American Psychological Association; 2) the California Psychological Association; 3) the American Psychiatric Association; 4) the National Association of Social Workers; and 5) its California Chapter; 6) the American Medical Association; 7) the American Academy of Pediatrics; and 8) the American Psychoanalytic Association; and now also 9) the American Sociological Association.

Now that it has been proven and admitted that Regnerus’s study did not receive valid peer review, you might think that for the sake of his own professional reputation, Regnerus would insist that his work be retracted from publication to be put through ethical and appropriate professional peer review prior to any future eventual re-publication.

Yet, he appears unconcerned that his funders are digging themselves — and him along with them — deeper into the hole.

EVEN IN THEIR ATTEMPTED — BUT UNSUCCESSFUL — SCIENTIFIC DEFENSES OF REGNERUS, WITHERSPOON OFFICIALS DO NOT DISCLOSE THEIR FIDUCIARY CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The most widely-circulated, attempted academic defense of Regnerus was issued in the form of a propagandistic letter by the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion. That letter is choc-a-block with distortions of the scientific record. It cites, for example, in support of Regnerus, a supposed, but dubious, same-sex-couples parenting study by Daniel Potter, yet quotes a portion of a sentence from the study by truncating the part of the sentence that says that differences found in the study between children of hetero and gay parent figures were “nonsignificant net of family transitions.” (Bolding added).

In plain English, that use of the word “nonsignificant” means that there is nothing about a parent’s sexual orientation, per se, that correlates to, or causes any child outcome good or bad.

But Regnerus’s pseudoscience alleges a different finding, namely, that there are significant differences between child outcomes for same-sex and opposite sex parents, so it would not have suited the Witherspoon officials’ devious purposes to have included the word “nonsignificant” in their Baylor letter. The Baylor letter is so deeply dishonest and intentionally misleading, that it acknowledges “limitations” in Regnerus’s work without specifying what they are.

Four significantly deceptive Witherspoon officials, including Regnerus’s long-time friend, and principal study contact at Witherspoon – Brad Wilcox — signed their names to the Baylor letter without disclosing that Witherspoon 1) funded the Regnerus study and 2) is very heavily promoting it in anti-gay-rights political contexts. The Baylor letter damns itself with its distortions of the scientific record, but the bird splat atop the garbage heap is that Baylor forbids community members from “promoting an understanding of sexuality that is contrary to biblical teaching.”  Moreover, though the school is dedicated to bashing homosexuals over their heads with the Bible, the Baylor letter signers attempted to mask the ignorance-fueled anti-gay bigotry most of them harbor by titling their letter A Social Scientific Response to the Regnerus Controversy.

CONCLUSION

Behind Regnerus’s pseudoscience, there is a corrupt agreement to create a sham study to defame gay parents.

Invalid as it is, the study hardly found that all of its children of “same sex parents” had bad child outcomes. Yet Regnerus’s funders are pushing the study as proof that no gay couple should ever be allowed to marry. In one of his obnoxious public promotions of his pseudoscience, Regnerus goes so far as baselessly to allege that it would cost society too much for gay couples with children to have legal equality. Previously, Regnerus had told a Notre Dame University interviewer that the Catholic Church shapes his thinking on family life, and that he hopes his research will make a contribution to the Church.

The Catholic Church is a particularly evil actor, as it demonized homosexuals in the WWII era and participated in getting them deported to concentration camps, but has never acknowledged its complicity in the gay victims’ tortures and murder. Even were it not for that utterly ignoble history, the Church in the present-day continues to demonize gays on the basis of twaddle, flying in the face of all legitimate scientific inquiry into human sexuality.

Meanwhile, if the parties to the Regnerus scandal had nothing to hide, they would not still be obstructing — as they are — Freedom of Information Act Requests filed by multiple journalists. UT continues to count among the parties keeping evidence hidden.

The University of Texas at Austin might consider that release of all of the requested documentation to journalists and the public would build public confidence, that the university encourages transparency where there are strong indicators of scientific and scholarly misconduct.

If there is nothing to hide in what they are hiding, why are they hiding it?

Those who are the victims of Regnerus’s pseudoscience deserve transparency; not cover ups.

UT’s Research Integrity Officer Dr. Robert A. Peterson told the Austin American-Statesman that “the question of whether Regnerus’ study has serious flaws is one best left to debate.”

Yet if you only rebut — which indeed would be the proper course in a legitimate scientific inquiry — then you are rewarding the perpetrators.

Neither Regnerus nor UT have anything to be proud of in this.

At Social Science Research, where Regnerus’s pseudoscience was published, editor James Wright and editorial board member Darren Sherkat are guilty of dereliction of scientific duty.

Sherkat actually told The Chronicle of Higher Education that he cannot blame the Regnerus submission’s non-topic-expert peer reviewers for not catching the submission’s same-sex-parenting-specific scientific failings, because they are not topic experts!

That is exactly why topic experts — and only topic experts — must do the peer review.

Sherkat excuses away Wright’s rush to publish Regnerus, by saying that Regnerus’s pseudoscience promised SSR the prospect of what can correctly be referred to as “a quick buck,” and so Wright could not be bothered to wait the time necessary to finding topic expert peer reviewers.

Furthermore, in his written audit, Sherkat says that he cannot blame the peer reviewers for not catching that Regnerus’s work is pseudoscience, because they are too busy in their lives. And Sherkat also writes that he cannot blame Wright for not picking up on the fact that the peer reviewers were not doing their jobs properly, because Wright is too busy in his life.

“I’m too busy to do my job responsibly,” is a laugh-out-loud ridiculous excuse that would not work for either a surgeon or a car mechanic or anybody else on any job whatsoever, and we must not permit it to be an excuse that goes ignored now in relation to a study on same-sex parenting.

Because of Wright’s and Sherkat’s dereliction of scientific duty, a correct next step in the Regnerus pseudoscience scandal is for intense pressure to be put on Elsevier, the company that owns and publishes Social Science Review, to have the Regnerus submission retracted from publication and put through valid peer review prior to any eventual future re-publication.

In his “audit,” Sherkat admits that members of SSR’s editorial board were involved in peer review of Regnerus’s pseudoscience, without divulging that one of the peer reviewers was Witherspoon’s Brad Wilcox.

Sherkat notoriously told an interviewer that Regnerus’s pseudoscience is “bullshit,” but that word applies to his audit even better than it does to the pseudoscience publication event that he audited.

The community has to fight back with unwavering determination against the enablers of this anti-gay hoax.

Victory is certain, because we are on the side of the truth about the Witherspoon-NOM-Regnerus-Wilcox hoax.

 

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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