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Regnerus Scandal Ripped Wide Open As UT Confesses To Major, Systemic Ethics Failures

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UT’s GROAT AND REGNERUS SCANDALS HAVE A LOT IN COMMON

In August, 2012, the University of Texas at Austin (UT) terminated a perfunctory misconduct inquiry involving Mark Regnerus and his notorious New Family Structures Study.

UT’s inquiry failed to acknowledge very serious undisclosed conflicts of interest — and conflicts of commitment — involving Regnerus and his anti-gay-rights NFSS funders.

Contemporaneously, UT was embroiled in an ethics scandal involving its Professor Charles Groat, who had carried out a study on fracking wastewater without disclosing his conflicts of interest, including that he was on the board of  a fracking industry company and held over $1.5 million in its stock.

READ: University Of Texas Law Professor Says Black Students Are Failing Because Their Moms Are Poor And Single

When outside watchdog groups first brought Groat’s conflicts of interest to UT’s attention, the school attempted to sweep them under the carpet, as it is doing still today with Regnerus’s undisclosed conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment, and the misconduct connected to them.

Subsequently, though, in the Groat scandal, the Public Accountability Initiative compiled a more thorough complaint. The university then had an independent outside panel review UT’s scandalous situation.

As a result of that panel’s review of UT’s scandalous situation, UT has — at long last – confessed that its prior ethics oversight was completely inadequate to maintaining research integrity consistently throughout the school.

Through public pressures, UT is now being compelled dramatically to review and to strengthen its policies. Groat is no longer with the university — he went shamefully slinking away — and the head of UT’s Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach, publicly embarrassed and humiliated, resigned from the position.

UT FAILED TO PROVIDE PROPER ETHICS OVERSIGHT OF ITS PROFESSORS’ RESEARCH PROJECTS

The most damning part of this story for UT is not that Groat and Orbach acted as they did; it’s that UT’s ethics oversight polices were substandard, shabby and disreputable, enabling dishonest scholars — like Mark Regnerus — to get away with shady deeds and academic flim-flammery.

UT’s student newspaper, The Daily Texan, published an op-ed from its Editorial Board, titled UT’s Scape ‘Groat, the gist of which is that UT administration — (which let Regnerus off the hook without acknowledging the very serious undisclosed conflicts of interest involved in the NFSS) —  deserves far more criticism for the previously reigning shabby research standards than do Groat or Orbach.

A San Antonio publication reporting on UT’s Groat scandal noted that the outside panel reviewing Groat’s work looked at research ethics standards that are applied at leading research institutions and found that “All have policies that say manuscripts should be accompanied by clear disclosures.” (Bolding added).

NON-DISCLOSURE OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST STILL A HUGE ISSUE IN THE REGNERUS STUDY

Not only does Regnerus not make clear disclosures in his June, 2012 New Family Structures Study article and again in his November article of “Additional Analyses”; he actually lies about his relationships with his heterosupremacist, anti-gay-rights funders.

The review panel’s report to UT — which UT has alleged it fully accepts — states that:

“The role and contribution of all participants in projects should be accurately and thoroughly documented in all reports, projects, and presentations.”

It is, nonetheless, perfectly clear that “the role and contribution of all participants” in Regnerus’s work have not been “accurately and thoroughly documented in all reports, projects, and presentations” related to the New Family Structures Study.

The report on Groat, furthermore, concludes that Groat’s “study falls short of the generally accepted rigor required for the publication of scientific work.” (Bolding added).

THE ANTI-GAY, UT-REGNERUS-WITHERSPOON STUDY LACKS SCIENTIFIC RIGOR

Regnerus’s New Family Structures Study clearly also “falls short of the generally accepted rigor required for the publication of scientific work.”

For example, Regnerus’s published article refers throughout to “lesbian mothers” and to “gay fathers” — and his funders continue using the study as a weapon against gay and lesbian people, even as Regnerus goes on promoting the study side-by-side with those anti-gay-rights funders — and yet, despite all of that, in an interview with Focus on the Family’s Citizen Link, Regnerus confessed that he does not know about the sexual orientation of his study respondents’ parents.

How is that for scientific rigor?

Create a bogus study for your anti-gay-rights funders to use as a weapon against gay parents — with a funding agency representative having collaborated with you on formulating the booby-trapped study design — and then, moreover, help the funders to use the study as a weapon against gay parents — even though you do not know whether any of your study subjects’ parents were in fact gay.

As regards Regnerus, UT is not currently living up to the research standards that the university alleges it accepts should be in force.

As of this writing, UT’s own official website for Regnerus’s and Witherspoon’s New Family Structures Study still says that the NFSS is about “young adults raised by same-sex parents.”

UT IS ABETTING REGNERUS AND WITHERSPOON TO REPRESENT THE NFSS TO THE PUBLIC UNDER FALSE PRETENSES

UT hence is directly responsible for aiding and abetting Regnerus and his anti-gay funders to misrepresent the NFSS to the public, from an anti-gay point of view.

Many of Regnerus’s study subjects never even at all lived with the parent that the study mislabels as a “gay father” and/or a “lesbian mother;” — that very obviously does mean that the study subjects absolutely were not “raised by same-sex parents.” (Bolding added).

Thus UT itself — on one of its official websites, no less — is making flagrantly false claims about the Regnerus study. This false, propagandistic wording about the study on UT’s official site for the study is directly helping Regnerus’s anti-gay-rights funders to promote this sleazy and corrupt, booby-trapped study as though it had any scientific merit and as though it were genuinely of any use in studying gay parenting.

IS UT WITHHOLDING INCRIMINATING DOCUMENTATION INVOLVING THE REGNERUS-WITHERSPOON STUDY?

UT in the main is attempting to deny all reporters’ Public Information Act requests for documentation involving the Regnerus study. However, in an October 2, 2012 letter that UT sent to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asking for legal exemptions for the Public Information Act requests, UT revealed that prior to publication of the NFSS, UT administration plotted with Regnerus on how to put public relations spin on the study. The school expected negative reactions and was fearful for its “branding.”

As Dr. Gary Kinsman has said: “If UT and Regnerus had these discussions prior to the release of the study, they realized that there would be things they would have to cover up for. If it was a completely legitimate study, why would you be preparing for the release in this way? UT and Regnerus were going way beyond just preparing to answer questions about the research straightforwardly. You can always answer questions about research, but to prepare in these ways suggests that they were aware of the problems in the research. In this case, they knew there would be negative feedback. This suggests coordination between Regnerus, the funders and UT.”

Since UT’s perfunctory conclusion of its Regnerus misconduct inquiry, much documentation of undisclosed conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment involving Regnerus and his funders has come to light.

Here is a letter that I sent in that regard to UT Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Steven W. Leslie.

*******

December 7, 2012

Dr. Steven W. Leslie
Executive VP and Provost
The University of Texas at Austin
110 Inner Campus Dr. STOP G1000
Austin, TX 78712-1701

Dr. Leslie:

This is to inform you that the University of Texas at Austin’s now demonstrated — and admitted — general lack of proper ethics oversight that extended to the behavior of its now former professor Charles Groat also very severely tainted your school’s inquiry into scientific and academic misconduct allegations against Associate Professor Mark Regnerus in the matter of The New Family Structures Study (“NFSS”).

Specifically, UT’s inquiry into Regnerus and the NFSS apparently failed to uncover, and certainly failed to acknowledge conflicts of interest as well as Regnerus’s conflicts of commitment.

Herein, I shall outline the documented issues.

The NFSS was first organized in 2010 by Regnerus’s chief funder, The Witherspoon Institute.

Witherspoon’s 2010 IRS 990 forms call the NFSS a “major accomplishment” of Witherspoon’s Program for Marriage, Family and Democracy.

In 2010, the Director of that Witherspoon program was W. Bradford Wilcox.

For the Witherspoon Institute, Wilcox recruited Regnerus to be head researcher on the NFSS.  Witherspoon then gave Regnerus a planning grant. Still in his capacity as a Witherspoon Program Director, Wilcox then collaborated with Regnerus on NFSS study design.

Despite that, Regnerus in his June, 2012 NFSS article published in the Elsevier journal Social Science Research states that “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 the manuscript.”

That statement from Regnerus is plainly false. He repeated a similar untruth in his November, 2012 NFSS “Additional Analyses,” also published in Social Science Research. In his November article, Regnerus phrases the false claim this way: “No funding agency representatives were consulted about research design, survey contents, analyses, or conclusions.”

Note that UT’s documents of NFSS study disbursements show that UT did not start administering NFSS-related disbursements until 2011. That is to say, when, in 2010, Brad Wilcox – as a Witherspoon Program Director – recruited Regnerus for the NFSS for Witherspoon, and then collaborated with him on NFSS study design, Wilcox was acting as a titled Witherspoon representative, reporting and answerable to The Witherspoon Institute.

Formulating and/or changing a study design to produce a study result desired by a funding agency constitutes misconduct.

I shall return to that point shortly, but first I shall enumerate Wilcox’s additional undisclosed conflicts of interest in the matter of the NFSS; 1) Wilcox’s University of Virginia programs receive financial support from both of Regnerus’s funders, The Witherspoon Institute and The Bradley Foundation; 2) Wilcox collaborated with Regnerus on NFSS data collection; 3) Wilcox collaborated with Regnerus on NFSS data analyses; 4) Wilcox collaborated with Regnerus on NFSS interpretation; 5) A preponderance of evidence shows that Wilcox was permitted to do peer review; 6) Wilcox is a long-time associate to Regnerus; 7) Wilcox is a long-time associate to Social Science Research editor-in-chief James Wright; 8) Wilcox is on the Social Science Research editorial board.

That Wilcox is on the Social Science Research editorial board – and a long-time associate to Regnerus and to Wright – is of particular significance to Regnerus’s failure to disclose – and indeed, his actually going beyond non-disclosure and telling untruths about – Wilcox’s involvement in the NFSS.

Copies of Regnerus’s “Additional Analyses” circulated prior to the print publication of the article. Concerned about the repeated failure to disclose that Wilcox as a Witherspoon Program Director had recruited Regnerus for the NFSS for Witherspoon, and that Wilcox — still as a Witherspoon Program Director — had then collaborated with Regnerus on NFSS study design, I e-mailed editor James Wright with all of the documentation of Wilcox’s involvement. I also left Wright voice mails explaining that I wanted to know if he would be disclosing Wright’s involvement in the NFSS.  Wright ignored those communications, and re-published Regnerus’s untruthful statement. I also sent Regnerus the same e-mails, but received no responses.

Regnerus thus is involved in blatant, outstanding violations of fundamental academic, and science publishing ethics involving non-disclosure of conflicts of interest.

Sociologist Eric Anderson, Ph.D. of the University of Winchester in the United Kingdom has described Regnerus’s NFSS article as anti-gay propaganda, explaining that that is the only term he can think of to describe a study analysis and discussion that is designed to denigrate gay people outside the boundaries of empirical evidence.

The NFSS, in fact, was designed to be a weapon for Regnerus’s funders to use against lesbian mothers and gay fathers in particular and against gay people generally. Interviewed for an October 26, 2012 article in Focus on the Family’s Citizen Link, Regnerus confessed that he does not know about the sexual orientation of his respondents’ parents. Regnerus’s article nonetheless still refers to “lesbian mothers” and to “gay fathers,” and Regnerus has personally and directly collaborated with his funders in promoting the NFSS in anti-gay-rights political contexts. For example, on November 3, Regnerus promoted the NFSS side-by-side with The Witherspoon Institute’s Ana Samuel at the “Love and Fidelity Network” 2012 annual conference. The “Love and Fidelity Network” is housed in the same building as The Witherspoon Institute; its board is peopled with Witherspoon and/or related National Organization for Marriage officials. It is a religious right-wing, anti-gay group whose mission includes training students from various schools to proselytize, as heterosupremacists who view homosexual persons as inherently defective and inferior.

Dr. Gary Gates of the Williams Institute – who holds, among other degrees, a Master of Divinity degree from St. Vincent College – says that Regnerus asked him to participate in the NFSS. Dr. Gates told Regnerus that he could not participate, as the NFSS study design was manifestly conceived to produce a result making gay parents look bad. Despite having heard that assessment of the study design from a recognized expert, Regnerus proceeded with the booby-trapped NFSS study design on which Brad Wilcox — as a Witherspoon Institute Program Director — had collaborated.

Dr. Leslie; towards a resolution of the Groat scandal, you used very inspiring language to express the University of Texas at Austin’s commitment to research integrity. Lamentably, your school’s commitment to research integrity remains in doubt for as long as UT does not fully investigate Regnerus’s relationships with his funders, including his failure to disclose conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment with them, and the resulting scientific and academic misconduct.

Sincerely,

Scott Rose

 

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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News

Santos Campaign Can No Longer Raise or Spend Money After Treasurer Officially Calls It Quits: NYT

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Enmeshed in a web of deceit and possibly under federal criminal investigation, U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) is now apparently unable to lawfully spend money or accept donations via his political campaign, which reportedly now may also be in violation of FEC rules.

On Tuesday the embattled freshman Republican announced he was temporarily stepping down from his committee assignments, reportedly after a conversation with Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Before the end of the day his campaign treasurer filed official paperwork notifying the Federal Election Commission she had resigned.

“Nancy Marks’s resignation effectively leaves the Santos campaign unable to raise or spend money and in seeming violation of federal rules,” The New York Times reports, calling her his “longtime campaign treasurer and trusted aide.”

“Mr. Santos’s financial operations, which are the subject of several complaints filed with the F.E.C. and are being investigated by local, state and federal law enforcement,” The Times adds. “It also leaves the Santos campaign in disarray, effectively rendering it unable to raise or spend money and placing it in seeming violation of F.E.C. rules.”

READ MORE: Another SCOTUS Scandal: Chief Justice’s Spouse Makes Millions Placing Attorneys at Top Law Firms That Argue Before the Court

In fact, FEC rules state: “If a committee’s treasurer is absent, the committee cannot make expenditures or accept contributions unless it has designated an assistant treasurer or designated agent on the committee’s Statement of Organization.”

The resignation comes after last week’s stunning report revealing that Santos, or his campaign, amended FEC filings to indicate the $700,000 he had claimed to have personally loaned his campaign had not actually come from his personal funds.

Unlike political candidates, campaign treasurers are held to an actual standard of truth, and can be personally – and legally – liable if they report false information.

FEC rules also state, “the treasurer can be named and found liable in his or her personal capacity if he or she knowingly and willfully violates the Act, recklessly fails to fulfill duties imposed by the law, or intentionally deprives himself or herself of the operative facts giving rise to the violation.”

READ MORE: Stefanik Was Once ‘Laser Focused on Electing Santos’ – Now She Blames Voters for Electing Him as She Backs Away

Santos may find it difficult to hire a new treasurer: “Even when an enforcement action alleges violations that occurred during the term of a previous treasurer, the Commission usually names the current treasurer as a respondent in the action.”

The Times adds, “The lack of clarity over who, if anyone, is operating as Mr. Santos’s treasurer has already caused confusion. On Tuesday, a joint fund-raising committee associated with Mr. Santos filed paperwork to end its operations. Ms. Marks’s signature was on the paperwork, even though she had resigned as the committee’s treasurer the week before.”

Marks’ resignation also comes after someone affiliated with the Santos campaign falsely listed a well-known Republican treasurer on the official FEC forms as the treasurer for his campaign. As one expert put it, that’s a “big no-no,” and “completely illegal.”

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COMMENTARY

Another SCOTUS Scandal: Chief Justice’s Spouse Makes Millions Placing Attorneys at Top Law Firms That Argue Before the Court

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The highly controversial and highly unpopular U.S. Supreme Court isn’t just facing a historic loss of confidence, it’s now facing yet another ethics scandal that is likely to lower even further public opinion of the far-right institution that in under two decades has seen its approval rating slashed.

Although it will not hear arguments, the issue before the Supreme Court and the American people’s view of it, is, should a Justice’s spouse – in this case the spouse of Chief Justice John Roberts – be able to make millions of dollars recruiting attorneys who are placed into top law firms that argue cases before it?

That’s the latest allegation, and already a spokesperson for the Court has issued a statement denying any ethical violations.

The New York Times reports that “a former colleague of Mrs. Roberts has raised concerns that her recruiting work poses potential ethics issues for the chief justice. Seeking an inquiry, the ex-colleague has provided records to the Justice Department and Congress indicating Mrs. Roberts has been paid millions of dollars in commissions for placing lawyers at firms — some of which have business before the Supreme Court, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.”

Jane Sullivan Roberts left a law firm where she was a partner after her spouse was confirmed as Chief Justice.

READ MORE: Failed Leak Probe Will ‘Add to Public Distrust’ and ‘Accelerate Partisan Rancor’ Surrounding Supreme Court: Analyst

“Mrs. Roberts, according to a 2015 deposition,” The Times reports, “said that a significant portion of her practice was devoted to helping senior government lawyers land jobs at law firms and that the candidates’ names were almost never disclosed.”

Documents in that case “list six-figure fees credited to Mrs. Roberts for placing partners at law firms — including $690,000 in 2012 for one such match. The documents do not name clients, but Mr. Price recalled her recruitment of one prominent candidate, Ken Salazar, then interior secretary under President Barack Obama, to WilmerHale, a global firm that boasts of arguing more than 125 times before the Supreme Court.”

That case involves “a former colleague of Mrs. Roberts,” Kendal Price, a 66-year-old Boston lawyer, who “has raised concerns that her recruiting work poses potential ethics issues for the chief justice.”

“According to the letter,” sent by Price to DOJ and Congress, which the Times reports it obtained, “Mr. Price was fired in 2013 and sued the firm, as well as Mrs. Roberts and another executive, over his dismissal.”

The Times cites two legal experts, one who sees no ethical concerns with the situation, and one who does.

But critics are expressing great concern over this latest ethics issue, as they have been for years.

Doug Lindner, Advocacy Director for Judiciary & Democracy for the League of Conservation Voters, pointing to the Times’ report,  remarked: “Another day, another ethics concern about another life-tenured conservative justice on the most powerful court in the world, which has no binding ethics rules.”

READ MORE: Marshal ‘Spoke With’ Supreme Court Justices, Excluded Them From Signing Sworn Affidavits in Leak Probe

Indeed, the lack of a Supreme Court code of ethics has been repeatedly condemned for years, including by some of the nation’s top critics.

On Sept. 1, 2022, The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin tweeted out her opinion piece: “Ginni Thomas pressed Wisconsin lawmakers to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory .. just another insurrectionist.”

Norman Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor for the Atlantic, responded:

“Another reminder of how unethical is Justice Clarence Thomas, while Chief Justice Roberts turns a blind eye and continues to resist a code of ethics for a Supreme Court now distrusted by a majority of Americans. This defines the Roberts Court.”

The following month Ornstein slammed the Roberts Court once again.

“It is a stain on the Supreme Court that Chief Justice Roberts refuses to support a Judicial Code of Ethics, and stands by silently while Clarence Thomas flouts ethical standards over and over and over,” Ornstein charged.

Less than one month later he again unleashed on Roberts.

“Roberts is culpable,” he tweeted. “He has resisted over and over applying the Judicial Code of Ethics to the Supreme Court. This is Alito’s court, and it is partisan and corrupt.”

Ornstein is far from the Court’s only critic.

“If Chief Justice Roberts really wanted to address Supreme Court ethics, he would have immediately worked to implement a Code of Conduct after Clarence Thomas failed to recuse from cases involving January 6th despite having a clear conflict of interest,” the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington tweeted a year ago in May. The following month CREW published an analysis titled: “Chief Justice John Roberts is wrong: the American judicial system is facing a major ethics crisis.”

Meanwhile, in late November Politico reported that Democrats in Congress were outraged at the Roberts Court.

“Two senior Democrats in Congress are demanding that Chief Justice John Roberts detail what, if anything, the Supreme Court has done to respond to recent allegations of a leak of the outcome of a major case the high court considered several years ago,” PoliticoJosh Bernstein reported, referring to the leak of the Dobbs decision that overturned the Roe v. Wade decision – itself a massive ethics crisis for the Court.

READ MORE: Revealed: Four Supreme Court Justices Attended Right-Wing Gala — Further Endangering SCOTUS Credibility

“Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) are also interested in examining claims about a concerted effort by religious conservatives to woo the justices through meals and social engagements. They wrote to Roberts on Sunday, making clear that if the court won’t investigate the alleged ethical breaches, lawmakers are likely to launch their own probe.”

Whitehouse and Johnson “also criticized the high court’s response to a letter they sent Roberts in September, seeking information about the court’s reaction to reports in POLITICO and Rolling Stone about a yearslong campaign to encourage favorable decisions from the justices by bolstering their religiosity.”

Nothing has changed.

When the Roberts Court earlier this month announced its lengthy investigation did not find the draft Dobbs decision leaker but also did not include the Justices themselves, Stokes Prof. of Law at NYU Law School Melissa Murray, an MSNBC host, tweeted, “This is a Roberts Court leitmotif–The Chief loves to handle things–even big things–in-house. Ethics issues? No need to get involved, Congress. We’ll sort it out ourselves. Leak needs investigating? No need to call in an actual investigative body, the Marshal will handle it.”

Pulitzer prize winning New York Times  investigative reporter Jodi Kantor, pointing to how the Justices were not thoroughly investigated during the leak probe, in earlier this month said: “Last week the court released statements that confirmed the gap between how the justices and everyone else were treated.”

“The whole situation amplifies a major question about the court: are these nine people, making decisions that affect all of us, accountable to anyone?”

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News

‘Can Be Used Against You’: Trump Took Big Risk Pleading the Fifth 400 Times in Deposition Says Legal Expert

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A newly released video shows Donald Trump pleading the Fifth Amendment hundreds of times in a deposition, and a legal expert explained how that could be used against him in court.

The former president was finally hauled in to testify last year in the $25 million fraud lawsuit filed against the Trump Organization by New York attorney Letitia James, and he exercised his constitutional right against self-incrimination nearly 450 times — but MSNBC legal analyst Andrew Weissmann said the move carried potential risk in a civil case.

“I agree with him on the point of taking the Fifth,” Weissmann said. “It’s important to remember everyone has a right to the Fifth if a truthful answer would tend to incriminate you. In a civil case, it can be used against you, unlike in a criminal case.”

“One other thing I would disagree is when he is saying there’s this witch hunt, he left out jurors,” Weissmann added. “The Trump Organizations went to trial, they had their day in court. They could present all of their evidence, [and] 12 jurors, that’s everyday citizens, found beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a multi-year tax conspiracy that his organizations were involved in, and there was evidence he knew about it as would make sense. That’s one more reason for him to be asserting the Fifth Amendment.”

Watch video below or at this link.

Image via Shutterstock

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