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The Regnerus Fraud and the Blogosphere. Or, The Tenacity of Bloggers
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/16/13
Last updated on: 04/16/13
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John Becker.

Sociologist Mark Regnerus's paper entitled "How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-sex Relationships? Findings from the New Families Structure Study," published in June 2012 in Social Science Research purports to prove that children of gay and lesbian parents have adverse outcomes. But the study is so flawed and ideologically-driven as to prove nothing. The real question raised by the publication of this pseudo-scholarship is to what extent it violates academic ethics. Thanks to the efforts of bloggers and journalists Scott Rose, Sofia Resnick, and John Becker, we now know more about the fraud and how it was concocted and may soon know more.

Regnerus's study claims to find "numerous, consistent differences, especially between children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents." It attempts to debunk established scientific research that has consistently shown that gay and lesbian parents exhibit parenting skills equal to heterosexual parents.

However, sociologists quickly pointed out that Regnerus compares broken families to intact families and pretends that he has discovered something significant when he announces that children of intact families do better on a number of measures than children of broken families.

The study, financed to the tune of almost $800,000 by the anti-gay Witherspoon Foundation, is dressed up in the accoutrement of scholarship, but was never intended to be real scholarship. It is, rather, a desperate attempt to smear gay and lesbian parents and thereby provide a "rational" justification to deny equal marriage rights.

Regnerus achieved something of a breakthrough in his pseudo scholarship. He managed to place his work in a supposedly peer-reviewed journal and thereby realized his real goal, which was to create an artifact that could be cited in the briefs submitted to the Supreme Court as it reviews the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8.

The publication of Regnerus's junk science was greeted by an outcry from sociologists who not only exposed its methodological flaws, but also raised questions about how such a shoddy study could have been accepted by a scholarly journal in the first place.

In response to this outcry, the editor of Social Science Research appointed an auditor to report on whether there were problems with the peer-review process.

However, instead of appointing an independent evaluator, the editor, James D. Wright, asked a member of his editorial board to conduct the audit, Dr. Darren E. Sherkat. Sherkat's highly critical report found that "the peer-review process failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems" with the study. It also cited conflicts of interest among the reviewers, stated that "scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process," and criticized the author's use of scholarship to push a political agenda.

Although Sherkat concluded that Regnerus's paper should never have been published, he did not call for a retraction and he failed to censure editor Wright for his incompetence (and perhaps collusion) in the publication of the Regnerus paper, an issue raised in several articles in the New Civil Rights Movement blog by Scott Rose.

Information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act regarding the study recently confirmed what many of us already suspected: the study was funded not to further science but specifically in order to impugn the parenting skills of gay and lesbian couples in judicial proceedings.

Documents obtained from the University of Texas, where Regnerus teaches, by The American Independent and by bloggers such as Scott Rose, reveal how the Witherspoon Institute enlisted Regnerus to undertake the study in order to influence anticipated Supreme Court deliberations on same-sex marriage.

The documents also show that Regnerus has consistently lied about the participation of Witherspoon Institute officials in the study. Although Regnerus insisted that the funders had nothing to do with the design of the study or its outcome, the documents plainly indicate that that is far from the truth.

Sofia Resnick's analysis of these documents may be found in the Huffington Post. Another discussion of the documents may be found here.

The documents also raise more concerns about the peer-review process used by Social Science Research in expediting acceptance of the study.

In an attempt to gather more information about this process, blogger John Becker filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the University of Central Florida, where Social Science Research editor Wright teaches.

As Becker explained on April 16, 2013 in his blog, "We know that the timetable was extraordinarily compressed--. . . . the entire process, including the paper's initial submission, review, revision, and acceptance, took place within six weeks. But why? What are the reasons for moving so quickly? Did Regnerus just catch a lucky break, or is there more to the story? We already know that his funders had an anti-gay agenda and the study itself was plagued by troubling conflicts of interest; were the peer review and publication processes similarly compromised?"

However, Becker's FOIA request was denied by the University of Central Florida, just as requests for documents relating to the Regnerus study were initially denied by the University of Texas.

Not to be dissuaded, Becker has teamed up with noted Florida public records and civil rights attorneys Andrea Flynn Mogensen and Victor Chapman to file a lawsuit seeking the release of the records under Florida's Sunshine Law and Public Records Act.

The willingness of the University of Central Florida and (until the intervention of the office of the Attorney General of Texas) the University of Texas to protect Wright and Regnerus and their colleagues from the searching questions they need to answer is disturbing. Wright and Regnerus may be guilty of serious academic misconduct. Their universities should be interested in the answers to the questions not in protecting their faculty members from scrutiny. They should be eager to expedite the release of documents, not in veiling them in secrecy.

What is encouraging, however, is the tenacity of bloggers Rose and Becker. At a time when mainstream media fail to follow through on investigative reporting, these bloggers have pursued this story with admirable persistence. With little or no institutional backing, they have evinced a determination that the truth be told.

The academic establishment did a good job in quickly debunking the findings of the Regnerus study, but it has been timid in pursuing the serious charges of academic misconduct that the suspicious publication and financing of the study also raise. Thanks to bloggers like Scott Rose and John Becker for doing work that the academy and the mainstream media have abdicated.

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