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

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

by Scott Rose on December 12, 2012

in Actions,Bigotry Watch,Civil Rights,News,Scott Rose

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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{ 1 comment }

JayJonson December 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Thanks for staying on this case. The bigots will lie and lie and lie.

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