We have been reporting on an invalid sociological study on gay parenting carried out by researcher Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas, Austin.
Regnerus’s known total of $785,000 for the study was arranged by The Witherspoon Institute and The Bradley Foundation, where Robert P. George, head of the anti-gay-rights, scientifically disreputable National Organization for Marriage holds positions of authority. Witherspoon president Luis Tellez is a NOM board member.
The Regnerus study currently is being used as an anti-gay-rights political weapon in the 2012 elections.
The Regnerus study was published in the Elsevier journal Social Science Research.
After over 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s sent Social Science Research a letter complaining about the Regnerus study’s lack of intellectual integrity, and the suspect rush process through which the study got published, SSR editor-in-chief James Wright assigned Sherkat to conduct an “audit” of the publication process for the Regnerus study.
Darren Sherkat, an Editorial Board member of Social Science Research admitted in an e-mail exchange with this reporter that “The peer review process failed here.”
Sherkat went on to say in a subsequent e-mail: “How did this study get through peer review? The peers are right wing Christianists!”
Sherkat further says that Social Science Research editor-in-chief James Wright is the authority who picks the reviewers for submitted papers.
Sherkat also said: “Regnerus produced some exceptionally distorted and inferior research that should not have been published in a major general interest journal.”
Sherkat said: ”There are other ethical issues related to this paper which I am continuing to investigate, and I have filed a FOIA to the University of Texas regarding those issues.” UT has asked Texas Attorney General Republican Greg Abbott for Freedom of Information Act exemptions for all of the requested documentation of the Regnerus study. The Witherspoon Institute is on record, not wishing to release any of the requested documentation.
Sherkat completed his audit without seeing any of the Regnerus-study-related documentation that he allegedly requested from the University of Texas, Austin under the Freedom of Information Act.
There was nothing ethical or acceptable about Wright assigning Sherkat to an “audit” of the publication of the Regnerus study. Wright earlier wrote to me in an e-mail that he had asked Sherkat to conduct the audit; in that e-mail, Wright noted that Sherkat was already a vocal and public critic of the Regnerus study. Sherkat’s position on the editorial board of Social Science Research, on top of his public condemnations of the study, mark him as an entirely inappropriate figure to carry out an audit, regardless of one’s opinion of gay rights. And, there certainly was no possibility of Sherkat carrying out an independent audit, which is what is desperately needed in this case, as a CYA farce audit is worse than useless, and unethical. Moreover, although Sherkat promised this reporter a copy of his written audit as soon as it was ready, Sherkat failed to follow through on that promise, instead discussing his full, completed audit with The Chronicle for Higher Education.
CHE reports that Sherkat found conflicts of interest with two of the study’s peer reviewers; Sherkat can not even get his facts straight; he previously told me that he had completed his audit and found “only” one conflict of interest among the peer reviewers. Additionally, as you can see in the CHE interview with Sherkat, Sherkat 1) condemns the study as invalid, but then says that despite its invalidity, and 2) despite the conflicts of interest he found — in which conflicts of interest, 3) persons paid with NOM-linked money to consult on the study design, which appears to be an inappropriate and inadequate study design, went on to 4) approve for publication the study with their apparently inappropriate and inadequate study design; 5) despite all of the foregoing, Sherkat says that he may well have made Wright’s same decision to publish the Regnerus study.
A further red flag in Sherkat’s public statements about his audit to the CHE, is that he admits that three of the six peer reviewers are on record as being against same-sex marriage. What — if it is not too much to ask — might be the other three peer reviewers’ opinions of gay people and same-sex marriage? Are they maybe neutral? Without a genuine investigation of the publication process, there is no way to know whether Wright hand-picked all of the peer reviewers with a mind to giving the Regnerus study an unwarranted peer review “free pass” towards publication. Let us not forget; NOM officials are on record saying that homosexuals are not human. NOM’s Maggie Gallagher has said that she is “unwilling” to live in a nation that gives homosexuals anti-discrimination protections. For Sherkat to audit the publication of the invalid, Regnerus study defamatory of gays, and to report in his audit that three out of six of the study’s peer reviewers are on record as being against same-sex marriage, leaving the public to imagine that the other three peer reviewers are neutral on same-sex marriage — (as if!) — highlights that the “audit” appears to be a CYA sham.
In addition to the Regnerus study peer reviewers having had conflicts of interest because of their paid involvement with the study design, Wright also chose persons paid to consult on the study to write commentary on it, which commentaries were published alongside the study. The letter from over 200 Ph.D.’s and M.D.s notes that none of the Regnerus study commentators have experience in the sociological specialty of gay parenting. In regard to that, Sherkat said: ”Wright erred in picking who commented, and he did this to rush the papers to publication in order to jack up journal publicity.” One of Sherkat’s alibis for Wright is, “he’s an older scholar.”
Furthermore, Sherkat is falling all over himself , praising Social Science Research editor-in-chief James Wright for his handling of the publication of the Regnerus study. Sherkat told CHE that he “may well have made the same” publication decisions as Wright. Wright meanwhile is described as having made his decisions to publish the paper because of the attention it would attract to his journal, (for political rather than for purely scientific reasons). Ergo, Sherkat “may well have made the same” publication decisions as Wright for business-and-reader-attention reasons rather than for scientific reasons. However that may be, that Wright assigned Sherkat to conduct an audit, the upshot of which is that Sherkat is falling all over himself praising Wright, is on its face a towering ethics fail. Moreover, Sherkat told a source that he did not want to inspect the e-mails of those involved in the Regnerus matter, because he did not want others to be able to see his own e-mails as part of any eventual inquiry or investigation. That is to say, apparently by his own admission, Sherkat seemingly had conflicts of interest in conducting the audit. Some independent entity should now further investigate the circumstances of the publication of the Regnerus study, if the community’s trust in the journal Social Science Research‘s integrity is not to continue in its sadly undermined condition. Social Science Research‘s integrity is every bit as trashed as that of anybody else connected with the public perpetration of the unscientific travesty known as the Regnerus study. My official allegations of scientific and scholarly misconduct against Regnerus, now presented to the University of Texas, Austin, express grave concerns about the process through which the Regnerus study was published.
Meanwhile additionally, an amicus brief filed in the Golinski-DOMA case by eight major professional associations including the American Medical Association criticized the Regnerus study for improperly labeling as “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” persons not actually known to be that, and logically by extension, for not making a scientifically valid comparison between its test group and its control group. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Nathaniel Frank said of the Regnerus study: Regnerus ”fails the most basic requirement of social science research — assessing causation by holding all other variables constant.”
In view of the blatant scientific invalidity of the study, I sent SSR editor-in-chief Wright an e-mail, asking whether he defends Regnerus’s invalid comparison between his test group and his control group. I specifically asked: “Can you cite ten additional studies with test and control groups mismatched to at least an equal degree as those in the Regnerus study, which ten studies are widely acknowledged as valid and cited as important contributions to the field of sociology?”
Sherkat, answering for Wright, said that it is “not up to the editor to answer” that question, or any other question posed about the publication of the Regnerus study. Thus, Social Science Research‘s editor-in-chief James Wright takes on a likeness to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who, absurdly, was at Bain after he was not at Bain and then resigned from Bain retroactively even though he had not really been at Bain. Though James Wright is editor-in-chief of Social Science Research, he will not answer any questions about how the invalid Regnerus study came to be published on his watch. He will not answer as to whether any sociological studies exhibiting failings as glaring as those found in the Regnerus study enjoy any respect whatsoever in the community of scholars. Wright through Sherkat is admitting that the journal Social Science Research published the Regnerus paper even though it does not make a valid comparison between its test group and its control group — “The peer review process failed here” – but Wright as editor-in-chief is refusing to explain how so fatal a flaw in a study got published on his watch as editor-in-chief. Wright is hiding behind Sherkat, refusing to explain his unacceptable publication decisions. For Sherkat to say that 1) the Regnerus study never should have been published, but that 2) he may well have made the same decisions as Wright to publish it, shows that Sherkat is confused about how to present his audit and his opinions to the public coherently, and without coming off as a danged, double-talking fool, which he now has succeeded perfectly in doing.
Dr. Gary Gates of the Williams Institute gave this reporter the following statement about this matter. His commentary, while somewhat lengthy, is worth reading in its entirety. Gates provides insight into the publication process at a mid-tier scientific journal such as Social Science Research, and he also gives a direct assessment of questions that SSR editor-in-chief James Wright should already have answered, but has not yet answered.
“Sound and compelling social science is not the only driving force behind research and publication. The truth is that there are a wide variety of incentives associated with why social scientists do research and why journals publish it. The top academic journals are all quite established and have little trouble getting good submissions of research from scholars. One way for smaller and less prestigious journals to delineate themselves and get better submissions is to get their citation index and impact scores higher. Scholars know that the tenure process often includes a review of the relative impact of journals in which a scholar publishes, so younger scholars are very motivated to try to submit to journals with higher citation and impact scores. One way for smaller and less prestigious journals to bump up their impact is to publish research that will get attention. They have a clear incentive to publish more provocative papers, even if they have flaws. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it offers an outlet to scholars doing work that is perhaps a bit out the mainstream and that top tier journals are still leery about. Top ranked journals can at times be somewhat conservative and focus on fairly canonical science. Less prestigious journals play in important role in disseminating scholarship that the mainstream academy may be reluctant to embrace. So I don’t necessarily find it problematic that an editor is motivated to find provocative, attention-getting research.
“However, in the case of the Regnerus paper, there are still too many unanswered questions about why this editor seemed to have such a sense of urgency not just to publish a provocative paper, but to publish it now. There was a clear rush here that goes beyond just a motivation to get the journal attention. That urgency led to very bad decisions about the selection of commentators and perhaps peer reviewers. The editor has still not answered this key question about what motivated such urgency.”
Elsevier, which owns the Social Science Review journal, previously alleged that it had referred SSR’s publication of the Regnerus study to the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE) for review. However, in an e-mail, COPE Chair Virginia Barbour then said she had yet to receive that referral from Elsevier. Barbour said that if Elsevier said they were going to refer the matter to COPE, she was sure that Elsevier would do that. In a subsequent official e-mail from Elsevier, however, a company spokesperson said that Elsevier could not refer this matter to COPE, that somebody outside the company, as a matter of company policy, would have to take that action. In other words, Elsevier is not communicating its policies coherently to the public. Meanwhile, Elsevier’s CEO Youngsuk Chi has made political donations to Senator Tom Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the most virulent political gay-bashers in the United States. Asked whether he supports LGBT equality, CEO Chi, through an Elsevier spokesperson, refused to answer, in an age when Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, General Mills, J.C. Penney and many additional top-ranked companies have come out for LGBT equality.
Whereas Regnerus first submitted his study to SSR before he had completed his data collection, and whereas the letter to SSR from over 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s expresses concern that the Regnerus study was accepted for publication on an unusually hasty schedule of just five weeks, Sherkat asks that everybody be patient until November, when SSR intends to publish the professionals’ letter, though it has been available right here on our TNCRM site since June 29, 2012.
SSR’s foot-dragging in publishing the letter from 200+ Ph.D.s and M.D.s questioning the Regnerus study’s intellectual integrity is unforgivable, given that Elsevier has the technical capacity to publish that letter online alongside the Regnerus study immediately.
Regnerus’s NOM-linked funders had a political stake in the outcome of his study, and are juicing his study constantly and nationally for political gain. Section 3(c) of the American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics says: ”Because sociologists’ scientific and professional judgments and actions may affect the lives of others, they are alert to and guard against personal, financial, social, organizational, or political factors that might lead to misuse of their knowledge, expertise, or influence.”
Wright’s and Sherkat’s “professional judgments and actions” in publishing — and now in auditing their own publication of — the invalid Regnerus study are negatively affecting the lives of others.
There is an appearance that — less a valid investigation — many of the transparency scandals in the publication of the Regnerus study will never be sufficiently set aside. According to the journal’s peer review policy, Regnerus was able to recommend people to “referee” (i.e., to peer review) his own paper. Although a researcher is not guaranteed that his recommended peer reviewers will be used, in the event that a researcher’s recommendations are accepted by the editor, the public has no way of knowing whether that happened. For all we know, Regnerus recommended all six of his study’s peer reviewers, and Wright accepted all six of Regnerus’s recommendations.
However that may be, it would appear very telling that Sherkat said: ”How did this study get through peer review? The peers are right wing Christianists!” He also said: “You are not on the editorial board of SSR, and I am the only board member who knows who the reviewers were. I will not be informing the rest of the Board about who the reviewers were, much less the public. You are not privileged to know who the reviewers were on a blind reviewed article. Indeed, it is irregular that I know that information. No, you cannot “fact check” that, or whatever.”
Summing up what we know, then; 1) Sherkat admits that he knows the identities of those who peer-reviewed the Regnerus study, and he says: 2) ”How did this study get through peer review? The peers are right wing Christianists!” 3) Notice very carefully that in that remark, Sherkat did not say that only three of the peer reviewers are “right wing Christianists.” He did not say that “some” of the peer reviewers are “right wing Christianists.” He clearly implied that all of the peer reviewers are “right wing Christianists.”
I asked Sherkat if he was investigating whether any of the Regnerus’s paper’s peer reviewers are being investigated for possible conflicts of interest (i.e., were any of the Regnerus study’s peer reviewers paid consultants on the study) — and whether he would release those reviewers’ names to the public, if he found they had had conflicts of interest.
“Yes, I am,” he said. “I don’t report to the public. However, I would advise the editor and the editorial board that the paper should be retracted and resubmitted for a full review (that is normal procedure in all sciences). Sherkat also said: “I am almost finished with my audit response, and I will send it to you very soon. I hope it will answer some questions, but I know it will never be satisfying. It can’t be. The fuckers played this one perfect, and now we’re all just on the defense.”
(Journalist’s note: Where Sherkat says “now we’re all just on the defense,” he appears to mean that the journal’s editors are “all just on the defense.” The question of exactly how the Regnerus study got peer-reviewed by “right wing Christianists” and then published, leaving “all” the editors of the journal Social Science Research “on the defense” has yet to be answered.)
In one particularly angry e-mail, Sherkat alleged that I am “not a journalist.” That is a rogue’s attack, which this journalist has heard many times before from people in positions similar to Sherkat’s, when people like Sherkat do not want the public to have a full and complete understanding of their behavior.
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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