We have been reporting on an invalid sociological study on gay parenting carried out by researcher Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas, Austin.
Below in this report is an official Complaint presented to COPE – the Committee on Publication Ethics — accusing editors of the journal that published the Regnerus “study” — Social Science Research — of editorial misconduct in publishing the study.
The tag-line on COPE’s website’s home page is:
“PROMOTING INTEGRITY IN RESEARCH PUBLICATION.”
COPE Chair Dr. Virginia Barbour has acknowledged receipt of the Complaint. Dr. Barbour confirms that COPE has commenced with COPE’s Complaint processing protocol.
By way of a little background about the scandal, Regnerus’s known minimum 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.
NOM sponsors hate rallies where its speakers yell through megaphones that homosexuals are “worthy to death,” and NOM officials tell the public that gay people are not human. 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 suspicious 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.
Sherkat admitted in an e-mail exchange with this reporter that his audit was complete and that he found 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!”
The proper action for the Social Science Research editorial board now to take with respect to the Regnerus study, would be that of retracting the Regnerus study from publication, putting it through genuine professional peer review and proper revisions, and only then publishing it, if it is even found to be publishable.
How any sociology study with an invalid test-group/control-group comparison could ever be deemed valid remains an unexplained mystery.
Out of dozens of experts interviewed by this reporter over the course of six weeks now, not a single one has said that a study with an invalid test-group/control-group comparison could imaginably be considered valid.
And, this much is additionally certain; leaving a study in publication after its peer review is documented as having failed, violates all ethics of scientific publishing.
Moreover, I have interviewed twelve editors of top science journals; all said that genuine professional peer review is a sine qua non of scientific publishing.
For example, Vanderbilt University Sociologist Tony N. Brown, Editor of the American Sociological Association’s American Sociological Review, told me: “journal editors should always seek knowledgeable reviewers who do not have any conflict of interest regarding the submitted author or the study’s funder.” (Bolding added).
The NOM-linked funders and their proxies, including NOM’s Maggie Gallagher, trumpet the alleged “peer review” of Regnerus study as proof of its validity. Therefore, it is all the more urgent that the study — which was published only through an unprofessional peer review process — be retracted and put through genuine, professional peer review before it is again presented to the public as a bona fide scientific effort.
Bona fide — Latin for “good faith.” The Regnerus study in its current iteration, as well as the circumstance of its publication in its current iteration, do not reflect bona fide scientific efforts.
James Wright, Darren Sherkat, their journal Social Science Research and the entire SSR editorial board continue to benefit from Regnerus’s invalid study remaining in publication. Because Regnerus’s invalid study is being so heavily downloaded and cited by political gay-bashers — including SPLC-certified anti-gay hate groups – Social Science Research‘s “impact factor” — a measure of a scientific journal’s influence — continues to be elevated, counter to all truly ethical scientific publishing practice.
The LGBT community nationally, and internationally, absolutely must not passively accept being victimized by an invalid study that only got published through James Wright’s abject abdication of his ethical responsibilities as a science journal’s editor-in-chief.
Interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Wright admitted that the prospect of exceptionally heavy, gay-bashing-bigots-led “enormous interest” in the invalid Regnerus study got him “excited,” and that his excitement may have caused him to be “inattentive” to things he should have “kept a keener eye on” — for example, whether Regnerus’s test-group/control-group comparison was valid.
Wright knows better, but published Regnerus anyway. His irresponsible actions are completely unacceptable.
Likewise, Sherkat’s duplicitous and disingenuous alibis exonerating Wright are irresponsible and unacceptable. Sherkat admits that Wright has accountability for choosing the peer reviewers, and that Wright cherry-picked the peer reviewers so that the peer reviewers — non-experts in the field of gay parenting — would rubber stamp the Regnerus “study” for publication. Then Sherkat says that because these cherry-picked, non-expert peer reviewers were all very enthusiastic about the Regnerus “study,” — and rubber stamped it — Wright had no choice but to publish it.
What a load of malarkey. Wright as editor-in-chief of a scientific journal of course has authority to reject a scientifically invalid study.
Sherkat furthermore has concocted alibis for the peer reviewers’ inattention to detail in the Regnerus “study.” Look at what Sherkat told the Chronicle of Higher Education: “he sympathizes with the task of the overburdened reviewer inclined to skim. Because of how the paper was written, Sherkat said, it would have been easy to miss Regnerus’s explanation of who qualified as “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers.” (Bolding added).
The whole point of professional peer review is for a study to receive authentic professional peer review.
People who are too busy to carry out a fully professional peer review should not accept a peer review assignment. Likewise, people who are not bright enough to perceive disqualifying defects in a study should recuse themselves from ever participating in peer review of scientific studies. Sherkat’s contrived, sub-professional excuses are absurd and completely unacceptable. The excuses he gives, that it would have been “easy to miss” Regnerus’s inappropriate labeling of study subjects’ parents as lesbian or gay, are precisely why the peer reviewers would have to be gay parenting experts, for the peer review to be valid.
I repeat that it is urgently important that the LGBT community not passively accept James Wright’s irresponsible behavior and Sherkat’s bogus excuses for Wright’s irresponsible, dangerous behavior. People wondering how Sherkat could have found all of these peer review and publication failures, and yet in the end, let SSR’s James Wright off the hook of all accountability for publication of the invalid, defamatory Regnerus study, might consider asking how much Wright/SSR paid Sherkat to carry out the audit.
NOM-linked funders appear to have orchestrated most of this entire scandal; we must not roll over and play dead in the face of it. We must not sit passively by as the lying anti-gay bigot Maggie Gallagher alleges, untruthfully, that the Regnerus study went through genuine, professional peer review.
The same NOM bigot monsters who plotted to “drive a wedge” and to “fan hostility” between African-Americans and gays must not be allowed a sick victory over basic human decency in the matter of the invalid Regnerus study.
It must be emphasized, and repeated, exactly what Sherkat admits with his audit.
He says that the peer-review process “failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems.” “Disqualifying” means that the study was not, and still is not suitable for publication. Not. Suitable. For. Publication. And Sherkat admits that it was a failure of the peer review process, that disqualifying problems were not identified. Sherkat further admits that the Regnerus study’s peer reviewers failed to identify disqualifying problems because of ideology — (which in this case means that they are prejudiced against gay people) — and because of “inattention” — which means that they did not carry out their duties as peer reviewers responsibly or professionally. Sherkat also admits that the peer reviewers are “not without some connection to Regnerus,” and suggests that those ties influenced their reviews, i.e. they had conflicts of interest that prevented them from carrying out a professional peer review of Regnerus’s study submission. And, editor-in-chief James Wright admits that he knew of conflicts of interest and anti-gay prejudices among the peer reviewers when he chose them. Sherkat further says: “Obviously, the reviewers did not do a good job.” In his analysis of the Regnerus’s study’s scientific failings, furthermore, Sherkat found one scientific failing in particular that should have disqualified the study “immediately” from being considered for publication.
To sum it up, then; 1) the Regnerus “study” is not scientifically valid; 2) the peer reviewers, prejudiced against gay people, had conflicts of interest even beyond their prejudices, and did not carry out their peer reviewers’ duties responsibly or professionally, and 3) they are not experts in the study’s topic.
Let us now take this opportunity to review what Vanderbilt University Sociologist Tony N. Brown, Editor of the American Sociological Association’s American Sociological Review, has to say: “journal editors should always seek knowledgeable reviewers who do not have any conflict of interest regarding the submitted author or the study’s funder.” (Bolding added).
Under these acknowledged conditions, it simply is not acceptable that the Regnerus “study” has not been retracted, so that it may be put through authentic professional peer review carried out by appropriate and conscientious professional peer reviewers.
The LGBT community, and those who support its human dignity and rights, must be outraged that Sherkat — as a Social Science Research editorial board member — is concocting ridiculous and unacceptable excuses for unprofessional behavior from the peer reviewers of the Regnerus “study.” Imagine if a surgeon, through 1) laziness; 2) inexperience; 3) unprofessional behavior and; 4) utter disdain for a sexual minority patient, inflicted an injury on a sexual minority patient during an operation. And then imagine that somebody in hospital administration — more concerned with shielding the irresponsible surgeon from true accountability than with the rights of sexual minority patients — invented a CYA excuse for the surgeon’s laziness and lack of appropriate experience.
Sherkat is doing the equivalent, with a study that daily is being used to inflict harm on LGBTers and those who support their rights.
Here is the official Editorial Misconduct Complaint against Social Science Research’s James Wright and Darren Sherkat, submitted to the Committee on Publication Ethics:
Dear Dr. Barbour:
Social Science Research has now completed its internal audit of the circumstances of its June 10, 2012 publication of the University of Texas at Austin’s Mark Regnerus New Family Structures Study.
Social Science Research did not follow due process in its audit; therefore, I am submitting this COPE Code of Ethics violations complaint to COPE, against SSR editor-in-chief James Wright and against SSR editorial board member Darren Sherkat. Please note that the allegations herein contained include allegations that SSR editor-in-chief James Wright — and later, Darren Sherkat — knowingly and deliberately carried through on a corrupt peer review scheme in order to get the Regnerus study published promptly and without any meaningful criticism made of it, and also without any corresponding, glaringly necessary revisions made to the study prior to publication.
For reference, here is one COPE precedent case involving a corruption of a journal’s peer review system: In that case summary, one reads: “Author A has agreed to retract published papers for which they admit to influencing the peer review process and we are planning retraction notices for these.“
For reference, the Regnerus study is here: How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study
Both are in violation of additional points of COPE’s Code of Conduct. However, as the complaint filing procedures I received from Natalie Ridgeway advise that my complaint should be not exceed a certain number of words, I am restricting this initial official COPE complaint submissions to matters involving Wright’s and Sherkat’s violations of the aforementioned points of COPE’s Code of Conduct. Upon request, I shall provide further enumerated allegations.
This part of the complaint centers on the fact that in publishing the Regnerus study, Wright enabled a corrupt and unprofessional peer review process.
Towards an understanding of how Wright and Sherkat violated due process, it is necessary first to clarify that the Regnerus study makes no valid comparison between its test group and control group and therefore, the study is not valid. While it is understood that COPE does not “review” content, a minimum background understand of the fact that the Regnerus study is scientifically invalid is necessary. Specifically, Regnerus’s invalid test-group/control-group comparison serves to demonize gay parents, that is to say, it is defamatory of them. Regnerus alleges that his study aimed to answer this question: “Do the children of gay and lesbian parents look comparable to those of their heterosexual counterparts?” To answer that question, Regnerus cherry-picked a control group of young adult children of continuously married heterosexual parents, against which he pitted his test group of young adult children mainly from failed mixed-orientation marriages (i.e. one parent heterosexual, the other a closeted homosexual or lesbian).
Additionally, into his test group of children of (improperly labeled) “lesbian mothers” and/or “gay fathers,” Regnerus threw in persons who had lost a parent to death when 15, or persons who had a single disabled parent never married, et cetera. Whereas Regnerus might have compared children of broken heterosexual homes to his “test” group whose members came from broken homes, he instead made the invalid comparison he did between children of continuously married heterosexual parents and children with a welter and a hodge-podge of domestic background circumstances, and he concluded that child outcomes for gay parents are “different” and “worse” than for heterosexual parents.
In one shockingly defamatory and false “finding,” Regnerus alleges that children of lesbian parents suffer a 23% rate of childhood victimization. Regnerus provided no means of knowing who allegedly abused these children; he asks only if a parent or guardian committed sex abuse against the children. Other of Regnerus’s data is suspect. For example, he asked “Have you ever masturbated?” and 620 respondents between 18 and 39 replied “No.”
As a little further background before getting to the allegations proper; Sherkat is selectively releasing his full audit to publications known in advance to be Regnerus study boosters. For example, he gave a copy of his audit to The Chronicle for Higher Education, which previously had published Christian Smith’s article “An Academic Auto-da-Fe” in which the baseline scientific failings of the Regnerus study are not acknowledged, and in which critics of the Regnerus study are baselessly attacked. Sherkat also gave a copy off his audit to the National Review’s Robert VerBruggen, another Regnerus study booster. Be it noted that VerBruggen has a history of championing distortions of the scientific record that are defamatory of gay people. For reference, you may read about VerBruggen here.
Nonetheless, Sherkat communicated with me for a time after the time he claimed he had completed his audit. Upon request, I shall provide his e-mail exchanges with me. He told me, apropos of his audit of SSR’s publication of the Regnerus study 1) The peer review failed here; 2) How did this study get published through peer review? The peers are right wing Christianists; 3) Sherkat also reported to me that he found a conflict of interest with one of the peer reviewers.
Additional media reports including the one in the Chronicle of Higher Education state that there was more than one peer reviewer with a conflict of interest, including that at least two of them had been a paid consultant for the Regnerus study design. Additionally, three of the peer reviewers are on record as being in opposition to same-sex marriage. Apparently, not a single one of the peer reviewers is an expert in LGBT matters generally and still less in gay parenting in particular. I asked Vanderbilt University Sociologist Tony N. Brown, Editor of the American Sociological Association’s American Sociological Review, what he thought of that situation. He told me: “journal editors should always seek knowledgeable reviewers who do not have any conflict of interest regarding the submitted author or the study’s funder.” (Bolding added).
With that in mind, then:
COPE Code of Conduct: 1.1. Editors should be accountable for everything published in their journals.
SSR editor-in-chief James Wright did not take, and has not taken, professional accountability for a valid peer review of the Regnerus study. Interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education about the internal audit of his publication of Regnerus, Wright admitted that such prospects as seeing SSR’s “impact factor” go up had him “excited” and that those prospects “may” have caused him to be “inattentive” to things that he should have kept a keener eye on. One of a scientific journal editor’s foremost responsibilities is to insure a valid, i.e. a non-corrupt, non-conflict-of-interests-tainted peer review. Though Wright says that he might have been “inattentive” to things he should have kept a keener eye on, he clearly did keep a very keen eye indeed on the selection of the peer reviewers for the Regnerus study.
A letter sent in June to Social Science Research by over 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s complained about the lack of intellectual integrity of the Regnerus study itself, as well as about the suspicious rush circumstances of the study’s publication. COPE officials should be certain to read the letter in its entirety. After noting many points of concern about what was then already known about the Regnerus study’s unprofessional peer review, the letter writers said this: “there are substantial concerns about the merits of this paper, and these concerns should have been identified through a thorough and rigorous peer review process.”
COPE Code of Conduct 1.4. (editors should) have processes in place to assure the quality of the material they publish;
If Wright has processes in place to assure the quality of the material he publishes, he ignored those processes in greasing the Regnerus study through the system with an inappropriate and unprofessional farce of a peer review of the Regnerus study. Additionally, whereas an invalid peer review would lead to retraction of an article — so it could be put through genuine professional peer review and revisions prior to any eventual re-publication — Sherkat and Wright invented preposterous alibis by which Wright made no actionable decisions, and Sherkat said that in Wright’s shoes, he may well have made all the same decisions. That means that Sherkat has no more regard for professional peer review than does Wright, and that they both have violated the letter and the spirit of COPE’s Code of Conduct 1.4
The integrity of the academic record obviously is not being maintained where a study that makes no valid comparison between a test and a control group is published through corrupt and unprofessional peer review. Where SSR’s audit uncovered the shocking extent of the unprofessional and corrupt peer review through which, only, the Regnerus study was able to be published, a correction should have been applied, that of retracting the study and putting it through genuine peer review and revisions, prior to any eventual re-publishing of the study. That is to say, Wright violated COPE’s Code of Conduct 1.6 when he first enabled a corrupt and unprofessional peer review of the Regnerus study, and then both Wright and Sherkat violated COPE’s Code of Conduct 1.6 when, knowing more in detail about the full extent of the unprofessional and corrupt peer review through which, only, the Regnerus study was able to be published, they abdicated their responsibility to maintain the integrity of the academic record by leaving the invalid Regnerus study in publication.
Irrefutably, Wright and Sherkat are motivated more through a desire to see SSR’s “impact factor” remain abnormally high, than they are through a dedication to “maintaining the integrity of the academic record.”
COPE’s Code of Conduct 1.7. (editors should) preclude business needs from compromising intellectual and ethical standards;
By his own admission, Wright allowed business needs to compromise intellectual and ethical standards. His initial decisions to grease the rails of peer review by assigning non-expert, ethically compromised peer reviewers with known antipathies to gay human beings, so that he could be sure of a brainless and auto-pilot “STAMP OF APPROVAL” on the Regnerus study clearly compromises intellectual and ethical standards. Moreover, Sherkat’s and Wright’s joint campaign to allege that the corrupt peer review is not grounds for retraction of the study — (so that the study could be put through genuine peer review) — very conspicuously is motivated by a desire to see a continuing, abnormally high “impact factor” and not by concern for intellectual and ethical standards.
COPE’s Code of Conduct 1.8. (editors should) always be willing to publish corrections, clarifications, retractions and apologies when needed.
It is obvious that a retraction of the Regnerus study — (so that it can be put through genuine peer review, with LGBT-sciences experts as the peer reviewers, and with none of them having any conflicts of interest) — is not just appropriate, but required if Wright and SSR are to have a good reputation in the scientific community. Wright, moreover, owes an apology to every LGBT person as well as to every heterosexual parent, brother, sister or other relative of LGBTers and all friends and/or associates of LGBTers who support the unconditional equality under law of their LGBT relatives, friends and associates. Wright acted on the greedy basis of his “excitement” over the prospect of an unethically-elevated “impact factor” for his journal, at the expense of all of the above-cited points from COPE’s Code of Ethics.
Please note that anti-gay-rights groups have attempted to use the Regnerus study against gay people’s rights, in the courts. For example, the religious right-wing splinter group, the American College of Pediatrics, filed an amicus brief in the Golinksi-DOMA case, not just based on the invalid Regnerus study, but actually misrepresenting what the Regnerus study says. In reaction, eight major professional organizations including the American Medical Association filed an amicus brief, explaining to the court where the ACP had misrepresented the Regnerus study, and additionally analyzing the Regnerus study itself as scientifically invalid. You might think that Wright and Sherkat would want to retract the Regnerus paper and see it go through genuine peer review, so that Social Science Research is not again exposed in a court of law as a publication without regard for the integrity of the academic record, and without regard for intellectual and ethical standards.
Again, for reference, here is one COPE precedent case involving a corruption of a journal’s peer review system: In that case summary, one reads: “Author A has agreed to retract published papers for which they admit to influencing the peer review process and we are planning retraction notices for these.”
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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