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Editor of “Gay Parenting” paper responds to BTB reader

Timothy Kincaid

June 15th, 2012

Andrew, a reader and regular commenter at Box Turtle Bulletin, emailed James Wright, the editor of Social Science Research. Citing his own experience as a published author of scientific articles, Andrew expressed concern about Mark Regnerus’ article, its failure to address its objectives, and the careless way in which it lends itself to political abuse (snippet):

In short, the author ultimately fails to address the question he seeks to any reasonable degree. In the past days, Regnerus himself has publicly acknowledged that acquiring some of the data necessary to arrive at the conclusions he does is a “methodological impossibility” at present, and that there’s a “low ceiling to what’s possible” with this information. Given the critical impact of frankly inadequate work funded by an ultraconservative think tank, I question the ethics of publishing such incomplete (some might argue shoddy) work. This will have significant real-world impact, given the political salience of the issue.

James Wright responded (in full):

The paper to which you refer was vetted, reviewed and revised following exactly the same processes that all SSR submissions go through. None of the three external reviewers of the paper, nor any of the three formal commenters, raised any prohibitive concerns about any aspect of the study. Some suggestions for revisions were made in the first round of reviews and those suggestions were followed in the published version.

For the record, Dr. Regnerus is a well-known, respected, and widely cited member of the social science community. A check this morning of the Publish or Perish data base shows 2,415 scientific citations to his papers, which generally appear in high-quality social science journals.

I am told that Professor Regnerus intends to release the raw data for reanalysis sometime in the fall, and I expect those data to be pored over very carefully by a large number of investigators. Any possibly erroneous conclusions that come to light as a result of this process are certain to be reported. This is what makes science self-correcting.

Since we followed the same procedures that are followed for all submissions (some three-quarters of which are rejected, by the way), I would not call the decision to publish the paper “an editorial oversight,” although I am quick to admit that peer review is not a perfect process. As for seeking publicity, be assured that I much prefer the relative anonymity within which my journal editing normally takes place.

I will indulge myself in one final point. The children studied in this survey were raised in an era when it was legally impossible for their parents to form normal marital unions, when gay people were subjected to hostilities and prejudices of the worst imaginable sort, and where their children would have been stereotyped and vilified by their peers and others. The hypothesis that these children would not suffer lasting effects from this sort of social environment seems implausible in the extreme. I do not see that is damaging either to the parents or the children to call attention to the formidable difficulties gay parents must have faced (and still face) in trying to raise their children, or to the consequences for these children that are still detectable years and even decades later. To the contrary, these strike me as precisely the realities that must be acknowledged and faced if we are ever to progress beyond our current heteronormative bigotries.

With best wishes,

Jim Wright

Perhaps Mr. Wright simply doesn’t understand the objections to the article. Hearing complaints about how the conclusions are not supported, it seems that he thinks that it is the conclusions themselves that are causing concern – that if they had been glowing then the report would be accepted. And besides, the conclusions confirm what his presumptions already know.

Wright’s discussion about the likelihood of children of gay parents growing up in the 80′s and 90′s having detectable negative social consequences is not a bad hypothesis. It would not surprise me to find that there were some differences between those children raised by intact same-sex families and intact opposite-sex families, especially in socially hostile locations. But we don’t know that to be true and, despite its pretensions and Regnerus’ media claims, his study tells us nothing whatsoever about that possibility. Besides, difference does not necessitate negative consequences (for example, children of Orthodox Jews tend to have much lower drop-out rates).

While Wright sees logical and predictable results about “the children studied in this survey”, he misses the point that there weren’t any. Of all the children in the survey, only two were raised for their entire childhood by a female same-sex couple and none were raised for their entire childhood by a male same-sex couple.

We do know that Dr. Wright is not unaware of proper sampling techniques or the limitations of inadequate data. In 2010, he co-edited The Handbook of Survey Research, Second Edition, a synopsis of which describes the book thusly:

Detailed chapters include: sampling; measurement; questionnaire construction and question writing; survey implementation and management; survey data analysis; special types of surveys; and integrating surveys with other data collection methods. This handbook is distinguished from other texts by its greater comprehensiveness and depth of coverage including topics such as measurement models, the role of cognitive psychology, surveying networks, and cross-national/cross-cultural surveys. Timely and relevant it includes materials that are only now becoming highly influential topics.

So it’s hard to say at this point exactly why Wright rushed to publish this obviously flawed study. Perhaps he was impressed by the scientific citations that Regnerus has generated (Dr. Wright is not, himself, affiliated with a prestigious social science program and his publication, while carrying the Elsevier name, is not sufficiently important, for example, to be carried by the University of California).

It may be that he was blinded by his presumptions and green-lighted a paper that confirmed what ‘everyone knows’. Or maybe his desire that we progress beyond our heteronormative bigotries doesn’t extend to full social and legal equality and he felt it important that Regnerus’ “findings” be presented with politically expedient timing.

I will resist guessing as to his motives. But I do hope that in his continuing conversation with Andrew he will give serious thought to the matter and will be open to rethinking the wisdom of his decision.

Comments

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Jay
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Wright published the paper because he is an unethical right-winger who has himself attacked same-sex marriage and argued in favor of “covenant marriage.” Like most right-wing religious nuts, he lies. He probably also wanted the publicity for his little journal. Most of all, he wanted to do the bidding of Robert George and maybe tap into all that Witherspoon Institute money himself. He is simply lying that this unethical study went through a rigorous peer-review.

Boo
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Perhaps Andrew can ask him how it is that none of these rigorous peer reviewers were able to identify the gaping methodological flaws that multiple lay people were abl to quickly identify with little difficulty.

Steve
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Wright is an anti-gay agitator with a religiously motivated agenda himself. He wrote a book about “covenant marriage” and warned against the “threats of same-sex marriage” in another report of his. He also has close ties to other anti-gay social “scientists” like Loren Marks.

By the way, Regenerus is also a flat out misogynist:
http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/104019/its-time-mark-regnerus-get-collectively-dumped

That is some sort of highly regarded, often cited expert says nothing in America. The same can be said of Tony Perkins and Peter Spriggs, who are regularly invited when ever an anti-gay point is needed. Doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about. Any can be an expert these days.

StraightGrandmother
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

This is such a cool community.

Bose in St Peter MN
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Wright’s “final” point points out an intriguing dynamic.

One of the (ostensibly) best and brightest of anti-gay social scientists will acknowledge that same-sex-headed families have experienced “hostilities and prejudices of the worst imaginable sort,” with their children being “stereotyped and vilified by their peers and others.” But, it’s all good to point out the differences in those kids as adults because the best and brightest just want to make their lives better by moving beyond “our current heteronormative bigotries.”

Wow. Heternormative bigotries.

Institutional anti-gay forces have made life difficult for gay-headed families, he proposes, so let’s measure the harms, knowing fully that those measurements will be used by anti-gay forces to justify ongoing heteronormative bigotries.

jpeckjr
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Like Bose, I see an argument in favor of marriage equality in the last paragraph of Dr. Wright’s email.

If same-gender marriage became legally sanctioned and culturally recognized, the hostility and villification foisted upon the children of those marriage would diminish, disappear, or, at least, be condemned. The children might then have better outcomes.

So, now can we say this study “proves” that societal disapproval of same-sex relationships is harmful to children?

Please let us say that, Timothy, please, please, please?

Christopher
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

This highlights a serious problem with scholarly publishing, or rather purchasing. Libraries are the biggest subscribers to Elsevier journals. Most libraries that subscribe to Social Science Research purchase it as part of a “big deal” with Elsevier that’s used to keep annual price increases down.

That is, very few libraries subscribe to Social Science Research as a stand-alone publication.

This makes it very difficult in a case such as this, where the editor puts ideology over facts when choosing what to publish, for libraries to cancel their subscription. If libraries want to stop subscribing to Social Science Research their “big deal” requires that they substitute it with a subscription of equal or greater value.

In spite of the difficulty of doing that sometimes I’d still encourage libraries to look at how much use Social Science Research really gets, and consider cancelling it in favor of a higher quality publication.

Timothy Kincaid
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

jpeckjr

I think we all know that to be true, but we can’t say that it is evidenced by this study.

If we compared children of gay couples where marriage is legal to children of gay couples where illegal, we could have evidence that societal disapproval of same-sex relationships is harmful to children.

Sadly, this study proves… nothing.

Kevin
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Haven’t seen research of such high quality since The Bell Curve.

*sarcasm*

Andrew
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Boo, I did just exactly that, but last night I noted that Amato, one of the reviewers, is a co-author with Wright on his paper concerning the harm done by acceptance of gay marriage to the respect for the institution…

So, how’s that again? Follow this carefully: The editor is a co-author with one of the “peer-reviewers” on an anti-gay-marriage paper – the views of which are magically supported by the findings of the paper edited, and peer-reviewed by… themselves.

As to the “massive” number of citations Wright chalks up to the author, I just want to point out that, of the four papers from 3 years as an RA that I have which show up in Google Scholar (I have more, but not in GS apparently), they have generated 129 citations.

How can this be? Am I this totally amazing scientist?

Hardly (well, I was pretty good). A research group (and yes, they come in packs) tends to build it’s work on its previous work – so the vast majority of citations will be from the same author or group of authors. If you have several authors on a given paper, that effect is magnified exponentially — in my case nearly 4^4.

This isn’t just building on the same knowledge, by the way, there’s rampant padding that goes on. The same data gets recycled over and over — partly because of the high costs of research, and because of the difficulties in building a name for yourself in the research community, but its in no small part because the number of publications is one of the key elements to gaining tenure (the others being teaching qualifications and grant dollars).

So, what happens when you and the editor of the journal happen to be like-minded, or possibly know each other? Well, a lot, actually. The lines of communication are shortened. The skepticism is dropped. Standards slide. And the editor may find himself editing work that cites his own previous papers or vice-versa. Conflicts of interest abound.

And people think academics are an ivory tower? You have no idea what a dirty business it can be.

So — I’m as yet undecided whether these are well-intentioned individuals blinded by their ideology to the fact that their underlying biases (nay, prejudices) have been integrated into their work, or whether this is a actually calculated hatchet job.

Honestly, I would ask UCF, in the interest of full disclosure, to make Wrights full email account there a matter of public record. As an employee, it’s within bounds, and as a government-run school, it may be something one could request. I suspect very strongly the resulting disclosures would be profoundly enlightening.

Given the incredible strain that’s happened here – the speed of publication process, the press releases before the paper was available, bogarting the data set for months before allowing other researchers near it, the fact that one of the “reviewers” has been a co-author on previous anti-gay-marriage papers with the editor of the journal, the conflict of interest between taking money from a conservative think tank… the fact that the editor appears to either be an idiot (or think that we are) who appears to “misunderstand” the fundamentals of research that he himself has written about… it’s all a little too much for me to accept as non-intentional.

That said, making accusations of the sort that I’m tempted to are very serious. They’re nearly impossible to prove, but if accepted as fact, they damage careers. I’m distressed that the folks behind this paper have put themselves, and us, and science generally, in this position. It’s bad for everyone.

Donny-man
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

“(Dr. Wright is not, himself, affiliated with a prestigious social science program and his publication, while carrying the Elsevier name, is not sufficiently important, for example, to be carried by the University of California).”

Nice sly insult.

Nikke
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

I disagree with your assessment of Social Science Research. It’s a second-tier journal that’s not easy to publish in.

TampaZeke
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

How convenient that the full details of the study will be released for more critical review “later this fall”. What do you want to be that they will be released within a week AFTER the election which will include FOUR anti-gay marriage referenda.

Vic Mansfield
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Once again, it’s a study that is
Blaming the victims.

Stephen
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Surely it would be unusual to spend this much money on a paper without first having an agreement from someone to publish it?

StraightGrandmother
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Andrew, first off “bogarting the data set for months before allowing other researchers near it” LOL on that one.

But didn’t you read in Amato’s review of the researcher he was a paid consultant on it. He was paid for 2 days something about the design of it. So therefore he could NOT be a peer reviewer because peer reviews are supposed to be blind. Shumm I think is out of Kansas and he was a paid consultant for 3 days so he could not have been a blind peer reviewer.

I tell you what you can try Andrew. I have the list of all the Advisory Editors e-mail addresses you can send out an e-mail and ask them if any one of them wants to step forward. For my money I think Donley could have been a peer reviewer because she is sure getting interviewed a lot and works with him at the same school. You could simply write Donley and ask her. But that would not satify the “blind” part of peer review since she surely knew his work. Did you watch the video of him posted in another BTB article? He says on the video he started this project in the fall of 2010. Now the Prop 8 Decision was August 4 of 2010 so that makes sense to me.

Here on this article in comments are all the names and e-mail addresses of the leadership and all the Advisory Editors. I give them to you comma separated and semi-colon separated because that is just the way I am :)

I still don’t know why he did it, why he just lumped all the gays no matter their family structure into one bucket. I told him on Sunday that “you will take a pounding from the gays” if you don’t separate them out into separate buckets. I warned him but he stuck to his guns and that is what he released.

StraightGrandmother
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Oops here is the link to the e-mail addresses, shown in comments.
http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2012/06/13/45683

Jim Burroway
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Surely it would be unusual to spend this much money on a paper without first having an agreement from someone to publish it?

Eliciting a promise like that from a peer reviewed journal would be unethical and a major scandal. Professional peer-reviewed journals accept papers after they are written, not before.

Andrew
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Jim, I see where you’re going, but I don’t think an agreement is really necessary and there needn’t have been pre-study conspiracy. Simply acquiring the data set would be enough of a stake in the ground to interest someone, and the fact that he’s had many years in the field and knows people surely gives him the confidence to know that, provided he finds friendly editorial staff, getting the work published is not an impossible task. These folks, the thinktank included, all know how this game is played.

What is telling, however, is that for a grant of that size and scope it only got published in this poorly regarded journal.

Nikke, you may be right. I’m basing my analysis of this journal from a conversation I had two days ago with an Associate Dean of the School of Social Sciences at a University of California campus.

More precisely, this academic’s statement was that the journal was too broad for most academics in the field to really have much interest in it, and that most focus their interest more narrowly. Also, as part of that conversation, this person noted that not only was the journal not available at that 15,000-strong campus, but it couldn’t be found in-system at any U.C. campus.

A system as large as U.C., with the high standards and exceptionally high regard doesn’t subscribe to this journal.

We’re talking 160,000 undergraduates, and over 14,000 academic staff, with a budget exceeding $8 billion. And this journal is not of interest to them.

So, perhaps this journal is not easy to get published in. I’m not sure how long this editor has been editor, and maybe things have been that way for a long time, or maybe this is new.

But I can tell you how amazing it is that poorly conceived, structured, and analyzed work gets published when you happen to share the same religious-based animosities as your editor, the paid “consultants” (if not peer reviewers, Granny?), and the funding body.

Andrew
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

By the way — I just want to let everyone know that the ego boost I got from finding out that I have 129 citations for my pretty meager research career that ended 13 years ago was totally deflated by my partner, who seems utterly unimpressed and sits immediately to my right mocking me even now. Love you too, babe.

Everyone needs someone to keep them grounded!

Stephen
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Jim, Andrew, thanks for explanations. I know nothing about this world, never even having attended college as a student. But in my own line of work I know that it would be very very difficult to float that kind of budget without someone at least expressing a serious interest in the outcome.

I think the money is at least part of the story. Did Regnerus solicit it? Or did it come to him as a “Would you be interested in…?” How many other journals were offered the study and when? Or were no other journals offered the study? If there was no contact as it was being written then its publication would seem to be even more improbably fast.

Priya Lynn
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Andrew, we think you’re great even if your partner isn’t impressed.

StraightGrandmother
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Andrew, I don’t think Amato nor Shumm could be a reviewer because then it wouldn’t be a blind review, since they were both paid consultants.

If you go back to the BTB article where I showed our e-mails back and forth twice he says that he has been criticized for not segmenting WSW or MSW into family structures. Since I was wriitng to him on Sunday night June 10th and he told me that the issue would be avialble for free on Monday June 11 then it only makes sense that the peer reviewers had offered this criticism since it hadn’t been publicly published. They must have for some reason given advance copies to Amato and Eggebeen since they had write up the same day as it was published.

But getting back to my point he says that he was criticized (prior to June 10 since it was not availabe before then) for not segmenting the MSM and WSW data so that must have come from peer review. Then I guess it is just up to the Editor whether he wants to publish or not after he reads the peer reviews. Amazing how quick Amato and Eggebeen got their reviews in though isn’t it? Same day it was published.

StraightGrandmother
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Just random things that are interesting.

BTW did any of you look at his website for the Research and click on and read who helped him with it from his school?

http://www.prc.utexas.edu/nfss/people.html

Osborne- Prior to joining the LBJ School faculty, Osborne was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Research on Child Wellbeing at Princeton University, where she worked on the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Survey of New Parents. She holds a Ph.D. in demography and public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, a master’s in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and a master of arts in education from Claremont Graduate University. Previously, Osborne was a middle school teacher in a low-income community in California.

StraightGrandmother
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Just random things that are interesting-

Osborne in her further comments to both research papers-

Approximately 43% of the NFSS respondents whose mothers had a same-sex relationship were Black or Hispanic.

[StraightGrandmother is NOT making a judgement! But is that representative of what the census says? Are 43% of Lesbains black or Hispanic? Might be we have a large Hispanic population. ]

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049089X12000774

From Main page of-
http://www.journals.elsevier.com/social-science-research/recent-articles/

StraightGrandmother
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Osborne- “To my knowledge, no studies have been able to adequately compare heterosexual- and same-sex parents within a given family structure (e.g. married to married; cohabiting to cohabiting, unstable to unstable, etc.) Confounding the same-sex relationship with a variety of family forms (and changes in family forms) is a limitation of the Regnerus study, but may be a limitation of all studies because of the small sample size associated with children of same-sex parents.”

[SGM- Not really. They were insistent that they only interview adults over age 18 that was their problem. If they would have interviewed younger than age 18 people they would have found plenty. It is not that children planned and raised in a mommy+mommy or daddy+daddy home are to few, it is simply that they are young. The first IVF in the United States took place in 1981.It takes a while for that medical technology to work its way out throughout the medical community. And I wonder if anybody can remember when was the first time an adoption was permitted by a State to a declared lesbian or gay man?

From here-
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049089X12000774

Main page here-
http://www.journals.elsevier.com/social-science-research/recent-articles/

StraightGrandmother
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Interesting random things- How was the survey conducted?

“Following the mailings, telephone recruitment by trained interviewers/recruiters begins for all sampled telephone numbers. Telephone numbers for cases sent to recruiters were dialed for up to 90 days, with at least 14 dial attempts for cases in which no one answers the phone, and for numbers known to be associated with households. Extensive refusal conversion was also performed. The recruitment interview, about 10 minutes in length, begins with informing the household member that the household had been selected to join KnowledgePanel. If the household does not have a computer and access to the Internet, the household member is told that in return for completing a short survey weekly, the household will be provided with free monthly Internet access and a laptop computer (in the past, the household was provided with a WebTV device). All members of the household are enumerated, and some initial demographic and background information on prior computer and Internet use was collected.”

http://www.prc.utexas.edu/nfss/documents/NFSS-study-design.pdf

From this main page
http://www.prc.utexas.edu/nfss/people.html

Steve
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

@StraightGrandmother
Don’t limit planned same-sex families to IVF. It’s generally true that most planned children of same-sex parents are younger. No doubt about it. But this has been going on since the 80s.

First off, IVF means extracting an egg, fertilizing it and then implanting it. It’s far simpler to just do an insemination with donor sperm in vivo. Second, early lesbian families sometimes raised children together with gay men who donated the sperm privately.

There is a documentary about this from 1984(!) about such families:
http://www.groundspark.org/choosing/index.html
http://www.outfest.org/legacy/choosing_children.html
In some ways that movie started the gayby boom

It’s true that this didn’t really take off until the early 90s, but your focus on IVF isn’t accurate. Instead of focusing on the technology it’s better to say that the idea of gay families having planned children didn’t become really popular until later.

That said, is there a great reason to exclude children that transitioned from an opposite-sex to same-sex family when they were very young? If a kid’s parents broke up when they were only two or three years old, they wouldn’t even remember anything from that time.

Timothy Kincaid
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

So, perhaps this journal is not easy to get published in. I’m not sure how long this editor has been editor, and maybe things have been that way for a long time, or maybe this is new.

I’ve seen him referred to as “long time editor”, whatever that means.

chiMaxx
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

SGM: Amato and Eggebeen were surely invited to respond and given advance copies of the paper to review. This is quite a normal practice,

StraightGrandmother
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Thanks Steve, ‘preciate it.

Leopold
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

Everyone at BTB,

I have never posted here before, but I read BTB regularly and am amazed at the thoughtfulness, persistence, and good will that Jim, Tim, and Rob sustain. I thank you heartily and am gratified and overwhelmed by the sense of community and devotion evoked in the entries and accompanying comments. Thank you, all.

In this regard, I particularly admire “Straight Grandmother,” who may some day be recognized as a remarkable figure in moving the GLBTQ world forward. SGM, you are superlative! God speed to you always.

The latest set of entries regarding the Regnerus situation have upset me in a way I’ve not been upset before because of the multii-layered levels of dishonesty and ignorance. Having watched the video of Regnerus, I don’t think he intentionally means unkindness. He seems naive, in the way that academics trained in quantitative science can often be. I have worked with such individuals professionally and have often been amazed at how they will manipulate a theory and data to suit their point of view, which in this case is obviously entrenched in a conservative Christian mindset.

What upsets me the most is how the academic effort toward objective research has been violated in so many ways in this study: the reductive, manipulative presentation of the questionable data; the time table for acceptance, publication, and accompanying commentaries; the puzzlement as to who reviewed this manuscript and did not note the obvious defects so clearly laid out here by Jim and Rob (anyone with a bit of social-scientific training could have spotted these weaknesses); the fact that this Osborne commentator actually participated in the research (yet appears to be suggesting in her commentary that she is somehow independent of the study); the questionable professional perspective and connections of the journal editor; the funding sources, the publishing time table in relation to upcoming elections and court cases—-I have never before seen such a disturburg stream of questionable circumstances.

What I’d like to know is what can we do? What can be done? How do we facilitate an organized demonstration against this article and the individuals who allowed such a sham to unfold?

This is really beyond the pale. I am at a loss for words.

Mike
June 19th, 2012 | LINK

Cynthia Osborne speaks out about the study and the review process of the Regnerus study on California Public Radio: http://www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2012/06/18/27021/gay-parenting-studies-under-the-microscope/

StraightGrandmother
June 19th, 2012 | LINK

Leopold, very well thought out comment. Thank you. I think that GLADD should step in and assign a Project Manager to push this story out on tv and radio. The project manager should contact social scientists to write commentary to the research to be published in the next issue. Additionally the Project Manager should contact tv and radio and try and get social scientists who read the data as we do to be available for tv and radio appearances. That is what I think needs to be done.

StraightGrandmother
June 19th, 2012 | LINK

Mike, many thanks for that link to that radio show. I thought the guy from the Williams Institute did a heck of a job. I think Osborne from U of Texas was trying to walk a very fine line of trying to support her colleague and at the same time tell the truth.

She was in on designing the study. Also what I thought I heard her say about peer review was she doesn’t think the peer reviewers thought that much about the shitstorm this was going to create. Her comments on peer review did not seem that plausible to me. Others may disagree.

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