Journal Audit Finds Severe Flaws In Regnerus “Gay Parenting” Study
July 27th, 2012
The Chronicle of Higher Education has obtained a copy of a highly critical audit showing that Mark Regnerus’s widely discussed paper on gay and lesbian parenting underwent a flawed peer-reviewed process which failed to find significant methodological problems and conflicts of interest. BTB was the first to review many of those methodological problems here on the day the study first appeared in the journal Social Science Research. According to The Chronicle:
Like Regnerus, the editor of Social Science Research, James D. Wright, has been at the receiving end of an outpouring of anger over the paper. At the suggestion of another scholar, Wright, a professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida, assigned a member of the journal’s editorial board—Darren E. Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale—to examine how the paper was handled.
Sherkat was given access to all the reviews and correspondence connected with the paper, and was told the identities of the reviewers. According to Sherkat, Regnerus’s paper should never have been published. His assessment of it, in an interview, was concise: “It’s bullshit,” he said.
The audit criticized the paper’s identification of “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers,” which was at the heart of our criticism of the report when the paper first appeared. Sherkat found the those labels for the categories of families that Regnerus created “extremely misleading.” He added: “Reviewers uniformly downplayed or ignored the fact that the study did not examine children of identifiably gay and lesbian parents, and none of the reviewers noticed that the marketing-research data were inappropriate for a top-tier social-scientific journal.” Sherkat found that that fact alone should have “disqualified it immediately” from publication.
The audit also found conflicts of interests among the reviewers and states that “scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process,” according to The Chronicle. Three of the six reviewers were on record as opposing same-sex marriage and were “not without some connection to Regnerus.” Sherkat did not however find that the paper had been inappropriately expedited as I questioned. But Sherkat did question the paper’s funding — $785,000 from the conservative Whiterspoon Institute and Bradly Foundation — and the study’s timing auspicious timing ahead of the 2012 elections, were serious concerns.
“There should be reflection about a conservative scholar garnering a very large grant from exceptionally conservative foundations,” he writes in the audit, “to make incendiary arguments about the worthiness of LGBT parents—and putting this out in time to politicize it before the 2012 United States presidential election.”
Journals are judged and scored according to what’s known as an “Impact Factor” by Journal Citation Reports. The Impact Factor identifies the number of times articles are cited by other journals over a period of time. Higher Impact Factors are earned when other authors more frequently cite journal articles in their published papers, and the higher the Impact Factor, the greater the journal’s prestige. Social Science Research’s Five-Year Impact Factor is 1.994, which is considered low for social science research journals. Wright admitted to Sherkat that he believed the Regnerus paper would generate a high level of discussion and possibly elevate the journal’s Impact Factor, and admits that “perhaps this prospect caused me to be inattentive to things I should have kept a keener eye on.”
Wright told The Chronicle that he has experienced “sleepless nights” and angry emails, both from colleagues and strangers. Wright told The Chronnicle that he supports civil rights for gays and lesbians, and found accusations that he was fostering an anti-gay climate “hurtful and preposterous.” (You can read one email exchange between Wright and a BTB reader here.)
Editor James Wright provided a copy of the audit to The Chronicle, and it will appear in the November edition of Social Science Research. The September issue of the bi-monthly journal has already been issued and posted online.