Journal Audit Finds Severe Flaws In Regnerus “Gay Parenting” Study

Jim Burroway

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.

Christopher

July 27th, 2012

As heartening as it is that the flaws in Regenerus’s study are being seriously and critically examined, the fact is that the study is still out there. While this will significantly diminish its impact (as well as potentially diminishing the journal’s impact factor) the study will likely continue to be cited in court cases and elsewhere as evidence that same-sex couples aren’t fit to be parents.

The fact that it’s been pretty thoroughly discredited from the day it was published won’t change the fact that it was published in a respected journal and written by a professor who gets more respect than he deserves has only served to complicate the issue.

I think Regnerus should do the honorable thing and repudiate his conclusions, preferably in the same journal, but, having read some of his defenses, I won’t hold my breath.

Priya Lynn

July 27th, 2012

Regarding the timing of the release of this study before the 2012 elections, it would appear now that they blew it by releasing it enough months in advance that it could be studied and its serious flaws exposed a number of months before the elections. If they had known in advance that their pile of crap would be shredded prior to the election they might have chosen to release it one month or so before the election to allow time for the “findings” to be publicized, but not refuted.

Steve

July 27th, 2012

It’s not just the election, but it was released right in time to be used in the end stage of the DOMA court battles. It’s more useful for the religious right there, although courts are also fat more likely to take note of the criticism

AMPGlass

July 27th, 2012

I love Dr. Sherkat… My wife is a Masters Degree student studying under him. He is on the Editorial Committee for Social Science Research, and mentioned how it is funny and ironic that he signed a protest letter that ended up on his desk.

Muscat

July 27th, 2012

Based on the audit I would expect SSR to retract the study. I guess we’ll see.

Ben In Oakland

July 27th, 2012

Thanks to scott rose and To Straightgrandmother. They’ve been the one’s that have been pursuing this.

TampaZeke

July 27th, 2012

The Journal loses all credibility in reviewing studies AFTER publishing them.

It’s akin to trying to put the bullet back into the gun AFTER you’ve shot a passerby.

MattNYC

July 28th, 2012

@TampaZeke

Reminded of Twain’s line, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

jpeckjr

July 28th, 2012

I am interested in seeing how the Univ of Texas, where Regnerus teaches, handles this embarrassment. And which hyper-conservative university offers him a position as chair of its sociology department.

ebohlman

July 30th, 2012

Steve: Spot on. It looks like the publication of the study was deliberately rushed so that it could be cited in litigation.

Regnerus’s study appears to be on the same trajectory as Andrew Wakefield’s notorious MMR/autism study (which, remember, was scientifically debunked well before it was shown to be downright fraudulent). That one also was intended as a weapon in litigation (and unfortunately it worked earlier this year in an Italian case). At least Regnerus’s study probably won’t result in any deaths, unlike Wakefield’s.

StraightGrandmother

July 30th, 2012

Perhaps the readers here could make a Victim Impact Statement?

Editor of the Journal Social Science Research
Dr. James Wright
James.Wright@ucf.edu

The Research Integrity Officer (RIO) at The University of Texas at Austin is Dr. Robert A. Peterson, associate vice president for research. You may contact Dr. Peterson at rap@austin.utexas.edu, 512-471-9438, or you can reach his assistant at 512-471-2877.

The Research Integrity Officer has responsibility for overseeing the inquiry and investigative process and ensuring compliance of all parties with this policy in the conduct of inquiries and investigations of misconduct in science and other scholarly research.

Scott Rose

August 5th, 2012

Hello: Please consider signing and sharing this petition. The petition demands that the Editorial Board of the journal Social Science Research retract the notorious, invalid, defamatory, anti-gay Regnerus gay-parenting “study.” According to the journal’s own Peer Review Policy, it takes MONTHS for the editor to locate experts to carry out peer review of submissions on esoteric topics like gay parenting. But, SSR’s editor James Wright did NOT get topic experts, the BIGOTS he had do the peer review had CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, and Regnerus’s submission was accepted for publication in only 5 ½ weeks, LESS TIME than the journal usually spends just to LOCATE expert peer reviewers. Be sure to read the full petition text inside the petition at this link: http://tinyurl.com/8q7ync4

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