Mark Regnerus’ flawed study on gay parenting — paid for by anti-gay Witherspoon Institute — casts dark shadow over University of Texas
A notorious, scientifically unsound University of Texas study on gay parenting funded by national anti-gay-rights moneybags is being wielded as a political weapon against LGBT victims in U.S. courts and elections, as well as abroad. Any decent human being will be horrified, disgusted and outraged that this commissioned hate speech was produced on the grounds of a public university in the 21st century.
With UT’s Mark Regnerus as lead investigator, the project — called the New Family Structures Study — was funded chiefly by the Witherspoon Institute, which is joined at the hip to the National Organization for Marriage. It must not be ignored that in letters to the Texas attorney general, UT has described itself as a co-investor in Regnerus’ study. That is to say, UT has conflicts of interest in making any inquiry or investigation into, and/or public statements about the scientifically invalid genesis of this blatant hoax.
Regnerus and his funders are fraudulently alleging that no funding agency representative was consulted on study design, which documentably is booby-trapped against gays. The intent of their lie is to mislead the public into believing that Regnerus carried out his project independently of the cash-rich political anti-gay-rights figures who commissioned it from him.
Here is how we know that Regnerus and his funders are lying:
Witherspoon’s 2010 IRS forms describe the study as “an achievement” of the Witherspoon Program for Marriage, Family and Democracy. In 2010, the director of that program was W. Bradford Wilcox. Wilcox recruited Regnerus to do the study, and then Witherspoon gave Regnerus a $55,000 planning grant. Wilcox, in his capacity as Witherspoon program director, subsequently collaborated with Regnerus on the study design. After Witherspoon approved the study design for full funding, Regnerus received a known total of $785,000.
Wilcox additionally is documented as having worked with Regnerus on data collection, data analysis and interpretation. Moreover, he is on the editorial board of the journal that published the study, Elsevier’s Social Science Research. And, Wilcox is a longtime crony to Regnerus and the journal’s editor, James Wright.
Make no mistake about it: For Regnerus to have published first that his funders were not “at all” involved in his study design and for him then to publish that “no funding agency representatives were consulted about research design” — when in reality they were — is a serious infraction against science publishing ethics.
As University of Arkansas sociologist Lori Holyfield said: “It is especially unacceptable that the conflicts of interests were hidden, and that there is an ongoing attempt to deceive the public about them. It adds insult to that injury, that what was produced was a methodologically invalid study that perpetuates negative social stereotypes. This is a very malevolent situation; something must be done about it.”
No qualified professional without a conflict of interest in evaluating the Regnerus study considers it scientifically valid. Erik Olin Wright, president of the American Sociological Association, is among more than 200 researchers who signed a letter calling Regnerus’ study groupings “absurd.” A court brief filed by eight major organizations including the American Medical Association analyzes Regnerus’ methodology as scientifically fallacious. Andrew Perrin, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, has said: “I think the study is so thoroughly flawed, in particular with respect to its categorization of ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian,’ that no conclusions can be drawn with sufficient confidence to report, publicize or use them.”
Holyfield does not mince words about UT’s culpability in the Regnerus scandal. She said: “Politically-motivated groups bend facts all the time. The difference here is that this took place at a research university, which absolutely should have measures in place to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen. It sounds like there was some social networking going on, and that the $55,000 planning grant from The Witherspoon Institute got talked about, and then the work with the full $785,000 in funding followed. Somewhere along the way, though, the relationships that allowed this unacceptable thing to happen in a research university got obscured.”
Michael Schwartz, chair of the department of sociology at Stony Brook University, is calling for the Regnerus study to be retracted from publication and for Wright, the journal editor, to be replaced “with a new editor who will not violate the norms and values of scholarly publication.”
It nonetheless remains evident that some levels of UT administration are actively shielding Regnerus from academic accountability for his dishonesty in reporting his research. Presented with Freedom of Information Act requests related to the study, UT engages in obstructionism, asking the state attorney general for exceptions.
In late August, UT concluded a sham misconduct inquiry into Regnerus and the study, without making public the fact that Regnerus’ funding agency representative collaborated with him on the booby-trapped study design. A foul, dark shadow of disgrace is looming over the university. The push to get the Regnerus study retracted, and editor Wright fired, will continue. If UT is not more forthcoming with documentation related to the Regnerus hoax, it is likely that advocacy groups soon will join the effort to get the documentation released. Whereas the school now should be cleaning out and disinfecting from the Regnerus excrement, it is instead ludicrously kicking its hind legs backwards over the carpet, as though nobody could see the stinking mess lying there.
Anybody at UT who believes that this gay-bashing assault on scientific integrity has not very significantly cheapened the school’s reputation is severely deluding themselves.
Scott Rose is a New York City-based novelist, investigative reporter and freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 19, 2012.