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The Regnerus Study and LGBT Rights in Russia

By Scott Rose

Months before the recent passage of anti-gay-rights laws in Russia, the notorious papers associated with Mark Regnerus’s “New Family Structures Study” were vigorously promoted in Russia by anti-gay forces there, including through various churches.

Vladimir Putin as Tsar Peter the Great (Getty Images)

Vladimir Putin as Tsar Peter the Great (Getty Images)

As their bottom-line public messaging, the Regnerus paper and an associated one by Loren Marks purport to show “scientifically” that homosexuals should not be trusted around children. As such, they constitute a modern-day smear of a minority akin to the Blood Libel so long used to demonize Jews. The false claims made for the papers – that they are scientific, and appeared through valid peer review – are being exploited by bigots as heavy artillery against gay people around the world. In Russia, they were used to hate-monger against gays – on a “scientific” basis — to shore up public support for the anti-gay legislation there.

Unless appropriate actions are taken, anti-gay bigots will continue to be able to make the false claim that the two papers were published through valid scientific peer review. On the sober, completely scientifically-minded side of things, the Regnerus and Marks papers have been thoroughly and resoundingly debunked. Not exposed as flawed; debunked. The issue of the lack of integrity in the publication process for these articles is the one that now most should concern us.

Regnerus personally is an anti-gay-rights zealot, while Marks – (who had intended to submit his same paper to the court in the Proposition 8 case in California) – under cross-examination confessed that he had cherry-picked from studies he had not read, for the express purpose of trying to get the court to find against gay rights. That is to say, Marks was caught lying to a court of law, but then managed to get some of his same egregious misrepresentations published in a journal.

The editor who enabled the Regnerus scandal – (Dr. James Wright of the University of Central Florida, which houses Elsevier’s journal “Social Science Research”) – has confessed that counter to the norms and values of science publishing ethics, he permitted W. Bradford Wilcox to peer review the Regnerus paper. Wilcox, as a Program Director for Regnerus’s main funder, the NOM-linked Witherspoon Institute, recruited Regnerus for the hoax, booby-trapped the study’s design with him, participated in data collection and analysis and then steered the Marks/Regnerus package to “Social Science Research,” where, as an old crony to James Wright (and to Regnerus) he is on the editorial board. Whereas the Commission on Publication Ethics (COPE) has a “Code of Conduct for Journal Editors” that requires full disclosure of a funder’s role in a study and its publication, Wright and Wilcox refuse to make that full disclosure.

Not just incidentally, in August of 2011, before NFSS data collection occurred, Witherspoon paid for Regnerus and Wilcox to travel to Colorado, where for a full day they discussed study promotions in anti-gay-rights contexts with Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton, who says that homosexuality is a “particularly evil lie of Satan.” Really scientific, right?

Another NFSS consultant whom Wright permitted to do peer review, Dr. Paul Amato, has said the following, by way of his Perp Walk: “I understand that providing a review was not a good idea, because one should avoid even the hint of impropriety in matters like this.” Although Wright alleged that any credentialed expert who wrote to him with concerns about the scandal would see their concerns published, Wright rejected from publication Dr. Gary Gates’s essay about the hoax “An Illegitimate Review Process.”

Not by mere accident do the Marks and Regnerus papers get heavily promoted everywhere in the world that an anti-gay-rights campaign is taking place. The package was conceived and funded with input from Robert George, founder and “chairman emeritus” of the so-called National Organization for Marriage. In September, 2010, Regnerus told Wilcox in an e-mail that he wanted to know more about Maggie Gallagher’s hopes “for what emerges from this project.” (Gallagher has written that she is “unwilling” to live in a country that gives its gay citizens equality). On the appointment of Speaker John Boehner, NOM’s Robert George is a member of the egregiously misnamed U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom. Moreover, Robert George is on the Advisory Board of Bill Donohue’s Catholic League, a group pathologically obsessed with blocking LGBT-rights progress worldwide. Everyplace in the world that Robert George, NOM and other religious groups are involved in promoting anti-gay lies and hate, the Regnerus and Marks papers appear all over in reactionary media as well as in church bulletins and newsletters, with the false assertion that they were published through valid peer review.

Out of sheer greed and lack of scruples, James Wright knowingly violated science publishing ethics, in the anticipation that the bigot stampedes to his journal website would raise his journal’s “impact factor.” And indeed, every time there is a major anti-gay-rights campaign, Wright benefits from the bigot stampedes.

Meanwhile, umpteen leading academics have called for the Regnerus paper to be retracted and for Wright to be disciplined. However, Wright and the publisher, Elsevier, shamelessly refuse to do the right thing.

Therefore, the LGBT-rights community and its allies worldwide must mobilize heavily and relentlessly until the Regnerus paper is retracted and Wright is appropriately disciplined. At present, Wright is assigned as editor of Elsevier’s upcoming “International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences.” Under Wright, any amount of anti-gay junk science could wind up published in that encyclopedia.

Who has authority to take action against James Wright for his multiple violations of the American Sociological Association’s “Code of Ethics,” and for his violations of COPE’s “Code of Conduct”?

1) Elsevier administration; 2) Wright’s Sociology Department Chair at the University of Central Florida, Dr. Jana Jasinski. (Currently on Jasinski’s UCF bio page, there is a boast that “Social Science Research” — housed in Jasinski’s UCF Sociology Department — is a “major journal”); 3) Any member of the University of Central Florida community could file a complaint that Wright has violated the school’s “Honor Code;” 4) Dr. Sally Hillsman is Executive Director of the American Sociological Association; she receives ethics complaints against ASA members; 5) Dr. Virginia Barbour is the Chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics; she receives ethics complaints against COPE member publications; 6) the President of the American Sociological Association, Stanford University’s Dr. Cecilia Ridgeway, could herself file a complaint against Wright with the ASA’s Committee on Professional Ethics; 7) the “Social Science Research” editorial board.

All Elsevier top brass, all top brass at Wright’s University of Central Florida, Wright himself, Jasinski, Barbour, Hillsman, Ridgeway and the “Social Science Research” editorial board should be bombarded with demands for Wright to be sanctioned for his infractions against professional ethics. It is beyond all debate that Wright is in violation of the ethics of his profession.

The scholarly community thus far as a whole has abdicated its responsibilities in the face of James Wright’s anti-gay, anti-science-publishing-ethics depravity, and therefore, we must act to protect LGBTers around the world from the Marks and Regnerus papers and the completely false claims that they were published through valid peer review. Nowhere in the world should anybody be able to get away with alleging that the Marks and Regnerus papers received valid scientific peer review. The Marks and Regnerus papers must be retracted, and the despicable James Wright must be disciplined.



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7 Responses to The Regnerus Study and LGBT Rights in Russia

  1. Randy Goldberg MD MPH FACP

    August 19, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    “The editor who enabled the Regnerus scandal – (Dr. James Wright of the University of Central Florida, which houses Elsevier’s journal “Social Science Research”) – has confessed that counter to the norms and values of science publishing ethics, he permitted W. Bradford Wilcox to peer review the Regnerus paper.”

    Can you provide a citation to this confession, so I can use it in my letters? (I have myself published in Elsevier journals, though not SSR, and one of their (legitimately major) journals currently resides in my department at New York Medical College.)

    • Bridgette P. LaVictoire

      August 19, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      Dr. Goldberg,

      To let you know, those confessions were made directly via email to Mr. Rose. I believe they are documented elsewhere on the site.

    • Scott Rose

      August 19, 2013 at 8:40 pm

      In answer to Dr. Goldberg’s question:

      Wright’s confession that he let Wilcox peer review Regnerus is found at this post on the “Inside Higher Ed” site:

      Wright said that both “Amato and Wilcox mentioned their prior involvement with the Regnerus study in response to my initial reviewing request. I asked, as I always do, whether this involvement precluded their writing an objective review. Both said no and so both were asked to proceed.”

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  3. Scott Rose

    August 6, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    At this link is an elaborate Russian-language article on Regnerus, for which Regnerus was interviewed. As you see, his photo is at the top of the page, and then scrolling down you see that an image of his “study” was reproduced within the article:

  4. Jay

    August 5, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    These bastards have blood on their hands.

  5. Scott Rose

    August 5, 2013 at 7:54 am

    At a recent anti-gay-rights event held in the Russian embassy in Paris, the bigot Béatrice Bourges complimented Russian lawmakers on their use of the Regnerus study in getting anti-gay legislation passed in Russia. See this link (in French):