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The Regnerus Study; Editor James Wright in Trouble in the Courts

by Scott Rose

Mark Regnerus, author of the fraudulent Regnerus study

Mark Regnerus, author of the fraudulent Regnerus study

After James Wright published Loren Marks’ and Mark Regnerus’ gay-bashing junk science online in June, 2012 on his “Social Science Research” journal site, the dismay from the academic community that such junk had been published – allegedly through peer review – was so strong that Wright decided to attempt to explain away his editorial misconduct in the matter.

In his November, 2012 issue, Wright published an audit of the publication of the papers, carried out by his editorial board member Dr. Darren Sherkat as well as a Letter from the Editor. In November, Wright also published a bogus attempted methodological defense of Regnerus’s gay-bashing junk science from Walter Schumm, who is on record saying that homosexuals should not be permitted to serve in the military because it is easier for them to have oral sex.

Critics had noticed that both the Marks and the Regnerus papers had gotten rushed through the acceptance process in timeframes that suggested that no meaningful revisions to the papers likely could have been made. And indeed, in a video interview that Regnerus gave to the Daily Texan, he said that one reason they did not seek funding for the “New Family Structures Study” from the National Institutes of Health was that the NIH requires “revisions and revisions.” Regnerus added: “Some scholars don’t want to go that route.” Editor James Wright was the repugnant schmuck who let Regnerus off the hook of having to make meaningful revisions to his paper.

The bottom line of the defense that Sherkat and Wright expressed in the audit and the Letter is that being a science journal editor is hard, so any shortcut that compromises the scholarly record should be overlooked, and all of James Wright’s critics need to shut their mouths and go away.

The fact is, though, that James Wright had an advance alert – through his editorial board member, (Regnerus’s gay-bashing funding agency representative) W. Bradford Wilcox – that the Marks and Regnerus papers were going to be submitted, and that if Wright published them promptly, Witherspoon, NOM, Focus on the Family, Wilcox and Regnerus would give Wright and his journal promotional blitzes, the likes of which Wright had never previously seen. As Sherkat told the SPLC’s Evelyn Schlatter – (in an interview that improperly deflected attention from Wright’s editorial misconduct) — “Wright had accepted the Marks paper by about November 2011, and as a result Marks got held up in the pipeline for Regnerus.”

There can be no overemphasizing the significance of Sherkat’s confession that Wright accepted the Loren Marks gay-parenting literature review lickety-split in November, 2011 after it had been submitted to him on October 1, 2011. With some of this very same material, Marks had been caught making anti-gay misrepresentations to a court in the Proposition 8 case in California. Knowing in advance that the Marks paper was going to be submitted to him, as part of a gay-bashing junk science package along with the Regnerus paper, Wright accepted the Marks paper one-two-three, and then held it for publication until the Regnerus paper was done. Wright did not have a single LGBT-sciences trained and experienced scholar peer review either of the papers. What Loren Marks could not get past a court of law, James Wright published for him under the fraudulent guise that it had received valid professional peer review.

In his Letter, Wright attempted to sweep the dirt under the carpet like this: “Concern: SSR “raced to get these [papers] into print…to boost the number of hits on Social Science Research’s meter.” Reality: Guilty as charged. Every editor of a scientific journal now lives and dies according to the latest Impact Factor statistics.”

By his own verdict then, Wright is guilty.

Consider, however, that Wright’s statement is actually a lie about the business. Yes, of course a publisher and editor wish for their Impact Factor to be high. However, the material published that leads to the higher Impact Factor must pass scientific and scholarly muster, or the reputation of the science journal will collapse. Wright talks about the business of publishing a science journal as though he were the editor of a trashy tabloid. “Send that piece on Justin Bieber out for kangaroo peer review,” Wright might as well have said, when he was processing the Marks/Regnerus packages.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)’s “Code of Conduct for Journal Editors” has an opening section on “General duties and responsibilities of editors.” It stipulates that editors “have processes in place to assure the quality of the material they publish.” Wright failed to do that when he published the Marks and Regnerus papers. The “Code of Conduct” also says that editors “maintain the integrity of the academic record;” again, Wright failed to do that. The COPE “Code of Conduct” moreover says that editors “preclude business needs from compromising intellectual and ethical standards.”

Let us now repeat that one, for emphasis: editors “preclude business needs from compromising intellectual and ethical standards.”

As Perrin, Cohen and Caren write in their article “Responding to the Regnerus Study,” soon to be published in “The Journal for Gay and Lesbian Mental Health;” “Regnerus fails to demonstrate that children from same-sex families display disadvantages.” The authors also say that: “due to major deficiencies of the data, significant untested assumptions, poor data analysis, unmeasurable recall and selection bias, and lack of consideration of appropriate alternative hypotheses, there is insufficient evidence” for Regnerus to conclude that young adults raised by gay parents have inferior life outcomes. So much for Wright precluding business needs from compromising intellectual and ethical standards. Dr. Michael Schwartz, Chair of Sociology at Stony Brook University thinks that Wright should be disciplined. Says Schwartz: “if the article had been properly reviewed . . . a whole menu of flaws in the research, in the analysis, and in the interpretation of evidence would make the article unpublishable.”

COPE’s “Code of Conduct” further says that editors should “always be willing to publish corrections, clarifications, retractions and apologies when needed.” Wright’s latest evasion of accountability for gross editorial misconduct includes his telling “Inside Higher Ed” that he would only retract the article if there were “proof of fraudulent behavior, cooking the data, faking the analysis or something similar, none of which (so far as I know) has ever been alleged, much less shown.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, James Wright there is lying through his teeth. The fraudulence contained right in Regnerus’s article text has often been brought to his attention, but he has taken no action to correct it. Whereas in documented reality, Wilcox guided Regnerus away from assembling an appropriate comparison group, in order that the paper should be usable for political gay-bashing, Regnerus wrote in his paper that the funders played no role at all in his study design, et cetera. In August, 2012, I discovered that the funders did play a role in NFSS study design. I showed the documentation to Wright, who, ignoring it, published a follow-up paper from Regnerus in his November issue, in which Regnerus repeats his same lie that the funders were not at all involved in study design. Meanwhile, COPE’s “Code of Conduct” 2.1 says: “Readers should be informed about who has funded research or other scholarly work and whether the funders had any role in the research and its publication and, if so, what this was.”

Wright himself, clearly guilty of fraudulence, has a towering nerve to tell Inside Higher Ed that fraudulence has not been alleged or proven. Investigative reporter John M. Becker has filed a lawsuit against the Board of Trustees of Wright’s University of Central Florida, seeking documentation through that state’s “Sunshine Laws.” We already know that Wright permitted Wilcox to peer review the Regnerus submission. Towards a cleansing of junk science out of the scholarly record, we should have more complete documentation of Wright’s communications with Wilcox, and others, in the lead-up to the publication of the gay-bashing Regnerus hoax. Meanwhile, in Becker’s lawsuit, James Wright has filed an affidavit. Somebody with knowledge of the whole scandal should get their hands on that document, to proof whether the deeply dishonorable James Wright is lying to the court. The case is being processed through the Orange County branch of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.

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