Social Science Journal to Retract Regnerus Study

The journal Social Science Research has conducted an internal investigation of that terrible Mark Regnerus study on gay parents, and of the process by which it was approved for publication, and is going to essentially retract its publication and admit that the study is crap and should never have been approved.

The highly critical audit, a draft of which was provided to The Chronicle by the journal’s editor, also cites conflicts of interest among the reviewers, and states that “scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process.”…

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.

Among the problems Sherkat identified is the paper’s definition of “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers”—an aspect that has been the focus of much of the public criticism. A woman could be identified as a “lesbian mother” in the study if she had had a relationship with another woman at any point after having a child, regardless of the brevity of that relationship and whether or not the two women raised the child as a couple.

Sherkat said that fact alone in the paper should have “disqualified it immediately” from being considered for publication.

In his audit, he writes that the peer-review system failed because of “both ideology and inattention” on the part of the reviewers (three of the six reviewers, according to Sherkat, are on record as opposing same-sex marriage). What’s more, he writes that the reviewers were “not without some connection to Regnerus,” and suggests that those ties influenced their reviews.

He declined to be more specific in an interview, saying that he was obligated to protect their identities. “Obviously,” he concluded, “the reviewers did not do a good job.”

An ethics investigation at University of Texas is still apparently in the works. Cue the inevitable cries of “they were intimidated by the big gay monster!”

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About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • Zeno

    Yet another triumph for the International Lavender Conspiracy! (Good.)

  • d cwilson

    This kind of thing greatly disturbs me. It seems the anti-science forces have found a way around the fact that their work is academic nonsense: Infiltrate the peer review process. Peer review is supposed to be the gatekeeper that makes sure researchers are doing honest academic work. If publication decisions are made according to ideology and not sound science, how can we trust it, regardless of whether or not it conforms to our pre-conceived notions?

    We have enough anti-science morons in government. We don’t need them working in research, too!

  • John Hinkle

    Well obviously Wright and Sherkat are card carrying members of the Powerful Homosexual Lobby. Item 17 on the Homosexual Agenda is to, and I quote, “Write down the names of authors of anti-gay “scientific” papers and strike a line through them.”


    Oh shit, I said too much.

  • slc1

    Kudos for the journal Social Science Research”.

    It only took them a few months to retract this paper. Contrast that with the 11 years it took for Andrew Wakefield’s equally flawed study to be retracted by the Lancet.

  • Michael Heath

    I hope all peer-reviewed publications use this event as a case study to test their preventative capabilities. Peer-reviewed publications should have a zero-defect goal when it comes to academic and scientific rigor, a standard which demands considerable attention on preventative processes and systems.

  • baal

    I’m glad they are retracting the bogus study. I can only hope the MSM and wingnut media don’t keep citing to it (though I know they will).

  • otrame

    I hope they have found out who screwed their journal over by assigning reviewers who had ideological biases in favor of the paper. It is one thing to accidentally ask a single biased researcher to review and another to have them all turn out to “have some connection to Regnerus”. This was deliberate sabotage.

  • Raging Bee

    Cue the inevitable cries of “they were intimidated by the big gay monster!”

    Not to mention the chorus of “See? This proves science is flawed, therefore evolution and AGW are shaky and Teach The Controversy! No Denialist Left Behind! Waterloo!!!”

  • slc1

    Re otrame @ #7

    I can’t speak for this particular journal but generally scientific journals have a number of editors who are tasked with assigning peer reviewers. I suspect that the editor tasked with assigning reviewers for this particular paper should be given the heave ho.

  • mildlymagnificent

    Clearly the journal routinely asks for submissions to include suggestions for qualified reviewers. And this is not contentious as a general rule.

    But surely they have some kind of editorial red button for topics which are likely to need extra super duper concentrated multi flavoured peer review to balance or refine any controversial content.

  • beergoggles

    If you don’t publicize the names of the reviewers won’t they be free to keep adhering to their substandard practices in the future? These people should be banned from peer reviewing publications for the rest of their careers.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Recent stats from “Harper’s Index” –

    Number of articles retracted from scientific journals in 2000: 3

    In 2009: 180

    So – perhaps standards are getting higher, or researchers are getting sloppier (kids these days… what could have happened during those 8 years to encourage such irresponsibility?), or retractions are just the latest academic fad, and Social Science Research is getting in on the craze while it’s still hot!

  • shockna

    Cue the inevitable cries of “they were intimidated by the big gay monster!”

    Indeed… And with the first shots I’ve seen fired, here’s the putrid Bill Donohue of the Catholic League:

    See, he’s not actually commenting on the quality of Regnerus’ paper, or if the accusation is justified. He’s just saying that the one making the accusation is part of the big gay monster biased!

    Now please excuse me while I go and vomit for linking to the Catholic League.

  • gratch

    Cue the inevitable cries of “they were intimidated by the big gay monster!”

    Did anyone else giggle when they read that or is it just me?

  • lofgren

    Peer review is supposed to be the gatekeeper that makes sure researchers are doing honest academic work. If publication decisions are made according to ideology and not sound science, how can we trust it, regardless of whether or not it conforms to our pre-conceived notions?

    This is both inevitable and an old problem. Just one of the consequences of having humans in charge of the process rather than robots. The good news is that the fact that this was caught is a sign that the process is working.

    Remember, science does not guarantee that the right answer will be found first. It just tries to ferret out and eliminate the wrong answers by constantly reviewing itself. Sometimes the wrong answer will slip through the first gatekeeper. Sometimes it will even go further than that. In this case the faults of the study were identified almost immediately by the wider scientific community and a second review process was triggered, which is exactly what should happen when the first review process occasionally and inevitably fails.

  • Badland

    thanks for this post Ed, I just used the link to call bullshit on some dim-bulb bigot from the Australian Christian Lobby using it to compare the health effects of smoking to homosexuality on the ABC (search for comment by simpletruth – a lie, as ever).

    As an aside, the (atheist) PM was going to give the keynote speech at their national conference *barf*