James Wright’s recounting of the Regnerus review process wasn’t true

(And Brad Wilcox lied continuously, too.)

It may seem like a footnote to the Regnerus scandal (last summary here), but I think it is worth reporting that we now know Social Science Research editor James Wright apparently lied in his published description of the process by which the Regnerus paper was published.

In the “Introductory Remarks” that Wright published in the November 2012 issue of SSR, he described the sequence of events leading up to the paper’s publication, writing in part (with false portion highlighted):

The [Loren] Marks paper was submitted to SSR on October 3, 2011, and had already been accepted for publication (subject to some pretty significant revisions) when the Regnerus paper was submitted on February 1, 2012. Like most journals, SSR often tries to co-publish topically linked papers … and given the obvious topical similarity of these two papers, publishing them at the same time seemed sensible (assuming, as goes without saying, that both fared well in peer review). The email sent to prospective reviewers of the Regnerus paper therefore stated, “I would greatly appreciate the quickest possible turnaround on your review” but was otherwise identical to the form letter sent to all prospective reviewers when requesting reviews.

In this telling, Wright’s motivation for encouraging a quick turnaround was that he wanted to publish the two papers together, and that’s why (“therefore”) he asked the reviewers to expedite their reviews.

But, Straight Grandmother has published the email that Wright sent to reviewer Brad Wilcox, and it does not match Wright’s published description. In that email, Wright wrote:

We have received a manuscript that we think may interest you. We would very much appreciate your reading it and rendering a critique.

We have also learned that a report on this study will be released sometime this coming summer and if the paper is destined to appear in SSR, it would be nice to have the paper accepted (and available online) before the report is released. So I would greatly appreciate the quickest possible turnaround on your review.

Here is the grainy public-records version, for authenticity:

wright-wilcox-reviewer1

Clearly, the highlighted passage in the first quote was not the only passage that made the Regnerus request different. In his “Introductory Remarks,” Wright omitted mention of the summer report deadline. And the email to Wilcox does not mention the goal of publishing the Regnerus and Marks papers together.

Why would Wright change the story, from one about trying to publish the Regnerus paper in time for the summer report (told to Wilcox) to one about trying to publish two topically-related papers together (told to the public)? The answer, I conclude, is that in his published accounting Wright was attempting to distance himself from the appearance (fact) of coordination with Regnerus and his backers (including Wilcox).

Wright’s story of the dog wagging the tail is reversed. Regnerus and Wilcox needed to have the peer-reviewed paper accepted and online before they could release the “report” publicly, because they wanted that legitimacy (this is apparent in the first document dump). Wright’s actions made that strategy successful. (When it appeared, the “report” was just an animated website rehashing the contents of the paper.)

Wilcox lies, too

Brad Wilcox will say this was not a lie, because he thinks he carefully did not lie, but it was a lie, because lying is about deception, not just about uttering words that are literally untrue. Take it from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which Pope John Paul II wrote:

[Quoting St. Augustine] “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” … To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.

I don’t know this first-hand, but I’m told God does not give partial credit for lies of omission. In his response to Wright’s reviewer request, Wilcox’s entire reply was this:

Dear Jim:

I’m happy to do this. Just want to let you know that I serve on the advisory board for this project — as does Kelly Raley and others on the SSR board. Ok?

Brad

You could call this a head-fake disclaimer. What is the relevance of the advisory board? It is certainly not the most important fact about Brad’s involvement with the study. We probably don’t know all that he did, but we do know that Brad coordinated the fundraising for the study, recruited Regnerus to be the lead researcher, advised Regnerus on how to handle co-authorship with Cynthia Osborne, suggested to Regnerus that they send the paper to Wright at SSR, and referred to the research project as “our dataset.”

So, sure, the email exchange contains a disclosure — one that puts Wilcox on the same level of involvement as other fleeting consultants — but it is far from the most important thing to disclose. That’s lying.

Did Wright lie some more?

After Brad’s response to the reviewer request, they exchange two more emails, which read, in their entirety:

Wright: Understood.

Wilcox: thanks.

So why, in his email to Inside Higher Ed, did Wright say this?

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.

Perhaps there was a followup exchange in which Wright wrote to Brad, “Oops, forgot to ask, as I always do: Will this involvement preclude you writing an objective review?” But if there wasn’t, then Wright lied again. One can’t help suspecting that Wright did not expect his actual email exchange to be published.

In Darren Sherkat’s report on the journal’s review process, incidentally, he wrote:

Two of the reviewers indicated that they had a potential conflict of interest related to consulting on the Regnerus paper but both averred that this consulting relationship would not preclude an objective, critical assessment.

If this is supposed to be a description of the Wright-Wilcox exchange Straight Grandmother has published, then it also appears not to be true — Wilcox didn’t tell that particular lie. I don’t know the source of Sherkat’s information on that point, but it might well just be Wright’s say-so.

The shifting boilerplate

I don’t know the content of all of Wright’s requests to reviewers, or what he “always” asks, but I have some circumstantial evidence. A review request that Wright sent to someone I know the same month as the Regnerus paper is identical to the one Straight Grandmother published to Wilcox, except for the part about the summer report and the quick turnaround. So that appears to have been a form letter (the typos match as well). In that letter, Wright says SSR has single-blind reviews because:

…we feel it is important to give our reviewers an opportunity to be forthcoming about potential bias prior to rendering a critique or decline to review for fear of compromising professional ties with the authors.

It doesn’t ask them whether anything “precluded their writing an objective review.” However, the boilerplate seems to have changed. The last review request I received, in early 2013, included a passage that is not in the email he sent to Wilcox or my informant:

Agreeing to review a paper for this or any journal is simultaneously an affirmation  that you harbor no conflicts of interest or past or current relationships with the author(s) that would preclude you from writing an honest, objective critique.  If this is not the case, our assumption is that you will decline to do the review.

So I guess Wright might say that he “always” asks this now, but it does not appear that he asked it of Wilcox (at least in the documents we have). Maybe he’s improving his practice. Maybe he’s covering his bases.

So, some of you may still be reviewing for James Wright at Social Science Research, or sending your papers to him. My question is, Why?

18 Comments

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18 responses to “James Wright’s recounting of the Regnerus review process wasn’t true

  1. I think that it’s more accurate to say that John Paul II approved or commissioned the Catechism. See http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/aposcons.htm

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  2. All that this shows is that Wiilcox lied to Jim Wright. As I have known for quite some time, since I read those emails long ago. Any other interpretation of this, is libelous. Jim Wright was lied to by Bradley Wilcox. The rests is just normal editorial process, which, apparently, even many academics fail to understand—in large part because they selfishly focus on their own careers.

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    • Right, except for the part that shows Wright lied, too, in the journal and to the reporter.

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      • Scott Rose

        Not to mention that when Sherkat lectured in Fresno, already knowing the extent of Wilcox’s involvement in the NFSS, he alleged to his audience that the peer reviewers’ conflicts of interest with Regnerus and with his funders was “minimal.”

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      • Scott Rose

        Hi Dr. Cohen:

        Please look at Dr. Sherkat’s statement in his comment above that “I read those emails long ago.”

        By his own admission, Dr. Sherkat read the email in which Dr. Wright revealed that he knew about the “report” on the study that was planned for publication in the summer.

        One of Dr. Gary Gates’s biggest, and perhaps as of this writing, still outstanding questions about this matter has been “Why the rush to publication?”

        The “report” is among the reasons for the rush. Yet, in his “Audit,” Dr. Sherkat did not discuss the report, even though he says he saw Dr. Wright’s e-mail about the report.

        So Dr. Sherkat coordinated with Dr. Wright so that Wright could attempt “to distance himself from the appearance (fact) of coordination with Regnerus and his backers (including Wilcox).”

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    • Curious

      Out of curiosity, in the field of sociological research is it common place for inquiries into potential conflicts of interest to consist of simply asking the suspected party?
      I understand that it might imply a lack of trust in people who are in the vast majority professional, honest, and forthcoming but after this fiasco do you see some utility in publishers exercising their own discretion and looking into these matters themselves rather than accepting a “yes” or “no” answer?
      As it is the system of relying on the very parties at the center of a conflict of interest question to decide for themselves, without further question, whether that matters opens up the process to intentional manipulation.

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  3. formerstudent

    As a former student of Wright’s this whole situation has been one disappointment after another. I used to look up to the man but that’s impossible these days.

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  4. Wright hand picked the reviewers. His instructions to the grad student who is 100% PAID by the State of Florida TAXPAYERS, whose exclusive job it was, was to work on FOR PROFIT Elsevier Journal Social Science Research had a protocol to follow. The grad student was to look for other citations and ask those people cited if they would review the paper that was citing them. I am away from my main computer on an iPad so I don’t have all my files. Is Brad Wilcox cited in either the Marks or the Regnerus paper? I think Paul Amato is cited in Regnerus if memory serves.

    One of the biggest gripes from those who support Equal Civil Rights for sexual minorities is that not a single reviewer of either paper had any expertise AT ALL in the subject matter. Dr. Cohen might check with Dr. Michael Rosenfeld at Stanford if he was asked to be a peer reviewer. I think it would be a REALLY GREAT IDEA to inquire with Dr Rosenfeld if he was requested to review and if so, what did his e-mail request say.

    Why have the Advisory Editors of the Journal Social Science Research not resigned? Why are they still participating in this Journal with Wright at the helm? No Sherkatz, no. Regnerus did not get a Lucky Roll of the dice as you said in your audit.

    Does nobody else remember that Wright & Steve Nock we attempting to do their OWN Gay Parenting Study, they had a full on proposal they were shopping around for funding and MAGGIE GALLAGHER interceded on their behalf to try and get Catholic Templeton Foundation to fund it? This was in the e-mails Univ of Central Florida had to give to John Becker. This (Regnerus) was not James Wrights first anti gay parenting study rodeo.

    This is the same Catholic Maggie Gallagher along with Catholic Robert George who co-founded the National Organization for (straight only) Marriage. This same Maggie Gallagher who was at the scholar recruitment meeting in Washington DC that Regnerus (and if I remember the Michigan depositions and trial transcript Wilcox was there too) and Joe Price and Loren Marks And Doug Allen were all at, and subsequently ALL of the went on to create their very first anti gay studies.

    The e-mails John Becker got through his Freedom Of Information Act request showed James Wright suggesting to Nock that Maggie Gallagher should buy every member of Congress a copy of his Covenant Marriage book he co-wrote with Nock & another woman I forget her name. Initially I just assumed James Wright was just sloppy with no animus, however I have come to believe that he fully knew what he was doing and rushed it through to pump up the impact factor of “his” Journal, expediency for personal professional gain. Remember the Regnerus study was NOT James Wrights first anti gay rodeo study. He himself was after the anti gay right wing money. Professors are rated on how much research money they can haul in, if memory serves he and Nock wanted a Million Dollars out of Templeton. It’s in the John Becker released e-mails.

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  5. formerstudent

    I’m gay myself and I don’t understand why any queer folks would *want* to call themselves Christian. Another disappointment in this whole scandal has been bloggers liberally paraphrasing to make their points.

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  6. Why, indeed? This pervasive pattern of behavior appeared long ago. It is corrosive and destructive. It is careless, unkind, and harmful toward real people. And it is profoundly damaging to scientific integrity.

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  7. Scott Rose

    I think your characterization of the Witherspoon site for promoting the Marks and Regnerus papers does not reflect the full scale of the anti-gay evil involved.

    You said this: “When it appeared, the “report” was just an animated website rehashing the contents of the paper”

    But in fact, that website uses BOTH the Marks and Regnerus papers to promote the idea that all studies of gay parents’ child outcomes that are not the product of a large random national sample are false. And, they both falsely allege that Regnerus has a valid large random national sample of gay fathers’ and lesbian mothers’ young adult children.

    [...]

    And, the Witherspoon website doesn’t just re-hash the two papers. It goes to considerable lengths to make SURE that readers get the anti-gay angle of both studies, camouflaged in lies about the study. In fact, I exposed them for their lie on that site about Regnerus (rather than Witherspoon) having originated the study.

    [...]

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  8. Jay

    The revelation that Wright and Wilcox lied is hardly surprising. Indeed, it confirms what has long been documented, thanks to Scott Rose et al., about the fraud that is the Regnerus hoax. Wright and Wilcox are disgraces to the academic profession and, in a just world, would suffer consequences for their misconduct. Unfortunately, in the present climate, academic misconduct is simply taken for granted. What is useful about the revelations is the utter lack of scruples the opponents of gay rights and marriage equality have. They are willing to concoct fraudulent studies, tell blatant lies, defame other people, and do whatever–however, unethical and immoral–to impose their views on others. Most astoundingly, they no doubt believe that God (or at least their Church) is encouraging them to do so. They probably sleep well at night because in their universe lies and fraud are just a means to the end of denying equal rights to gay people.

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    • Zambanini4Equality

      Exactly! Wright, Regnerus, Wilcox and all the other anti-gay bigots believe the end justifies the means. Lying is not a sin to them as long as it helps advance their oppression of LGBT people!

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  9. gradstudentbyday

    It astounds me that Wright is apparently paying no professional price for this.

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