Two talks on public sociology (with audio)

I gave two talks at the American Sociological Meetings in New York City this week. I recorded them and removed some of the ums for you here. They’re each less than 11 minutes.

The first was in a session titled, “Tools for Communicating Sociology Outside the Discipline: What Works, What Doesn’t Work, and What’s Promising,” organized by Chris Uggen and presided over by Paul Calarco. I was following talks by Lisa Wade, Rashawn Ray, and Gabriel Rossman, Eszter Hargattai, and Sarah Lageson (some of whom you’ll hear mentioned). This is mostly about interacting with the news media.

The second talk, later the same day, was about the debate over activism in sociology. I think it paired well, and there are some themes in my talks that overlap. The session was titled, “Scholarly Activism in and for Sociology,” organized by Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra and including Daniel Laurison, Margaret Weigers Vitullo, and Fabio Rojas. This was after ASA President Mary Romero’s speech the night before, which she called, “Sociology: Engaging with Social Justice,” and I start by discussing that.

I recommend recording your talks (these are just phone recording) even if you’re not going to share them. It can be excruciating but also good for improving your public speaking. Also if I said anything really wrong I might want to correct it publicly. And sharing them is good for people who couldn’t be there.

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Divorce fell in one Florida county (and 31 others), and you will totally believe what happened next

You can really do a lot with the common public misperception that divorce is always going up. Brad Wilcox has been taking advantage of that since at least 2009, when he selectively trumpeted a decline in divorce (a Christmas gift to marriage) as if it was not part of an ongoing trend.

I have reported that the divorce rate in the U.S. (divorces per married woman) fell 21 percent from 2008 to 2017.  And yet yesterday, Faithwire’s Will Maule wrote, “With divorce rates rocketing across the country, it can be easy to lose a bit of hope in the God-ordained bond of marriage.”

Anyway, now there is hope, because, as right-wing podcaster Lee Habeeb wrote in Newsweek, THE INCREDIBLE SUCCESS STORY BEHIND ONE COUNTY’S PLUMMETING DIVORCE RATE SHOULD INSPIRE US ALL. In fact, we may be on the bring of Reversing Social Disintegration, according to Seth Kaplan, writing in National Affairs. That’s because of the Culture of Freedom Initiative of the Philanthropy Roundtable (a right-wing funding aggregator run by people like Art Pope, Betsy Devos, the Bradley Foundation, the Hoover Institution, etc.), which has now been spun off as Cummunio, a marriage ministry that uses marriage programs to support Christian churches. Writes Kaplan:

The program, which has recently become an independent nonprofit organization called Communio, used the latest marketing techniques to “microtarget” outreach, engaged local churches to maximize its reach and influence, and deployed skills training to better prepare individuals and couples for the challenges they might face. COFI highlights how employing systems thinking and leveraging the latest in technology and data sciences can lead to significant progress in addressing our urgent marriage crisis.

The program claims 50,000 people attended four-hour “marriage and faith strengthening programs,” and further made 20 million Internet impressions “targeting those who fit a predictive model for divorce.” So, have they increased marriage and reduced divorce? I don’t know, and neither do they, but they say they do.

Funny aside, the results website today says “Communio at work: Divorce drops 24% in Jacksonville,” but a few days ago the same web page said 28%. That’s probably because Duval County (which is what they’re referring to) just saw a SHOCKING 6% INCREASE IN DIVORCE (my phrase) in 2018 — the 10th largest divorce rate increase in all 40 counties in Florida for which data are available (see below). But anyway, that’s getting ahead of the story.

Gimme the report

The 28% result came from this report by Brad Wilcox and Spencer James, although they don’t link to it. That’s what I’ll focus on here. The report describes the many hours of ministrations, and the 20 million Internet impressions, and then gets to the heart of the matter:

We answer this question by looking at divorce and marriage trends in Duval County and three comparable counties in Florida: Hillsborough, Orange, and Escambia. Our initial data analysis suggests that the COFI effort with Live the Life and a range of religious and civic partners has had an exceptional impact on marital stability in Duval County. Since 2016, the county has witnessed a remarkable decline in divorce: from 2015 to 2017, the divorce rate fell 28 percent. As family scholars, we have rarely seen changes of this size in family trends over such a short period of time. Although it is possible that some other factor besides COFI’s intervention also helped, we think this is unlikely. In our professional opinion, given the available evidence, the efforts undertaken by COFI in Jacksonville appear to have had a marked effect on the divorce rate in Duval County.

A couple things about these very strong causal claims. First, they say nothing about how the “comparable counties” were selected. Florida seems to have 68 counties, 40 of which the Census gave me population counts for. Why not use them all? (You’ll understand why I ask when they get to the N=4 regression.) Second, how about that “exceptional impact,” the “remarkable decline” “rarely seen” in their experience as family scholars? Note there is no evidence in the report of the program doing anything, just the three year trend. And while it is a big decline, it’s one I would call “occasionally seen.” (It helps to know that divorce is generally going down — something the report never mentions.)

To put the decline in perspective, first a quick national look. In 2009 there was a big drop in divorce, accelerating the ongoing decline, presumably related to the recession (analyzed here). It was so big that nine states had crude divorce rate declines of 20% or more in that one year alone. Here is what 2008-2009 looked like:

state divorce changes 08-09.xlsx

So, a drop in divorce on this scale is not that rare in recent times. This is important background Wilcox is (comfortably) counting on his audience not knowing. So what about Florida?

Wilcox and James start with this figure, which shows the number of divorces per 1000 population in Duval County (Jacksonville), and the three other counties:wj1

Again, there is no reason given for selecting these three counties. To test the comparison, which evidently shows a faster decline in Duval, they perform two regression models. (To their credit, James shared their data with me when I requested it — although it’s all publicly available this was helpful to make sure I was doing it the same way they did.) First, I believe they ran a regression with an N of 4, the dependent variable being the 2014-2017 decline in divorce rate, and the independent variable being a dummy for Duval. I share the complete dataset for this model here:

div_chg duval
1. -1.116101 1
2. -0.2544951 0
3. -0.3307687 0
4. -0.5048307 0

I don’t know exactly what they did with the second model, which must somehow how have a larger sample than 4 because it has 8 variables. Maybe 16 county-years? Anyway, doesn’t much matter. Here is their table:


How to evaluate a faster decline among a general trend toward lower divorce rates? If you really wanted to know if the program worked, you would have to study the program, people who were in the program and people who weren’t and so on. (See this writeup of previous marriage promotion disasters, studied correctly, for a good example.) But I’m quite confident that this conclusion is ridiculous and irresponsible: “In our professional opinion, given the available evidence, the efforts undertaken by COFI in Jacksonville appear to have had a marked effect on the divorce rate in Duval County.” No one should take such a claim seriously except as a reflection on the judgment or motivations of its author.

Because the “comparison counties” was bugging me, I got the divorce counts from Florida’s Vital Statistics office (available here), and combined them with Census data on county populations (table S0101 on Since 2018 has now come out, I’m showing the change in each county’s crude divorce rate from 2015, before Communio, through 2018.

florida divorce counties.xlsx

You can see that Duval has had a bigger drop in divorce than most Florida counties — 32 of which saw divorce rates fall in this period. Of the counties that had bigger declines, Monroe and Santa Rosa are quite small, but Lake County is mid-sized (population 350,000), and bigger than Escambia, which is one of the comparison counties. How different their report could have been with different comparison cases! This is why it’s a good idea to publicly specify your research design before you collect your data, so people don’t suspect you of data shenanigans like goosing your comparison cases.

What about that 2018 rebound? Wilcox and James stopped in 2017. With the 2018 data we can look further. Eighteen counties had increased divorce rates in 2018, and Duval’s was large at 6%. Two of the comparison cases (Hillsborough and Escambria) had decreases in divorce, as did the state’s largest county, Miami-Dade (down 5%).

To summarize, Duval County had a larger than average decline in divorce rates in 2014-2017, compared with the rest of Florida, but then had a larger-than-average increase in 2018. That’s it.


Obviously, Communio wants to see more marriage, too, but here not even Wilcox can turn the marriage frown upside down.


Why no boom in marriage, with all those Internet hits and church sessions? They reason:

This may be because the COFI effort did not do much to directly promote marriage per se (it focused on strengthening existing marriages and relationships), or it may be because the effort ended up encouraging Jacksonville residents considering marriage to proceed more carefully. One other possibility may also help explain the distinctive pattern for Duval County. Hurricane Irma struck Jacksonville in September of 2017; this weather event may have encouraged couples to postpone or relocate their weddings.

OK, got it — so they totally could have increased marriage if they had wanted to. Except for the hurricane. I can’t believe I did this, but I did wonder about the hurricane hypothesis. Here are the number of marriages per month in Duval County, from 13 months before Hurrican Irma (September 2017), to 13 months after, with Septembers highlighted.

jacksonville marriges.xlsx

There were fewer marriages in September 2017 than 2016, 51 fewer, but September is a slow month anyway. And they almost made up for it with a jump in December, which could be hurricane-related postponements. But then the following September was no better, so this hypothesis doesn’t look good. (Sheesh, how much did they get paid to do this report? I’m not holding back any of the analysis here.)

Aside: Kristen & Jessica had a beautiful wedding in Jacksonville just a few days after Hurricane Irma. Jessica recalled, “Hurricane Irma hit the week before our wedding, which damaged our venue pretty badly. As it was outdoors on the water, there were trees down all over the place and flooding… We were very lucky that everything was cleaned up so fast. The weather the day of the wedding turned out to be perfect!” I just had to share this picture, for the Communio scrapbook:


Photo by Jazi Davis in JaxMagBride.

So, to recap: Christian philanthropists and intrepid social scientists have pretty much reversed social disintegration and the media is just desperate to keep you from finding out about it.

Also, Brad Wilcox lies, cheats, and steals. And the people who believe in him, and hire him to carry their social science water, don’t care.

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Less than half of women with PhDs in survey keep ‘maiden’ names

Marital Name Change Survey first results and open data release.

Over the last three days 3,400 ever-married U.S. residents took my Marital Name Change Survey. I distributed the survey link on this blog, Facebook and Twitter. I don’t know who took it, but based on the education and occupation data a very large share of the respondents were women (88%) with professional degrees (30%) or Phds (27%). It’s not a representative sample, but the results may still be interesting.

Here I’ll give a few topline numbers as of 8:00 this morning, and then link to a public version of the data and materials. These results reflect a little data checking and cleaning and of course are subject to change.

Respondents were asked about their most recent marriage. Half were married in the 2010s, but the sample includes more than 400 married in the 1990s and 200 earlier.


The vast majority (84%) were women married to men; 11% were men married to women and 4% (~140) were in same-gender marriages. Here are some observations about the women married to men. The name-change choices are shown below, with “R change” indicating the respondent changed their name, and “Sp change” indicating their spouse changed. The “Other” field included a write-in, and the vast majority of those were variations on hyphenations or changes to middle names.


Because of the convenience nature of the sample, I don’t put much stock in the overall trend (I’ll try to develop a weighting scheme for this, but even then). However, I think the PhD sample is worth looking at. Here is the trend of women with PhDs (now or at the time of marriage) married to men.


By this reckoning, the feminist-name heyday was in the 1980s, followed by a backslide, and now a rebound of women with PhDs keeping their names. The 2010s trend is like that found in the Google Consumer survey reported by Claire Cain Miller and Derek Willis in NYT Upshot.

Note, these no-change rates are higher than those reported by Gretchen Gooding and Rose Kreider from the 2004 American Community Survey, which showed 33% of married women with PhDs had different surnames than their husbands (regardless of when they got married). I show 53% in the 2000s had different names than their husbands, and 57% in the 2010s. Maybe that’s because I have more social science and humanities PhDs, or just a more woke sample.

These results also show a strong age-at-marriage pattern, with PhD women much more likely to keep their names if they married at older ages. Over age 40, 74% of women with PhDs kept their names, compared with 20% who married under age 25. (Note this is based on education at the time of the survey; I also collected education at the time of marriage, which I discuss below.)


I asked people how important various factors were if people considered changing their names. Among PhD women marrying men who did not change their names, the most important reasons were feminism (52% “very important”), professional considerations (34%), convenience (33%), and maintaining independence within the marriage (24%). Among those who took their husbands’ names, the most important factors were the interests of their children (48%) and showing commitment to the marriage (25%).

A few other observations: PhD women were most likely to keep their names if they had no religion (53%), were Jewish (46%), or other non-Christian religion (43%); protestants (27%), Catholics (29%), and other Christians (21%) were less likely to keep their names. Finally, those who had lived together before marriage were most likely to keep their names (51% for those who lived together for three years or more, compared with 27% for those who did not live together at all).

Data availability

I don’t have time now to analyze this more, but that shouldn’t stop you. Feel free to download the data and documentation here under a CC-BY license (the only requirement is attribution). This includes a Stata data file, and PDFs of the questionnaire and codebook. This will all be revised when I have time.

Open-ended responses

I am not including in the shared files (yet) the open-ended question responses, which include descriptions of “other” name change patterns, as well as a general notes field, which is full of fascinating comments; given the non-random nature of the survey, this may turn out to be its most valuable contribution.

Here are a few.


I changed my name to my spouses because I HATED my father and it was the easiest way to ditch his name. I kept my married name after divorce. I’m currently pregnant (on my own) and plan to change my name again and now I will take the surname of my step-father, who has been my “dad” since I was 5.

“True partnership”

My wife and I had been together 10 years and through several iterations of domestic partnerships prior to marrying. Including before she completed her PhD. I didn’t want to change my name because my name flows really poetically and a change would ruin it (silly but true). She didn’t want to change her name in part because it’s what everyone in her profession know her as. I think we both also feel like our names represent our life histories and although we are a true partnership, that doesn’t negate our family histories or experiences. Which I guess is feminist of us. But we never explicitly discussed feminism as an issue.

This is complicated.

My partner and I both had our own hyphenated names already! We kept our own hyphenated names initially (and our marriage was not legally recognized at the time so there wasn’t a built-in or convenient option to change at that point anyway). When we had kids, we have them a hyphenated name, one of my last names and one of hers. Eventually we both changed to match the kids, so we all share the same hyphenated name now.

And so on. Fascinating reading!


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Take the Marital Name Change Survey


Photo by Drew, Flickr/CC

As I work on the 3rd edition of The Family (don’t hold your breath, it will be a while), I’m adding more discussion on the issue of marriage and name changes. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of great information about this, especially about the reasons for name changing (or not) and how practices have changed over time. However, I don’t bias your thinking by getting into the literature review here just yet. Instead, I designed a survey.

This is for U.S. residents who have ever been married. If 1,000 of you share this with 1,000 other people, I will have very large convenience sample. Worth a try. It’s anonymous, 28 questions, and took my testers an average of 5 minutes to complete. Thank you!

Click here to enter the survey, and share this post, or this link:



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Victory in the Second Circuit on Trump Twitter lawsuit


Clown imitates icon.

“The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees. … Once the President has chosen a platform and opened up its interactive space to millions of users and participants, he may not selectively exclude those whose views he disagrees with.”

— Barrington D. Parker, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided in our favor in Knight Institute v. Trump, upholding the decision of from the U.S. District Court that President Trump violating the First Amendment by blocking me and six other plaintiffs on Twitter. The decision was unanimous among the three judges (two appointed by Republicans, one Democrat), who heard oral arguments in March (available in video here).

Here is some of the coverage.

More to come.

I was interviewed for a (paywalled) Times Higher Education article, “US university professor helps beat Trump on Twitter blocking,” saying:

“I often don’t read his tweets before replying. The point is not to have a dialogue with him, but to engage with the millions of people who read his tweets. … When I have a popular reply it can be viewed by 100,000 people or more, which, while small in the grand scheme, is very satisfying as an individual act of resistance.”

The article concludes:

But the professor acknowledged that some of his friends regard his approach as a waste of time, “playing into Trump’s hands, sinking to his level, fueling the outrage industry without advancing the cause of improving democracy through civil discourse. And honestly, they may be right,” he said. “We each have to respond in our own way to what, for many, is a deeply distressing turn of events.”

Much more important than my tweets is the effect of the case on the legal protections for democracy. I share the optimistic take by Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight Institute and the lawyer who delivered the oral argument in the Second Circuit:

“Public officials’ social media accounts are now among the most significant forums for discussion of government policy. This decision will ensure that people aren’t excluded from these forums simply because of their viewpoints, and that public officials aren’t insulated from their constituents’ criticism. The decision will help ensure the integrity and vitality of digital spaces that are increasingly important to our democracy.”

(The whole team at the Knight Institute has been amazing and I’m deeply grateful.)

I also gave this interview to ABC News streaming show Briefing Room, and offered this summary off the cuff:

This is exactly what we were hoping for. Trump and the Department of Justice that’s representing him had argued that when Trump tweets, they acknowledge, that’s official business, but when he blocked people they said that was his personal preference and his personal behavior. And it’s really new territory because increasingly government official are communicating with the public on these private platforms, and we have to do some work to bring the First Amendment to bear in these environments. The principle here is that if the government, or a government official, establishes what’s called a public forum, then they can’t exclude people from that forum on the basis of their views. So Trump can have a private party, he can have a campaign rally, he doesn’t have to let every person in the world walk into the White House – but if he puts up a sign that says, “Public Debate Happening Here,” then he can’t say, “Oh, by the way, only Republicans can come.” And that’s what the court found he’s doing essentially with his Twitter feed when he blocks people, and creates this false impression that, you know, he has the biggest crowds and everybody loves him.

Here’s the clip:

The next step is to see whether Trump appeals, in which case he can either ask for a review by the full panel of the Second Circuit, or go up to the Supreme Court. We’re supposed to hear within 90 days.

The news office at Columbia, host of the Knight First Amendment Institute, which represents us, produced this short video on the decision:


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Tone policing: Am I allowed to put Regnerus, Wilcox, and Hitler in the same headline?


Sir, are you aware you were using a caustic tone back there? (photo: Thomas Hawk)

Nicholas Wolfinger reviewed my book Enduring Bonds for Social Forces (paywalled [why paywall book reviews?]; bootlegged). It would be unseemly of me to argue with a two-page book review instead of letting my life’s work stand on its own, so here goes — but just on one point: tone policing.

This is the opening of the review:

Philip Cohen has a lot of beefs. Hanna Rosen is an ”antifeminist” (p. 134) prone to “errors and distortions” (p. 146), and a “record of misstating facts in the service of inaccurate conclusions” (p. 185); W. Bradford Wilcox offers an “interpretation not just wrong but the opposite of right” (p. 76) and elsewhere gives a “racist” interview (p. 175); Ron Haskins, a “curmudgeon” (p. 175), presents a meme that’s “stupid and evil” (p. 47); David Blankenhorn is the author of a “deeply ridiculous” article (p. 80); Christina Hoff Sommers speaks in “[a] voice [that] drips with contempt” (p. 200) and is deemed to be an “antifeminist” (p. 155), even though she’s later identified as a
feminist (p. 197).*

He adds:

Also making the list: Paula England, for her “disappointingly mild” review of Cohen’s Public Enemy Number One, the “obtuse, semi-coherent” (p. 106) and “simply unethical” (p. 91) Mark Regnerus. Indeed, 29 of the 209 pages of Cohen’s book are spent excoriating Regnerus for two different studies.

This makes up his argument that, “Cohen writes so tendentiously that the useful bits get carried away in a torrent of ad hominem asperity,” and his conclusion, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Over my many years as a caustic person, I have heard this a lot, mostly from academics, bless their hearts. Which is cool, that’s my career choice and it would be unseemly to complain about it now, so here goes.

Listing the bad words I used doesn’t mean anything. And telling me I spent 29 pages on Regnerus (Wolfinger doesn’t mention that his frequent co-author, Brad Wilcox, is featured heavily in those 29 pages, or even that Wilcox is his frequent co-author), is not a meaningful critique unless you explain why these people don’t deserve it. I’ve heard, for example, that people have written very good whole books about specific individuals and the bad things they’ve done — including, off the top of my head, Hitler. The meaningful question is, am I wrong in those assessments, and if I am, why? In other words, you catch more flies by telling the reader why it would not be unacceptably harsg to write a whole book about Hitler but the same cannot be said about 29 pages on Regnerus and Wilcox. Or why it’s wrong to criticize Rosin, Haskins, Blankenhorn, Sommers and (lol) England in harsh terms.

If you want to enjoy a world where entire reviews are written about the use of harsh words, reviews that don’t even give a hint — not even a mention — as to the content of the issues and disputes that prompted those harsh words, then I can only suggest a career in academia.

Ironic aside

I tweeted a link to Wolfinger’s review, even though it is completely negative, because I’m scrupulous and fair-minded.


This led him to go on a multitweet journey, complaining that “he took words like ‘formidable’ out of context to suggest a much more positive review,” and exploring my motivations — responding to someone who said, “That was clearly a joke” with, “You see a joke, I see mendacity,” and concluding, “‘‘Just a joke’ is a weak, all-purpose way to cover up a fuck up like getting caught twisting the evidence.”

I hate to bring up Hitler again (not really), but the last time someone spent so much time pretending to not understand I was joking it was actual nazis, quoting a tweet where I joked that Jews were devoted to “eradicating whiteness and undermining its civilizations” (not linking, but you can google it). This led to a lot of online grief and some death threats, including posting my address on Reddit. So it irritated me.

The online nazi mob technique is to pretend things Jews say aren’t jokes, then pretend they themselves are joking when they talk about genocide. I’m sure many Jewish readers will recognize that failure to understand sarcastic humor is actually a common trait among rank-and-file anti-Semites — the people who have a hard time differentiating “New York” from “Jewish” — something that leading anti-Semites are very adept at manipulating. So that resonated with me.

(The above is labeled “aside” to make it boringly over-clear that I’m not saying Wolfinger is anti-Semitic.)

* Correction: Sommers is not “identified as a feminist” on p. 197, I just reported the name of her video series which is, absurdly, the The Factual Feminist.



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Wilcox plagiarism denial and ethics review

Recently I made the serious accusation that Brad Wilcox and his colleagues plagiarized me in a New York Times op-ed. After the blog post, I sent a letter to the Times and got no response. And until now Wilcox had not responded. But now thanks to an errant group email I had the chance to poke him, and he responded, in relevant part:

You missed the point of the NYT op-ed, which was to stress the intriguing J-Curve in women’s marital happiness when you look at religion and gender ideology. We also thought it interesting to note there is a rather similar J-Curve in women’s marital happiness in the GSS when it comes to political ideology, although the political ideology story was somewhat closer to a U-Curve in the GSS. Our NYT argument was not inspired by you, and our extension of the argument to a widely used dataset is not plagiarism.

Most of that comment is irrelevant to the question of whether the figure they published was ripped off from my blog; the only argument he makes is to underline the word notTo help readers judge for themselves, here is the sequence again, maybe presented more clearly than I did it last time.

Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger published this, claiming Republicans have happier marriages:


I responded by showing that that when you break out the categories more you get a U-shape instead:


Subsequently, I repeated the analysis, with newer data, using political views instead of party identification (the U-shape on the right):


This is the scheme, and almost exactly the results, that Wilcox and colleagues then published in the NYT, now including one more year of data:


The data used, the control variables, and the results, are almost identical to analysis I did in response to their work. His response is, “Our NYT argument was not inspired by you.” So that’s that.

Ethics aside

Of course, only he knows what’s in his heart. But the premise of his plagiarism denial is an appeal to trust. So, do you trust him?


There is a long history here, and it’s hard to know where to start if you’re just joining. Wilcox has been a liberal villain since he took over the National Marriage Project and then organized what became (unfortunately) known as the Regnerus study (see below), and a conservative darling since the top administration at the University of Virginia overturned the recommendation of his department and dean to grant him tenure.

So here are some highlights, setting aside questions of research quality and sticking to ethical issues.

Wilcox led the coalition that raised $785,000, from several foundations, used to generate the paper published under Mark Regnerus’s name, intended to sway the courts against marriage equality. He helped design the study, and led the development of the media plan, and arranged for the paper to be submitted to Social Science Research, and then arranged for himself to be one of the anonymous peer reviewers. To do this, he lied to the editor, by omission, about his contribution the study — saying only that he “served on the advisory board.”

And then when the scandal blew up he lied about his role at the Witherspoon Institute, which provided most of the funding, saying he “never served as an officer or a staffer at the Witherspoon Institute, and I never had the authority to make funding or programmatic decisions at the Institute,” and that he was “not acting in an official Witherspoon capacity.” He was in fact the director of the institute’s Program on Family, Marriage, and Democracy, which funded the study, and the email record showed him approving budget requests and plans. To protect his reputation and cover up the lie, that position (which he described as “honorific”) has been scrubbed from his CV and the Witherspoon website. (In the emails uncovered later, the president of Witherspoon, Luis Tellez wrote, “we will include some money for you [Regnerus] and Brad on account of the time and effort you will be devoting to this,” but the amount he may have received has not been revealed — the grants aren’t on his CV.)

This is covered under the Regnerus and Wilcox tags on the blog, and told in gripping fashion in a chapter of my book, Enduring Bonds.

You might hold it against him that he organized a conspiracy to fight marriage equality, but even if you think that’s just partisan nitpickery, the fact that the research was the result of a “coalition” (their word) that included a network of right-wing activists, and that their roles were not disclosed in the publication, is facially an ethical violation. And the fact that it involved a series of public and private lies, which he has never acknowledged, goes to the issue of trust in every subsequent case.


Here I can’t say what ethical rule Wilcox may have broken. Academia is a game that runs on trust, and in his financial dealings Wilcox has not been forthcoming. There is money flowing through his work, but the source and purpose that money is not disclosed when the work is published. For example, in the NYT piece Wilcox is identified only as a professor at the University of Virginia, even though the research reported there was published by the Institute for Family Studies. His faculty position, and tenure, are signals of his trustworthiness, which he uses to bolster the reputation of his partisan efforts.

The Institute for Family Studies is a non-profit organization that Wilcox created in 2009, originally called the Ridge Foundation. For the first four years the tax filings list him as the president, then director. Since 2013, when it changed its name to IFS, he has been listed as a senior fellow. Through 2017, the organization paid him more than $330,000, and he was the highest paid person. The funders are right-wing foundations.

Most academics want people to know about their grants and the support for their research. On his CV at the University of Virginia, however, Wilcox does not list the Institute for Family Studies in the “Employment” section, or include it among the grants he has received. Even though it is an organization he created and built up, so far grossing almost $3 million in total revenue. It is only mentioned in a section titled “Education Honors and Awards,” where he lists himself as a “Senior Fellow, Institute for Family Studies.” An education honor and award he gave himself, apparently.

He also doesn’t list his position on the Marco Rubio campaign’s Marriage & Family Advisory Board, where he was among those who “understand” that “Windsor and Obergefell are only the most recent example of our failure as a society to understand what marriage is and why it matters”

Wilcox uses his academic position to support and legitimize his partisan efforts, and his partisan work to produce work under his academic title (of course IFS says it’s nonpartisan but that’s meaningless). If he kept them really separate that would be one thing — we don’t need to know what church academics belong to or what campaigns they support, except as required by law — but if he’s going to blend them together I think he incurs an ethical disclosure obligation.

Wilcox isn’t the only person to scrub Withserspoon from his academic record — which is funny because the Witherspoon Institute is housed at Princeton University (where Wilcox got his PhD). And the fact of removing Witherspoon from a CV was used to discredit a different anti-marriage-equality academic expert, Joseph Price at Brigham Young, in the Michigan trial that led to the Obergefell decision, because it made it seem he was trying to hide his political motivations in testifying against marriage equality. Here is the exchange:


Court proceedings are useful for bringing out certain principles. In this case I think they help illustrate my point: If Brad Wilcox wants people to trust his motivations, he should disclose the sources of support for his work.

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