Paul Amato, Regnerus postscript

Scott Rose has a new post excoriating Paul Amato as a “villain” in the Regnerus Affair (here is the background).

Amato was arguably the most prominent sociologist involved in scandal: He is the President Elect of the National Council on Family Relations, the leading professional association for family scholars; he has been chair of the Family Section of the American Sociological Association; and he has a named chair at Penn State University, where he is a Distinguished Professor.

We know from his own commentary on the study in Social Science Research that Amato was a paid consultant to Regnerus (confirmed by UT-released documents). In that commentary, he cautioned that Regnerus’s results shouldn’t be used to undermine gay and lesbian civil rights, but he also lent legitimacy to the study and did not criticize its obvious flaws. I have seen the emails between Amato and Mark Regnerus that Scott Rose writes about here, which were obtained through public records document requests. I’m not revealing anything Rose hasn’t.

There are three new things in the emails:

  1. Amato apparently asked for, and received, money from Regnerus to bring his wife with him to Austin in addition to his own travel expenses and fees (“…about that second ticket…”, “…consider it done.”)
  2. Regnerus says he suggested Amato to Social Science Research editor James Wright as a reviewer for the study, and flatteringly urged Amato to accept the request if asked. (“I’d hope that if you’re asked to review it, you would consider doing so. I think you’re one of the fairest, level-headed scholars out there in this domain.”)
  3. Amato told Regnerus he defended Regnerus’s credibility after the study was published, and asked for access to the data for additional research.

However, Rose goes further and asserts that Amato also was a peer reviewer of the study for the journal Social Science Research, which he has said before. I believe I have seen the evidence Rose has for that and, although suggestive, it is not conclusive: Amato’s name is on a list that seems to be of reviewers for the Regnerus paper and the paper that accompanied it in the journal, which Darren Sherkat used for his investigation on behalf of the journal).


It is already well established that Regnerus acted shamelessly and unethically. We now know that extended to not only suggesting his own consultant Amato as a reviewer to SSR, but also telling Amato he had done that and urging him to agree to do the review. I’m not sure what rule that breaks, but it’s wrong in my book. The fact that he had previously agreed to give Amato tickets for his wife’s travel just makes it a little worse, because it seems like calling in a favor. I assume Witherspoon, which bankrolled the study, didn’t care about that kind of slush, although the University of Texas Population Research Center might not appreciate that use of money they were managing. (At my state university, even money I have discretion over can’t be spent on things like family travel. If I want to pay for my family to travel, I can take the money as summer salary, pay taxes on it, and then spend it on whatever I want.)

Anyway, Regnerus isn’t an issue anymore. But what about Amato? Based on the new emails and the rest of the background, I have drawn these conclusions about so far:

  1. If Amato wants to take conservative foundation money from Regnerus for his family’s travel, that’s fine with me (I recommend he check with his tax adviser, however).
  2. If Amato wants to defend Regnerus’s credibility and use the data for additional research, that’s up to him.
  3. But if Amato was a reviewer for the paper in SSR, I believe he should not have been, even if he disclosed this to James Wright. Unless the anti-Regnerus activists are successful in getting SSR‘s files through public records requests we may never know for sure, unless Amato publicly discloses it. I hope he will.

I have no beef with Paul Amato, and no personal relationship with him. I served as a member of the Family Section council for some of the time he was the chair. Under his leadership, the Family Section accepted my proposal to request an amicus brief from the American Sociological Association on the Regnerus study claims. I don’t remember if he voted or abstained on the decision to make the request, but he didn’t block it, anyway.

Comment briefly, please.

20 thoughts on “Paul Amato, Regnerus postscript

  1. What will you do no Dr. Cohen with this new information?
    From what you write we see that Regnerus was buttering up Amato, asking him to be a peer reviewer.

    Did you NOT watch the Darren Sherkat Videos? The ones where Sherkat says that two out of 3 peer reviewers were ALSO paid consultants? (towards the end, and pay attention to the slides projected)

    [Sherkat gave this talk to an Ethics center and tellingly they do not publicize the ethics discussion that happened after Sherkat’s presentation concluded]

    Let me ask you this. In light of these new records released by UT where you see the collaboration between Amato & Regnerus, the already documented extensive collaboration between Wilcox and Amato, IF these two guys were also peer reviewers NOW would you fight for retraction? Would you?

    There is already enough evidence to request an investigation by the American Sociological Association. These new e-mails merely add to that substantive evidence. Why Dr. Cohen are you NOT asking the ASA to investigate? Why?

    You have to remember that other than Sarantakos(1) this Regnerus study is the only study in the world that purports to show that having gay parents is harmful to children. This study has been used around the world, just today I searched and found it in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. This study is devastating, and I am upset that you (Royal you) Sociologists are not doing anything to get it retracted. You should be doing something towards that end, just writing blog articles is NOT getting the study retracted. With all do respect, you should file an official complaint to the ASA and request an investigation.
    (1)Sarantakos out of Austrailia documented the extreme bullying the children experienced by their classmates and the parents of their classmates.
    (I hope this was short enough, I tried to follow your request)


  2. One of two things is true: either 1) the documentation we have proves definitively that Wright allowed Wilcox and Amato to peer review Regnerus; or 2) Wright and Sherkat are not being honest in their reporting about how they checked for conflicts of interest to be reported in the audit.

    In any event, given that Regnerus, in telling Amato that he hoped he would do the peer review if offered the assignment, said “it’s only single-blind anyway,” and Amato appears to have made no protest of that, any claim that the people involved upheld the ethics of peer review is a joke.


      1. I do understand that, of course.

        However, that Regnerus justified his particular behind-the-scenes-about-the-peer-review chat with Amato by saying “It’s only single-blind anyway,” — (as if Amato as an NFSS consultant wouldn’t have recognized who the paper’s author was, even were it double-blind peer review) — smacks of this attitude: Who cares what the rules are?

        I think it’s important to understand that the Regnerus paper is being used in tandem with the Marks paper and Amato’s endorsements of both as an anti-gay cudgel all over the world. The claim is not “merely” that Regnerus demonstrates that homosexuals are dangerous to children. The additional claim based on the Marks paper is that all research with results favorable to gay parents is a pack of lies.

        In Russia alone, The Regnerus/Marks/Amato cudgel was used as part of a successful campaign to enact legislation that mandates harsh criminal justice penalties for any adult to communicate in any way to any minor that homosexuals exist. LGBT Russians do not have freedom of assembly in any context. A group of them recently attempted to assemble for a gay pride demonstration and were beaten by anti-gay thugs (as law enforcement looked on and did nothing).

        Read what this blogger found in the Russian press from February, 2013:

        Regnerus study gets to Eastern Europe
        I was – frankly – taken aback by the sudden explosion of Russian-language publications on Regnerus study from 3 weeks ago. Because of how Regnerus’s “study” is presented.

        Title: “For the First Time, Shocking Scientific Facts About Homosexual Families Are Published”


  3. Amato’s relationship with Regnerus is minimal, though I think he should not have even written a response to Regnerus’ paper, much less reviewed the article, if he did. Still, I think there is a really out-of-touch mentality about this critique of Amato. How much money do you think a named chair gets for taking two days to review and critique a project? As I recall, Amato was paid $2k plus expenses. He’s a named chair at a top tier research university. He’s spending a couple of days helping you. $2k is pretty low-ball, frankly. Picking up his spouses’ tab is not something you could do from NSF, but it’s a sweetener that some scholars may enjoy using private accounts or even departmental funds (If one of my junior faculty had someone like Paul Amato as a consultant I would potentially wrangle something like this). Far from being paid off by nefarious right wing interests, I think Amato may just be picking up a few small paychecks, and he may well see this as a service to young scholars. His taste is to be questioned.


    1. I don’t think Amato did the review as payback for the consulting fee or the tickets. But what if it were $10k or $20k (more like Wilcox’s case, in other words)? It’s just best to draw the line at $0.

      More important is that a fresh pair of eyes would have been more likely to see the obvious flaws in the paper, especially if that fresh pair of eyes was on the face of someone with any expertise in LGBT studies. Maybe Amato already thought the logic of the analysis was acceptable partly because he was part of the process that saw the original fantasy of 1,000 children of GL parents randomly sampled get whittled down to a few dozen poorly-identified mismatches. Maybe he thought, “We’ll, we tried. May as well publish what we got.” That lack of distance is another reason consultants shouldn’t review their own projects.


      1. On the scientific side, answer this: Dr. Amato had access to the data, i.e. it was possible for him to figure out how long each respondent had lived in which “family structure.” We now know “a ciencia cierta” that not enough of the respondents lived with gay or lesbian parents long enough for any statistical inferences to be possible regarding children raised by gay parents. Yet, in his commentary, Dr. Amato alleged that the data do present the possibility of making such inferences. How did it happen that a social scientist worked up a number of statements about effect sizes without addressing the underlying problem that the data don’t permit statistical inferences about the target population of the study?


      2. I don’t think that the possible incentive would be “payback” for the money already had. Rather, it could be that somebody in that field would want to get in the good graces of the moneybags, for future opportunities. We already know for sure that when push comes to shove, Dr. Amato sides with the buttered side of the bread (vouching for Regnerus’s supposed scientific credibility and integrity) rather than to criticize anyone (like Regnerus) connected with the funding for using the study as an anti-gay weapon. I assert that when Amato told Regnerus that one of the reasons he is keeping a “low profile” is that he’s the incoming NCFR president and that organization “doesn’t need the controversy,” what he means actually is that he doesn’t want scrutiny to occur. The Baylor letter in support of Regnerus, which substantially misrepresents Regnerus and other researchers, notably, Potter, makes mention of both Amato and NCFR. It therefore is true that both Amato and NCFR do not mind their prestige being attached worldwide to scientifically inaccurate promotions of Regnerus, but are afraid of scrutiny being brought to bear on Amato’s involvement in the Regnerus study. Both of them fear and fight against scrutiny, even as their prestigious names are attached to promotions of the Regnerus paper.


    2. I contest Dr. Sherkat’s notion that “Amato’s relationship with Regnerus is minimal.” From documentation we know that Regnerus’s funding agency representative Wilcox thought it was a huge coup when Regnerus attached Amato to the NFSS. And, imagine if, instead of Amato publishing a commentary alongside the Regnerus paper, Dr. Michael Rosenfeld had been granted, like Amato, access to the data in order to write a commentary. Amato’s seal of approval on the Regnerus paper, though out of line with the scientific consensus about it, is crucial to Regnerus who continues to exploit it. Then too, Amato commiserated with Regnerus about criticisms of the study, even about legitimate criticisms of it (to say nothing of the documentation of its lack of integrity) and vouched for Regnerus’s integrity to other scholars, even after it had been documented that Regnerus behaved without integrity.

      Amato’s relationship with Regnerus is anything but “minimal.”

      PS — Amato acted as a conduit for NFSS data to a scholar at the anti-gay Brigham Young University before the data were available from Michigan. Conversely, Amato did not make the data available to Cohen though one can infer that he understood that Cohen would be interested in having it. Even that can be considered an aspect of Amato’s relationship with Regnerus.


  4. To be clear, I would never review a paper or write a response to a paper from which I had received any money from the grants, no matter where from. I consider that a conflict of interest, and I hope other scholars will perhaps grow some ethical ovaries, or somethings. This unethical orientation helps to privilege the influence of dirty money. Big money buys legitimacy by linking top scholars to bullshit projects—by paying them and giving them cush arrangements. For a certain segment of the academic elite, they consider this something like rent farming, picking up paychecks for “consulting” on projects. Maybe we can get people to actually critically examine their consulting arrangements.


  5. Is Dr. Sherkat implying that Dr. Gates lied in the essay he submitted to SSR editor Dr. James Wright titled “An IIlegitimate Review Process”?

    Although Wright and Sherkat have unconvincingly alleged transparency, both have refused to explain to the public why “An Illegitimate Review Process” was rejected from publication, after Wright had alleged than any credentialed expert who wrote to him with concerns about the Regnerus paper would see their concerns published in his November, 2012 issue.

    The materials that *were* published in November while Gates’ essay was not serve to confirm that Dr. Wright and Elsevier acted more out of depraved than out of scientific motives. Schumm’s disingenuous attempted methodological defense of Regnerus, not peer reviewed but labeled “Original Research Article”? Hello?

    Gates writes this in his essay: “In a follow-up e-mail to Sherkat, I asked if it was possible that two of the three peer reviewers of the Regnerus paper were paid consultants to the study. He writes: “Among the six reviewers, only two were paid consultants to the study, which was confirmed in my FOIA request which I received last week. Both acknowledged this to Wright, along with their reviews. Both reviewed the Regnerus manuscript.”

    Via a Public Information Act request to UT, I obtained UT’s complete response to Dr. Sherkat’s FOIA request. It contains two, and only two NFSS consulting contracts; one for Wilcox, the other for Amato. Additionally, from UT via a PIA request, I have received the complete record of NFSS consulting contracts, which serves to fact-check certain things including the rest of the intelligence we have about the peer review. In the video above of Dr. Sherkat’s lecture at Fresno State, he tells listeners that he knew who peer reviewed the Regnerus paper. Thus, when he writes about whether Amato peer reviewed Regnerus, casting doubt on the matter by saying “if he did,” there is some weight of evidence suggesting he is being disingenuous.


  6. I am just a humble witness to all this, but gosh, this obsession with regnerus is feeling more and more like a witch hunt. There are studies that say kids of gay parents do fine; indeed, aren’t there competing studies in most big sociological questions? Why not just let the system do its job and keep watching the data? Why make this so personal? Dude has an annoying beard, i’ll grant you, but isn’t the appropriate response to offer a better study/different interpretation of data/ alternative opinion supported by facts?


    1. The most urgent issue may not be Regnerus per se but rather that the editor who enabled his hoax is still on the loose, untrustworthy and capable of similar things in the future.

      Additionally, though, the Regnerus article should be retracted with a comprehensive explanation of why it had to be retracted, so that worldwide when anti-gays try using it as a propaganda weapon, others have an authoritative reference stating that the research and the researcher lacked integrity.


    2. OK, Str8’s KKK comparison probably isn’t reassuring you that this *isn’t* a witch hunt… But the comparison with race is interesting in that it shows where the issue of gay and lesbian parenting suddenly is.

      For myself, I think social scientists need to pay more attention to the nexus of ideology, money and research, especially as public research money is more limited and private foundations fill the void. I don’t think the general public needs to be following every detail of the Regnerus Affair, but I think academic social science needs to get it because it has implications for our model of doing business.


      1. A better comparison might be with the tobacco smoke studies, paid for by the tobacco industry. They found that tobacco smoke was not a carcinogen. (Cough, cough).

        We know the legal background that brought about Witherspoon/Regnerus/Marks. In the Prop 8 case, the anti-gays’ expert witnesses’ testimony collapsed under cross-examination. One of those “experts” was the same Loren Marks whose paper Wright published alongside Regnerus’s. Trial transcripts reveal that before he withdrew as an “expert,” Marks intended to submit a gay parenting literature review to the court. It therefore is striking that it got published and that apparently, none of the peer reviewers of it were LGBT-sciences trained or experienced.

        What Belinda suggests doing — continue arguing on a science-only basis about Regnerus/Marks, without insisting that the lack of integrity in the research be acknowledged — only rewards the perpetrators, something which should not be done.


  7. Belinda, let’s try this. Suppose all research showed that there is no difference in raw intelligence between races. Suppose there were 60 studies, many small but still valid studies, that showed that race is not an indicator of intelligence.

    Suppose one scholar went to the KKK and got $600,000 in funding to do a study that showed that black people are inherently inferior intellectually to white people. Would you expect the NAACP, and virtually every black organization would use every legal means necessary to expose the collaboration between the KKK & the PI? What if the evidence showed that white supremacists were the peer reviewers of the study? Publicly on the record as being white supremacists. Would you expect the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, prominent scholars who study racial inequality, and every large and small black organization, would you expect them to not yield to the study, but work to expose the critical flaws in the study? Would you say that would be a reasonable response by the minority group that is unjustifiably getting smeared?

    <snip -pnc>. What’s the big deal you ask???? Nothing if you are straight.


  8. BTW I agree with the snip, thanks…
    See this is what is done with this-
    Nation Organization For Marriage
    “More and more academics and social scientists are speaking out about the good of marriage, especially for children, and the serious problems that kids experience when raised by parents in a same-sex relationship” see more


  9. Philip, “I don’t think the general public needs to be following every detail of the Regnerus Affair”
    STRONGLY disagree. Because sexual minorities live in society, society should know every damned detail of this invalid study. People who are, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender do NOT live on a separate island. They live among us. And as long as Regnerus is out on the stump promoting his “study” (and he is!) you in Sociology need to be shining the light of truth. Regnerus AND his Opus Dei funders have taken this into the political and legal sphere, therefor you are obligated to enter that same sphere and tell the truth.

    Attempting to keep this as an academic discussion in your walled garden, when Regnerus is filing Amicus briefs to the Supreme Court, is wrong.

    If anybody started the Witch Hunt is IS Regnerus!


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