Wilcox and colleagues plagiarized my work in the New York Times

In the New York Times yesterday, W. Bradford Wilcox, Jason S. Carroll and Laurie DeRose published an Op-Ed with the ridiculous title, “Religious Men Can Be Devoted Dads, Too.” In it they included this figure:


In 2015 I wrote a post titled, “That thing about Republican marriages being happier (isn’t true),” which included this figure:


There are trivial differences between these figures. Theirs is from the General Social Survey for 2010-2018, mine was for 2010-2014. Theirs used political views while mine used party identification. Theirs is just women, and controls for age, education, and race; mine included men and women while controlling for gender, and I also controlled for income and religious attendance. (And they used gray for the middle bar, instead of purple.) However, in a subsequent post, from 2017, I redid the analysis for the years 2012-2016, using political views instead of party identification, in a post titled, “Who’s happy in marriage? (Not just rich, White, religious men, but kind of).” The results are almost identical to theirs in the Times (on the right, here):


Did they know about my pieces? I am certain they did, though I can’t prove it. It’s relevant that my first post, “That thing about Republican marriages…” was a critique of a post by Wilcox and Nick Wolfinger, which had only reported that Republicans were slightly happier in marriage than Democrats, which they called “The Republican Advantage in Marital Satisfaction.” My post was a correction, showing the U-shape the emerged when you broke out the categories — the change Wilcox and colleagues have now adopted. My follow-up post was reported by Bloomberg (and carried in the Chicago Tribune), and the Daily Mail. Both of my posts were tweeted by popular journalists who work in this area. I expect that would claim they never noticed my little blog posts.

You also could split hairs on the definition of plagiarism to try to defend this unethical behavior. The relevant passages of the American Sociological Association Code of Ethics:

(b) In their publications, presentations, teaching, practice, and service, sociologists provide acknowledgment of and reference to the use of their own and others’ work, even if the work is paraphrased and not quoted verbatim.
(c) While sociologists utilize and build on the concepts, theories, and paradigms of others, they may not claim credit for creating such ideas and must cite the creator of such ideas where appropriate.

But no one can seriously argue they shouldn’t have referenced my work.

Wilcox has done much worse, of course, most importantly leading a conspiracy to gin up research to turn the Supreme Court against same-sex marriage and then lying about his role in that conspiracy (the subject of a chapter in my book Enduring Bonds). And this is not a very important idea (their explanation is very flimsy, and I have no real explanation or theory to explain the pattern.) But this one goes on the list somewhere.


Why do I care? Is this just petty partisanship and even jealousy because Wilcox paid himself $80,000 of right-wing foundation money in 2016, and continues to publish low-quality research in important outlets like the New York Times? Draw your own conclusions. Of course his views are noxious to me. But more than that, in the game of trust that is the research ecosystem, reputations matter a lot. Once someone is tenured, and funded by unaccountable political actors, our options for defending the system are limited. The norms of publishing, especially outside academia, don’t require research transparency (like their current report, made to order for conservative funders, not the research community or peer review). If someone says, “This is my finding,” publishers (like the Times) usually vet the researcher instead of the research. 

I don’t believe in lifetime bans, and I don’t care about atonement for research ethics. My question is, “Can we trust this person’s research?” Before we can answer that affirmatively, we need to have an accounting of past malfeasance that makes clear future work will be clean. Until then, I don’t mind spending a few minutes now and then reminding people that Wilcox (like Mark Regnerus) is not trustworthy.

5 thoughts on “Wilcox and colleagues plagiarized my work in the New York Times

  1. I hope you will send a letter to the NYT Editor, either to complain and ask for a correction, or a Letter to the Editor to be published, in reaction to their piece. Thank you for your explanation. I found their op-ed rather peculiar and did not know where it was coming from and why they wrote it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Of course we can’t trust anything from Wilcox, Regnerus, or any of the conservative Christian activist scholars, “banning” them requires actively participating the peer-review process. What is interesting in your original findings that Wilcox copped is that one side of the bimodal distribution may be mostly a function of social desirability bias. Conservatives, particularly religious conservative women, are admonished to accept their relationships and be happy with them, even if they are miserable. To do otherwise is literally a sin. So, it is no surprise that very conservative women REPORT being very happy in the marriages. On the other hand, the bias is likely not at all present for very liberal women. They have no divine agent judging them for their assessments of marital quality, and are instead giving interviewers their honest assessment. Divorce rate differentials are the proof in the pudding, and we know how that works…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But seriously, though, the much simpler explanation is that people are happy when their conform to their and society’s expectations. Hence, in my humble opinion the conservative women feel fulfilled in their expected roles and they would feel their husbands fulfill their roles too. I find it astonishing that you would instead go for the explanation which would fit your confirmation bias and would put conservatives in bad light. They report being happy, so they are surely lying; because, of course, conservatives are bad.


  3. I posted this question on your earlier article, but am reposting it here in case you don’t check that article’s posting. You asked how Wilcox et al. control for income. I guess you cannot do so and that no one can with the GSS? Could it be that strong dem and strong rep are both richer than average? I think you should also include the marriage rates for strong dems and strong reps. They could be highly asymmetric.


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