In his post earlier tonight, Brad Wilcox writes that I “asked about [his] affiliation with the Witherspoon Institute.”
The reason I emailed Brad was that I had grown curious about an issue that lgbt-rights blogger Scott Rose has raised.
To provide context, here’s the full text of the email I sent to Brad, with links added:
Hi, Brad. Barry Deutsch here – we’ve exchanged a few comments on “family scholars blog” from time to time.
I’ve been reading about something that I will probably blog about, but I wanted to ask you if you wanted to comment.
I’m hesitant to ask you about this at all, because so many of the folks who have criticized Regnerus’ study have been, in my opinion, over-the-top, and have made personal attacks on Professor Regnerus. That’s not something I want to be associated with. Although I’ve criticized Professor Regnerus’ study, I bear him no ill will.
Professor Regnerus has said a couple of times, referring to the NFSS, that “the funding sources played no role at all in the design or conduct of the study, the analyses, the interpretations of the data, or in the preparation of this manuscript.”
However, it appears that you were a paid consultant on Professor Regnerus’ study. And your bio page on the Witherspoon website describes you as “Director of the Program on Marriage, Family, and Democracy.” Finally, publicly available tax records indicates that Witherspoon’s tax return describes the NFSS as one of “the two major accomplishments” of a program called “Family, Marriage & Democracy.”
From this information, it appears that Professor Regnerus’ statement that “the funding sources played no role at all” in the NFSS cannot be accurate.
I’ll probably blog about this in the next couple of days, but if there’s anything I should know for the blog post, please do let me know. (I’ll assume that anything you tell me is okay to repeat in a blog post, unless you say otherwise, of course.) If you think it’s objectionable for me to blog about this, of course please tell me why, so I can consider that as well.
First of all, I want to thank Brad for his response.
Brad says that he provided advice to “Witherspoon Institute staff” about “the New Family Structures Study,” as the Director of the program that funded the NFSS. However, Brad explains that his “Director” title was strictly honorary.
Separately, Brad was also a paid adviser on the NFSS project.
There is nothing unethical about Brad working with both NFSS and Witherspoon, in my opinion. Brad is a known scholar with interests similar to those of Witherspoon and Professor Regnerus; it is natural that both the staff at Witherspoon and Professor Regnerus should seek his advice.
However, given Brad’s dual role, I cannot understand why Professor Regnerus wrote in his study:
The NFSS was supported in part by grants from the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation. While both of these are commonly known for their support of conservative causes—just as other private foundations are known for supporting more liberal causes—the funding sources played no role at all in the design or conduct of the study, the analyses, the interpretations of the data, or in the preparation of this manuscript.
Professor Regnerus’ statement is unequivocal – there was “no role at all,” according to him, at any level other than funding. But based on what Brad has now written, that simply wasn’t true.
There’s a similarly unequivocal statement on the official NFSS website:
In order to insure that the NFSS was conducted with intellectual integrity, beginning from the earliest stages the Witherspoon Institute was not involved in the Study’s design, implementation, or interpretation.
Neither of these statements are consistent with the role Brad played, according to what Brad describes in his post, and Professor Regnerus should not have made either statement.
I continue to think that the main argument against Professor Regnerus’ study is that it was poorly designed to address the question it claimed to address, for reasons that have already been much discussed. (For those interested in reading up on the matter, I recommend this post and the comments at Scatterplot, and also following the links in this post at Family Inequality.)
And as I said in my letter to Brad Wilcox, I don’t wish Professor Regnerus ill, and I have a strong aversion to personal attacks. But there’s a difference between not making personal attacks, and refusing to criticize what appears to be significant dishonesty in a published study.
Scholars are obligated to be honest in their claims — especially claims which are intended to establish the scholar’s credibility and objectivity in the mind of the reader.
In my opinion, Professor Regnerus’ carefully-crafted statement about his funding sources’ non-participation was deceptive. It omitted a relationship that was obviously relevant and should have been mentioned, and Regnerus’ choice to omit that, and the use of wording which gave the impression that there was unequivocally no relationship to report, calls his credibility into question.
Furthermore, Professor Regnerus’ statement had the effect of covering up an apparent conflict of interest that some people would view as unethical and against academic norms. To actively cover up such an apparent conflict of interest is, in my view, far worse than the apparent conflict of interest itself. I cannot see it as anything but extremely unethical behavior.
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