200 Scholars Condemn Regnerus Study

The heat continues to build in response to the very bad study on same-sex parenting done by Mark Regnerus. Now a group of some 200 scholars have signed on to a letter to the editor of Social Science Research, the journal that published the study, pointing out the flaws and ethical lapses of the research.

And there are some serious accusations here. First, they point out that the article was published with astonishing speed, only five weeks from the time it was sent in to the time it was published. That’s unheard of in a real scientific journal. In fact, the scholars say, the other articles in that very issue of the journal averaged a full year from submission to publication. That is much more the norm in scientific publishing.

Secondly, the two scholars who did the peer review of the research were part of the team that did the study! One of them was listed as the co-principal investigator on the study and the other was a paid consultant. This is a crystal clear breach of ethics and policy at any reputable journal. In addition to that, neither of the reviewers had any track record of research on the issue; as the letter points out, there are many scholars who have direct experience in the field that could have been asked to review the paper.

Here’s the full letter:

As researchers and scholars, many of whom with extensive experience in quantitative and qualitative research in family structures and child outcomes, we write to raise serious concerns about the most recent issue of Social Science Research and the set of papers focused on parenting by lesbians and gay men. In this regard, we have particular concern about Mark Regnerus’ paper entitled “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.”

LGBT parenting is a highly politicized topic. While the presence of a vibrant and controversial public debate should in no way censor scholarship, it should compel the academy to hold scholarship around that topic to our most rigorous standards. We are very concerned that these standards were not upheld in this issue or with this paper, given the apparently expedited process of publication and the decision to publish commentaries on the paper by scholars who were directly involved with the study and have limited experience in LGBT parenting research. We also have serious concerns about the scholarly merit of this paper.

In this letter, we detail the specific concerns that lead us to request that you publicly disclose the reasons for both the expedited peer review process of this clearly controversial paper and the choice of commentators invited to submit critiques. We further request that you invite scholars with specific expertise in LGBT parenting issues to submit a detailed critique of the paper and accompanying commentaries for publication in the next issue of the journal.

We question the process by which this paper was submitted, reviewed, and accepted for publication. The paper was received by the journal on February 1, 2012. A revision was received on February 29, and the paper was accepted on March 12. This suggests that the peer review process and substantive revisions occurred within a period of just five weeks. According to the peer review policy of the Social Science Research website hosted by Elsevier, the first step of the review process is an initial manuscript evaluation by the editor. Once deemed to meet minimum criteria, at least 2 experts are secured for a peer review. The website states that, “Typically manuscripts are reviewed within 2-3 months of submission but substantially longer review times are not uncommon” and that “Revised manuscripts are usually returned to the initial referees upon receipt.” Clearly, Dr. Regnerus’ paper was returned to him very quickly, because he had time to revise the manuscript and get it back to the journal by February 29th. Further, it appears that a second substantive peer review may not have occurred as the paper was accepted just two weeks after the revision was submitted.

The five-week submission to acceptance length was much shorter than all of the other articles published in the July 2012 issue. The average period of review for papers published in this issue was more than a year and the median review time was more than ten months. As we note below, there are substantial concerns about the merits of this paper, and these concerns should have been identified through a thorough and rigorous peer review process.

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