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Judge Orders Release of Documents on Regnerus Study

After the publication of Mark Regnerus’ absurd and much-criticized study on gay parenting last year, a Florida man named John Becker filed a request under the Florida Public Records Act to get documents related to how it got published by the University of Central Florida (the editor of the journal the study was published in is on staff there). A judge has now ruled that they must release those documents, including email communications during the peer review process.

In an opinion released today, a Florida state court judge ruled that the University of Central Florida must turn over records related to the publication of a debunked 2012 study conducted by Mark Regnerus that demonizes gay and lesbian parents. Regnerus’ research has been called into legal question not merely for its questionable results, but also because the study was underwritten by the Witherspoon Institute, an organization with a history of distinctly unscholarly anti-gay activity…

In today’s opinion, Orange County Circuit Judge Donald Grincewicz ruled that emails and documents possessed by University of Central Florida (UCF) related to the flawed study’s peer-review process must be turned over to John Becker, who sought the documents under Florida’s Public Records Act. UCF houses the journal Social Science Research, which published the Regnerus study, and the editor of the journal, UCF Professor James Wright, led the peer-review process for the research. Becker is represented by the Law Office of Andrea Flynn Mogensen, P.A., and Barrett, Chapman & Ruta, P.A; and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation funded the litigation.

The university argued that those documents were not government documents but were personal documents belonging to Wright and thus they did not have to turn them over. The judge rejected that argument. You can read the full ruling here. It will be very interesting to see what those emails reveal.

Comments

  1. colnago80 says

    It should be noted that Florida has a very broad Government in the Sunshine Act which sets very strict requirements on the ability of state government agencies to hold meetings closed to the public. The only problem I have with this decision is that it might require disclosing the identities of the persons who reviewed the paper. I would not have a problem with that in this particular case as it is clear that the referees didn’t do their job but it’s the precedent I would be concerned about. Anonymity of the referees of scholarly papers is a long established practice by reputable scholarly journals and the consequences of disallowing it must be carefully considered. It’s hard enough to find competent referees as it is; removing anonymity almost certainly make it harder.

  2. says

    I’m in two minds about this. I remember that litigation and discovery were used by Ken Cuccinelli, Attorney General of Virginia, against Michael Mann in a way that must have had a chilling effect on research in global warming.

    Now there may be contextual differences here, but this case seems too close to the other for comfort. I can see that there may be a legitimate intention, for instance to find whether and to what extent the funding came with strings attached. Was Cuccinelli’s intent legitimate too? How can we tell?

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Florida’s “Sunshine Law” is one of the very very very few aspects of governance here which I would ever encourage other states (& the feds) to copy.

  4. schmeer says

    As a government employee I avoid using my work email for personal communications because I know those messages could become subject to FOIA requests.
    Wright should know better than to use that pathetic excuse.

  5. wesleyelsberry says

    Florida’s Sunshine Law pretty much opens to public access anything that has ever been handled by a public Florida entity, including transit via any state computer system. And the law dates back prior to email, so I’m not positive that there is much that is held to be suitable for redaction, either. (When I worked for the state, all the personal details of my interaction with Florida were available for public inspection. Getting my salary was simply a matter of browsing to the right page in Florida’s online system; it did not even require a Sunshine Law request.) This is an important thing for anyone to know if they correspond with anyone using a state of Florida email (which includes all the public universities, colleges, and schools). I tried to be very careful about this. (It cut both ways: all public business needed to use the official public email accounts; running public business on private email accounts was something the governor’s office has run afoul of before.) I also run email lists, and have strongly encouraged members of private lists to establish private-sector email accounts because of the various open-access laws around, since a member storing a private email list archive on a public computer risks exposure of the entire archive to anyone making a request for that person’s email records.

    That said, the precedent of anonymity for peer-reviewers is entirely a secondary concern to the ability of the public to be able to monitor the function of its government. Florida’s Sunshine Law is very broad, and, IMO, rightfully so. It’s up to the users of government services to keep the strictures of the law in mind when conducting business. If a journal wishes to operate its email on the public dime, then complaining about the transparency that comes with that is, well, I’m not coming up with a civil term that expresses it properly. Either the journal is a separate entity and comports itself that way, including setting up private communication, or they necessarily accept the consequences of running as a public convenience.

  6. colnago80 says

    Re Tony Sidaway @ #3

    It is my information that the Government in the Sunshine act in Florida is the broadest of any such legislation in the US. Certainly the equivalent law in Virginia is far narrower.

    In the case of Michael Mann, there was no question as to who funded the research, it was an agency of the US Government and the particulars of the Statement of Work are in the public domain, unless the research is classified. Clearly, Koo Koo Ken was on a fishing expedition which even climate change skeptics like his former colleagues at UVA, namely Pat Michaels and Fred Singer criticized.

  7. Michael Heath says

    To Tony’s point, the Mann publications are demonstrably not fraudulent; his findings have been independently validated by other research results. The Regnerus study was clearly fraud and therefore deserves scrutiny as to how this conspiracy was done given it was done by the government using taxpayer dollars.

    This is an important distinction when it comes to insuring the government follows the law and prudently spends our tax dollars. Dr. Mann’s work has been invaluable in the search for objective truth. The Regnerus study is a clear case of fraud, a waste of tax dollars, and where we observe its promoters leverage this fraud in order to cause harm to the citizens of the very government who perpetuated this fraud.

    There’s an enormous difference between a witch hunt like VA AG Cuccinelli did to Mann, i.e. – there are no witches, and a hunt to understand how we should react when our government is involved in fraud, especially when its harms people like the Regnerus study has.

  8. colnago80 says

    Re Michael Heath @ #8

    According to the attached link, the Regnerus study was funded by the Witherspoon Institute. There is no indication of direct government funding, although, since the Witherspoon Institute is, presumably, a tax exempt outfit, there is indirect government funding via the tax exemption. Otherwise, MH’s points are right on target.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witherspoon_Institute

  9. otrame says

    Some people have a hard time understanding this issue. I made a point in every field school and with every new archaeology student that the field notes they write, even very casually, are 1) part of the archaeological record and therefore of value and must be retained and 2) government documents, because even if you work for a private company, the funding will almost certainly be governmental. You should always be accurate as possible. You should also remember that they might end up in a courtroom . I have a feeling that whoever was involved that peer review is going to regret it if they failed to keep this in mind.

    Popcorn is ready to be popped.

  10. paulg says

    The document seeker’s attorney filed a motion of contempt against UCF this week, not sure what has happened since. Also, Regnerus is set to be called as an expert witness in Michigan’s marriage lawsuit. His study was designed from the beginning to give anti-gay groups a “controversy” argument. I hope that the documents are subpeonaed, though I think we can demolish him on the stand anyway. And while I’m hoping, here’s to wishing the maliciously dangerous son of a bitch contracts ebola.

  11. raven says

    1. Comparing Michael Mann to Regnerus is a false equivalence. Mann isn’t known to be a fraud, Regnerus is.

    2. It’s like Watergate now. Who knew what and when. And those are valid questions we have every right to know. (That sound in the background you hear is a paper shredder going overtime. Clang!!! Oops, a hard drive just landed in the trash can.) Not that I know this but it happens often enough. It’s not the crime that gets these people, it’s the coverup.

    3. Wright and Regnerus are public employees and (presumably) tenured professors. To say that no taxpayer money was used in their dubious paper is incorrect. In addition, the universities and other scholars have every right to know what happened and when. This is SOP in cases of academic misconduct.

    In my field or any science field there would be a thorough investigation and fraud is not tolerated. It’s pretty merciless. If what looks like happened, did in fact happen, Wright and Regnerus would be fired.

  12. raven says

    Some people have a hard time understanding this issue….

    You should also remember that they might end up in a courtroom .

    QFT!!!

    I knew this decades ago. A few years ago, I heard and told whoever I knew that there was an archive of all email at the NSA. A friend of mine called all upset a few weeks ago because her email was…archived at the NSA. Which I had told her was happening years ago.

    I’ve always assumed my email and anything posted on the internet under an alias could become public knowledge. As well as anything in a computer database. I’ve seen it often enough. I’m not sure you can be too paranoid in our surveillance society.

  13. colnago80 says

    Re raven @ #12

    Wright and Regnerus are public employees and (presumably) tenured professors. To say that no taxpayer money was used in their dubious paper is incorrect.

    If all time spent on the study and all materials used were paid for by the Witherspoon Institute, then no taxpayer’s money was spent directly, although since I bet that the Witherspoon Institute is a non-profit tax exempt outfit, there is an indirect cost via the lost tax revenue. That’s at least true for Regnerus, I don’t know about Wright as it would be a conflict of interest to accept funding from an organization whose work is being evaluated (probably a firing offense).

    Incidentally, I don’t know if a Florida state court can order either the Witherspoon Institute located in New Jersey or Renerus himself located in Texas to turn over anything. It would seem that the plaintiffs would have to file an action in federal court or in state courts in New Jersey and Texas to compel them to comply.

    The same thing would apply to the Michael Mann case. It is my belief that a state court judge in Virginia could not compel Mann, who lives in Pennsylvania, to turn over his emails to koo koo Ken; Kenny boy would have to either file an action in federal court or in a Pennsylvania state court.

  14. raven says

    If all time spent on the study and all materials used were paid for by the Witherspoon Institute, then no taxpayer’s money was spent directly…

    If Wright and Regnerus were working on university property and were university employees, that would be enough. It can be hard to untangle public versus private funding but normally it doesn’t matter. Professors are supposed to attract outside funding as part of their jobs.

    And for Regnerus, it doesn’t matter where his funding came from. He is a scholar doing supposedly scholarly research as part of his job. The university has every interest in their employees meeting professional standards.

    I don’t see that the Florida judge has jurisdiction outside of Florida either. It would be great if they could move this to federal court.

    Maybe the Michigan case could go after Regnerus. If he is giving court testimony in Michigan, that makes his credibility fair game. I’d file a motion for a subpoena and let the judge and Regnerus worry about it.

    Really, it looks like they are hiding something and running scared. And that is obstruction of justice, a felony. If I got this right, a lot of evidence might have already been destroyed. I’m expecting the dog ate the emails excuse any day now. Martha Stewart didn’t go to jail for insider trading. It was perjury and obstruction of justice. If she had admitted it, all she would have gotten was a civil fine.

  15. colnago80 says

    Re raven @ #15

    Having read the article again, it appears that neither Regnerus or his employer, the Un. of Texas, or the Witherspoon Institute, are even parties to this law suit. The suit involves Wright and the Un. of Central Florida. That makes sense because the latter are the only parties that the judge has jurisdiction over.

    A Google search indicates that some documents have been turned over to Becker. He is claiming that other documents which are pertinent have not been turned over.

  16. colnago80 says

    This ratfucker James Wright is listed as the Provost Distinguished Research Professor in the Sociology Department of CFU. It would seem that the provost has something to answer for here also. Distinguished indeed. About as distinguished as Holocaust denier and Northwestern Un. professor Arthur Butz.

  17. mildlymagnificent says

    The same thing would apply to the Michael Mann case. It is my belief that a state court judge in Virginia could not compel Mann, who lives in Pennsylvania, to turn over his emails to koo koo Ken; Kenny boy would have to either file an action in federal court or in a Pennsylvania state court.

    The really big difference between these instances is that Kenny boy’s action was literally a fishing expedition within the university’s records. Mann wasn’t being asked to surrender his personal records, it was the university. And it wasn’t a targeted “please find this specific category of documents relevant to these specific – peer review – actions concerning this specific published paper”.

    Kenny wanted to fish through all communications between Mann and anyone at all who had anything to do with his research over several years during which several papers and various reports were published and/or being worked on.

  18. colnago80 says

    Re #18

    Agreed. The only point I was making was that, if koo koo Ken had wanted material from Michael Mann, he was shit out of luck as the Virginia State courts have no jurisdiction as Mann now lives in Pennsylvania and is on the faculty of Penn State. He would have had to go into federal court or a state court in Pennsylvania. I am entirely in agreement that it was nothing but a fishing expedition and the courts in the State of Virginia concurred with that.

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