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Aug 14 2013

The right-wing corruption of the process of science continues apace

The thoroughly discredited Regnerus study has met another ethical challenge. The Regnerus study was a bit of hackwork that tried to demonstrate, using Science, that gay parents were bad parents. It was an ideologically loaded mess endorsed by right wing think tanks that had massive procedural problems, but the conclusions aligned with what the think tanks wanted, so they pushed it.

Here’s an example of the procedural problems. One man, Brad Wilcox, seemed to do everything.

It’s also been alleged that W. Bradford Wilcox, associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia with former ties to the conservative Witherspoon Institute that funded the study, served as a reviewer. He also consulted on the study, according to documents made public by the University of Texas. Wilcox, who also serves on the journal’s editorial board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

That’s only the tip of the problem. It turns out that Wilcox initiated the study, arranged the grant from the Witherspoon Institute, was planning to run the study (but had to beg off because he was too busy screwing science in other ways), was paid as a consultant to the study, and then was one of the reviewers of the paper. I presume he also signed the standard statement on the review that he had no conflict of interest.

You know, in science we make a very big deal about faking data — it can easily cost you your career, and definitely devastates your reputation. Shouldn’t subverting the entire process of peer review and independent evaluation count as something even worse?

14 comments

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  1. 1
    timgueguen

    I can hear the excuses now. “They had to cut corners to get around the liberal bias in universities!” “Is this really bad if the study is true?”

    Agenda pushing attempts like this takes advantage of the poor way the mainstream media covers scientific studies. A study is released supposedly proving X, the media gives in\t headline time because the results are “interesting,” and then never follows up to cover the reaction from others in the discipline. So a lot of people who heard about this study, and accepted it as true, will never hear about the problems.

  2. 2
    Raging Bee

    Yet another black mark on my alma mater’s reputation. As if Peter Jordan, the guy who taught us that the entire Latin-American drugs trade was controlled by the KGB, wasn’t embarassing enough. Thank you, radical wingnuts, for making my degree look even more worthless than it already was.

  3. 3
    kantalope

    I see a six figure pundit career at faux news for Mr Wilcox; or he could get a cushy job at the Heritage Foundation. They don’t care about things like honesty, integrity, or reputations.

  4. 4
    gshelley

    Out of curiosity, if this is true and Wilcox did contribute as suggested, could he ethically have been considered a co-author? I know some journals and institutions at least are trying to clamp down on who gets listed, such that only people that made genuine contributions are included, and people who happen to be in the same lab but didn’t have anything to do with it, or maybe were involved in a couple of brief conversations aren’t put on, but if he secured the funding and was a consultant, then wouldn’t he have had something to do with the design? At least enough that he could be genuine considered a co-author?

  5. 5
    raven

    Appalling.

    The same thing recently happened with the Reinhart and Rogoff disaster.

    Why Paul Krugman, Others Think Reinhart and Rogoff Are Wrong …
    www. pbs. org/newshour/…/2013/…/paul-krugman-v-reinhart-and-ro.html‎

    Apr 19, 2013 – Unfortunately for austerity enthusiasts, the Reinhart-Rogoff findings turn out to be wildly overstated, if not just plain wrong. A new paper, using …

    Their paper was enormously influential because it fit into the biases of the Tea Party. It was also a hack job and wrong.

    Reinhart and Rogoff are guilty of massive incompetence at best and fraud and lying at worst. If they had been scientists, they might well have been fired by now.

    As it is, at least they are discredited. Next time they introduce themselves as Reinhart or Rogoff, anyone smart is going to demand proof of name.

  6. 6
    raven

    Reinhart and Rogoff started with a conclusion and worked backwards to prove their conclusion. Same with Regnerus.

    If you are willing to lie and commit fraud, this works every time.

    It’s all straight out of their instruction manual, Orwell 1984. The truth is a lie.

    But making fiscal policy for a billion people based on the lies of two slime molds isn’t good.

    And we still don’t really know what effect national debts have on economic growth or how high it can go before it becomes damaging.

  7. 7
    WharGarbl

    @raven
    #6

    But making fiscal policy for a billion people based on the lies of two slime molds isn’t good.

    You seems to assume that the people using this to enact fiscal policies are doing it for the good of a billion people.

  8. 8
    truthspeaker

    I agree with WharGarbl. Most of the politicians pushing austerity had a pretty good idea what would happen, and it was their desired goal. Recessions are good for business – you can pay people less, fire people, and get anti-worker legislation passed.

  9. 9
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Shouldn’t subverting the entire process of peer review and independent evaluation count as something even worse?

    Yes. Yes it should. What is the likleyhood of anything more serious than a ruined reputation happening to this Wilcox bloke?

  10. 10
    raven

    You seems to assume that the people using this to enact fiscal policies are doing it for the good of a billion people.

    Good point.

    Some might have been thinking of the good of their societies and countries.

    A lot of the Tea Party/GOP were thinking….class warfare. And as PZ implies in his next post on universities, the upper classes and oligarchies are winning right now. Economic inequality has been steadily increasing in the USA.

    They keep talking about the imaginary War on xianity. To divert attention from the real war, the War on the Middle Class.

  11. 11
    David Marjanović

    You know, in science we make a very big deal about faking data — it can easily cost you your career, and definitely devastates your reputation. Shouldn’t subverting the entire process of peer review and independent evaluation count as something even worse?

    Quite. Where I come from, all his academic titles would be revoked. When I got mine, I had to sign an oath (anew for each of the three) to the effect that I’d behave as a scientist, up to and including keeping my knowledge of my field up to date, let alone engaging in this kind of fraud.

    I agree with WharGarbl. Most of the politicians pushing austerity had a pretty good idea what would happen, and it was their desired goal. Recessions are good for business – you can pay people less, fire people, and get anti-worker legislation passed.

    I don’t actually think so. In the case with the deepest consequences, Merkel, it simply seems to have fit into her preconception of morals – Protestant work ethic and stuff: saving good, asceticism good, spending baaaaad.

  12. 12
    unclefrogy

    it is terrible place to be in where your beliefs and desires do not match up with reality. It is frustrating and some times saddening but we learn to accept reality and grow that is how we pass from childhood to adulthood.
    It seems strange to me that seeming adults can so blatantly ignore reality to try and make reality fit their beliefs.
    When they act on their beliefs instead of consulting reality the results for them .are often filled with unanticipated consequences but if they had really asked honest questions the results would have been expected.
    It is as if they think questions are wrong and try to control reality with their own will power by “bending” the truth to fit their desires. Once they start to twist things they have to continue to twist everything. to maintain their beliefs.

    uncle frogy

  13. 13
    DLC

    That crap deserves to be in the same toilet as the horrid bit of shit that claimed gays are more likely to be child molesters . The one that used totally made up numbers to justify it’s idiotic conclusion. The goons who wrote it should be sacked.

  14. 14
    robotczar

    From one perspective, whether gay parents are inferior does not matter at all.

    First, we don’t randomly assign children to parents, so no causal inference can be made (i.e., that gay parents cause worse results in children). Many other variables could be responsible. For example, stigma and prejudice encountered by homosexual parent families could cause such families to score worse on assessment of parental badness.

    Second, we can find lots of groups and variables that can be associated with bad parenting. Maybe poor parents tend to be bad. Maybe Republicans who use an authoritarian parenting style are bad parents. Do we prevent these group from marrying and raising children? Does that seem like a reasonable suggestion?

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