Full texts: Scott Rose's claim of misconduct against Mark Regnerus fails

Report to Provost Steven Leslie



TO: Steven W. Leslie, Executive Vice President and Provost
Patricia C. Ohlendorf, Vice President for Legal Affairs
Juan M. Sanchez, Vice President for Research

FROM: Robert A. Peterson, Research Integrity Officer

SUBJECT: Regnerus Inquiry Report

DATE: August 24, 2012

I have now completed an inquiry into the allegations of research misconduct lodged against Professor Mark Regnerus, an associate professor in the Sociology Department and a faculty research associate in the Population Research Center. The purpose of this memorandum is to memorialize this inquiry

The inquiry was initiated in response to a series of allegations set forth in a letter from Mr. Scott Rose (actual name: Scott Rosensweig) to President Powers. In the letter Mr. Rose alleged general scientific misconduct by Professor Regnerus when designing and conducting research that resulted in his article, "How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study," which was published in Social Science Research (Volume 41, pages 752-770). The inquiry was conducted in accordance with The University of Texas at Austin Revised Handbook o/Operating Procedures, Part II, Research Section B, Research Ethics and Compliance Policy Number 11.B.l (Misconduct in Science and other Scholarly Activity).

In the Handbook, scientific misconduct or misconduct in other scholarly research is defined to mean

fabrication or falsification of data, plagiarism, and other practices that seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting, or reporting research are unacceptable and in some cases may constitute scientific misconduct. Note that ordinary errors, good faith differences in interpretations or judgments of data, scholarly or political disagreements, good faith personal or professional opinions, or private moral or ethical behavior or views are not misconduct.

Inquiry Memorandum, p. 2

Because initially there were no specific allegations regarding fabrication of data, falsification of data, or plagiarism, the focus of the inquiry was whether Professor Regnerus employed or exhibited "other practices that seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting, or reporting research" and consequently constitute scientific misconduct.

A structured and systematic approach was followed when conducting the inquiry. Professor Regnerus was informed of the inquiry in writing and orally at the beginning of the inquiry. Subsequently,

• All data on Professor Regnerus' computers were sequestered. These data included emails and documents.
• Materials including grant applications, correspondence, and IRB protocols were obtained.
• A panel comprised of senior University faculty members was created and advised me during the inquiry process. Panel members actively participated in the inquiry process.
• An independent consultant experienced in matters of scientific misconduct was retained to monitor and evaluate the inquiry process. He concluded that the inquiry process was carried out according to the Handbook.
• Interviews were conducted with Mr. Rose and Professor Regnerus. The interviews were recorded and transcribed by a court reporter.

All data, materials, and documents pertinent to the inquiry have been filed and are available for your inspection and review.

The Handbook requires that allegations of scientific misconduct be sufficiently specific to allow their evaluation. To satisfy this criterion, Mr. Rose was asked to provide his allegations in a written form prior to being interviewed. On or about July 26th Mr. Rose provided a multi-page document consisting of a series of allegations. I summarized these allegations, and they served as the basis of his interview. These allegations can be respectively synopsized as:

• "Regnerus's Seeming Falsification of Data" 1
• "Regnerus's Use of a Seemingly Inadequate, Inappropriate Research Design"
• "Regnerus's Possible Bad-Faith, Invalid Comparison Between His Test and Control Groups"
• "Apparently Damaging Peer Review Issues, Perhaps Linked to Regnerus Himself'

1 Mr. Rose spoke about "qualitative falsification" in the context of inappropriate definitions and labeling of analysis groups, not falsification in which underlying data are falsified.

Inquiry Memorandum, p. 3

• "Regnerus's Scientific Disreputable Funders"
• "Justifiable Doubts About Regnerus's Survey Company, Knowledge Networks"
• "Regnerus's Seemingly Feeds into NOM's Defamatory Conflation of Homosexuals with Pedophiles"
• "Regnerus Might Be Incompetent to Study Gay Parenting"

During his interview, Mr. Rose was explicitly asked to state the factual basis of, or the direct evidence supporting, each of these allegations, even those allegations that did not fall directly within the scope of the University's misconduct policy.

A copy of Mr. Rose's written allegations was transmitted to Professor Regnerus and served as the basis of his interview. Subsequent to his interview, Professor Regnerus produced written responses to certain questions posed during the interview.

I have carefully reviewed all available data, materials, and information associated with this matter in the context of the University's distinctions as to what does and does not constitute scientific misconduct. I have also discussed the inquiry process as well as all information obtained during the inquiry process with inquiry panel members. After doing so, I have concluded that Professor Regnerus did not commit scientific misconduct when designing, executing, and reporting the research published in the Social Science Research article. None of the allegations of scientific misconduct put forth by Mr. Rose were substantiated either by physical data, written materials, or by information provided during the interviews. Several of the allegations were expressly beyond the purview of the inquiry. In brief, Mr. Rose believed that the Regnerus research was seriously flawed and inferred that there must be scientific misconduct. However, there is no evidence to support that inference.

Whether the research designed and conducted by Professor Regnerus and reported in Social Science Research possessed significant limitations or was even perhaps seriously flawed is a determination that should be left to debates that are currently underway in the academy and future research that validates or invalidates his findings. Professor Regnerus has stated that the data on which the research at issue was based will soon be made publicly available. At that time scholars can examine the data themselves and arrive at their own conclusions.

Since no evidence was provided to indicate that the behavior at issue rose to a level of scientific misconduct, no formal investigation is warranted. The issues raised by Mr. Rose fall within that portion of the University's definition of scientific misconduct that states, "ordinary errors, good faith differences in interpretations or judgments of data, scholarly or political disagreements, good faith personal or professional opinions, or private moral or ethical behavior or views are not misconduct."

Report by Alan Price

Price Research Integrity Consultant Experts
Alan R. Price, Ph.D.
21704 Sierra Trail, Lago Vista, Texas
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Dr. Robert Peterson
Associate Vice President for Research, and Research Integrity Officer
University of Texas at Austin
P. O. Box 7996
Austin, Texas 78713-7996

August 24, 2012

RE: My review of the process for the inquiry into Dr. Mark Regnerus' S.S.R. paper

Dear Dr. Peterson:

In July and August 2012, you requested my continuous review, as an independent consultant on research misconduct (and former chief research fraud investigator for the United States Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Research Integrity), of the process for the referenced case, undergoing inquiry at the University of Texas at Austin.

As background, I retired in 2006 after 17 years with the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), having served in recent years as the ORI Associate Director for Investigative Oversight. During that time, we were involved with over 3,000 allegations/queries and over 700 formal inquiries or investigations. During my last decade in ORI, I reviewed and handled all of the allegations received by ORI from individuals, institutions, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). My staff of senior scientists and I also reviewed and analyzed all of the reports of inquiries and investigations received from universities and other research institutions funded by NIH research grants. Thus, no one person in the United States or the world, has seen, handled, and resolved more allegations, investigations, and oversight cases of scientific/research misconduct than I have. For the past six years, I have been consulting with individuals and institutional officials on such matters as Price Research Integrity Consultant Experts.

Specifically, you requested my expert review of the process being employed for the conduct of the University of Texas at Austin's inquiry in the referenced case, which involves allegations made by Mr. Scott Rose against Dr. Mark Regnerus, related to his publication in Social Science Research 41, 752-770, 2012.

My review is based on my evaluation of documents and emails, communications with the Research Integrity Officer, and personal monitoring of meetings and telephone interviews.

Page 2 PRICE – Review of University of Texas at Austin inquiry process

Analysis of inquiry process versus policy and procedures of University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin policy, "Misconduct in Science and Other Scholarly Activities," published in the Revised Handbook of Operating Procedures, Part 11, Research, Section B, Research Ethics and Compliance, Policy Number 11.B.1, issued December 1, 2001, includes the following process requirements for inquiries into allegations of scientific misconduct. My review of the process used in the inquiry in the referenced case follows each.

Application: "This policy and its procedures will be followed when a University official receives an allegation of possible misconduct in scientific or other scholarly activity. Circumstances in individual cases may require variation from normal procedure to meet the best interest of the University . . . . any significant variation should be approved in advance by the University's Research Integrity Officer."

Review: The allegations made by Mr. Rose were handled by the Research Integrity Officer, who used variations of some normal procedures as were necessary in the referenced case, consistent with the University policy.

Reporting: "Reports can be made on an informal (oral) or formal (written) basis. Formal allegations should be submitted in sufficient detail to permit a preliminary inquiry into whether an investigation is warranted."

Review: Mr. Rose made formal written allegations in sufficient detail for inquiry.

Definition: "Scientific Misconduct or Misconduct in Other Scholarly Research means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. In addition, other practices that seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting, or reporting research are unacceptable and in some cases may constitute scientific misconduct. Ordinary errors, good faith differences in interpretations or judgments of data, scholarly or political disagreements, good faith personal or professional opinions, or private moral or ethical behavior or views are not misconduct under this definition."

Review: Mr. Rose initially made allegations in June 2012 of "other practices that seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting, or reporting research" and in July/August 2012 of possible "falsification" of the same research. The inquiry panel had to consider as central to the process whether his concerns actually involved "ordinary errors, good faith differences in interpretations or judgments of data, scholarly or political disagreements, good faith personal or professional opinions, or private moral or ethical behavior or views," and thus did not fall under the University of Texas at Austin's definition of scientific misconduct.

Initiation of inquiry:

Page 3 PRICE – Review of University of Texas at Austin inquiry process

"The Research Integrity Officer will initiate an inquiry immediately upon receipt of allegations of misconduct and will advise the relevant dean, department chair and/or center director that an inquiry is being initiated. The Research Integrity Officer will clearly identify the original allegations and any related issues that should be evaluated during the inquiry process."

Review: The Research Integrity Officer initiated the inquiry consistent with this policy and procedure on receiving the allegations in June 2012.

Sequestration of records:

"As a part of an inquiry, the Research Integrity Officer must ensure that all original research records and materials, and all documents relevant to the allegation are immediately secured."

Review: On receiving the allegations from Mr. Rose, the Research Integrity Officer notified Dr. Regnerus of them by email and personal meeting in July 2012, followed by an immediate sequestration (by the Security Office of the University's Information Technology Services) of all four of his laptops and two desktop computers for copying of the files, said to contain all the materials related to the questioned study. Also sequestered were 42,000 of his emails on the University system.

Inquiry process – expertise:

"The Research Integrity Officer may enlist the assistance of a person or persons with relevant technical expertise, selected in accordance with procedures set out below for establishing an Investigative Committee, to examine relevant research records. . . . No committee members shall have real or apparent conflicts of interest* in the case. Committee members shall be unbiased and have the necessary expertise to effectively interview the principals and other witnesses and to evaluate the evidence and issues related to the allegations. Committee members may be scientists, subject matter experts, administrators, lawyers, or other qualified persons within or outside the University." [* ". . . real or apparent interference of one person's interests with the interests of another person or entity, where the potential bias may occur due to prior or existing personal or professional relationships."]

Review: Given the concerns raised by Mr. Rose, the Research Integrity Officer in July 2012 enlisted the assistance of an inquiry panel, consisting of four University faculty members with considerable expertise in sociological and behavioral research and/or administrative and research experience.

Page 4 PRICE – Review of University of Texas at Austin inquiry process

The Research Integrity Officer discussed possible conflicts of interest with all potential panel members, replacing with other experts two potential members (when they disclosed their prior public comments on the questioned research). The Research Integrity Officer and his Administrative Associate provided staff support to the inquiry panel.

Inquiry process – scope:

"The Research Integrity Officer will conduct the inquiry which will normally involve only interviews of the complainant and the respondent and an examination of key, relevant documents. If considered necessary, the Research Integrity Officer may also interview essential witnesses and other research records and materials. . . . The scope of the inquiry does not include exhaustive interviews or extensive analyses of research records."

Review: The Research Integrity Officer assisted the inquiry panel with interviews of the complainant, Mr. Rose, and the respondent, Dr. Regnerus, as well as the review of the questioned publication, University grant applications, and University email records for Dr. Regnerus, in August 2012.

Inquiry – purposes:

"The purposes of the inquiry are: to determine if the allegations fall within the scope of the this policy; to determine if the allegations are sufficiently specific to allow follow-up; to make a preliminary evaluation of the available evidence and testimony of the respondent, complainant, and essential witnesses; and to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of possible misconduct in science or other scholarly research to warrant an investigation."

Review: The Research Integrity Officer determined, with advice from the inquiry panel, whether the allegations fell within the definition of scientific misconduct under the scope of the policy and could be pursued, made a preliminary evaluation of the evidence sequestered and testimony of the complainant and the respondent, and made a recommendation to University officials as to whether there was sufficient evidence of possible scientific misconduct to warrant an investigation.

Inquiry process - confidentiality:

"The complainant is responsible for making allegations in good faith, maintaining confidentiality. . . . The respondent is responsible for maintaining confidentiality and cooperating with the inquiry or investigation."

Page 5 PRICE – Review of University of Texas at Austin inquiry process

Review: From the beginning of the case, in June 2012, the complainant failed to maintain confidentiality as required by the policy. Mr. Rose published his allegations and information about the University officials' interactions with him many times on an Internet blog, as well as sending numerous emails to others and discussing the case with the news media in June, July and August 2012. The Research Integrity Officer had requested that he maintain confidentiality as required by the University policy in an email with acknowledgment of the allegations, as well as during the interview of the complainant.

The respondent was interviewed by various media, resulting in Internet publicity, when his research was published and questioned, but he does not appear (as far as I have been able to determine on the Internet) to have discussed the University misconduct inquiry process with the media or public.

Inquiry process - rights and reputation:

"All actions undertaken pursuant to this policy will proceed promptly and with due regard for the reputation and rights of all persons involved."

Review: The failure of the complainant to maintain confidentiality in regard to the submission and handling of his allegations, going public repeatedly on an Internet blog and with outside individuals and news media, made it impossible for the Research Integrity Officer and other University officials to maintain the reputation and right to confidentiality of the respondent under the policy. However, the respondent did discuss his research and the questions about it in public.

Inquiry process - interview and review of draft report by respondent

"The respondent will have the opportunity to: be interviewed as a part of the initial inquiry; to present evidence to the investigation committee; and review the draft inquiry and investigation reports; and be informed of the results of the inquiry or investigation."

Review: The respondent was interviewed during the inquiry.

The respondent will have the opportunity to review the draft inquiry report of the Research Integrity Officer, and he will be informed of the outcome of the inquiry.

Page 6 PRICE – Review of University of Texas at Austin inquiry process

Inquiry process - decision:

"The Research Integrity Officer will determine, after consultation with the Vice President for Research and the Vice President for Institutional Relations and Legal Affairs, whether the allegations are sufficient to warrant further investigation. . . . The Research Integrity Officer shall prepare and transmit an inquiry report to the Executive Vice President and Provost, Vice President for Research, the Vice President for Institutional Relations and Legal Affairs, the complainant, and the respondent. This report shall state whether an investigation into the allegations is warranted."

Review: The Research Integrity Officer prepared an inquiry report for consultation with the designated Vice Presidents as to whether the allegations are sufficient to warrant further investigation or not.

Inquiry process - deadline:

"The inquiry should normally be completed within sixty (60) days after the submission of the allegations that are the subject of the inquiry. Any extension of this period will be based on good cause, as determined by the Vice President for Research, and will be recorded in the inquiry file."

Review: The Research Integrity Officer completed the inquiry within sixty days of receiving the allegations.

Notification of final decision:

"The Research Integrity Officer will notify the respondent and the complainant in writing of the final decision of the case. The Executive Vice President and Provost will determine whether law enforcement agencies, professional societies, professional licensing boards, editors of journals in which falsified reports may have been published, collaborators of the respondent in the work, or other relevant parties should be notified of the outcome of the case."

Review: The Research Integrity Officer will notify the respondent and the complainant in writing of the final decision.

University officials, with advice from the Research Integrity Officer, will determine whether editors, collaborators, and other parties should be notified of the outcome.

The above documents in their originals show no copyright indications. They are publicly linked to by the University of Texas at Austin.

Regardless, the documents are fair-use reproduced here.

Also see: "University of Texas at Austin Completes Inquiry into Allegations of Scientific Misconduct"


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