Friday, July 27, 2012

Progressives Attack Professor Mark Regnerus Over Same-Sex Parenting Research

This is a must-read article from Andrew Ferguson, at the Weekly Standard, "Revenge of the Sociologists."

Folks should read the whole thing, especially for the methodological discussion of Professor Regnerus' study, "How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study."

Revenge of the Sociologists
Here's part of Ferguson's synopsis:
Regnerus hired the public polling firm Knowledge Networks to interview a random sample of 15,508 Americans. From these another sample of nearly 3,000 was taken of young adults born between 1972 and 1992. Roughly 60 percent of the respondents said they spent their entire childhoods with both their biological mother and father. The rest were identified according to the type of family they grew up in: single-parent, adoptive, “blended” or stepfamily, divorced. Another category comprised those who said that one of their parents had a same-sex relationship before the respondents were 18. The group was very small—175 said their mothers had been involved in a same-sex relationship, 73 said their fathers had. Still, it was large enough, according to Regnerus and his consultants, to yield to statistical manipulation.

Only one large nationally based sample had been used before in gay parenting research. The Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfield looked at how the children of gay parents compared with their counterparts from straight families on one outcome: whether the kids performed at an “age-appropriate” level in school. Rosenfield found no difference between the two groups. Regnerus and his colleagues were more ambitious. They checked for 40 different long-term outcomes that would carry over to adulthood. Are you happy in your current romantic relationship? Are you on government assistance, or were you as a child? Any thoughts of suicide in the past 12 months? Respondents were asked to classify their sexual orientation, whether they’d ever been in therapy, whether they’d been convicted of a crime, and to list their income, educational level, and employment history. Several questions explored whether they had been bullied in school or sexually abused as children.

One basic finding immediately leapt out—how few Americans between the ages of 19 and 39 say their father or mother had ever had a same-sex relationship: 1.7 percent. It was also clear that the nature of gay parenting has changed quite a bit from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, when these young adults were children. Typically, Regnerus said, they were born from heterosexual unions that went bust; nowadays the children of homosexual couples are often “planned”—brought into a family through adoption, in vitro fertilization, or surrogate motherhood.

Regnerus found much to contradict the “no difference” view. On 25 of the 40 outcomes, young adults who said their mother had a lesbian relationship (he calls these respondents LMs) differed in a statistically significant way from young adults reared by their parents in intact biological families (IBFs). Among those whose fathers had a gay relationship (GFs), 11 outcomes were different from the IBFs.

And the differences were almost always negative for LMs and GFs. LMs in particular were far more likely to be on public assistance and to have received public assistance as children; to suffer depression; to be cohabiting; and to describe themselves as unhappy in their romantic relationships. Their income on average was lower, and so were their educational attainments. More of them were unemployed. And they were far more likely to report that they’d been abused by an adult as children. The differences between the GFs and the IBFs were smaller and less significant—there was no difference, for example, in reports of childhood sex abuse. And GFs were much more likely to have voted in the last election. In case you were wondering.

Regnerus wrote up his findings and submitted them to the editor of Social Science Research, who in turn submitted the paper to a panel of peers for approval. Three other scholars wrote critiques to appear alongside Regnerus’s paper. He also turned over the findings to the Witherspoon Foundation, which prepared a publicity campaign to unveil the new research: press interviews with Reg-nerus, op-eds by him and others, and background briefings for reporters and friendly scholars.

Then he sat back waiting for publication, expecting not much more than heck to break loose.

As of mid-July, a month after his paper was published, these are some of the things that have happened to Mark Regnerus. Three of his colleagues in the sociology department at UT joined with a fourth to -publish a widely distributed op-ed in the Huffington Post accusing him of “besmirching” the university through his “irresponsible and reckless misrepresentation of social science research.” Led by Gary Gates, the UCLA demographer who had declined Regnerus’s offer to help design the study, more than 200 “researchers and scholars” signed a letter to the editor of Social Science Research. The letter demanded that the editor “publicly disclose the reasons” why he published the paper and insisted that he hire scholars more sensitive to “LGBT parenting issues” to write a critique for the journal’s next edition. UT’s Director of Research Integrity sent Regnerus a letter informing him that a formal complaint of “scientific misconduct” had been lodged against him. The complaint, made by a gay blogger/activist/“investigative journalist” called Scott Rose, triggered an official inquiry into Regnerus’s research methods and his relationship with the Witherspoon Foundation; he’s now preparing to appear before a panel of faculty investigators. Requests have been filed with the Texas attorney general’s office demanding that Regnerus, as an employee of a state-run institution, make public all email and correspondence related to his study. And he has hired a lawyer.

A large number of his fellow social scientists—members in good standing of the guild of LGBT researchers—would like to destroy his career.
Now, be sure to finish reading Ferguson's report. The main problem with the Regnerus study is that the sample of children raised by same sex couple was minute. There are simply not enough kids raised by intact homosexual couples to generate statistically significant findings, so Regernus had to expand categories, which courted controversy. All of this was anticipated in the paper, however, and apparently these are the exact same problems of all previous research on such families in the LGBT literature over the past few decades. But that didn't stop gay activists from seeking to destroy Regnerus. It's a vicious inquisition, and frankly an ugly commentary on the sociology profession.

Indeed, that's what leftist sociologist Christian Smith discussed in a piece this week at the Chronicle of Higher Education, "An Academic Auto-da-Fé." Smith notes that Regnerus is an exemplary scholar in the field, with first-class training, and that the paper was rigorously conducted, peer reviewed, and the editorial board of the journal stands behind it. But...
The Regnerus case needs to be understood in a larger context. Sociologists tend to be political and cultural liberals, leftists, and progressives. That itself is not a problem, in my view. (I am not a conservative.) A critical progressive outlook is part of sociology's character and contribution to the world, making it an interesting and often useful discipline, especially when it comes to understanding poverty and inequality, determining whether social policies are effective, and establishing why education systems succeed and fail. But the ideological and political proclivities of some sociologists can create real problems.

Many sociologists view higher education as the perfect gig, a way to be paid to engage in "consciousness raising" through teaching, research, and publishing—at the expense of taxpayers, donors, and tuition-paying parents, many of whom thoughtfully believe that what those sociologists are pushing is wrong.

It is also easy for some sociologists to lose perspective on the minority status of their own views, to take for granted much that is still worth arguing about, and to fall into a kind of groupthink. The culture in such circles can be parochial and mean. I have seen colleagues ignore, stereotype, and belittle people and perspectives they do not like, rather than respectfully provide good arguments against those they do not agree with and for their own views.

The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender. The crucial line between broadening education and indoctrinating propaganda can grow very thin, sometimes nonexistent. Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged. Survey textbooks in some fields routinely frame their arguments in a way that validates any form of intimate relationship as a family, when the larger social discussion of what a family is and should be is still continuing and worth having. Reviewers for peer-reviewed journals identify "problems" with papers whose findings do not comport with their own beliefs. Job candidates and faculty up for tenure whose political and social views are not "correct" are sometimes weeded out through a subtle (or obvious), ideologically governed process of evaluation, which is publicly justified on more-legitimate grounds—"scholarly weaknesses" or "not fitting in well" with the department.

To be sure, there are many sociologists—progressives and otherwise—who are good people, scholars, and teachers. But the influence of progressive orthodoxy in sociology is evident in decisions made by graduate students, junior faculty, and even senior faculty about what, why, and how to research, publish, and teach. One cannot be too friendly to religion, for example, such as researching the positive social contributions of missionary work overseas or failing to criticize evangelicals and fundamentalists. The result is predictable: Play it politically safe, avoid controversial questions, publish the right conclusions.

Those who are attacking Regnerus cannot admit their true political motives, so their strategy has been to discredit him for conducting "bad science." That is devious. His article is not perfect—no article ever is. But it is no scientifically worse than what is routinely published in sociology journals. Without a doubt, had Regnerus published different findings with the same methodology, nobody would have batted a methodological eye. Furthermore, none of his critics raised methodological concerns about earlier research on the same topic that had greater limitations, which are discussed in detail in the Regnerus article. Apparently, weak research that comes to the "right" conclusions is more acceptable than stronger studies that offer heretical results.

What is at stake here? First, fair treatment for Regnerus. His antagonists have already damaged his chances of being promoted to full professor. If his critics are successful at besmirching his reputation, his career may be seriously damaged.

But something bigger is at stake: The very integrity of the social-science research process is threatened by the public smearing and vigilante media attacks we have seen in this case. Sociology's progressive orthodoxy and the semicovert activism it prompts threaten the intellectual vitality of the discipline, the quality of undergraduate education, and public trust in academe. Reasonable people cannot allow social-science scholarship to be policed and selectively punished by the forces of activist ideology and politics, from any political quarter. University leaders must resist the manipulation of research review committees by nonacademic culture warriors who happen not to like certain findings.
Well, progressives aren't "reasonable people." They're fascist thugs. Wintery Knight has more on that, "Mark Regnerus and the progressive war against science."

Anyway, homosexual blogger Scott Rose has his complaint published at The New Civil Rights Movement, "Opinion: Regnerus Study — Official Misconduct Allegations."

More later, because this battle is just starting.