Academic Outrage over Politically Incorrect Gay Parenting Study

Sociologist Mark Regnerus, whose study on gay parenting outraged gay-rights advocates and their cheerleaders in the academy, started classes at the University of Texas in Austin with, he says, a bit of a load off his shoulders.

gb_thumb Academic Outrage over Politically Incorrect Gay Parenting Study

A university inquiry cleared him of charges of flawed scholarship. Or as gay activists and their many supporters in academia saw it — that he’d engaged in some very calculated and vile gay-bashing.

Specifically, Regnerus was charged with “scientific misconduct” for his study in the July issue of Social Science Research, titled: “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.”

Its politically incorrect conclusions, based on data from nearly 15,000 adults, contended that children reared over the years by gay and lesbian parents were, as adults, far less well-adjusted than adults reared as children in households of married biological and heterosexual parents. “The results reveal numerous, consistent differences, especially between the children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents,” the study observed.

Interestingly, the study contradicted various studies and claims in recent years that children reared by gay or lesbian parents turned out, as adults, to be just as well-adjusted (and perhaps better-adjusted) than adults who as children were reared by married, heterosexual, and biological parents in stable families.

Regnerus summarized his findings for an article in Slate, writing:

Even after including controls for age, race, gender, and things like being bullied as a youth, or the gay-friendliness of the state in which they live, such respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male and female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things. Why such dramatic differences? I can only speculate, since the data are not poised to pinpoint causes. One notable theme among the adult children of same-sex parents, however, is household instability, and plenty of it. The children of fathers who have had same-sex relationships fare a bit better, but they seldom reported living with their father for very long, and never with his partner for more than three years.

To gay activists such as Scott Rosenweig, Regnerus’ study was riddled with errors and amounted to gay-bashing, and Rosenweig launched a finely honed attack in a gay-rights blog, “The New Civil Rights Movement.” Criticisms from Rosenweig, a freelance writer and blogger who writes under the name Scott Rose, prompted the University of Texas to launch an inquiry to determine if Regnerus was guilty of “scientific misconduct.”

Regnerus, responding to a query from American Thinker, said in an e-mail that he wasn’t “actively worried” by the inquiry. “No. I couldn’t see how the evidence would suggest that scientific misconduct occurred. But I was nevertheless relieved at the decision.”

The decision was announced in a statement on August 29, the day before the fall semester started. There was “insufficient evidence to warrant an investigation,” said a statement from the University of Texas. It added: “The allegations raised by Rose fall under the university’s definition of scientific misconduct, which states, in part, 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.'”

Predictably, Rose was outraged, writing at “The New Civil Rights Movement”: “UT officials have now abdicated responsibility by failing to proceed from an inquiry to a full investigation, preposterously justifying their decision by alleging that the scientific failings of the Regnerus study can be classified as ‘ordinary errors.'”

He added: “Has UT’s reputation in the academy – and beyond – been irredeemably besmirched?

To ensure the integrity of the inquiry’s findings, the university had hired a private consultant, Dr. Alan Price, to ensure that it was conducted “appropriately and fairly.” A former associate director of the Office of Research Integrity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Price determined the inquiry also was consistent with federal regulatory requirements into research misconduct.”

It has been a difficult time for Regnerus and the editor of Social Science Research, James Wright. They had expected the article to attract attention, both from gay activists and academics. But they weren’t expecting the uproar that followed — an uproar the Weekly Standard captured in the amusing cover illustration for its article on the controversy, “Revenge of the Sociologists.” It showed Regnerus being tortured on a medieval Catherine Wheel.

As for Wright, he could have been on that Catherine Wheel as well. He was “besieged by e-mails and attack,” Regnerus related.

What to do? Wright, responding to an e-mail from American Thinker, related: “In response to many queries from legitimate and well-respected scholars, I commissioned an ‘internal audit’ of the processes and procedures by which the paper was reviewed and accepted. This audit was undertaken by a member of my editorial board, Darren Sherkat, who in his audit stated his opinion that the paper should not have been published.” That, to emphasize, is Sherkat’s view, not mine, and it obviously does not reflect the views of the original reviewers, either, all of whom were, in Sherkat’s words, “superstars.”

Regnerus, for his part, explained the audit and Sherkat’s role in it this way: “An editorial board member (and early fierce critic of mine) offered to ‘audit’ or evaluate the publication process, and used the opportunity to lambast the study, which was not the role for which he was appointed. He concluded that while he didn’t like the study, the publication process itself was not corrupted.” Sherkat is a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Wright subsequently released a draft of the audit to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article by Tom Bartlett in late July added fat to the fire — its headline announcing: “Controversial Gay-Parenting Study Is Severely Flawed, Journal’s Audit Finds.” It soft-peddled Wright’s response to the audit, which also had been provided to Bartlett. Wright’s response is scheduled to be published with Sherkat’s audit in the November issue of Social Scien
ce Research. Wright is a professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida.

Support for Regnerus

Meanwhile, Regnerus and Wright have gotten support from an interesting source — a bisexual father and son of a lesbian mother who is an assistant professor of English at California State University. Robert O. Lopez (also an American Thinker contributor) poured out his heart in a recent letter to the editor in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which has extensively covered the ongoing controversy.

Taking issue with some of Sherkat’s criticisms, he wrote: “Professor Sherkat’s critiques imply that any parenting study that includes bisexual parents needs to be immediately disqualified. As an openly bisexual father and son of a lesbian, I am appalled at Professor Sherkat’s dismissiveness.” Going on to relate that Regnerus dealt with him more honestly than gay-rights activists and scholars had over the years, he wrote:

I came out as bisexual in 1989 at Yale University. By 1990 I began writing about my rare experience as the son of a lesbian, but nobody wanted to go near my story because it didn’t glorify the gay-parenting agenda. In 23 years, though debate about gay issues has raged all around me, nobody — not one person, least of all anyone interested in gay issues — asked me to speak truthfully about my childhood in a gay household. Mark Regnerus was the first person who gave me a chance to speak honestly about how hard it was and how ambivalent I felt about placing other children in such a situation. His tone was respectful, his curiosity well intended, and his courage commendable. Of course it is hard to be raised in a household that is unusual and unlike the homes of one’s peers. Just like kids raised in orthodox religious households, kids who are home-schooled, foster kids, or kids who are so wealthy that they are reared by paid nannies, the children of homosexuals have atypical household environments and face challenges in understanding their peers and getting their peers to understand them. Their challenges may result in difficulty adjusting socially, which is what Professor Regnerus discovered in his study. Far from seeing his research as insulting, I see it as affirming. For the first time in my 41 years of life, someone finally acknowledged that the way I grew up was hard and it wasn’t my fault.

It is tragic that the moment of affirmation and the chance to speak honestly about my childhood came when Mark Regnerus contacted me, as opposed to one of the many scholars devoted to advocating for LGBT’s. But that is how it happened.

Would Lopez and others in similar circumstances have had more stable upbringings if gay marriage were permitted at the time? It’s a possibility that in fact could be inferred from the Regnerus study, according to none other than Regnerus and Wright — a fact that, they observe, undercuts allegations that the study is an exercise in gay-bashing.

In its article about Sherkat’s “audit” savaging Regnerus’ study, The Chronicle of Higher Education hinted at tensions between Sherkat and Regnerus. It quoted Sherkat as saying he had “little respect for conservative religiosity” and “believes that Regnerus and other socially conservative scholars push a political agenda in their academic work.”

Seizing upon criticism contained in the audit, Regnerus-bashers went into attack mode — prompting Robert Oscar Lopez, the bisexual English professor, to observe in a readers comment: “Wow, the lynch mob moved quickly.”

Stay tuned for more controversy this November, when Social Science Research publishes Sherkat’s audit — and Wright’s response to it.