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July 13, 2012 Print

Sociologist Comes Under Fire from Activists for Gay-Parenting Study

by Karla Dial

When the journal Social Science Research published a study by University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus last month saying children raised by parents in same-sex relationships have more negative outcomes than those raised by married mothers and fathers, the news didn’t just make headlines nationwide — it made waves.

Now, the school is in the early stages of pulling together a board of inquiry to investigate allegations of academic misconduct — brought not by a fellow academic, but by a gay-activist blogger.

Scott Rosensweig, who writes for “The New Civil Rights Movement,” complained in a June 21 letter to UT-Austin President Bill Powers on June 21 that Regnerus’s study — the largest ever conducted to include children raised by homosexual parents — was “designed so as to be guaranteed to make gay people look bad, through means plainly fraudulent and defamatory.” He also complained that the $750,000 grant Regnerus won from the Witherspoon Institute and Bradley Foundation to conduct it was taken “from an anti-gay political organization.” He called for the school to release all of Regnerus’s research material, sources, and communications related to the study.

Several sociologists have come to Regnerus’s defense, saying it’s unprecedented for a highly respected, tenured professor to be investigated on such charges because a blogger didn’t like the study’s findings.

“For some of these journals, the acceptance rate is about 5 percent,” said Dr. Byron Johnson, a professor of sociology at Baylor University and co-director for the Institute for Studies of Religion — a fact which reflects the quality of the science involved. “It’s not like he gave a speech and made a slur. Typically, when (academics) disagree with research, we do our own. Let’s do this in an academic way, not a witch hunt — led by the blogosphere and people who have no credentials.”

Regnerus’s study included 2,988 people between the ages of 18 and 39 raised in a variety of settings. According to his findings, those with homosexual parents had poorer romantic relationships, lower income and more mental health issues than others.

That confounds the prevailing sense of homosexual parenting touted by the mainstream media. However, several social scientists have pointed out the serious limitations of those studies — including statistically insignificant samples, and participants recruited from ads in gay publications who self-report their children’s outcomes.

Those studies may have been accepted because “their findings are politically correct,” Johnson said. “And people say we’re supposed to throw out Regnerus’s study? You don’t throw everything out, but you do have to go back and look at everything. But to say the previous studies trump his, which is what they’re implying, is ridiculous.”

The political furor over Regnerus’s study, Johnson said, could have a chilling effect on further research.

“There are still journals where — and I think the majority of them, because they have anonymous reviewers — really do look at data and methods. So you still get some of that,” he said. “But I’ve had my own experiences with reviewers who’ve said, ‘Something’s just not right’ — which means they don’t like the findings, but they just can’t find anything wrong with the study. I’d like to think we’ve not lost all sense about our standards, but it’s really hard to get research on some topics published. And when someone does a study like this, people are so anxious to get their hands on the data that researchers are likely to say, ‘That’s the last thing I need.’ ”

Read the response to the charges written by fellow sociologists.

Read about faulty research used to support same-sex parenting.