Update on the Regnerus situation

Here’s an update on the brouhaha over Mark Regnerus’ study. As it should have, the complaint against Regnerus to the University of Texas was ruled to be without merit.

Here’s the opening paragraphs of the article:

“No formal investigation is warranted regarding allegations of scientific misconduct against a faculty member’s study that raised doubts about gay parenting, the University of Texas announced today.

The university conducted an inquiry to determine whether the accusations against associate professor Mark Regnerus concerning an article of his in the journal Social Science Research had merit and warranted a formal investigation. The allegations were leveled by freelance writer Scott Rosensweig, who uses the byline Scott Rose.

After consulting with a four-member advisory panel composed of senior university faculty members, the Office of the Vice President for Research concluded that there is insufficient evidence to warrant an investigation, the university said in a news release.

Provost and Executive Vice President Steven Leslie accepted the report on Tuesday and deemed the matter closed from an institutional perspective, UT said.”

The Case of Mark Regnerus: An Academic Auto-da-Fé

Here’s an insightful op-ed piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Christian Smith, of Notre Dame, about the reaction to Mark Regnerus’ study of same

(By the way, an Auto-da-Fe was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics in the Spanish Inquisition–an apt analogy for this situation)

“Whoever said inquisitions and witch hunts were things of the past? A big one is going on now. The sociologist Mark Regnerus, at the University of Texas at Austin, is being smeared in the media and subjected to an inquiry by his university over allegations of scientific misconduct.

Regnerus’s offense? His article in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Researchreported that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages. That’s it. Regnerus published ideologically unpopular research results on the contentious matter of same-sex relationships. And now he is being made to pay.

In today’s political climate, and particularly in the discipline of sociology—dominated as it is by a progressive orthodoxy—what Regnerus did is unacceptable. It makes him a heretic, a traitor—and so he must be thrown under the bus.

Regnerus’s study was based on a nationally representative sample of adult Americans, including an adequate number of respondents who had parents with same-sex relationships to make valid statistical comparisons. His data were collected by a survey firm that conducts top studies, such as the American National Election Survey, which is supported by the National Science Foundation. His sample was a clear improvement over those used by most previous studies on this topic.

Regnerus was trained in one of the best graduate programs in the country and was a postdoctoral fellow under an internationally renowned scholar of family, Glen Elder, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Full disclosure: I was on the faculty in Regnerus’s department and advised him for some years, but was not his dissertation chair.) His article underwent peer review, and the journal’s editor stands behind it. Regnerus also acknowledges the limitations of his study in his article, as he has done in subsequent interviews. And another recent study relying on a nationally representative sample also suggests that children of same-sex parents differ from children from intact, heterosexual marriages.

But never mind that. None of it matters. Advocacy groups and academics who support gay marriage view Regnerus’s findings as threatening. (As an aside, that is unnecessary, since his findings can be interpreted to support legal same-sex marriage, as a way to counter the family instability that helps produce the emotional and social problems Regnerus and others have found.)

Regnerus has been attacked by sociologists all around the country, including some from his own department. He has been vilified by journalists who obviously (based on what they write) understand little about social-science research. And the journal in which Regnerus published his article has been the target of a pressure campaign.

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.”

To read the rest…

Map of religion in the United States

Here’s an interesting map that shows the largest religious groups for each county in the United States. As always, I’m surprised at the geographical concentrations of different denominations and traditions which points to the rich social history that produced religion in the US.

In Appreciation of Mark Regnerus

In academics there are a handful of political and cultural issues for which there are “acceptable” and “unacceptable” positions. If you agree with the majority of academics on these issues, great, but if not, you’re going to run into trouble.

Mark Regnerus has taken one of these “unacceptable” positions. He conducted a study to compare “how the young-adult children of a parent who has had a same-sex romantic relationship fare on 40 different social, emotional, and relational outcome variables when compared with six other family-of-origin types.” To read his study, click here. To read an interview with him about this study, click here.

I don’t study family demography, but my take is that his work is a worthwhile addition to the literature on this topic. The paper went through the peer-review process at a top journal and has been vetted by other sociologists of the family. (To read a letter in support of this research, click here). This paper has produced scholarly debate, which is fine, for reasonable people can disagree on some of its technical and interpretive aspects–this true with any sociological study.

Much more problematic has been the response by some social activists, interest groups, and others who, among other things, have labeled this work “junk science,” made calls to remove his writing from newspapers, and even lodged a formal complaint against him with his university. Wow! This reaction gives the appearance of aiming to punish, shame, and even silence Regnerus. I view this as both bullying and anti-intellectual.

Activists on many issues—both to the left and the right—have an uneasy relationship with empirical research. They trumpet it when it supports their position, and they declaim it when it doesn’t, and their approval of research is often unrelated to the actual quality of the research. (In fact, it often appears inversely associated). Theirs is an “ends-justifies-the-means” approach to empirical research. Many advocates believe so strongly in the justice and rightness of their cause that they feel quite justified in attacking any perceived threats to it—data be damned.

When I organized this blog last year, Mark was the first person that I invited to join me. Though I had not met him, I knew of his reputation as a fine scholar and a devout Christian, and I was thrilled when he agreed to join us. In working with him this last year, I have had nothing but appreciation for his thoughtful and interesting writing, and I have enjoyed getting to know him.

With this study, I have another thing to appreciate about him: his courage. He didn’t just touch the third rail, he grabbed it with both hands. Out of personal conviction, he examined a topic that is highly controversial, and he had the courage to report his findings even when they flew in the face of conventional and “approved” wisdom. Thankfully Mark has tenure (once again it protects freedom of speech), but he’s still going to take a serious hit for going against the cultural grain.

Here’s to Mark—both his scholarship and personal courage. Well done, Mark!

(FYI: Since this topic is bringing out the trolls, I won’t approve any comments on this post… don’t want you to waste your time)