In Appreciation of Mark Regnerus

In Appreciation of Mark Regnerus June 28, 2012

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)

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