Social Scientists Try to Defend Bad Parenting Study

A group of social scientists have released a defense of Mark Regnerus’ terrible study on gay parents, but that response only shows how bad the arguments in favor of the study are. Some of them, in fact, are astonishingly hypocritical. To wit:

Although Regnerus’s article in Social Science Research is not without its limitations, as social scientists, we think much of the public criticism Regnerus has received is unwarranted for three reasons.

First, there are limitations with prior research on this subject that have seldom been discussed by the media. The vast majority of studies published before 2012 on this subject have relied upon small, nonrepresentative samples that do not represent children in typical gay and lesbian families in the United States.

This is true, of course, but there’s a fairly obvious reason for that — openly gay couples raising children is a relatively new phenomenon. It hasn’t been possible until very recently to build a sample group of children who were actually raised by a gay couple over a long period of time. But you certainly don’t fix that problem by using an even less representative sample and comparing applies to bowling balls.

By contrast, Regnerus relies on a large, random, and representative sample of more than 200 children raised by parents who have had same-sex relationships, comparing them to a random sample of more than 2,000 children raised in heterosexual families, to reach his conclusions.

But notice the change in wording there. They compared 200 children “raised by parents who have had same-sex relationships” to 2000 children “raised in heterosexual families” (intact and long-term stable families, at that). Those simply aren’t the same thing. They defined the first group as anyone who had a parent, whether they lived with them or not, or for any significant period of time, had any same-sex relationship at all, even if it was after the child was grown and out of the house. Calling the sample “large” and “representative” is irrelevant if the subjects are not, in fact, representative of those raised long-term in households with two gay parents (or one gay parent, if they want to compare to other families led by a single straight parent).

Second, Regnerus has been chided for comparing young adults from gay and lesbian families that experienced high levels of family instability to young adults from stable heterosexual married families. This is not an ideal comparison. (Indeed, Regnerus himself acknowledges this point in his article, and calls for additional research on a representative sample of planned gay and lesbian families; such families may be more stable but are very difficult to locate in the population at large.[4]) But what his critics fail to appreciate is that Regnerus chose his categories on the basis of young adults’ characterizations of their own families growing up, and the young adults whose parents had same-sex romantic relationships also happened to have high levels of instability in their families of origin. This instability may well be an artifact of the social stigma and marginalization that often faced gay and lesbian couples during the time (extending back to the 1970s, in some cases) that many of these young adults came of age.

Um, they’re trying to defend this study, right? Seems to me they’re just ducking into the punch by admitting that the sample A) isn’t really representative and B) even if it was, the results may well be due to social stigma and anti-gay attitudes.

With the sharp rise in the number of families led by gay couples over the last few years, it will certainly be possible in the next decade or so to find a good sample of families headed by two gay parents in a long-term, stable relationship (married or otherwise) and compare them to the same thing. It will also be possible to split it out and compare other groups — children raised by gay and straight single parents, children adopted by gay or straight individuals or couples, and so forth. And that’s a good thing. But stop pretending that this study does that. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close.

12 comments on this post.
  1. oranje:

    Wow. Looking at their last paragraph, they would seem to agree that the notion of any semblance of “same-sex” in the study is really spurious, and we’re just studying the young adults and their perceptions. That’s sloppy reasoning.

    Arguing that an apples to apples discussion can’t happen because finding the appropriate study group is challenging does not excuse cobbling together a study group and calling it comparable.

    I’m amazed this got through IRB.

  2. slc1:

    It should be noted that this response was published under the auspices of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, not any of the relevant social science departments at Baylor. Two strikes against this response before even reading it.

  3. SC (Salty Current), OM:

    I was doing a quick search of the names to see how many were affiliated with Templeton, and came across this comment:

    By a quick check, 9 of the 18 signers are Witherspoon fellows or Templeton Foundation grant recipients. Among the others, one has co-authored with Maggie Gallagher, one testified against SSM in Iowa, and another wrote the review accompanying Regnerus. A little disclosure woulda helped put the statement in perspective.

    Don’t even get me started about Rodney Stark. They seem to be part of a religion-oriented network that isn’t remotely representative of social scientists.

  4. Randomfactor:

    How many of the parents in the “heterosexual marriages” ALSO had a same-sex relationship and it was simply unknown to the researchers?

  5. Adrian W.:

    The whole point is moot, anyway, unless they’re also going to argue that poor people shouldn’t be allowed to get married and have children.

    Actually… let’s not give them any ideas.

  6. DaveL:

    Even if it isn’t currently possible in the United States, I imagine in the future it should be feasible to form a sample pool of adult children who were raised by same-sex married couples, whose marriage is still intact, in which neither parent has ever had a heterosexual relationship. We then compare this sample against adult children who have at least one parent who has had at least one heterosexual relationship. I personally would love to see Regnerus’ reaction to that one.

  7. Bronze Dog:

    The gist I get: “It was too hard to do it properly, so we cheated and made unwarranted conclusions from a sample we knew was biased by alternative causes. That’s why the study is acceptable.”

  8. kermit.:

    Scientists are nothing if they are not honest and competent. These are propagandists, and not very good ones at that, although they may have provided ammo for those who are better at miscommunicating.

    We know that broken homes vs stable homes, and low income vs middle class income make a huge difference in the likelihood that children will thrive, and yet this study ignored those and other factors, even though the information was available to them.

    Disgusting theocratic tools.

  9. maureenbrian:

    The UK is doing a latitudinal study which began with a cohort of 19,000 children born 2000-2001. Allowing for an increased drop-out rate because of economic problems (plus a daft government) and also allowing for the competing priorities in a multi-disciplinary study it seems very likely we will get to the end of that with youngsters who have spent much of their childhood in a “gay” household – a stable one, even!

    So, watch this space – http://www.cls.ioe.ac.uk/page.aspx?&sitesectionid=851&sitesectiontitle=Welcome+to+the+Millennium+Cohort+Study

    SC, if you are there, do you know more about this than I have picked up from the media?

  10. ArtK:

    @ Bronze Dog

    Nope. It goes like this: “This study confirms our preconceived notions and supports our social and political agenda. Therefore, the study is acceptable.”

  11. Dr X:

    SC (Salty Current), OM,

    Yes, I started going down the list, searching names, and as I suspected, the passengers in this academic clown car appear to have a shared, vested, religious interest in the bogus interpretation of the findings.

  12. Michael Heath:

    SC’s cite:

    By a quick check, 9 of the 18 signers are Witherspoon fellows or Templeton Foundation grant recipients. Among the others, one has co-authored with Maggie Gallagher, one testified against SSM in Iowa, and another wrote the review accompanying Regnerus. A little disclosure woulda helped put the statement in perspective.

    Perhaps they’re hoping to exploit this as an opportunity to begin a cottage industry similar to the creationist, AGW denialist, and Christian Nation camps. It appears easier these days to become celebrated and well-paid denying reality rather than doing the hard work of exposing and explaining it.

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