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Jul 10 2014

FRC: Regnerus Study the ‘Gold Standard’

The new study out of Australia that finds the children of gay parents do at least as well as the children of straight parents (better, by some measures) has the anti-gay bigots in this country scrambling. The Family Research Council made this lame attempt to refute it by citing the ridiculous Regnerus study as the “gold standard” of such research.

But the data are of dubious value to begin with, because they are based on the parents’ own self-report (“My kid is doing great!”) rather than a more objective measure; and they are drawn from a “convenience sample” (like people responding to an ad in the “gay” media) rather than a genuinely random one. The distortion this introduces is clear from the socioeconomic profile of the sample — 73% of the homosexual parents had at least a college degree (vs. 28% of all Australian mothers), and 59% (79% of the men) had household incomes over $100,000 in Australian dollars (the median Australian household income is only $64,168).

Yes, the fact that it was a convenience sample rather than a random one is problematic, but they did that in order to get a large sample size and the researchers acknowledge that this is a limitation and hope that future research will be able to overcome that limitation. The fact that the sample was better educated and more affluent could be a problem, but the researchers did account for those factors in the study. But that criticism is actually more of a problem for the Regnerus study, which they absurdly claim is the best study on the subject:

In his 2012 research, sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin turned the conventional wisdom of the politically correct academic world on its head by proving that children raised by homosexual parents do suffer disadvantages when compared to children raised by their married mother and father. FRC’s Peter Sprigg analyzed the study — published in the journal Social Science Research. He and others confirmed that it was the most careful, rigorous, and methodologically sound study ever conducted on the issue — which explains why liberals have tried so desperately to discredit it.

Regnerus’s research found numerous and significant differences between these groups — with the outcomes for children of homosexuals rated “suboptimal” (Regnerus’s word) in almost every category. His study remains the gold standard for such research — and it clearly showed children do better with a married mom and dad.

You could fertilize a desert with that much manure. Regnerus’ study is so methodologically terrible that the journal that published it did an audit and found it to be so bad that it should never have been published. And the fact that Peter Sprigg, a rank bigot who thinks we should deny gay people entry into the United States, claims that it’s a great study is utterly laughable.

Now remember above where the FRC argues that because those in the sample of the Australian study were wealthier and better educated than the general population discredited that study? That’s an acknowledgement that lots of factors other than the sexual orientation of the parents have a major influence on outcomes for the child. And that argument applies far better to the Regnerus study than it does to the Australian study. If they were logically consistent — and they aren’t, ever — they would recognize this.

Regnerus’ study not only did not take into account those factors when comparing the two sample groups, it also did not take into account the fact that all of the examples from the “gay parents” group were of broken homes. And that almost none of them were actually being raised by gay parents. Of the 3000 families in the sample, only two — TWO, for crying out loud — did not come from broken homes led by an opposite-gender couple. Regnerus didn’t study gay parents raising children at all, he studied families where a couple had children, then divorced before or after one of them came out as gay (in fact, even less than that — he defined a “gay parent” as any parent who had ever had a “homosexual experience” at all).

The Regnerus study is laughably bad. If he had proposed such a study as a grad student, he would have been hammered by his thesis advisers. It’s the gold standard of how not to do sociological research.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    ArtK

    It’s the “Gold Standard” because it says what they want it to say. The ultimate ‘dry lab’.

  2. 2
    Anthony K

    Okay, so maybe the Regnerus study isn’t kosher, but the Shroud of Turin still proves Jesus existed and loved American capitalism, right?

  3. 3
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Well, in fairness, maybe they call it the “gold standard” because they’ve made so damn much gold off of it?

  4. 4
    Gregory in Seattle

    Fools gold, maybe.

  5. 5
    cptdoom

    I’ve read elsewhere that Regnerus also relied on a nationwide database compiled from people who had signed up to do market research studies for $$ – IOW, a convenience sample.

    More importantly, the Australian study confirms the social science consensus about how well children raised by same-sex couples perform (i.e., at least as well as those raised in similar straight-parent led families), while the Regnerus study is the only one to point so dramatically in the opposite direction. Even if it had sound methodology, the Regnerus study would not have “turned the conventional wisdom of the politically correct academic world on its head,” simply because that’s not how science works. One outlier study (think “cold fusion”) cannot have that kind of impact; its findings must be replicated in other settings and by other researchers. The important feature of the Australian study is that it adds to the evidence that gay people can be good parents.

  6. 6
    rory

    It really pisses me off that because Social Science Research didn’t bother to do their homework, bigots and fools can now point to Regnerus’ study as proof that they’re really just doing it for the children. It’s sort of like the original Andrew Wakefield autism/vaccine publication–whether someone at the responsible journal has a personal ax to grind, or whether it’s just a massive failure of the peer review process, the rest of us now have to live with the consequences. Whoever’s responsible for this crap getting published should be sacked so fast his/her head spins.

  7. 7
    jamessweet

    The bottom line is that a “gold standard” study of this is simply not really feasible yet. Well, actually, the real gold standard, a true double-blind RCT, is so impossible and unethical that it’s almost kinda funny to contemplate: Randomly send a bunch of babies to adoptive families that are either same-sex or opposite-sex couples, and somehow prevent the kids as they are growing up from ever knowing the genders of their parents! No problem! More seriously though, a “gold standard” in this case would be something kinda like the Regnerus study in flavor, except with non-insane criteria for the control and experimental groups.

    The numbers simply aren’t big enough yet to do that kind of study. So you have to compromise somewhere. The Regenerus study chose to compromise by having really fucked up criteria for the experimental group, so they weren’t even measuring the right thing. This study chose to compromise by doing all the things that FRC criticizes them for. Those are fair criticisms, but at least they are measuring more or less the right thing — it’s just that their measurement could be systematically skewed, or it could be just randomly bad, etc.

    tl;dr: You can’t do a “gold standard” study of this phenomenon, so…

  8. 8
    sinned34

    I find it very telling that liberals look at the Australian study and, while agreeing with its findings, admit the limitations and biases inherent in the study. Meanwhile, conservatives look at the Regenerus study and consider it the BEST EVAH STUDY BECAUSE ITS PERFECT AND SHOWS THOSE HORRIBLE GAYS ARE RUINING OUR CHILDRENS!
    Admitting their own biases and flaws just isn’t something that many conservatives are willing to do, unless the failures are so glaringly obvious that they are forced to admit that BOTH SIDES DO IT!

  9. 9
    Francisco Bacopa

    I would like to point out that that the University of Texas has filed an amicus brief in at least one marriage equality court case disavowing any endorsement of the Regnerus study. I know they did this in Michigan, and they may have done so in subsequent cases.

  10. 10
    dingojack

    According to the ABS (based on a survey of incomes held 2007-8), about 23% of Australian households earn over AUD100000, however adjusting the threshold down (while assuming the GINI remains the same*) to account for wage inflation over the intervening six years, that increases the number of households earning over AUD100000 to over 40% of all Australian households.
    And the Regenerus ‘study’….?

    Dingo
    ——-
    * a dubious assumption. More realistically I’d say 5-7% less than that estimate.

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