Tag archives: Chronicle of Higher Education

An Obscenity and a Headline Can’t Discredit Study of Homosexual Parents

by Peter Sprigg

August 15, 2012

I am increasingly convinced that some pro-homosexual activists never read anything more than headlines.

For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a headline on July 26 that said:

Controversial Gay-Parenting Study is Severely Flawed, Journal’s Audit Finds.”

The “study” in question is the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), led by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, whose principal findings were reported in an article in the scholarly journal Social Science Research in June.

Here’s how those findings are summarized on the “Frequently Asked Questions” page of the study’s official website:

More precisely, he [Dr. Regnerus] says, the data show rather clearly that children raised by gay or lesbian parents on average are at a significant disadvantage when compared to children raised by the intact family of their married, biological mother and father.

In the debates over homosexuality in general, and over the intended homosexual redefinition of marriage in particular, a finding like this lands like a nuclear bomb. Pro-family activists have repeatedly claimed that children do best when raised by their own, married mother and father. Homosexual activists deny this — but Regnerus confirmed it.

Homosexual activists, on the other hand, have claimed that the research shows there are no differences between children raised by homosexuals and those raised by heterosexuals. Regnerus, however, has disproved this.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that destroying Regnerus, his study, the journal that published it, the editor who approved it, and the peers who reviewed it became priority number one for homosexual activists. Charge bias! Charge misconduct! Demand an investigation! Slander everyone involved!

Under the massive pressure, the journal’s editor, James D. Wright, agreed to appoint a member of the journal’s editorial board, sociologist Darren Sherkat, to perform an internal audit to review the paper and the process by which it was published. Although the audit will not be published until November, a copy was provided to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

What did the auditor, Sherkat, conclude about Regnerus’s paper? “Its b***s***,” he told the Chronicle.

Well, there you have it. A scholarly evaluation if I’ve ever seen one.

Armed with an obscenity (“BS”) and a headline (“Severely Flawed”), homosexual activists had all they needed. Regnerus’s study, in their wishful view, was a train wreck. “Nothing to see here, folks … Just move along.”

It helps, however, to read beyond the headline.

Let’s look at some of the things reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education article:

  • Sherkat did not find that the journal’s normal procedures had been disregarded.”
  • [Sherkat did not find] that the Regnerus paper had been inappropriately expedited to publication, as some critics have charged.”
  • He [Sherkat] also vigorously defended Wright, the editor.”
  • [Sherkat said,] “If I were in Wright’s shoes, I may well have made the same decisions.”
  • [T]he [peer] reviewers were unanimously positive.”
  • Wright had little choice but to go ahead with publication.”
  • [Sherkat said,] “[T]here were no gross violations of editorial procedures.”
  • [Sherkat said,] “[T]he papers were peer reviewed.”
  • [Sherkat said,] “[T]he peers for papers on this topic were similar to what you would expect at Social Science Research.”
  • As for accusations that Wright was part of a conservative conspiracy, as some have suggested, Sherkat deems that ‘ludicrous.’”
  • [Sherkat said,] “It is unfair to expect Wright to hear the warning sirens when none were sounded by the reviewers.”
  • Sherkat considers Regnerus to be ‘a bright young scholar,’ and, years ago, he wrote a letter of recommendation for him.”

We get all of this, despite the fact that “Sherkat was an early critic of the paper, even before he was chosen to conduct the audit. He also said in an interview that he had ‘little respect for conservative religiosity.’”

With so many positive comments, what was it that Sherkat did not like?

For one thing, he did not like an article that accompanied that by Regnerus in the same issue of the journal. Written by another scholar, Loren Marks, it examined the 59 previous studies of homosexual parents that had been cited by the American Psychological Association in a 2005 policy brief. Marks debunks the APA’s claim that “[n]ot a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.”

Sherkat criticizes the Marks paper as “a lowbrow meta-analysis of studies.” The Marks paper, however, is not — nor was it intended to be — a meta-analysis at all. A meta-analysis is when data from similar studies on the same topic are statistically aggregated to reach conclusions that may have a stronger statistical significance than any one of the samples or studies could achieve on its own. Marks was not aggregating the data from previous studies, but critiquing their methodology. Marks points out, “[N]ot one of the 59 studies referenced in the 2005 APA Brief compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of married parents and their children.” Marks also points out that only four of the 59 studies cited by the APA even met the APA’s own standards by “provid[ing] evidence of statistical power.”

What did Sherkat object to in the Regnerus study itself? Well, for one thing, the funding — by “a very large grant from exceptionally conservative foundations” (a reference to the Witherspoon Institute). The Chronicle article fails to mention that the funders had no say in the design or execution of the study; nor does it mention that a number of liberal foundations were approached to participate, and all declined.

Sherkat also complains about the study’s data collection, writing that “the marketing-research data were inappropriate for a top-tier scientific journal.” This is apparently a reference to the firm (Knowledge Networks) chosen to screen potential respondents and survey those chosen for the study. No explanation is given, at least in the Chronicle article, of who would have been better equipped to screen 15,000 people and administer a survey to a representative sample of nearly 3,000, other than a firm with “marketing-research” experience.

Apart from that, Sherkat directs most of his ire at the peer reviewers — other scholars chosen to evaluate the study’s methodology and the paper’s presentation and interpretation of the data to make sure that they live up to proper academic standards.

There was, apparently, no problem with the qualifications of the peer reviewers. As already noted, Sherkat himself stated that “the ‘peers’ for papers on this topic were similar to what you would expect at Social Science Research.”

Sherkat suggests that there was a conflict of interest because, according to the Chronicle, “two of the six reviewers were paid consultants to the New Family Structures Study.” A scandal? No — the editor, Wright, told the Chronicle “that it’s not unusual for scholars who have been consultants at some point on a project to later serve as referees.”

Sherkat also complained about the “ideology” of the reviewers — “three of six reviewers, according to Sherkat, are on record as opposing same-sex marriage.” So being on record in support of the definition of our most fundamental social institution that has prevailed for millennia, remains in place in 44 of 50 states, and has been upheld by voters in 32 out of 32 states, is considered disqualifying? When was the last time a scholar was “disqualified” from reviewing research related to homosexuality because they openly advocated the radical redefinition of marriage? Criticism for “ideology” coming from someone who openly admits he has “little respect for conservative religiosity” is nothing short of laughable. Remember, too, that even this criticism applies only to “three of six,” but “the reviewers were unanimously positive” (emphasis added).

The heart of Sherkat’s critique seems to be the same one that has been offered since day one of the study’s release — the parents identified in the charts of data as “lesbian mothers” or “gay fathers” were not necessarily people who self-identified as “lesbian” or “gay.” Instead, these classifications were applied any time the young adult respondent said that a parent “had a same-sex romantic relationship” while the respondent was growing up.

This is a rather weak critique, since, as the Chronicle reported, “The information about how parents are labeled is in the paper. Regnerus writes that he chose those labels for ‘the sake of brevity and to avoid entanglement in interminable debates about fluid or fixed orientations.’” Is Sherkat suggesting that instead of “LM” and “GF” (the codes Regnerus used in his charts for children of lesbian mothers or gay fathers), Regnerus should have used “CWMHASSRWTWGU” and “CWFHASSRWTWGU” (“Children Whose Mothers [or ‘Fathers’] Had A Same-Sex Relationship While They Were Growing Up”)?

Nevertheless, Sherkat seems to suspect that the six peer scholars chosen to review the paper might have – well — missed this key point:

At the same time, he sympathizes with the task of the overburdened reviewer inclined to skim. Because of how the paper was written, Sherkat said, it would have been easy to miss Regnerus’s explanation of who qualified as lesbian mothers and gay fathers. If a reviewer were to skip ahead to the statistics in the table, it would be understandable, he said, to assume that the children described there were, in fact, raised by a gay or lesbian couple for a significant portion of their childhoods.

This, despite the fact that, “In his audit, Sherkat reveals that all the reviewers declared that the paper would generate ‘enormous interest.’” The paper clearly overturns at least ten years of politically correct conventional wisdom in academia. Yet Sherkat says that the scholarly reviewers of this groundbreaking and controversial study might have been “inclined to skim,” and “if a reviewer were to skip ahead … it would be understandable … to assume” (that’s three hypotheticals in one sentence — emphasis added) that the paper said something other than what it actually did. “Sherkat said, it would have been [another hypothetical, emphasis added] easy to miss Regnerus’s explanation of who qualified as ‘lesbian mothers’ and ‘gay fathers.’”

Given the “enormous interest in this paper,” Sherkat’s speculation that the scholarly peer reviewers may have missed the heart of its methodological approach is not only insulting to those scholars, but it is completely implausible. After all — the explanation of how subjects were categorized can be found in the article’s title (“How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study”).

Sherkat’s full audit of the Regnerus study is not due to be published in Social Science Research until November. Perhaps it will contain more convincing arguments than those offered in the Chronicle of Higher Education article. However, any claim that the Regnerus article has been “discredited” is without support.

An obscenity and a headline are not enough.

Archives