Christine Woodman urges readers to take action against Mark Regnerus, author of a recent study that claims gay and lesbian parents are dangerous to children in an attempt to advance his own religious and political agenda.
This week, sociologist Mark Regnerus published a study which seems to show that the children of gay and lesbian parents are much more likely to have unstable childhoods, live in poverty, and be molested. As adults they are more likely to be raped, unemployed, consider suicide, live with the help of public assistance, and be less than fully heterosexual. The study seems to add credence to the worst lies told about LGBT parents: that they are more likely to molest their children or create an environment in which they will be molested and that they are likely to indoctrinate their children into the gay “lifestyle.”
As a mother, student of sociology, and advocate for children’s rights, I am shocked and dismayed. But as someone who has studied Regnerus’ early journal articles on juvenile delinquency I am saddened, but not at all surprised. In my review of those articles, I found irregularities in his research that caused me to worry about his commitment to ethical research.
Although I am only a student, I am certainly not the only person who finds Regnerus’ work deeply flawed. The four most damning critiques of the study are synthesized well on the GSFLA website. A surprising number of Regnerus’ colleagues, such as Jim Burroway, Cynthia Osborne, and Paul Amato have come forward with their concerns and have offered evidence that Regnerus’ study is fundamentally flawed.
The problem, as I see it, is that Regnerus’s work seems to be intentionally flawed. A researcher associated with UCLA, Gary Gates, said in an interview with Scientific American, Regnerus could have constructed his research using standard sociological research practices, but he “chose not to. He intentionally chose a methodology that is absolutely primed to find bad outcomes in those kids.”
This is similar to what I noted in Regnerus’ articles on juvenile delinquency. In them he makes such serious and obvious errors in constructing his study that I could not help but believe that the studies are flawed in a deliberate attempt to influence the results. (These flaws are most noticeable if you compare the construction of his dependent variable across all of the published studies on this subject. Unfortunately, these studies are available only through academic journal services.)
Creating intentionally flawed studies to advance one’s religion, political stance, or ideology is questionable but perhaps understandable. Creating an intentionally flawed study to support homophobia and the suppression of a minority group’s human rights is unconscionable and certainly unethical. Furthermore, there is a world of difference between a flawed study, which most experts agree that this is, and one that is corrupt. Given the likely impact of such a study, the public needs to know which this is.
In the past several hours, I have spoken to fellow students and to professors and professionals in the field of sociology. They have all expressed their horror and determination to see academic justice done. A person affiliated with the American Sociological Association (ASA), who spoke to me under the condition of anonymity, assured me that Regenrus’ recent study would receive a full and scrupulous examination. The ASA is eager to distinguish between sociologists who engage in legitimate and well-intentioned social research and those who use the discipline to advance religious or ideological agendas in much the same way that legitimate scientist have distanced themselves from young earth creationists and historians have completely disavowed holocaust deniers.
Unfortunately, the academic review process will likely take years, and by then an entire host of anti-LGBT legislation will likely have come up before courts and legislatures. Already the study has fanned thousands of homophobic fires and will likely fuel millions more. Sociologists are among the most honorable and scrupulous people that I know, but their processes are necessarily long.
Given the length of time academic inquiries will take and the urgency of the situation, I believe that it is time for the public to take action. Fortunately, Regnerus is a professor at a public university which receives federal grants, University of Texas, Austin. Although his study is privately funded, he must meet the same basic ethical guidelines as a study fully funded by tax-payer dollars. Furthermore, his university is legally obligated to conduct a full investigation of any alleged ethical violations involving live human subjects, and it must make the results of those investigations available to the public.
I encourage the readers of Role/Reboot and anyone supportive of LGBT families to do the following three things:
1). Call, email, or write the President of UT, William C. Powers, and ask him to personally oversee a full ethical inquiry into Regnerus’ current research and his history of research irregularities. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, his address is: Office of the President, The University of Texas at Austin Main Building 400 (G3400), Post Office Box T, Austin, Texas 78713-8920. And his office’s telephone number is: (512) 471-1232
2) Email the executive office at the American Sociological Association at email@example.com. They are good people and always eager to facilitate conversations between researchers and the public. So let them know that you are interested. You may also ask them to intervene with the publishers of Regnerus’ other journal articles to make those document available to the general public at no charge.
3) Contact your congressperson and senators. Tell them that you have serious concerns about the ethics of research being conducted at the University of Texas, an institution funded by your tax dollars. Ask them to use their influence or their powers of subpoena to get a full of accounting of the irregularities in Regnerus’ past and present research.
Christine Woodman is a mother, wife, advocate, and graduate student in the sociology department of George Mason University. After graduation, she plans to devote her full attention to advocating for the rights of children in religious environments. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.