Article Title:The flawed Regnerus study
Author or Credit:Politics and religion commentator Craig Young
Published on:11th September 2012 - 11:34 am
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Story ID:12260
Text:File photo At the University of Texas, sociologist Mark Regnerus conducted a seriously flawed 'comparative' study on parenting outcomes that appears to have aroused undeserved hope amongst Family First and other same-sex parenting opponents. Why is it so controversial? Given that most international child health, welfare and development professional associations support the benefits of same-sex parenting, as demonstrated through cumulative evidence-based research projects published in transparently peer reviewed journals, the US Christian Right habitually tries to discredit and attack those professional associations and their research expertise. Back during the Civil Union Bill debate here, for instance, the Maxim Institute and Bruce Logan lauded the work of Althea Nagai and Robert Lerner, two 'hired gun' social conservatives without professional expertise in the field of pediatrics or developmental psychology, whose criticisms of the latter's affirmative same-sex parenting research were blunted by criticisms that were exported from other disciplines and inapplicable to those disciplines. Undeterred, the US Christian Right has tried again. This time, it has seized on the work of Mark Regnerus, a social scientist at the University of Texas. In his longitudinal/long-term study, Regnerus compared a children of straight couples control group and a 'children of divorce' reference group. There is no seperate category for lesbian and gay parents in this project. Unfortunately, this is where the trouble began for critics of his project. The latter sample of 'same-sex parents' was miniscule and did not rely on self-described lesbians and gay men, but labels applied to them by their offspring. There was no seperate research category for same-sex couples. Instead, the project relied on anecdotal perceptions of respondents (18-39) and did not differentiate whether the parents had stable or established lesbian or gay identities, or whether they were in continuous relatonships, episodic and non-cohabitating casual relationships or one night stands with the same sex. The study does not deal with same-sex parenting within stable and established couples. As is noted below, this is where numerous mainstream professional child health, welfare and development organisations have objected to the research design and findings. The latter is significant because such sampling bias means that there is no guarantee that the parents of respondents themselves identified as lesbian or gay. If they did not, the study therefore does not evaluate whether the latter had access to same-sex parenting resources and social networks available within organised LGBT communities. Moreover, the study does not cover LGBT family structures where childbirth and childrearing occur within the context of the relationship. These have been shown to be the results of painstaking deliberation and negotiation, as well as preparation for the responsibilities and rewards of parenting ahead in successive mainstream work. While Regnerus and the University of Texas have defended the propriety of his study, it has been dogged by persistent questions about funding and research design bias as well as poor execution. To begin with, Regnerus received $US750, 000 toward his study from the antigay Witherspoon Institute, one of whose board of directors is conservative Catholic marriage equality opponent Robert George. Then there's the matter of the journal that he submitted the finished research paper to- Social Science Research. Although Bob McCoskrie and other Christian Right activists (the US National Organisation for Marriage, Family Research Council and the Witherspoon Institute itself) have all defended the propriety of the study, there are troubling questions about whether or not the "blind' peer review process was transparent and objective in Regnerus' context. These have centred on editor James Wrights' prior professional association with Regnerus over a previous publication, and the affiliation of another member of Social Science Resarch's Board of Directors, Wilcox, with the anti-SSM "Marriage Law Project" at the University of Virginia. While the University of Texas has cleared Regnerus of apparent wrongdoing in this context, criticisms have continued apace from such sources as fellow Carbondale University sociologist Darren Sherkat, who has severely criticised Social Science Research's peer review processes within a previous audit. The Chronicle of Higher Education has published numerous other criticisms- and more significantly, there have been objections from numerous professional associations. True, Regnerus does have defenders apart from the University of Texas, but they come from tainted and predictable sources with no relevant professional expertise in the area- the Witherspoon Institute and its Public Discourse journal, the National Organisation for Marriage, Family Research Council, fundamentalist Baylor University's "Institute for the Study of Religion" (??) and our own Family First, which has prominently featured the Regnerus study as an alleged rebuttal of affirmative same-sex parenting research. There are also criticisms from an "American College of Pediatricians", but this is a small fundamentalist and social conservative breakaway faction of pediatricians who seceded from the mainstream American Academy of Pediatricians in 2002 over the latter's evidence-based support for same-sex parenting. They have criticised by such figures as Frances Collins, geneticist at the US National Institute for Health, and LGBT youth suicide researcher Gary Remafedi, for distorting their research and their ideological bias without an adequate research basis of their own. Bob McCoskrie has boasted that the research comes from a longitudinal sample and is published within a peer reviewed journal. Unfortunately for McCoskrie, the flawed research design and bias has also aroused considerable criticism. The American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, US National Association of Social Workers, American Psychoanalytic Association, California Association of Social Workers, American Academy of Pediatrics and California Psychological Association have all contributed an amicus curiae detailing the defects in Regnerus' research project and design (cited below). Yet once again, it would seem, the Christian Right has seized on a deliberately flawed and methodologically questionable 'study' from one of their own to counter mainstream medical and scientific opinion. The flaws and limitations of the Regnerus studies should therefore be cited in our own Marriage Equality Bill submissions. Recommended: "Controversial gay parenting study is seriously flawed, journal's audit finds" Chronicle of Higher Education: 26.07.2012: Lez Get Real: "American Sociological Association may move against Regnerus study soon" Lez Get Real: 31.08.2012: Karen Golinski versus US Parent Office of Personnel Management, John Berry and Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the US House of Representatives: Amicus Curiae Criticism of Same-Sex Parenting and Regnerus Study: Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 11th September 2012    
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