Regnerus Admits Errors In Faulty Gay-Family Study Touted By Fundamentalists

In July Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor at the University of Texas-Austin released a study that claimed the adult children of gays and lesbians were more likely to get involved with drugs, get divorced and be depressed than grown kids raised in heterosexual families.

In “The New Family Structure Study,” Regnerus asked 3,000 adults ages 18-39 (including 248 with parents in a gay relationship) questions about their income levels, mental and physical health, romantic relationships and other markers.

Social scientists and LGBT activists raised red flags from the get-go: Regnerus, whose work was published in the journal Social Science Research, only examined people who had a parent in a gay relationship at some point—not necessarily while they were children. And he didn’t ask subjects to specify if the gay parent was in a stable relationship through their childhood.

“The two million kids being raised by one million gay parents in this country are doing great,” said Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson. “And [they] would do even better if their parents didn’t have to deal with legal discrimination, such as the denial of the freedom to marry, and ongoing attacks such as this kind of pseudo-scientific misinformation and the disinformation agenda that’s funding it.”

Regnerus is known for spouting ultra-conservative ideology and his study was funded by the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank with ties to the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage.

But now even he admits there are flaws in his research. ThinkProgress pulled up an interview Regnerus did with anti-gay group Focus on the Family, where he explained:

I’d be more careful about the language I used to describe people whose parents had same-sex relationships. I said ‘lesbian mothers’ and ‘gay fathers,’ when in fact, I don’t know about their sexual orientation—I do know about their same-sex relationship behavior. But as far as the findings themselves, I stand behind them.

Regnerus also confesses he didn’t try to dissect the children’s concept of their parent’s sexuality because, “self-identity is a different kind of thing than behavior, and lot of people weren’t out in that era.”

Despite these faults, Regnerus’ study has been used repeatedly by anti-equality groups like Focus on the Family and NOM. It was even used as evidence in a federal marriage-equality case.

The University of Texas started an investigation on Regnerus for scientific misconduct but ultimately exonerated him, claiming it considered the matter closed.

Blogger Scott Rose, whose reporting prompted the investigation, hinted in a comment on the Advocate that he felt the school was covering its ass.

[The University of Texas-Austin] is in on this research hoax, along with Regnerus and his funders.

I made a Public Information Act request for Regnerus’ study-related communications between David Ochsner—a UT Director of Public Affairs—and any person, about the Regnerus study. UT then sent a letter to the Texas Attorney General, asking for exceptions to my document requests. In that letter, UT describes itself as being a co-investor in the study. And UT tells the Attorney General that Regnerus and UT administration strategized on spin about the study, before it was released. The school anticipated negative reactions and was afraid for UT’s “branding.”

UT officials were not just prepared to answer questions about the research. They knew that the project had been funded by vile bigots with a history of distorting the scientific record for use as a weapon against gays.

What do you think? Should the school start another investigation? Pull his tenure? Demand a retraction? Sound off in the comments section below.

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  • GreenmanTN

    I believe that Regnerus and UT should BOTH be investigated by an outside body with access to ALL documents related to this study, the funding, execution and promotion of it. The journal who published it should have to answer for that as well.

    I believe the result of such an investigation would result in Regnerus losing tenure, if not being fired, and UT’s actions being censured, but you can’t put the cart before the horse. First PROVE the bias, or you risk more “those mean old queers are pickin’ on us poor innocent Christians” BULLSHIT.

    The majority of the children Regnerus used for this study were from “mixed orientation” couples, i.e. one of the partners in a heterosexual couple was off fucking people of the same sex on the side. Which I’d wager is a stressful situation for everyone involved. That’s hardly the same thing as a gay couple raising children, yet in his conclusions Regnerus said that ALL children raised by gay parents suffer negative consequences when he didn’t STUDY children raised by gay couples.

    The problem isn’t really with the study itself but with its over-broad conclusions, which dovetail rather too conveniently with the political/social/religious goals of those who funded it. I firmly believe the study was “canned,” its conclusions determined beforehand, but it’s important to PROVE that before you start lopping off heads. Discredit Regnerus first THEN go after his reputation and credentials. Do it the other way and you just create a right-wing martyr.

  • MK Ultra

    no no no no no no. He didnt make errrors and thats not why ppl are angry. He intentionally falsified information. Most likely for financial compensation. He knew exactly what he was doing. He s a hack. A crony.A useful idiot to his far right overlords.

  • Scott Rose

    @GreenmanTN: You say that “bias” should first be proved, but bias is not the issue; dishonesty and lack of research integrity are the issues. We know for sure that Regnerus and Witherspoon are lying when they say that the funders weren’t involved with study design. Brad Wilcox was Witherspoon’s Director of the Program for Marriage, Family, and Democracy in 2010. Witherspoon’s 2010 IRS 990 forms say that the study was organized through Wilcox’s Witherspoon program. We know that Wilcox recruited Regnerus, and then collaborated with him on study design. So when Regnerus writes in his published study that the funders were not “at all” involved with study design, and then later writes that “no funding agency representatives were consulted for study design,” Regnerus is lying. Wilcox also collaborated with Regnerus on data collection, data analysis and interpretation. Wilcox further is an old crony to Regnerus and to “Social Science Research” journal editor James Wright. Wilcox also is on the “Social Science Research” editorial board. A preponderance of evidence shows that he was permitted to do peer review. None of this huge pile-up of conflicts of interest were voluntarily disclosed by Regnerus, Wilcox, Witherspoon or the journal. It all was discovered through investigative work. The fact that Regnerus engages in public lying about his relationship with his funders is proof of plenty. It is for these reasons that number of leading academics are calling for the Regnerus study to be retracted from publication and for journal editor James Wright to be removed from his position.

  • Scott Rose

    @MK Ultra: You are exactly right. The “errors” Regnerus made would not get past a Statistics 101 or a Sociology 101 exam. He didn’t assemble an appropriate comparison group. He falsely alleges that his sample is “representative,” i.e. if he were taking a sociology class, and claimed this sample was representative, and kept insisting that it was, even though it isn’t, he would flunk. This booby-trapped study is not “flawed;” it is invalid.

  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    I agree with all the comments above — but to answer the question posed by Queerty, I say let it go.

    This asshole and his backers, including UT, are not interested in what we think nor the opinions of anyone who does not support their homophobic views and agendas.

    But Regnerus is a relatively young man, and in 10 years, he will be another laughing stock hack with as much credibility as a pile of shit. And to me, that is a satisfactory result.

  • Scott Rose

    @The Real Mike in Asheville: There are a few problems with your remarks, as much as one would like to believe they are true. James Wright, the editor of the Elsevier journal that published Regnerus — “Social Science Research” — also is assigned as editor-in-chief of Elsevier’s upcoming International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences. So if the Regnerus paper is not retracted and if Wright is not removed, that the anti-gay right wing will know that it can get any number of Regnerus-like, non-peer-reviewed “studies” published in that encyclopedia. It is normal, when invalid peer review is discovered, for a study to be retracted from publication. By contrast, it is not normal for a study that did not receive valid peer review to remain in publication in a supposed peer-reviewed journal. In certain jurisdictions, the continuance of this hoax study in publication will lead to people losing their children. It used to be, and in some places still is the case, that when a heterosexual couple split, if the father had any evidence that the mother had ever engaged in same-sex activity, the mother could legally be denied not only custody, but even visitation rights. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association’s radio program reaches 20 million, and he said that the Regnerus study “proves” that homosexuals with children should never be left alone in a same room with the children. Furthermore, UT’s lack of academic credibility is not only strained by the Regnerus study. The school is simultaneously embroiled with its professor Groat, who did not disclose his connections to the fracking industry (including his $1 million in stock holdings in a fracking company) when he published a study saying that fracking waste water is safe. Outside groups had to pressure UT — a lot — before it would even deign to do a “review” of the Groat situation. These behaviors very seriously undermine the mission of a university. Were I a UT graduate, I would not want the perceived value of my diploma cheapened in these ways. The school absolutely should clean house.

  • dave in illinois

    When confronted with the results of this study we need to appreciate the little integrity Regenerus does have and point out the ignorance of those who would use this study, this is another opportunity if we seize it. Regenerus would have said same sex couples if he meant that(more like if he thought he could get away with it). Tell them this means 1 gay parent this is 1 parent compared to 2 this is not fair. They will likely agree because anti-gay bias can only carry a (non)debate so far. At this point it is your duty to inform them of your lie, Regenerus did include some children raised by same sex couples but by his own admission he did not have a large enough sample size. The majority of children raised by the studies “gay parents” grew up in broken homes so this is still not a fair comparison. But if look closer at the study he actually broke down the groups into groups that can be compared. Children raised by gay parents in broken homes vs Children raised by straight parents in broken homes, and children raised by intact opposite sex couples vs children raised by intact same sex couples. The small differences they show could easily be due to small sample size. If it seems like it could be helpful we can also explain how reckless he is in calling the parents gay when he never made any honest attempt to find out if they were indeed gay. (Note it will be much harder to get true christiants to see how reckless this is because to them bisexuals are “in the lifestyle” and therefore also gay). We should publicize the REAL results of this “study” to show the world our families are equal.

  • Jude

    While all parties concerned should be reviewed and brought up on charges. Would this stop the religous right from quoting this faulty study for years to come? I think not.

Comments are closed.