U Of Texas Gives Thumbs Up To Regnerus’ Flawed Gay-Parenting Study

A study from University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus caused a stir earlier this summer by alleging that children raised by same-sex parents were more likely to be unfaithful, smoke pot and fall prey to depression than kids from heterosexual unions.

Almost immediately, reputable researchers and LGBT advocates questioned Regnerus’ methodology and an official probe was launched by the U of Texas at Austin.

Now the school is calling off the dogs, saying “there is insufficient evidence to warrant an investigation.”

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.

Off the top of our heads, we can think of just a few bumps in the road:

* Where’s the objectivity? 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.

* The majority of children of gays and lesbians were born into a heterosexual family in which one member came out. Their later behavior may be a result of family upheaval.

* Children raised in non-traditional families may be less insistent on maintaining a veneer of “normalcy,” and more willing to admit to depression, adultery and experimentation with drugs.

* The study ignored the very real possibility that increased incidents of depression and drug use may stem from the prejudice gay families endure rather than something endemic to same-sex clans.

It might not have been misconduct, but Regnerus’ study certainly shows a lack of scientific rigor and academic credibility. (Not that it’s stopped righ-wing groups from touting the results.) We hope his department takes that into consideration when its time for tenure or a promotion.


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  • Neo

    It comes through the Witherspoon Institute, given their seedy and lying past it is safe to say they can be ignored, shame these nutters, some of which are responsible for bringing the moronic study by Dr. Wakefield in the UK to US light in regards to MMR jabs causing Autism. They are funded by right wing think tanks and they get millions in backhanders from the GOP.

    They are roughly the equals of the “creationist” science institute. Of which science is sorely lacking, and everything scientific truly ignored.

  • Scott Rose

    Documents just now had through FOIA requests reveal that two of the Regnerus study’s paid consultants also were allowed to do the peer review. That alone means that there was no valid peer review of the study, due to the peer reviewers fiduciary conflicts of interest. Additionally, however, one of those two peer reviewers is the Witherspoon Institute official Brad Wilcox. For a funding source’s official to do both paid consulting and peer review on a study escalates the level of the impropriety; add to that, that Wilcox is on the editorial board of the journal that published the Regnerus study, Social Science Research. Are you alleging that, given the supposed statistical power of your data, out of every 2,988 Americans aged 18 to 39, 620 have never once in their lives masturbated?

    Regnerus asked his study respondents the question “Have you ever masturbated?” What does that have to do with child outcomes? How that helps Regnerus to understand child outcomes for gay parents?

    There is further concern where Regnerus alleges to have found that 23% of children of lesbian mothers experienced childhood sexual victimization. The next highest group in his study for childhood sexual victimization was step families, at 12% roughly half the rate he found for lesbian mothers.

    And look at how he formulated his childhood sex abuse question. He asked respondents if a “parent or other adult care giver” had ever sexually victimized the respondent as a child. He asked no follow-up questions about the abuse. Therefore, his data can not be interpreted. Nobody can say which of the respondents’ parents committed the alleged abuse, or if some other adult care giver, possibly including a babysitter or even a priest, had committed the alleged abuse.

    Regnerus has mentioned his studies so-called (but not actual) “diaries” of where respondents lived when as a clue to who committed the alleged abuse, but actually, there is nothing in Regnerus’s diaries that will enable anybody to understand who committed the alleged abuse. They just show when the respondents lived with their mother, or father, et cetera; there is nothing in his data that explains who committed the alleged sexual abuse of a child.

    Why did Regnerus include something in his data that can not be interpreted? Why did he not ask more specific questions about who had committed the alleged abuse? Why did he leave the question uninterpretable, in a way that allows people to correlate having a lesbian mother to higher risk of childhood sexual victimization? In that connection, why was it more important to Regnerus to ask “Have you ever masturbated?” than to ask more specific questions about who allegedly sexually victimized respondents as children? He could have asked, for example, was your mother the one who abused you? If yes, the answer is yes. If no, that you could ask if the abuse was carried out by the heterosexual father whom the “lesbian” mother divorced.

    Perhaps the uninterpretable data on lesbian mothers’ children experiencing high levels of childhood sex abuse is there because Regnerus is incompetent. But on the other hand, Regnerus’s NOM-linked Witherspoon funders have long-established records of conflating homosexuals with pedophiles, a known falsehood. So when you put all the pieces of this together — Witherspoon’s Brad Wilcox consulting on the study (doing data analysis, even), and serving as a peer reviewer, despite his fiduciary conflicts of interest, plus Witherspoon/NOM’s history of demonizing gays as pedophiles, plus the suspiciously high Regnerus study rate of childhood sex abuse for children of lesbian mothers, how can you NOT conclude that the University of Texas at Austin did not dig deep enough in their misconduct inquiry of Regnerus?

    In light of the “620” response for his “Have you ever masturbated?” question, I’d like to know if he stands behind it as statistically accurate and also if he continues to allege that the 23% rate of childhood sexual victimization for children of lesbian mothers has statistical power.

    According to Regnerus’s CV on his website, he has a paper in preparation for submission on youth masturbation. So with his $785,000 from Witherspoon/Bradley, he couldn’t be bothered to ask precise questions about allegedly “gay” parents, but he could sneak in masturbation questions for a different study. Oh by the way: the President of the American Sociological Association has signed a letter expressing concerns about the Regnerus study’s lack of intellectual integrity and its suspicious publication process.

  • davidmparker

    This article is misleading in implying that UT “cleared” the study of any problems. The University’s review was a “research misconduct inquiry,” conducted consistent with governing federal regulations. It’s akin to a probable cause proceeding; if the inquiry leads to a conclusion that research misconduct likely occurred, the University is then required to conduct an “investigation,” which is a more formal proceeding before a committee of senior faculty with expertise in the area of research at issue. Under those federal regulations “research misconduct” occurs when the researcher has fabricated or falsified data or plagiarized. UT simply found no evidence of any of those elements. That doesn’t mean that the data were relevant or that they prove his hypothesis; in fact some reports I’ve read indicate that the inquiry report raises substantial doubts about the validity of the conclusions.

  • Scott Rose

    @davidmparker: You make a lot of very good points. One thing you say that is not true, however, is that if the inquiry found that misconduct likely occurred, the University would be “required” to conduct an investigation. That isn’t true. Misconduct could be staring an Inquiry Panel straight in the face, (as it was here), but there would be no requirement for them to proceed to an investigation. UT’s definitions broader definition of misconduct (supposedly) applied to the inquiry, not the federal regulations you cite. Even if you go by the National Institute of Health’s definitions for research misconduct, you see that they say: “There must be a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community; The misconduct be committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly; and The allegation be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.” In my opinion, Regnerus is guilty of falisfication of data. In his published study, he alleges that he studied “an earlier generation of same-sex parents,” but he did not study same-sex parents at all. The majority of his study subjects who were children of the people he inappropriately labeled as “lesbian mothers” or “gay fathers” were born to heterosexual couples, in which one (or in a few cases, both) of the parents was either gay or bi. Those heterosexual couples divorced, but the mother and father, and nobody else, remained the parents of Regnerus’s study subjects. If a 15 year old’s heterosexual parents divorce, the mother is still the child’s mother and the father is still the child’s father. If, when the child is 17, the father has a romantic relationship with a man for six months, that other man is NOT the child’s parent. The child’s parents are still his (divorced) mother and father. Yet Regnerus reported that he studied children of “same sex parents.” Labeling data falsely is falsification of data. If I do a study that includes ten chicken eggs, but I report that they were 10 duck eggs, that is falsification of data. As you see in the federal definitions for misconduct, misconduct can in some situations be considered to have occurred if the researcher acted recklessly. The Regnerus methodology is egregious and the study is not valid. Regnerus did not conduct the study as a reputable researcher would. Yet, he is a trained sociologist. The UT Inquiry concluded that the allegations made against Regnerus involve “ordinary error,” but it is no ordinary error for a trained sociologist to utterly fail in his study methodology. The peer review of the article was corrupt, the peer reviewers allowed glaring errors through into publication, and a mass of scientists noted the glaring errors after publication. Furthermore, Brad Wilcox, an official with The Witherspoon Institute, which funded the Regnerus study, was allowed to act as both a data analysis consultant and a peer reviewer of the Regnerus study. An ethics complaint filed against Wilcox with the American Sociological Association may be viewed here: http://tinyurl.com/9en3kyj

  • davidmparker

    @Scott Rose: I absolutely agree with you that Regnerus’ methodolgy is egregious and the study is not valid. After I read your post I checked the UT Policy. If the Inquiry results in a finding that an investigation is warranted, the Policy requires that an investigation be conducted. As you noted, UT’s definition of research misconduct includes “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism” AND says that “other practices that seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting, or reporting research are unacceptable and in some cases may constitute scientific misconduct. Ordinary errors, good faith differences in interpretations or judgments of data, scholarly or political disagreements, good faith personal or professional opinions, or private moral or ethical behavior or views are not misconduct under this definition.”

    This seems to leave room for UT to have concluded that the Regnerus article, while lousy science, didn’t amount to research misconduct. If Regnerus had made up divorce rate numbers, that would clearly have been fabrication or falsificatoin of data. Labeling a group of people as “same-sex parents” when they had had kids in heterosexual unions and then moved on to gay relationships (of fairly minimal duration)? Very dubious, and shitty science. Not so sure it meets the definition of “research misconduct,” (at least FF or P) but it could well be a “serious deviation.”

    I’m NOT defending Regnerus. It just bothered me that article reported the story as if UT gave him a resounding thumbs up, and I don’t think that’s what happened.

  • jack512

    I think that all things being equal the IDEAL family consists of a heterosexual loving married couple raising children. The children have a loving female and male role model to model themselves after. That is not to say that other types of families don’t try to compensate for there shortcomings and do a good job given their situation.

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