Bad, politically motivated sociology is being used for bad political purposes? Regnerus is appalled!

The Regnerus Affair will not go away. At least not until the piece of bad sociology that started it is retracted. It certainly appears that the odds of retraction are slim because there are powerful sociologists defending our institutions and practices in the abstract. This is so even when it looks clear that this is more than bad sociology, but in fact a result of a certainly failed, and arguably corrupt research and peer review process. This is particularly shameful because the research is regularly being used by those who wish to deny equal rights to gays and lesbians across the globe.

Regnerus keeps talking about it too, which looks to be good for his career. His latest comment on the affair showed up here on the Atlantic Wire. Regnerus is apparently upset that his piece of bad sociology, which sloppily contends that children of same sex parents face negative outcomes, is being used by Russian politicians to argue that ‘science shows negative outcomes for children raised by same sex parents.’ It’s shocking, isn’t it? Who would have thought politically charged research could affect politics? Why bother to do that sociology well, or put it through the same rigorous peer review process as the reams of politically inconsequential sociology that is rejected every day? No reason according to SSR, I guess. Using my sociological imagination, it occurs to me that maybe Regnerus’ (bad) paper is actually the cause of more instability for same-sex headed families, and therefore harmful the parents and children in those families? Dr. Tey Meadow said this better than I ever will, right here.

Like other examples of Regnerus’ writing that I’ve responded to here at the Morass, there are a few sentences that jump off the page. I’ll quote them:

This may come as a surprise to those who have spent the past 15 months tagging my study as discredited or “debunked,” a silly and simplistic moniker given that the data is public and the analyses in the article are rather straightforward.

Regnerus is right that a lot of sociologists and activists have spent a fair amount of time critiquing his methods, his findings, and the peer review process for his original paper. He’s smugly wrong to call that ‘moniker’ silly or simplistic. There are good reasons for scientists and activists to discredit the research.

That’s bad, but, here’s what really got me. When he defends the legitimacy of his study by saying the data are public and his analysis is straightforward. I don’t recall the public availability of the data ever being central to any criticism of the study, and his measurement of same-sex parents was anything but straightforward. His measure wouldn’t pass the ‘face validity’ test I just taught in my undergrad methods course last week. That his paper sailed through peer review at what I would have considered a respectable journal makes this marginal sociologist want to shut down Stata and call it a career.

Regnerus’ ability to flatly ignore the very sound criticism of his study, and the process that gave it to Russian politicians and the U.S. Supreme court on a silver platter, is either the blindness of privilege, or simple disregard for those who dare question his work and position. It’s hard for me to see it any other way.

And then that paragraph got more maddening:

Isn’t it hypocritical to blow the whistle on this use of the data while supporting other such uses, such as my own participation on an amici brief to the U.S. Supreme Court? No, it is not, because I oppose same-sex marriage and lawmaker Andrei Zhuravlyov’s draconian legislation for the same reason: every child has a mother and a father, and such kinship matters for kids. To be stably rooted in your married mother and father’s household is to foster the greatest chance at lifelong flourishing. It’s not necessary, of course. It just has the best odds.

Here, in passing, he blithely presents one of the least sophisticated arguments against same-sex marriage there is. He writes “I oppose same-sex marriage and lawmaker Andrei Zhuravlyov’s draconian legislation for the same reason: every child has a mother and a father, and such kinship matters for kids.”

Marriage is not about kids. Marriage is about adults who want to marry one another. Marriage is about mutual care and enjoying each other’s company. Marriage is about federal rights. Yes, I do take this personally. I’m married, without kids. We’re not going to have kids. My marriage is not suffering for it. No one else’s marriages or kids are suffering for it, either. I’m not making my community less stable. And, most important, I’m not doing lousy research to protect my privileges or to promote my moral preferences as science.

I guess I’ll end with a poorly stated hypothesis: A society with equal marriage for all will be more stable, and good for kids. I think that’s true and will make for a good society. And I don’t even like kids.

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2 comments

  1. You said everything I wanted to say but couldn’t because I was so enraged by his utter lack of responsibility and empathy. His post reeks of moral superiority and condescension, as if we just be grateful for his magnanimity. I cannot discern if he is so blinded by his ideology that he really thinks he is the victim or if he is just incredibly cynical and manipulative…probably a bit of both.

  2. Regnerus’s study was cited in France’s National Assembly and Senate during the very recent hearings and debates on gay marriage, which I watched assiduously. I don’t recall any pro-marriage politician standing up to decry its use or its content. The problem with published research is that people are often reluctant to debunk it or present counter arguments.

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