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Topics In the News
Parenting Study Repudiated by Auditor of Journal that Published It
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 07/27/12
Last updated on: 07/27/12
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Mark Regnerus.

The much-maligned parenting study by sociologist Mark Regnerus, which was funded to the tune of almost $800,000 by anti-gay foundations, has now been repudiated by the journal in which it was published. An auditor for Social Science Research, which published "How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-sex Relationships? Findings from the New Families Structure Study" in June 2012, has found disqualifying problems with the peer-review process used to evaluate it. The study, which purported to prove that children of gay and lesbian parents have adverse outcomes, drew outrage from academics and laypeople alike because of the shoddiness of its methodology.

Tom Bartlett reports in The Chronicle of Higher Education, that the editor of Social Science Research, James D. Wright, asked a member of his editorial board, Dr. Darren E. Sherkat of Southern Illinois University, to review the way the paper was handled in response to charges that it had not undergone rigorous review before being accepted for publication.

The decision to seek an internal audit was likely prompted by an open letter to Social Science Research, organized by glbtq.com contributor Gary J. Gates, Williams Distinguished Scholar at UCLA's Williams Institute, and signed by more than 200 researchers and scholars. The letter, which may be found here, questioned not only the scholarly merits of the study but also "the process by which this paper was submitted, reviewed, and accepted for publication."

Dr. Sherkat's highly critical report, which will be published as an "internal audit" in the November issue of Social Sciences Research, found that "the peer-review process failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems" with the study. It also cites conflicts of interest among the reviewers, states that "scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process," and criticized the author's use of scholarship to push a political agenda.

Sherkat was provided access to all the reviews and correspondence connected with the paper, and was told the identities of the reviewers. After evaluating the material, he concluded that Regnerus's paper should never have been published.

In an interview with Barrett, Sherkat described the paper succinctly: "It's bullshit," he said.

Among the problems Sherkat identified is the paper's definition of "lesbian mothers" and "gay fathers"--an aspect that has been the focus of much of the public criticism. A woman could be identified as a "lesbian mother" in the study if she had had a relationship with another woman at any point after having a child, regardless of the brevity of that relationship and whether or not the two women raised the child as a couple.

Sherkat said that fact alone in the paper should have "disqualified it immediately" from being considered for publication.

Sherkat also concludes that the peer-review system failed because of "both ideology and inattention" on the part of the reviewers. In addition, he discovered that the reviewers were "not without some connection to Regnerus," and suggests that those ties influenced their reviews.

Sherkat criticizes Regnerus and other conservative scholars for pushing a political agenda in their academic work. "There should be reflection about a conservative scholar garnering a very large grant from exceptionally conservative foundations," he writes in the audit, "to make incendiary arguments about the worthiness of LGBT parents--and putting this out in time to politicize it before the 2012 United States presidential election."

Surprisingly, Sherkat fails to censure editor Wright for his incompetence if not collusion in the publication of the Regnerus paper.

As I observed in a blog on June 13, 2012, which may be found here, Regnerus compared unstable families with stable families and pretended that he had discovered something significant when he announced that children of intact families do better on a number of measures than children of broken families.

Although the study was immediately denounced by reputable sociologists, it has been embraced by the opponents of same-sex marriage, and has already been used in legal briefs submitted by the defenders of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

I suspect that that was the real purpose of the study. Although dressed up in the accoutrement of scholarship, it was never intended to be real scholarship.

It was, I believe, conceived as a desperate attempt to smear gay and lesbian parents and thereby provide a "rational" justification to deny equal marriage rights.

As I have observed before, the manufacture of junk scholarship is a prominent feature in the anti-gay movement. Hacks associated with the North American Reparative Therapy Association and the Institute for American Values routinely publish through vanity presses pseudo scholarship in their quest to discredit gay people.

Regnerus, however, achieved something of a breakthrough in his pseudo scholarship. He managed to place his work in a supposedly peer-reviewed journal. That, along with a Ph.D. and an academic appointment, gave (at least temporarily) his work a certain amount of credence that the publications of the Institute of American Values or NARTH lack.

Most of the money to finance Regnerus's study--almost $800,000--came from the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, both organizations actively opposed to marriage equality and the boards of both include the notorious Princeton Professor Robert P. George, who drafted the Manhattan Declaration and is a founder of the National Organization for Marriage. The Institute has close associations with such organizations as the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council, and the secretive Catholic order Opus Dei. The Bradley Foundation finances a number of right-wing causes, from the promotion of creationism to supporting the Institute for American Values.

Their involvement in funding the study set off warning signals.

The internal audit of Social Science Research has verified our suspicions. Despite its generous funding by groups eager to buy junk science, Regnerus's study is worthless.

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