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Scientific Groupthink and Gay Parenting

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  • Scientific Groupthink and Gay Parenting

    Scientific Groupthink and Gay Parenting
    By Richard E. Redding
    Wednesday, December 18, 2013
    Filed under: Science & Technology

    The controversy over a recent study on gay parenting illustrates a sociopolitical groupthink operating in the social scientific community. Scientists should go where the science takes them, not where their politics does.

    University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus’s study, “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” published in the academic journal Social Science Research last year, caused a firestorm in the scientific community. Unlike most previous studies, Regnerus found that children of parents who had experienced a same-sex relationship fared worse than children of heterosexual parents on measures of social, emotional, and psychological adjustment as well as educational attainment, employment history, need for public assistance, substance abuse, and criminal justice system involvement.

    The reaction to the Regnerus study was swift and harsh. Many of his academic colleagues said it was fatally flawed. Many questioned the motives of the author, reviewers, and journal editor. Did they have an anti-gay political agenda?

    The controversy illustrates how tougher standards for assessing scientific worth are applied if a study produces results that are inconsistent with the scientists’ own political views. Suppose Regnerus had conducted an identical study, with the same methodological flaws, that had produced results consistent with previous studies, finding no differences between the children of gay or lesbian ("lesbigay") versus heterosexual parents. Would this one study (among the over 60 studies on lesbigay parenting) receive the same criticism, or any criticism at all, from the academic community? Would 201 scholars send a letter to the journal objecting to its publication of the study? Would the author’s former department chair publish an op-ed saying that she was “furious” about her junior colleague’s “pseudo-science”? Would academics make allegations in blogs and other forums about the integrity of the author, journal editor, and editorial review process?1 Would the professor’s university subject him to an intrusive investigation for possible scientific misconduct (of which it found no evidence)? And would similar attacks have been launched against other researchers who dared to question the scholarly consensus?2

    This is not the first time that science has clashed with politics. The Bell Curve, a book about the heritability of intelligence and the resulting libertarian or conservative policy implications, created great controversy. The Regnerus case unfolded similarly to the controversy surrounding the publication of a meta-analysis of child sexual abuse studies that was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin and reported that childhood sexual abuse often caused few long-lasting psychological effects. The article caused outrage. The study was attacked as substandard, and many questioned the authors’ motives and alleged scientific misconduct.

    Most would acknowledge that science, particularly policy-relevant social science, is often politicized. The Regnerus controversy illustrates that scientists’ sociopolitical views frequently affect the kind of science that is conducted on policy-relevant questions, how findings are interpreted and received, and the degree of critical scrutiny such studies receive.

    Scientific Groupthink

    “If when a study yields an unpopular conclusion it is subjected to greater scrutiny, and more effort is expended towards its refutation, an obvious bias to ‘find what the community is looking for’ will have been introduced.”3

    The Regnerus case illustrates a sociopolitical groupthink operating in the social scientific community. Surveys of the professoriate consistently find faculties to be quite lopsidedly liberal. The political imbalance is particularly acute in the social sciences, with liberal-conservative ratios of between 8:1 to 30:1 in most disciplines, and particularly with respect to social issues like gay marriage.

    Such homogeneity of sociopolitical views among social scientists almost invariably leads to “groupthink,” a phenomenon that occurs when group members have relatively homogeneous backgrounds or ideological views. With this groupthink comes self-censorship and pressure on dissenters, the negative stereotyping and discounting of conservative perspectives, and a failure to consider conservative-friendly (as compared with liberal-friendly) question framing and data interpretation. A recent national survey of psychology professors found that one in four reported that they would be less likely to give a positive recommendation on a journal manuscript or grant application having a conservative perspective, and one in six would be less likely to invite conservative colleagues to participate in a symposium. In sociology, Notre Dame University Sociology Professor Christian Smith notes that:

    The temptation . . . to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender ... Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged ... the influence of progressive orthodoxy in sociology is evident in decisions made by graduate students, junior faculty, and even senior faculty about what, why, and how to research, publish, and teach ... The result is predictable: Play it politically safe, avoid controversial questions, publish the right conclusions.

    Regnerus did not, however, play it safe. He did not publish the right conclusions on a politically controversial topic. Politically correct sociologists, on the other hand, enjoy certain privileges in a very politically conscious and liberal discipline. Indeed, there sometimes is the belief “that social science should be an instrument for social change and thus should promote the ‘correct’ values and ideological positions.”

    No wonder there is so little research by academics that arguably supports conservative policy perspectives. When such research is published, the Regnerus controversy illustrates how it may be received. Critics used the liberal norms and privileges of their discipline to marginalize the Regnerus study. A point-by-point methodological comparison of the Regnerus study alongside previous lesbigay parenting studies reveals the selective scrutiny applied by the critics of the Regnerus study.5

    Ideological Diversity Is the Antidote

    “No one knows how many research programs [social scientists] have failed to launch, or how many research discoveries they have failed to make, as a result of the skew in the distribution of [political] views within their discipline.

    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

  • #2
    In case anyone is curious about the specific objections raised about this study, Slate has a write-up for you.

    The survey went on to ask: “From when you were born until age 18 … did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?” If the respondent said yes, he was put in the “gay father” (GF) or “lesbian mother” (LM) category, regardless of subsequent answers. But if he said no, a later question about the relationship between “your biological parents” was used to classify him as the product of an “intact biological family” (IBF) or of an “adopted,” “divorced,” “stepfamily,” or “single-parent” household. In other words, broken families were excluded from the IBF category but included in the GF and LM categories.

    This loaded classification system produced predictable results. In his journal article, Regnerus says respondents who were labeled GF or LM originated most commonly from a “failed heterosexual union.” As evidence, he observes that “just under half of such respondents reported that their biological parents were once married.” Most respondents classified as LM “reported that their biological mother exited the respondent’s household at some point during their youth.” Regnerus calculates that only one-sixth to one-quarter of kids in the LM sample—and less than 1 percent of kids in the GF sample—were planned and raised by an already-established gay parent or couple. In Slate, he writes that GF kids “seldom reported living with their father for very long, and never with his partner for more than three years.” Similarly, “less than 2 percent” of LM kids “reported living with their mother and her partner for all 18 years of their childhood.”

    In short, these people aren’t the products of same-sex households. They’re the products of broken homes. And the closer you look, the weirder the sample gets. Of the 73 respondents Regnerus classified as GF, 12—one of every six—“reported both a mother and a father having a same-sex relationship.” Were these mom-and-dad couples bisexual swingers? Were they closet cases who covered for each other? If their kids, 20 to 40 years later, are struggling, does that reflect poorly on gay parents? Or does it reflect poorly on the era of fake heterosexual marriages?


    • #3
      Originally posted by Norm dePlume View Post
      In case anyone is curious about the specific objections raised about this study, Slate has a write-up for you.
      Don't you ever get tired of complicating matters with facts and context? Jayzus!
      "Since the historic ruling, the Lovings have become icons for equality. Mildred released a statement on the 40th anniversary of the ruling in 2007: 'I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, Black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.'." - Mildred Loving (Loving v. Virginia)


      • #4
        The criticism of Regnerus is precisely that his politics directed his analysis.

        Basically what Regnerus did was put back into the study the subjects which has been eliminated for cause. The original study was an attempt to compare apples to apples. Regnerus threw oranges and persimmons into the mix.
        The year's at the spring
        And day's at the morn;
        Morning's at seven;
        The hill-side's dew-pearled;
        The lark's on the wing;
        The snail's on the thorn:
        God's in his heaven—
        All's right with the world!