Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Family Research Council destroys study's credibility

Peter Sprigg
The anti-gay parenting study authored by the University of Texas professor Mark Rengnerus just received another kiss of death aside from condemnation from social scientists.

Apparently the Family Research Council loves it.

FRC spokesman Peter Sprigg wrote a long love letter to the study, having this to say at the conclusion:

 The myths that children of homosexual parents are "no different" from other children and suffer "no harm" from being raised by homosexual parents have been shattered forever.

Of course that statement is strange, seeing that Regnerus - for all of the faults in his work - clearly said the study does not establish a relationship between same-sex parenting and negative outcomes (see point 2 in the Equality Matters link).

Also, according to the online publication The Daily Beast emphasis added:

In his Slate essay, Regnerus preemptively defends himself against  . . . criticisms with a limited interpretation of the results. “We didn’t have as many intact lesbian and gay families as we hoped to evaluate, even though they are the face of much public deliberation about marriage equality,” he writes. The results reflect on a previous generation of gay parenting, before the legalization of gay marriage in some states, he writes. “I’m not claiming that sexual orientation is at fault here, or that I know about kids who are presently being raised by gay or lesbian parents. Their parents may be forging more stable relationships in an era that is more accepting and supportive of gay and lesbian couples.” Regnerus says his study’s political implications are unclear and are not intended to undermine the legal parental rights of anyone.

But Sprigg has an interesting way of overlooking Regnerus's caveats. This is what he says:

While the Regnerus study is a vast improvement over virtually all the prior research in the field, it still leaves much to study and learn about homosexual parents and their effect on children. Author Mark Regnerus emphasizes the traditional caveat in social science, warning against leaping to conclusions regarding "causality." In other words, just because there are statistical correlations between having a homosexual parent and experiencing negative outcomes does not automatically prove that having a homosexual parent is what caused the negative outcomes--other factors could be at work.

This is true in a strict scientific sense--but because Regnerus carefully controlled for so many other factors in the social environment, the study gives a clear indication that it is this parental characteristic which best defines the household environment that produces these troubling outcomes. The large number of significant negative outcomes in this study gives legitimate reason for concern about the consequences of "homosexual parenting."

In other words, Sprigg is saying "Hey, the study does not say that same-sex homes causes negative behaviors and I won't say that they do either, but since the large number of significant negative outcomes in this carefully controlled study come from same-sex households, by all means feel free to make that assumption."

Herein we see the futility of Regnerus's caveats. Sprigg not only pushes them aside, he does it without apology, as does several other religious right groups and websites who are already claiming that Regnerus's study proves that same-sex households are somehow dangerous towards children.

I guess they didn't read Regnerus's caveats regarding causation. Or maybe, like Sprigg, they just don't care because they now have something which they can use against the gay community, caveats be damned.

Therein lies the immediate danger of Regnerus's work. It's not about science nor the slow process of coming to the conclusion about a social issue through research. It's about the impact of shock headlines and the assumptions that people like Sprigg and organizations like FRC will invite others to make; assumptions designed to denigrate same-sex households and distort images of the gay community before anyone has a chance to delve deeper into the issue.

I seriously wonder if Regnerus knows what he has gotten himself into with this. I also would suggest that Regnerus, if he is truly to be believed about the objectivity of his study, should step in and forcefully speak against the use of it to demonize same-sex households and the lgbtq community in general.

If he speaks out, we will know where he stands regarding the assumptions the religious right is making about his work.

If he is silent then I guess that will still let us know where he stands, won't it?

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Jason Dabrowski said...

AND let's say for the sake of argument that there weren't flaws or caveats in Regenerus' study.

ONE Study doesn't refute an entire body of research. That's simply not the way science works.
What would happen now, if this were a solid piece of research, is that other scientists would examine both this study and the previous work to find out why there is such a difference. They would look for flaws in both the previous research, and this new study. They would look for things that Regenerus didn't cover and things the previous research didn't cover to find out if there are possible connections or areas that need more study.
The next step would be to try to repeat Regenerus' study. OR other scientists would try to build upon his work, shoring up any problems that exist, etc, etc.
BUT since the study is so deeply flawed and problematic, and doesn't say what the RR claims it says, it will likely be left in the dustbin by serious scholars.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'd like to see a study of the effects on children raised in fundamentalist homes. I personally know many who, as adults, have a lot of various social and psychological issues.

Erica Cook said...

I wish I was closer to the end of my degree, I would love to do a counter study showing the difference in outcome for kids from stabal LGBT homes verses broken homes.

Woodstock said...

I believe you and others pointed out, Alvin, that Regnerus' definition of "homosexual" includes people who have ever had any homosexual experience. It was a sad attempt to increase the size of "homosexuals" and negative outcomes in his sample population, and anyone with an ounce of integrity would laugh at outcomes based on the criteria he used to categorize his subjects. His caveats are just an attempt to duck responsibility for shoddy "research" practices. I hope what he has accomplished by publishing this claptrap is to tarnish his own reputation. I hope he enjoys his 15 minutes of fame.