Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Regnerus emerges on Witherspoon blog to tout another flawed study

Mark Regnerus
The pseudo-intellectual blog at Opus Dei's Witherspoon Institute provides space for every English speaking fundamentalist Catholic crackpot with an anti-gay theory to air. In a post Monday evening, Mark Regenerus writes A Married Mom and Dad Really Do Matter: New Evidence from Canada to praise the work of Canadian economist, Douglas Allen. First a word about Regnerus.

If you really want to appreciate just how poorly executed Regnerus' research was, one need only read the amicus brief of the American Sociological Association in US v. Windsor (the good stuff starts near the bottom of page 15). This is Regnerus' own professional organization. Among other things, ASA determined:

The Regnerus study—the principal study relied on by the amici of BLAG and the Proposition 8 Proponents—did not specifically examine children raised by same-sex parents, and provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes.
Yet, Regnerus and the same Witherspoon Institute (which funded most of the study) and National Organization for Marriage (which has a founder and board members in common with Witherspoon) made, and continue to make, those very claims. Regnerus is not exactly the most credible source of an intellectually critical review.

Like Regnerus, Douglas Allen is a Defender of the Faith. Allen is also on an  advisory board of the National Organization for Marriage. Allen claims that children raised by gay couples graduate high school at 65% of the rate of the children of traditional couples. As I wrote about in March, Allen made very similar (and poorly reasoned) statements about gay parenting long before he did the current study.

I concede that, at this point, I have only read the abstract of Allen's study which is published in the Review of Economics of the Household. Nevertheless, 65% is very difficult to believe and this is not exactly a distinguished scholarly journal with reviewers capable of appreciating what is essentially a work of sociology. Moreover, Canada has had same-sex marriage since 2005 and Allen used 2006 data. Aside from being seven years old at this point, it does not account for same-sex marriage and we will need to drill down on the sample. It raises the question of why he did not use more current data (if it is available). Again, Allen is doing research to serve a predetermined conclusion in order to further a religious agenda.

Getting back to Regnerus, he writes:
Every study has its limitations, and this one does too. It is unable to track the household history of children. Nor is it able to establish the circumstances of the birth of the children whose education is evaluated—that is, were they the product of a heterosexual union, adopted, or born via surrogate or assisted reproductive technology? Finally, the census did not distinguish between married and common law gay and lesbian couples. But couples they are.
Well, I am not sure that "couples they are" is meaningful since they are being compared to married heterosexual couples. I also don't know enough about Canada to know how their foster care system might affect the sample.

Regnerus then writes something that I found quite remarkable:
The study’s publication continues the emergence of new, population-based research in this domain, much of which has undermined scholarly and popular claims about equivalence between same-sex and opposite-sex households echoed by activists and reflected in recent legal proceedings about same-sex marriage.
Really? I only know of two studies matching that description. The first is the thoroughly demolished Regnerus study.  That leaves Allen's work which seems highly suspect. Is Regnerus trying to say "it's not just me?" In conclusion, Regnerus offers this tidbit:
Might the American Psychological Association and American Sociological Association have been too confident and quick to declare “no differences” in such a new arena of study, one marked by the consistent reliance upon small or nonrandom “convenience” samples? Perhaps. Maybe a married mom and dad do matter, after all.
Is he claiming "maybe I was right after all?" Forget all the shoddy methodology and conflicts of interest. Forget all the bullshit statements that he made about the study.

People with far more erudition in this field than I are bound to weigh in on this in the coming weeks. What we learned from Regnerus is that, in one respect, these people don't really care very much if they are the subjects of professional scorn. NOM is going to continue to make the same untrue statements no matter how often they are refuted. The people battling gay rights on behalf of the Church have little or no shame. They also have no problem repeating what they know to be untrue.
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