Regnerus' Defenders Miss the Point

A group of professors has issued a statement responding to critics of the recent study by Mark Regnerus. Unfortunately, they miss the point entirely. To recap, the criticism is that:

  • Regnerus claims his study improves on previous research on same-sex parenting.
  • Regnerus has been using his study to make claims in the conservative media about same-sex parenting.
  • However, rather than surveying people who were raised by same-sex parents, Regnerus studied people who say one of their parents had a same-sex relationship, whether they were raised by those same-sex partners or not.
  • Regnerus has collected a sample of kids who spent more than three years being raised by actual same-sex parents, but it is so small that it represents no improvement on previous studies, and by Regnerus’ own statement is too small to offer statistically significant conclusions.

That’s egregious. Regenus’ defenders offer three points in response. Or do they? Their introduction does not bode well:

It is perhaps in part for that reason that the new study on same-sex parenting by University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus, which finds that young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex relationships are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional and social problems…

Immediately we find his defenders confusing “same-sex parenting” with “children of parents who have had same-sex relationships.” That doesn’t help their case.

The first of their three points is that prior research on same-sex parenting is flawed. Perhaps it is. But that still offers Regnerus no defense against charges of misrepresentation, and wouldn’t do so even if he didn’t repeat the flaws he calls out in those studies (which he does).

Their second point is that Regnerus had trouble finding adults who had been raised by same-sex parents, and was forced to base his study on less stable family structures:

Thus, Regnerus should not be faulted for drawing a random, representative sample of young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex romantic relationships and also happened to have experienced high levels of family instability growing up.

But we’re not faulting him for that. To be clear: We’re faulting him for presenting his work as a (better!) study on same-sex parenting, and for making claims to the media about same parenting, even as he admits he was not able to study same-sex parenting!

His defenders’ first point was irrelevant. This is one actually damning.

Their third and final point is that a new study in a different journal seems to back up Regnerus’ conclusions. I haven’t looked at it yet, but even this, even if true, is irrelevant to the charge that Regnerus’ study does not examine what it claims to examine, and that his statements to the media are unsupported by his work.

The authors conclude by hoping that

[F]uture journalistic coverage of such studies, and this contentious topic, will be more civil, thorough, and thoughtful than has been the coverage of the new study by Professor Mark Regnerus.

I can only hope that future studies — and their defenders — will be more relevant, thorough, and thoughtful than this work by Regnerus and those who claim to answer his critics.

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