Pending Letter to the Editor on Regnerus Study

Today I came across a letter to the editor that is being sent around in an attempt to add scholars as signatories before it is sent to the editor of Social Science Research, the journal that published the Regnerus study. Recall that the Regnerus study reported differences between children raised by a parent who had had a same-sex relationship and children whose parents were in intact, heterosexual marriages.

The letter has been drafted by Gary Gates of The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. The web site at The Williams Institute says it is a think tank that “advances sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates it to judges, legislators, policymakers, media and the public.”

The letter acknowledges straight away that it (the letter) could be viewed as essentially a call to censor unwelcome research findings: “While the presence of a vibrant and controversial public debate should in no way censor scholarship, it should compel the academy to hold scholarship around that topic to our most rigorous standards.” Clearly the signatories do not want their letter to be viewed as a call to censor unwelcome research findings.

The letter questions three main points: (1) what appears to be an accelerated review process (i.e., 5-week submission to publication), (2) the selection of commentators (none of whom is believed by the signatories to have expertise in LGBT families), as well as (3) specific concerns with various aspects of the methods and analyses.

As I discussed here, I don’t have quite the same reaction to the study, although I appreciate some of the points raised in the letter. Some of the requested information could be provided or discussed further, and perhaps that would be helpful, but it might just not be enough to satisfy critics given the amount of attention and scrutiny the study is receiving.

My reaction may also reflect a different philosophy toward research findings in general. I tend to see published research as an ongoing dialogue within the scientific community. So various decisions that are made in terms of methods and analyses should be explained to the reader. If that happens, then there is more latitude around what is published (again, provided it goes through the peer-review process and is determined – by peers – to be warranted or justifiable and clearly explained to the reader).

The challenge that comes up with controversial topics is not so much that these limitations exist (as limitations exist in all research) but that they are not fully understood by others outside of the scientific community. I am thinking here of policy-makers and others who make decisions based on their understanding of a study or larger body of research.

Of course, this cuts both ways: existing research on this very topic is not very good either (in terms of sample size, use of convenience samples, non-representative samples, and so on). So it would be helpful if critics were also vocal about the limitations seen in other studies. It may be human nature to give a pass to these same standards when findings fit our own biases and interests. When a study’s findings do not, we may be more apt to identify its weaknesses/limitations and call for higher standards and greater scrutiny.

It will be interesting to see how the letter is received and whether anything will be done in response. There are already several prominent signatories, and I imagine more will be added in the next day or so.

FYI: Here is a contrasting letter from the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion in support of the publication of the Regnerus study.

4 Comments

  1. Mark, I am darned curious to read what is in that letter. I continue to read and go back and re-read on this topic and just tonight I stumbled across something in Regnerus Personal Blog.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2012/06/q-a-with-mark-regnerus-about-the-background-of-his-new-study/

    He talks about only one other large scale research project by Rosenfeld out of Stanford. So of course I went and read the Rosenfeld research. HERE is FINALLY one LARGE SAMPLE research paper that compares how children do for these categories. (Remember same gender civil marriage was not legal in any State in 2000)

    Cohabiting Lesbian Couples
    Cohabiting Gay Couples
    Cohabiting Heterosexual Couples

    Guess what? The children of Lesbian and Gay Cohabiting couples did BETTER than the children of Cohabiting Heterosexual Couples.

    The study looked at what ages the children were for their grade. They were looking for kids who had flunked and were thus older.

    http://www.stanford.edu/~mrosenfe/Rosenfeld_Nontraditional_Families_Demography.pdf
    ———
    Here is my comment on the Regnerus research after I have had a chance to read it and other comments Regnerus has made and analyze it.
    So Let’s add up the numbers-
    (2)- Stayed with mom and her partner 18 years
    (6)-Stayed with mom and her partner 10+ years
    (18) Stayed with mom and her partner 5 years
    Total = 26
    ———
    (81) Stayed with mom and her partner a good share of a year or more (but he deliberately does not define the “or More”
    Grand Total = 107

    He “branded” 163 women as Lesbian Mothers
    But we see that 56 (34%) never even lived with their “branded” Lesbian Mother. We don’t know that they are Lesbians AT ALL. For all we know “romance” could have been a single kiss.

    Keep in mind that he only keeps a calendar of where the *kids lived.* He does not keep a calendar of where the parents lived. So these missing 56 or 34% of “Lesbians” Mothers very well could have run off and gotten married to a man.

    The child believes mom kissed a woman (we don’t know because we never ask Mom) kid moves out of mother’s home and into a home with anybody *other than* her mother and never lives with her mother again. Mother marries a man and lives happily ever after for 35 years. NOW Shall we say that the kid had a Lesbian Mother?

    He needs to get off of that Lesbian Word and start using the scientific term WSW, Women who have Sex with Women. And really we don’t even know if there was ANY Sex involved at ALL for 34%. It could have been a kiss. It is probably just more messed up heterosexuals skewing the results.

    Mark I know what you are saying about how the researcher must be clear, however Regnerus is doing more than that he is claiming that heterosexual married couples are the GOLD STANDARD.

    June 11, 2012 National Review Kathryn Jean Lopez

    Lopez: How is it different than a child growing up with a single mother raising him or a single father raising her? Or a grandmother or . . . there are all kinds of scenarios, of course? Why focus on same-sex households?

    Regnerus: Yes, many scenarios are possible, and for kids whose mothers had a same-sex relationship, they were more likely to experience a variety of senarios, including living with grandparents. Why the focus on same-sex households? That was the key research question, basically. We wanted to know if the “no differences” thesis that has become almost an assumption in scholarly circles was true when put to the test of a large, nationally representative sample and a detailed survey of lots of different outcomes.

    Lopez: So are young adults from step- and single-parent families much different? What is the gold standard?

    Regnerus: Yes, adults who lived in step- and single-parent families exhibit a variety of differences, on average, from the gold standard of a married mom and dad (who are still together when the respondent is an adult). It calls into question, in fact, the common “wait till the kids are out of the house to divorce” mentality.

    Lopez: What is the reigning academic view of children in same-sex families? How does this study depart from that view? Do you anticipate engagement from academia?

    Regnerus: No substantive differences, on things that matter. That’s been the emergent view. This study definitely affirms that there is a gold standard. Yes, I anticipate engagement from scholars, and that is fine and welcome. I think there is plenty we can agree on.

    (SGM- You REALLY should read this whole article at National Review.)

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/302455/mom-and-dad-make-difference-kathryn-jean-lopez

    Excuse me? I didn’t see any Gold Standards? I did not see Regnerus comparing Married Same Sex Couples to Married Heterosexual Couples in his New Family Structures Study, do you see that?

    Mark you have to be aware of what Regnerus is claiming out in the Public Square.

  2. The Letter is out there now. WOW! +200 Social Scientists signed. Here is a good file that shows who signed demanding the Journal Social Science Research retract the study and send it back for proper peer review. The letter I seem to read as quite blistering. Link to the letter in the doc.

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