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Mark Regnerus And NOM’s Anti-Gay-Rights ‘Expert Witness Project’

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Who is Mark Regnerus?

Mark Regnerus is a University of Texas at Austin Associate Professor of Sociology.

His professional integrity was cast into doubt in June, 2012 after the appearance of his The New Family Structures Study, on the basis of which Regnerus published a paper in which he falsely claimed to have scientifically revealed that parents who have ever had a same-sex romantic relationship are more dangerous to children than are heterosexual married parents.

Quickly, it was noted that Regnerus had not actually surveyed young adult children raised by gay or lesbian parents between the 1970s and the 1990s, as he had alleged he aimed to do for his study. Regnerus essentially has admitted that those critical observations are accurate; but he has been inventing alibis for why he proceeded with his study, though he had not actually been able to survey young adult children raised by gay or lesbian parents.

What Regnerus did, was to disingenuously cherry-pick his control groups to seek to justify, unscientifically, his prejudices against gay and lesbian parents. Regnerus worked with an invalid sample. Such practices seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting and reporting research. The complaint filed against Regnerus does not regard ordinary errors, good faith differences in interpretations or judgments of data, scholarly or political disagreements, good faith personal or professional opinions, or private moral or ethical behavior. In the matter of the Scientific Misconduct Inquiry into the behavior of Mark Regnerus, the University of Texas, Austin’s honor and reputation could be at the stake.

The sum and substance of Regnerus’s alibis are 1) that he used the best available population survey method to survey a tiny population, and that; 2) because he did not survey an adequate number of young adult children raised by gay parents, but; 3) wanted to carry out a study on such persons anyway, he; 4) decided to make stuff up about gay parents and children, and hope for the best for himself.

Notwithstanding that Regnerus made stuff up about gay parents, Regnerus further misrepresented the results of his study when he told The National Review that “This study definitely affirms that there is a gold standard” for parenting, and that the gold standard is the “intact biological heterosexual-headed family.” Regnerus’s study affirmed no such thing. Regnerus did not compare young adult children raised in stable gay-headed households with young adult children raised in heterosexual-headed households. He did not do that in his study, but is talking to the public as though he had, in a way that unjustly demonizes gay parents. As stated above: what Regnerus did, was to disingenuously cherry-pick his control groups to seek to justify, unscientifically, his prejudices against gay and lesbian parents. Such practices seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting and reporting research. The University of Texas, Austin, should be extremely concerned that their Associate Professor Regnerus is cherry-picking study control groups to seek to justify his prejudices, and then adding insult to injury by telling the public false things about what his study demonstrated.

Regnerus’s claims that he used the best available population sampling method for his study are false. One of the most troubling factors of his willingness to make stuff up about gay parents, and hope for the best for himself, is that, those portions of his study funding, so far to be revealed to the public came from The Witherspoon Institute, where Robert P. George, mastermind of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is a Senior Fellow, and The Bradley Foundation, where Robert George is a Board member. Robert George and NOM are notorious for making stuff up about — and that is to say — telling negative lies about — gay people.

Before Regnerus obtained full study funding from Robert George’s groups, he received a “planning grant” from Witherspoon. Witherspoon had to approve of his study design before he would receive the study grant. A UTA Director of Public Affairs told this reporter that the planning grant was for $35,000, but the CV document viewable on Regnerus’s own website says that the planning grant was for $55,000. UTA officials, asked for complete records of disbursements of study funds, including how much Regnerus was paid, at first told this reporter that they had already gotten to work on assembling the documentation, but later said that an open records act request would have to be filed.

Regnerus’s funding fixer, NOM’s Robert George, is an author of the NOM pledge signed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The pledge intends to see created a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages throughout the country. Regnerus’s study introduction notes the importance of child-rearing studies to “the legal boundaries of marriage.”

Regnerus’s personal background suggests that he harbors anti-gay prejudices. This would not be an issue, were his science sound. It is possible that the generous funding dangled in front of him clouded his judgement. As an adult, Regnerus converted to Catholicism, led by a Pope whom Catholics consider “infallible” and who has stated that stopping same-sex marriages is necessary for the future of humanity. The most powerful Catholic Church employee in America, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, threatened President Obama with “a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions” if he did not stop liberalizing in his attitudes and actions on gay rights matters. Many of Regnerus’s published papers, meanwhile, appear to reveal his personal concern with strengthening obedience to churches known to oppose gay rights. For example, in his article How Corrosive Is College to Religious Faith and Practice?, he described college professors “antagonistic” towards religious students (instead of acknowledging, for instance, that it is not appropriate for a college-level religious student to insist on a creationism argument in the middle of a lecture on Darwin), and he wrote that “evangelical efforts tend to connect best with the dormant faith and inactive-but-intact belief systems of previously religious youth.” In that last phrase, had Regnerus written “connect most readily with” instead of “connect best with,” he might have avoided an appearance that he was injecting his opinion into his research finding.

What is the National Organization for Marriage’s Expert Witness Project?

In March, 2012, NOM internal strategy documents were released through court order. Those NOM documents revealed shocking disregard for the well-being of children by, for example, plotting to drive a wedge and to fan hostility between African-Americans, Latinos and gays. No reputable psychologist has ever said that fanning hostilities between minority groups is a net positive for children in the society. NOM also was scheming to get children of gay parents to denounce their parents on camera. Again, exacerbating animosities between parents and children, where animosities exist, does not promote child well-being.

Here is how the NOM documents describe the goals of NOM’s Expert Witness Project:

“identify and nurture a worldwide community of highly credentialed intellectuals and professional scholars, physicians, psychiatrists, social workers, and writers to credential our concerns and to interrupt the silencing that takes place in the academy around gay marriage and related family issues. Marriage as the union of husband and wife has deep grounding in human nature, and is supported by serious social science.”

NOM wasted no time in using Regnerus’s study as an anti-gay-rights political cudgel; the appearance is strong that Regnerus could be in cahoots with Robert George in anti-gay-rights promotions of the study. For example, Regnerus claimed that his study “affirmed” that the “intact biological family” is “the gold standard,” superior in child-rearing results to anything that  gay or lesbian couples are able to achieve in raising children. His study affirmed no such thing; that is exactly the type of misleading statement that NOM’s Robert George would have Regnerus make, if he were paying him to do study-related public relations for NOM.

How Has Regnerus Been Promoting His Study?

In both his written study and the mass media, Regnerus has been trumpeting his study as a breakthrough in gay parenting research. He portrays himself as a NOM-pipe dream, knight in shining armor, saving the day for the heterosexual-only legal boundaries of marriage by proving that gay parents are dangerous to children. All research on gay parenting carried out in the last ten years and showing good child outcomes, Regnerus describes as being scientifically unsound, in contrast to his study, which he falsely portrays as being scientifically sound.

Firstly, there is nothing new about Regnerus’s methods of helping his funders to demonize gay people in a political context.

Regnerus is promoting his work as though this method of attempting to discredit gay parents were some new invention of his, when as a matter of documented fact, his work is a tired old dirty trick.

In 2006, Gregory M. Herek, a University of California, Davis professor surveyed the literature of gay parenting studies. Herek’s criticism of people relying on studies to demonize gay and lesbian parents is, in essence, identical to the criticisms now being made of Regnerus’s methodology; namely, cherry-picking of control groups to seek to justify anti-gay prejudices. This is where the observer can confirm that Regnerus’s practices seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting and reporting research.

According to Herek’s extensive review of the literature in 2006; 1) the research on which opponents to marriage of same-sex couples rely looks at the functioning of children in intact families with heterosexual parents, and compares that to 2) those children raised by a single parent following divorce or death of a spouse. Additionally, according to Herek, it must be understood that; 3) those efforts to discredit gay parents never include any studies that compare the functioning of children raised by heterosexual couples, with the functioning of children raised by same-sex couples. And, 4) in the group of studies Herek was criticizing, any differences observed are more accurately attributable to the effects of death or divorce, and/or to the effects  of living with a single parent, rather than to parents’ sexual orientation.  Herek concluded that those studies that were being used to attempt to demonize gay parents; 5) do not tell us that the children of same-sex parents in an intact relationship fair worse than the children of opposite-sex parents in an intact relationship.

Regnerus’s study does not tell us that either, but in his promotions of it — which have some appearance of being coordinated with those of his funders — he behaves as though it had. Regnerus did not compare children raised by stable heterosexual couples with those raised by stable homosexual couples, yet he says that his study “affirmed” that married heterosexual couples are the “gold standard” for child rearing.

The Lie at the Heart of NOM’s Expert Witness Project

NOM’s strategy documents stated that an aim of the Expert Witness Project is “to interrupt the silencing that takes place in the academy around gay marriage and related family issues.”

As Herek’s 2006 survey of the literature of gay parenting studies showed, however, there is no “silencing” taking place in the academy around gay marriage and related family issues. Rather, there is accurate, evidence-based criticism of underhanded attempts to discredit gay parents, attempts that like Regnerus’s study, are not evidence based, and are ideology-driven.

It must be mentioned that there is no child-bearing requirement attached to a marriage license, nor must one be married to have children. Foster care children have been either abandoned or abused by their heterosexual parents. The number of foster care children in the last 15 years has dramatically declined because of gay parent adoptions. NOM’s goals of stigmatizing such families and seeing them legally disadvantaged stems wholly from anti-gay bigotry, and has nothing to do with a genuine interest in child welfare.

Regnerus knew, or should have known, that his funding fixer, NOM’s Robert George, has sponsored anti-gay-rights rallies where NOM speakers have told crowds that homosexuals are “worthy to death” and that Robert George was certain to make dishonorable uses of the anti-gay-rights political propaganda he commissioned from Regnerus. Regnerus, moreover, has admitted that had he gotten funding for a gay parenting child outcomes study from the National Institutes of Health, the standards they would have required from him in his planning, carrying out and reporting of the study would have worked to the long-term best-interests of science, but that “some scholars don’t feel like going that route.”

The Regnerus Study Has Already Been Used in a DOMA Case Brief

Regnerus’s study became available online late on Sunday, June 10, 2012. Barely two days later, on June 12, 2012, an amicus brief submitted to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Golinski DOMA-related case was based almost entirely on the Regnerus study. The brief relies heavily on Regnerus’s study to allege that homosexuals are dangerous to children and that therefore, the judge must decide against gay rights.

That amicus brief was filed by the American College of Pediatricians. The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the ACP as an Anti-Gay Group and describes it as “a tiny, explicitly religious-right breakaway group from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the 60,000 member association of the profession.” Umpteen scientists have issued countless declarations complaining that the ACP has distorted their scientific observations in order to make a point against homosexuality. A typical headline reporting on the ACP’s anti-gay distortions of real science is: University of Minnesota Professor’s Research Hijacked. The National Association of Social Workers has described the ACP as a “small and marginal group,” “out of step with the research-based position of the” far larger and more widely respected “American Academy of Pediatricians and other medical and child welfare authorities.”

NOM’s Expert Witness Project and the Scientific Misconduct Inquiry Regarding UTA’s Mark Regnerus

Below are enumerated some of the factors that the University of Texas, Austin, must take into consideration during its inquiry into Associate Professor Mark Regnerus’s behavior.

The public should understand that in UTA procedures and parlance, an Inquiry precedes an Investigation of a complaint. Nonetheless, during a UTA Inquiry, university authorities are actually conducting an investigation of sorts. Here is how UTA defines “Inquiry;” “Inquiry means gathering information and initial fact-finding to determine whether an allegation or apparent instance of scientific misconduct warrants an investigation.”

Another definition to keep in mind is that UTA gives for “Conflict of Interest;” “Conflict of Interest means the real or apparent interference of one person’s interests with the interests of another person or entity, where the potential bias may occur due to prior or existing personal or professional relationships.”

Furthermore, UTA policy states that: “As a part of an inquiry, the Research Integrity Officer must ensure that all original research records and materials, and all documents relevant to the allegation are immediately secured.”

I have asked Dr. Robert Peterson, UTA’s Research Integrity Officer, for a complete list of relevant documents that he has secured; Dr. Peterson has not yet provided that list.

1) In his written study, and in his public statements about the study, Regnerus has made claims documented as untrue; 2) Regnerus took a study planning grant from The Witherspoon Institute, where the anti-gay-rights National Organization for Marriage’s head Robert George is a Senior Fellow; 3) A majority of top-rated sociologists consider that Regnerus’s study plan is shoddy, fixed so as to guarantee that gay parents will be unjustly defamed through it, and that it was an unscientific plan rigged for use in anti-gay-rights political argumentation, similar to many criticized for those same reasons by U.C. Davis’s Dr. Gregory M. Herek, when he surveyed the literature of gay parenting studies, back in 2006. Nonetheless; 4) Robert George’s Witherspoon Institute, and Robert George’s Bradley Foundation, approved funding for Regnerus’s study; 5) Many of Regnerus’s practices seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting and reporting research; 6) Regnerus’s written study introduction makes plain his desire to appear to provide expert testimony that works to limit the legal boundaries of marriage to heterosexual couples only, a goal consistent with; 7) the National Organization for Marriage’s head Robert George, who is known to be trying to advance NOM’s Expert Witness Project; 8) NOM’s Robert George has authority within The Witherspoon Institute, which gave Regnerus his planning grant, as well as within both organizations so far known to have funded Regnerus’s study; 9) a sampling method exists, through which Regnerus would have been able to survey young adult offspring raised by gay parents, but Regnerus used an inferior sampling method that did not allow him to survey actual young adult children of gay parents. Regnerus nevertheless; 10) is alleging that his study revealed bad child outcomes for gay parents. In that, he is like; 11) a particle physicist who can not afford to use a particle accelerator, so carries out his study in a Dixie cup but then reports on the study as though he had carried it out in a particle accelerator.

The University of Texas, Austin must leave no stone unturned in its inquiry into whether Regnerus is in cahoots with the National Organization for Marriage in its Expert Witness Project, as an appearance exists that Regnerus has been scheming and collaborating with his funders, in ways indicative of practices that seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting and reporting research. It is to be hoped that UTA officials have already sequestered evidence of Regnerus’s communications with the Witherspoon Institute, which gave him his study “planning grant” and then approved him for actual study funding. Regnerus’s personal thoughts and feelings about same-sex marriage and related family issues would not be of consequence in this, were his science sound. It is not irrelevant, however, to note that Regnerus’s thoughts and beliefs do appear to align with those of his study’s funders. He is, moreover, promoting his study in ways that the study’s funding organizations and those associated with those funding organizations then showcase on their website dedicated to his study, as well as in many additional places, including in DOMA-related court cases.

UTA Sociology Professor Debra Umberson, together with three additional UTA Family Sociologists, published an article assessing the scientific merits of Regnerus’s study. Umberson wrote: “As a family sociologist at the University of Texas, I am disturbed by his irresponsible and reckless representation of social science research, and furious that he is besmirching my university to lend credibility to his ‘findings.'” Something else Umberson wrote creates an impression that Regnerus worked more closely with the known anti-gay-rights crusaders who gave him his study planning grant than with sociologists knowledgeable about gay-headed families: “the first I learned of this study was when it hit the press. Had Regnerus walked down the hall and knocked on my door, I would have been happy to explain that stress and instability harm children in any family context. Love and support help children to thrive and succeed. Pseudo-science that demonizes gay and lesbian families contributes to stress, and is not good for children.”

 

New York City-based novelist and freelance writer Scott Rose’s LGBT-interest by-line has appeared on Advocate.com, PoliticusUSA.com, The New York Blade, Queerty.com, Girlfriends and in numerous additional venues. Among his other interests are the arts, boating and yachting, wine and food, travel, poker and dogs. His “Mr. David Cooper’s Happy Suicide” is about a New York City advertising executive assigned to a condom account.

We repeat; In the matter of the Scientific Misconduct Inquiry into the behavior of Mark Regnerus, the University of Texas, Austin’s honor and reputation could be at the stake.

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