This morning I remembered why I periodically delete the Statesman app from my iPhone. Not because I have anything against the Statesman, but because reading purely Texas news is a hazard to my family’s health: it never fails to send my own blood pressure through the roof, meanwhile gravely endangering my husband’s life as I am all too often tempted to catapult my beloved giant coffee cup across the room in a fit of rage. And of course we don’t have health insurance. We are Texans, after all.
Two things I hate most in life: gay bashing and bad science. Leave it to Texas to find a way to squeeze both topics into the same article. Apparently, UT professor of sociology Mark Regnerus has published a study in the journal Social Science Research that reports “adults with gay parents tended to report lower levels of success in economic and romantic pursuits and struggled more with mental health issues.”
Well of course they do. Wait. What? They don’t, you say? Balderdash! Says who? Oh… Virtually every study published since they removed “homosexuality” as a disease from the DSM circa 1986? And virtually every other expert on the subject? And virtually every child ever raised by a loving, committed LGBT couple? Wait, wait, wait. I’m confused. Homosexuality isn’t a disease? Well that’s news to me—and about half of Texas. Okay, so maybe just half of Texas.
Let’s back up, shall we? I’ve heard a wise (wo)man say once or twice that it’s never, ever wise to just blindly trust any old thing I read in the newspaper, so let’s give that a go and see if we can’t sort this mess out for ourselves. Who’s with me? Everyone? Lovely. First and foremost, for my less scientifically inclined readers I will begin by explaining, as a public service announcement, the way in which to properly read a scholarly paper.
1. Read the title & abstract.
2. Look up the authors.
3. Determine funding.
4. Examine methodology/experimental design.
5. Then, and only then, read the paper.
Please note: Step 3 and 4 are bold for a reason; these are by far the most crucial steps in the process. Still with me? Good, let’s practice.
Step 1-A. The Title. “How different are the adult children of parents who have same sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.” Fair enough. Important question, it would seem, since according to the mainstream media “gay is the new black.”
Step 1-B. The Abstract. I should probably include an extended quote here instead of just a link for you to read it yourself since we both know you probably won’t, but I’m going to trust you. Remember, we have our fancy Science Hats on right now. Geeks Honor.
Wow, back so soon? Okay, I’ll paraphrase now, just in case you cheated. (Cheaters!) He basically says, “We have now uber-officially and very scientifically determined: Mom+Dad=Gooood. Mom+Mom/Dad+Dad = Baaaaad.” There is MUCH to be said here, but I think it will be adequately addressed in Step 4 below. So let’s move on.
Step 2. The Authors. Mark Regnerus, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas, specializing in research areas of “sexual behavior and family formation,” and the author of two books. You can check out the full bio on his official fan page (?) here. But again: Fair enough. Fair enough. Fair enough. Sounds legit. Moving right along.
Step 3. Funding. Read: Epic fail numero uno. The New Family Structures Study’s two primary backers: The Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation. Granted, these sites if not the entities themselves are incredibly well constructed. As I read each of their mission statements I found myself cheering them on, fighting the urge to click the “Donate!” button. (If you know me at all, you won’t find this surprising. I just gave $40 to a woman who came to the door supporting something called the Jupiter Index. I haven’t a clue what that is, but she said they tried to “help people write better.” I asked her if there was a limit on donations or if she took credit cards. There wasn’t, but she didn’t, so I gave her every dollar I had on me. What can I say? It happens.) But about what’s-his-name’s backers. You have to do a fair bit of sleuthing around these sites to discern what sort of agenda they’re actually pushing, but one needn’t look much further than their respective publication lists to get a clue. For instance, the Witherspoon Institute hosts its own online “journal” called The Public Discourse which hosts a shockingly homogenous (no pun intended) docket of articles with titles such as these: Religious Freedom Under Siege, Planned Parenthood v. Casey at Twenty: The Worst Constitutional Decision of All Time, Immigration: He Who Is Without Sin, and last but certainly not least, The Newest Front in the Battle over Marriage which carries the byline: “Same-sex marriage should not come in the back door, via an arguably collusive lawsuit in which no one charged with the responsibility of enforcing the law actually defends it.” Back door, eh? (That’s what she said… Oh shut-up, you know you were thinking it too.)
Anyway. So he was bankrolled by a pair of ultra-conservative, Bible touting homophobes. What of it? That doesn’t necessarily mean the good doctor’s data is bogus, does it?
Allow me to introduce you to my friend—a rather loathsome chap, goes by the name “funding bias.” While this was once regarded as academia’s dirty little secret, it is now more or less universally accepted that a researcher’s funding sources, albeit unfortunately, often largely if not entirely predict a given study’s findings an overwhelming majority of the time. It is for this reason that Big Tobacco finds no link between cigarettes and lung cancer, Big Oil finds no link between burning fossil fuels and global warming, and Eli Lilly finds no link between Prozac and increased suicide rates. Like it or not, money makes the world go ‘round. (Dolla’ Dolla’ Bills, ya’ll.) It’s not necessarily that every study is designed to deliver the intended results (though that is clearly often the case) so much as it is a refrain from publishing negative results—the ones that don’t say what one wants them to say. This is perhaps not as ominous as it sounds. Or perhaps it’s more. Regardless of your particular perspective on it, though, we can all agree that it at least exists and evaluate outcomes accordingly. Knowledge is power. Now, keep that in mind while you brace yourselves for Epic Fail numero dos, the granddaddy of all granddaddies.
Step 4. Methodology/Experimental Design. One would expect that a UT professor—of sociology no less—would be well versed in the realm of comparable cohorts, meaning that groups chosen for comparison are reasonably equal in all other ways aside from the variable in question. For instance, one would think that when comparing various family structures as Regnerus did, he would vet healthy, stable dual-partner heterosexual homes against healthy, stable dual-partner homosexual homes; and heterosexual “broken homes” vs. homosexual “broken homes.” Is this what he did? If he had, I wouldn’t have wasted a chuck of my day ranting away; I would’ve simply accepted his data as interesting and worthy of further consideration in the realms of both science and public policy.
But he didn’t.
Regnerus implemented experimental design so egregious that I only pray Ben Goldacre doesn’t stumble across it; it will likely give him an instantaneous aneurysm. What the good professor has done in this “study” is compare the outcomes of adult children that grew up in healthy, stable two-parent heterosexual homes in which both parents were biologically related, to the outcomes of adult children that grew up in a random assortment of broken homes in which the single parent left standing alone had had at least one homosexual relationship at any point during the respondent’s childhood. Um… Seriously?
And please do NOT draw the erroneous conclusion here that homosexuality is in any way, shape or form directly proportional to this “broken home” phenomenon. The average divorce rate of first marriages for heterosexual couples is roughly 52%, so don’t go giving the gays all the credit for this one. We are ALL equally likely to both grow up in and be party to broken homes, and we are all equally likely to exercise our “God-given” American right to screw our kids up however we please, regardless of sexual orientation. In fact, a number of recent credible studies suggest that growing up in a dual-parent lesbian household might actually be advantageous over the traditional type for a child. Do we honestly believe that growing up with two loving, committed and engaged mothers or fathers is somehow worse for a child than growing up in the foster care system? If so, then we have nothing left to talk about because you have deluded yourself into believing utter garbage that has exactly zero grounding in reality.
Oh, before I forget:
Step 5. You may now (finally) read the paper. Do it. I dare you.
On a side note, in the Good Professor’s defense (because God knows he needs one), he might’ve achieved the clearly desired results in a scientifically valid way had he done one thing differently. (Okay, several things differently.) Had Dr. Regnerus taken his study sample from Texas alone and not from the rest of the nation, I highly suspect these outcomes would at least be closer to the truth. Why? Because of studies, press, and attitudes just like the ones found in this paper that apparently dominate the Texas citizenry. Can you imagine the additional torment piled on a child of any age growing up even in the happiest, healthiest gay or lesbian household in TEXAS? I shudder to think.
But while results along these lines may have ultimately supported Regnerus & Co’s bottom line, would these findings have actually been a product of any particular family structure? Absolutely and unequivocally, NO. It would have merely been a product of our societal structure—over which parents of any sexual preference have effectively zero control (aside from getting the hell out of the Bible Belt, anyway). Our grand and mighty Texas society must surely be one of the most harshly alienating, brutally discriminatory and subversively prejudiced cultures on earth… Made worse only by the fact that we “do it with a smile,” seemingly justifying our gross mistreatment of our fellow citizens in the name of “morals” and “values.” An awful lot of people perhaps ought to grab a dictionary and remind themselves of what those words actually mean…
I am inclined to agree with Monique Ruffin—gay may very well be the new black. It blows my mind how very many people are vetting to, once again, end up on the WRONG side of history. Aside from the illegality of discrimination (Equal Protection Clause, anyone?), why is it that the very people who turn their noses up at all forms of governmental interference are the very people championing such extensive governmental over-reach into the private lives of ordinary citizens? And what ever happened to “Thou shalt not judge” or “God loves all his children equally” anyway? You may as well save your breath with the “You’re going to burn in Hell” rhetoric. For any LGBT person living in the Lone Star State, I’m sure they feel that they’re already there . . . .
And in case you missed this: