Dissenting Scholarship Draws ‘Misconduct’ Inquiry

Mark Regnerus is a tenured associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin. He published a paper in the peer-reviewed sociological journal Social Science Research. The paper, detailing the results of a study of children growing up in households headed by same-sex couples, concluded that those children may be at disadvantage “when it comes to certain forms of success in adulthood,” Inside Higher Education reported. The study was funded by the Bradley Foundation and the Witherspoon Institute, two conservative organizations that have funded anti-same-sex-marriage advocacy.

Now, UT Austin is conducting a research-misconduct “inquiry” into Regnerus–even though his project was approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board, and he complied with the code of ethics of the American Sociological Association by disclosing his funding sources, which he said played no role in the design of his study, the shape of his research, or his conclusions. The misconduct complaint to UT Austin came not from a sociology professor, but from Scott Rosensweig, a novelist and gay-rights advocate who, according to Inside Higher Ed, has “blogged extensively about the study since it was published (under the pen name ‘Scott Rose’).”

Regnerus’ paper has generated plenty of criticism from academics, including at least one colleague in his own department. That’s a good thing, and it’s exactly the way the scholarly process is supposed to function. If there was something flawed about the design or methodology of Regnerus’s study, other sociologists ought to jump on it–or publish their own papers reaching different conclusions. But a university “inquiry” into alleged “misconduct” because a gay-rights activist didn’t like what Regnerus wrote? That’s top-down censorship that sends a message to other scholars that they’d better not discuss any negative aspects they might discern with respect to the raising of children in same-sex households. This “inquiry” doesn’t reflect well on UT Austin’s reputation for integrity as a major research university.


2 thoughts on “Dissenting Scholarship Draws ‘Misconduct’ Inquiry

  1. Colleagues, even with tenure, see no advantage in speaking out against activist censorship.
    Grants, academic honors, favorable review of publications, even publication in preferred journals are all the currency of academic thuggery. Not to mention gossip, backbiting, blacklisting, and shunning.
    Faculty whose presence ‘make the EEOC numbers look good’ have less to fear from these pressures. The university needs their warm bodies on campus. So they are motivated to gain street-cred (gown-cred ? ?) by embracing and promoting extreme positions and actions (such as using students as shock troops).
    Given the enormous wealth of even lower tier schools, no one wants to risk losing the flow of these funds to their own pockets.
    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — Juvenal
    [ Who will guard (us, the citizens, from) the guards themselves? ]

  2. The attack by the Guardians of the Faith is absolutely predictable.Equally predictable, but far less obvious, will the silence from other academics. Yes, they may privately offer some sympathy but I’d bet that none will go public with their support. This lack of public support is the problem, not the attack from an activist outsider. Until colleagues speak out, regardless of their views on the quality of the research, scientific honesty is impossible.

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