Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’


ongoing controversy over University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus is a
textbook example of how a legitimate scholarly dispute can turn into a
political witch-hunt. Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at Texas’s
flagship campus in Austin, published a peer-reviewed paper in June in the
journal Social Science Research concluding that the adult children of
parents in same-sex relationships fare worse in a number of ways–alcoholism,
depression, drug use, and so forth–than the adult children of parents in
stable heterosexual marriages. Other sociologists have contested both
Regnerus’s findings and his methodology. But instead of challenging the results
of Regnerus’s research via normal scholarly channels–reviews, other scholarly
papers, or conference panels–Regnerus’s opponents have sought to delegitimize
him both personally and as a professional academic. They have attacked his
editors at Social Science Research, and they have goaded the UT-Austin
administration into investigating him for scientific misconduct. They have
fought their battle not in the journals but in the pages and web-pages of Mother
and the Huffington Post. Regnerus, a Catholic convert, has
even been aligned with the Catholic traditionalist group Opus Dei that is every
progressive’s favorite faith-based werewolf. Shades of The Da Vinci Code!

Disclosures by Regenerus


leading figure in the anti-Regnerus campaign is Scott Rose, the pen name of the
writer and gay-rights activist Scott Rosenweig. It was Rose who sent a letter
to UT-Austin accusing Regnerus of ethics violations and triggering the
university’s inquiry. Rose has been blogging almost daily about Regnerus and
his study for nearly two months, his posts weaving together an elaborate
conspiracy theory involving the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative foundation
that provided the bulk of the nearly $800,000 in funding for Regnerus’ research.
 Regnerus fully disclosed the Witherspoon funding to UT-Austin (along with
some funding from the conservative Bradley Institute), and the university duly
approved Regnerus’s project. Other alleged links in the Rose chain of guilt by
association include: the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an anti-gay
marriage nonprofit formed in 2007; assorted Republican politicians who oppose
same-sex marriage; and Catholic Church.

describe the tone of Rose’s blog posts as “hysterical” is an
understatement. Long before the Regnerus controversy, Rose was regularly
denouncing NOM, whose members he referred to as “NOMzis,”
“bigots,” and anti-Semites (because many politically liberal Jews support
gay marriage). Last October, Rose wrote to Princeton president Shirley
Tilghman, demanding that the university repudiate Robert P. George, a
well-known Catholic Princeton professor who is a senior fellow at the
Witherspoon Institute and was formerly chairman of NOM. (Tilghman, unlike the
UT-Austin administrators, did not respond to Rose’s overheated allegations.)

 Scott’s theory–the basis of his letter to UT-Austin–is that
Regnerus was essentially a paid shill for NOM. Here is a sample of Scott’s
fevered writing style:


 of the University of Texas, Austin (UT) carried out a
methodologically-bogus, deceptively and egregiously misnamed “gay
parenting” study so
blatantly in line with the
anti-gay-rights National Organization for Marriage
‘s goals of smearing gay
people for political purposes, that Regnerus’s work appears far closer to being
election year political propaganda than to being respectable science….My
enhanced allegations against Regnerus include that he appears to be politically
in collusion with his study’s NOM-linked funders: a political plant.
Towards building that case, people must examine NOM’s long history of filthy
dirty political tricks.


Other gay-rights activists similarly indulged in a
guilt-by-association mindset. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination
issued a statement declaring, “The Witherspoon Institute also has ties to
the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage, and
ultra-conservative Catholic groups like Opus Dei.” The statement,
representing the views of four leading gay-rights groups, also called
Regnerus’s study “junk science” and “intentionally
misleading.” Adam Serwer, a reporter for Mother Jones, tweeted:
“Expert: Conservatives’ Favorite Study on Same-Sex Parents Is

rhetoric is to be expected from advocacy groups and their sympathizers in the
progressive media. What is surprising–or perhaps not so surprising given
today’s politicization of the academy–is that Regnerus’s fellow sociology
professors issued equally heated denunciations of his study–in the press, not
in scholarly venues. Debra Umberson, one of Regnerus’s colleagues in the
UT-Austin sociology department, wrote an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post
on behalf of herself and three other UT professors that concluded:
“Pseudo-science that demonizes gay and lesbian families contributes to
stress and is not good for children.” Shortly afterwards 200 more college
professors sent a letter to the editors of Social Science Research questioning
“the academic integrity” of the peer-review process that had taken
place. It should be noted that a significant number of the letter’s signers
were in gay and lesbian or women’s studies programs. One
the 200 signers, Gary J. Gates, a specialist in gay and lesbian demography at
the UCLA Law school, had turned down a request by Regnerus to participate in
the study from the beginning.


A  Positive for Gay Marriage?


truth, Regnerus’ study does present some flaws that Regnerus himself admitted
in the paper itself and in an interview with Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly
. Using his Witherspoon-Bradley funding Regnerus had hired a
professional polling firm to conduct the second large-scale, national, and
randomized survey ever of adults born between 1972 and 1992 designed to compare
the outcomes of young adults who had spent their entire childhoods with their
biological parents to the outcomes of those growing up in gay and lesbian
families. Most earlier published studies of such outcomes, which reached far
more positive conclusions than Regnerus’s, had been small-scale, lacking a
control group and un-randomized (the information often came from gay and
lesbian organizations). The problem was that Regnerus’s survey captured only a
tiny number of young adults–two out of 15,000 survey respondents–who had spent
their entire childhoods in same-sex households like the members of the control
group, so Regnerus counted any parent who had been in one or more same-sex
relationships, no matter how fleeting, as a “gay father” or
“lesbian mother.” He was thus, in a sense, comparing apples and oranges:
stable heterosexual households versus unstable homosexual ones. But since
Regnerus was quite up-front about his data, which he plans to release digitally
in the fall, it is hard to pin the charges of “junk science” or
“intentionally misleading” on him.

William Saletan of
Slate pointed out, the survey that Regnerus
commissioned is potentially of great value to family scholars because it offers
a large-scale comparison of stable versus unstable families from the
perspective of the young adults who grew up in those families, not that of the
parents themselves, as had been the case with earlier studies. Furthermore,
Saletan noted, the two young adults who had spent their entire childhoods, from
birth to age 18, in lesbian households, plus a few more who had lived from 13
to 15 years with their mother and her lesbian partner, reported far better
outcomes than their peers. “Stability, not orientation, is the
story,” Saletan wrote. He concluded that Regnerus’s study could,
ironically, be used to promote gay marriage as a social good, in its unveiling
of the chaotic lives of gay parents and the harm inflicted on their children
during the decades when gay unions were illegal and deemed socially
unacceptable. The study also presents some powerful statistical arguments
against divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing among heterosexuals.

scholarly hysteria seems to be the order of the day. The editor of
Science Research
, apparently intimidated by the letter from the 200
scholars, assigned Darren Sherkat, a member of the journal’s editorial board
and a sociology professor at the University of Southern Illinois, to review the
peer-review process that Regnerus’ paper had received. Sherkat began an e-mail
correspondence with, of all people, Rose, thus indicating that Sherkat was
hardly an unbiased collector of evidence. According to Rose, Sherkat sent him a
number of e-mails before even completing his investigation saying such things
as: “How did this study get through peer review? The peers are right-wing
Christianists!” and “Regnerus produced some exceptionally distorted
and inferior research that should not have been published in a major general
interest journal.” Meanwhile, UT-Austin’s inquiry into Regnerus’s alleged
ethical lapses continues apace, obliging Regnerus to hire a lawyer. The
university has also filed a request for a Freedom of Information Act exemption
with the Texas attorney general aimed at releasing the details–to Sherkat and
others–of the Witherspoon Foundation’s funding arrangements with Regnerus.
Saletan calls the entire inquisition a “liberal war on science.” It’s
hard to disagree. 


7 thoughts on “Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

  1. “Yet calendaring data played no role in the Edification article you cited regarding definitions of “gay” and “lesbian.”
    Let me begin by saying this again, you have
    -sexual orientation which broadly can be defined as who are you sexually, romantically and emotionally attracted to. Which sex do you have sexual fantasies about?
    -Sexual identity
    I am gay
    I am a lesbain
    I am transexual
    Sexual Behavior a man who is 100% homosexual marries a straight woman. And with enough “help” from the wife can on occasion do the deed.
    I have read my fair share of real authentic research on sexual minorities. This is my observation, you have 2 ways to of determining a research subjects sexual orientation.
    Number 1 you interview them and ask them to self identify and then you ask them questions.
    Number 2 you look at who they are living with. If you read the Potter study that will give you a very good way of how they also used the calendaring data.
    Regnerus did not ask the parents if they were gay or lesbian. He talked to a 3rd party, the respondents who were the children. Therefor to back up that 3rd party “guess” he should have stuck to the calendaring data.
    My understanding of the different sexual orientation scales is that they are not at all contradictory. And I went and looked up the scales previously.
    I quickly referred you to an article I had bookmarked, but I do agree with you that in that particular article you are not seeing the gay and lesbian definitions. If I have time I’ll hunt down another one.
    I actually don’t care a whit about sexual orientation change efforts, if a man can change from gay to straight. I don’t know anybody who has ever wanted to change their sexual orientation. The only reason I ever got into this research area is because of the thousands and thousands of comments I read that said, “Oh it’s a Choice and they can change if they just prayed hard enough.” and “There is no such thing as sexual orientation it is merely sexual behavior”
    So off I went into that rabbit hole to find out the truth. Gosh I spent a lot of time reading research. Basically we do not willfully choose our sexual orientation. In other words you can’t will yourself straight. Some people do move a little bit towards more straight or more gay but it is a rare rare rare rare bird who goes from all the way straight to all the way gay or vice versa. Basically the people who have movement towards more the gay side or more the straight side are Bi-Sexuals.
    So for some people and actually women more then men, some people do experience some changes in their sexual orientation but it is not a choice that they make, they don’t consciously “will” these changes. [Maybe I should add that I am 100% straight with no movement *ever* on my end. I just learned this stuff from studying about it]
    As part of the research on sexual orientation which then lead me to sexual orientation change efforts (can people go from gay to straight? (no)) I was alerted to a forum for the straight spouses who are/were in a mixed orientation marriage, or relationship. This is where one spouse is straight and the other one gay. Oh My God! If you want to read heartbreaking stories just read that forum. it was after reading those stories I made up my own mind that mixed orientation marriages are very very very bad. This is what is promoted by those ex-gay organization, that the gays should marry straight and get straightened out. My sympathies after reading that forum are for the straight spouses. If you read that forum for a while you will walk away and say to yourself, “Gays should stay with gays and straights should stay with straights” This mixing doesn’t work and it is devastating to the straight spouses.
    Just lurk don’t say anything. I would not know what to say to these poor people anyway, they need comfort from others in their same predicament.
    The biggest fraud in the world is this guy called Dr. Nicolosi who claims he can change people from gay to straight. If you go to that Dr. Throckmorton’s website and search for articles on NARTH or Nicolosi your eyes will get opened. Especially read the comments, a lot of smart people comment there and especially I learn a lot from people who are gay, when they comment. Many of them tried to change their sexual orientation going through religious groups or through Dr. Nicolosi and it doesn’t work. It is true, you REALLY can’t pray away the gay and Nicolosi has never permitted any research on his former clients to back up his success claims. If he is so good why doesn’t he prove it, he has been milking people for sessions for like 25 years, why doesn’t he put together a research paper?
    I feel sorry for sexual minorities. The abuse they take and the denigration and degradation is just terrible. Why can’t we do like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “judge people by the content of their character”? It is none of my business what my neighbor does in their bedroom. I can’t believe that in this day and age we discriminate against sexual minorities in our laws and in our country. It is so Un American.

  2. StraightGrandmother, thanks for the quick and informative response.
    The Edification article, though it contains some interesting information, does not seem to present any scientific definitions of the terms “gay” or “lesbian.” Participants simply identified themselves with such or other terms and the authors of the article simply reported it.
    The discussion of the Kinsey scales is helpful, but the references were not to “gay” or “lesbian” but merely “heterosexual” and “homosexual,” and even then on a continuum. And, if I read correctly, it seems that the same respondent could fall on the continuum in different places depending on the scale used.
    And on top of all that, the two forms of identification (self-reporting and the Kinsey scales) can “contradict” each other–that is, someone might self-identify as heterosexual while being identified as homosexual by a scale, as you pointed out.
    That there are multiple scales suggests to me that even people in the field do not consider such terms to be “scientific” in their definitions. I do not think that learning about the various scales will help me, but if you wish, feel free to cite them.
    I am but a layman. Still, I would be more assured of the supposedly scientific categorization of “gay” or “lesbian” if the scholars in the field consistently rebuked those other scholars who, say, speculate as to whether Abraham Lincoln was gay, since neither self-identification nor sufficient information for a Kinsey (or other) scale is available to us in the historical record.
    You write, “He had calendaring data where people had to write on a calendar who they lived with from birth to age 18. He should have stuck with that as a measure of if your mother was a lesbian or your father was gay. […] I think Regnerus should have only labeled the parents as gay or lesbian if they had lived for 5 years as mommy+mommy or daddy+daddy based on the calendar data.”
    Yet calendaring data played no role in the Edification article you cited regarding definitions of “gay” and “lesbian.” If Regnerus had done what you say now, you could still point to the Edification article (or some other such article) and say that he did wrong. I’m sorry, but your having introduced yet another method for determining whether one is “gay” or “lesbian”–which can even contradict the other two methods–just makes me more confused.
    You first said that one could “prove” whether someone is gay or lesbian according to these terms’ scientific definitions and used this point to knock Regnerus’ paper. But now it seems that one can only guess and not prove, and even then according to one of various methods of guessing. Did Regnerus err in not using one of the typical methods? If so, that is a much less offensive charge than the one stated initially.
    Thank you for your help. This stuff should be useful to me when I come across similar research in the future.

  3. Maybe just a follow up comment about the Rosenfelt out of Stanford study. His study found NO DIFFERENCES.
    August 2010-
    But because the US Census does not ask you if you take drugs or alcohol or have been arrested and other things, it is somewhat limited on what questions it can answer. Rosenfelt studied if the kids were in the right grade for their age. In other words did the kids flunk.
    Read Page 3 of Rosenfelts study he studied 3,502 children who had been living with their same sex parents for 5 years or more. This satisfied the criteria of having 800 as the minimum number of gay and lesbian couples required for statistically useful study. And 700,000 children from other family types.
    Regnerus talks about in his report the Rosenfelt study.
    Then after Regnerus issued his report June 10, 2010 Daniel Potter released a research paper, again showing no difference. You have to read all the way to the end, because early on it seems like there is a difference. I don’t want to go look it up, you can find it yourself in the study but I think it was the longitudinal Child and Adolescent database he used.
    You can see that these other 2 researchers used much much much better methods than Regnerus to find real lesbians and gay men heading up families.
    Regnerus played fast and loose and he is rightfully getting pounded for that.
    I hope these other studies are of benefit to you. Other large random sample studies.

  4. JW, Thank you for your questions. To answer your questions about the scientific sexual orientation terms I think I am going to refer you to a few Evangelicals who have specialty expertise in this area. 3 Evangelicals who I am aware of who are experts in sexual minority research with a further sub category of Sexual Orientation Change (can people change from gay to straight) are
    Mark Yarhouse – Regent University (started by Pat Robertson)
    Stanton Jones- Wheaton College (He is also a big wheel at Focus on the Family)
    Warren Throckmorton – Grove City College
    I think if you read this short article in the Christian Journal Edification by Yarhouse it will give you an understanding of the scientific terms of Sexual Orientation. For the article begin reading on page 41 and at the top right of page 54 is a good general description.
    Additionally an article from Dr. Throckmorton shows you the level of scholarship and expertise necessary to research on sexual minorities.
    This is why Regerus did a #FAIL, he was practicing outside his area of expertise. He has no particular expertise in sexual minority research.
    It is quite a fascinating field I have found out by reading research. There are terms like sexual behavior terms of MSM- Men Who Have Sex with Men- for example is a term used by the Center For Disease Control.
    There is Sexual Orientation, Sexual Identity, and Sexual Behavior. Many Men Have Sex With Men but do NOT Identify as Gay. But when measured on the Kinsey Scale or the Likert Scale ARE in fact homosexual, they just do not embrace a Gay Identity. There are all kinds of established “standard” sexual orientation scales used in this research area. If you want more information I can refer you to other studies. I actually learned the most about Sexual Orientation from the Evangelical Researchers who I am not in political alignment with, LOL!
    Once you read a few of these research reports you quickly understand why the +200 experts in this field objected to Regnerus making up his own definitions of Gay and Lesbian. He trashed their field.
    The second part of your comment-, “explain how, in your mind, Regnerus could have properly set the boundaries for his paper, specifically what questions he should have asked and how he should have categorized people based on their answers.”
    #1. I think Regnerus should have asked ALL respondents,
    Did either one of your parents have an extra marital, or extra relationship affair?
    If yes was it same sex or opposite sex. There were no doubt many many people in his married in tact families who would have answered that they were aware that their parents had an outside affair. Regnerus never asked *any* of the children raised in Married Biological Child Intact families if their mom or dad had an affair.
    #2. Regnerus had a hard time finding people who as a child had actually lived in a mommy+mommy or daddy+daddy home. He made his parameters to broad by who counted as a Lesbian Mother or Gay Father. He should have narrowed it. He had calendaring data where people had to write on a calendar who they lived with from birth to age 18. He should have stuck with that as a measure of if your mother was a lesbian or your father was gay. Below are what people could enter on their calendar of who they lived with
    Biological Mother
    Biological Father
    Mother’s boyfriend/partner
    Father’s girlfriend/partner
    Adoptive Mother
    Adoptive Father
    Mother’s girlfriend/partner
    Father’s boyfriend/partner
    Other relatives
    Foster parents
    On your own
    You asked me what I think. I think Regnerus should have only labeled the parents as gay or lesbian if they had lived for 5 years as mommy+mommy or daddy+daddy based on the calendar data. And even THAT is not perfect.
    Regnerus was determined to only survey the children, now adults, who had been raised in a lesbian or gay oriented family. This was quite a challenge for him because this closed off the way most research is done, most researchers are done with the actual parents so you simply ask them, are you gay? Are you bi-sexual? But since he was determined to study the children, that avenue was closed off to him. Thus the only thing he had to make an educated guess if the parents *were in fact gay or lesbian* was his calendaring data. He should have stuck with that. He should have used the same criteria as Rosenfelt out of Stanford who is the only other person to do a large random sample, based on the US Census. Rosenfelt used 5 years. If your parents and their same sex partner raised you in a home headed by 2 women or 2 men then most likely they are gay or lesbian.
    If Regnerus would have done that, the 5 year rule, that would have netted him 26 people. Obviously to small a sample size. BUT rather than give up and admit that after a big effort *he simply didn’t have a sufficient sample* he did not give up. Instead what he did was, he simply expanded the parameter of what parents qualified as Lesbian or Gay. He called Mothers lesbains or Fathers gay based on Question S7. He did this to get sufficient sample size. But big whoop it was a sample without validation, basically worthless.
    (S7) From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?
    I hope this information is of help to you.

  5. StraightGrandmother: “Lesbian and gay are scientific terms, you just can’t throw these terms around on anybody.”
    Then by all means enlighten us as to what precisely those scientific terms mean, according to what I presume would be the bulk of the relevant literature. Moreover, please explain how, in your mind, Regnerus could have properly set the boundaries for his paper, specifically what questions he should have asked and how he should have categorized people based on their answers.

  6. I don’t think you fully comprehend the gross error of slapping scientific sexual orientation labels on the parents in his study. Basically on page 7 paragraph 4 of his report Regnerus says, “Well I can’t really prove that the parents are lesbains or gays, but since I don’t want to have to defend that, I’m just going to go ahead and use those terms anyway”
    You can’t do that! Lesbian and gay are scientific terms, you just can’t throw these terms around on anybody.
    Dr. Regnerus slapped on the scientific sexual orientation label of lesbian or gay based on the respondents answering “Yes” to question S7
    (S7) From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?
    This is equivalent to doing a study on Catholic Parenting and counting as Catholic anyone who remembered that their parent had at least once visited a Catholic Church.
    We would not be able to attack Regnerus’ research if it were not so flawed. There are other major problems whihc you have written about but not in the detail I think that the readers would understand. Here let me try it this way.
    Suppose Regnerus put all people who had white parents and were raised for 18 years by their married white parents into one bucket.
    Into another bucket he put all Hispanice families. Children who were raised by single mothers, in step families, by their grandmother, by their divorced father etc.
    Then Regnerus would say “White Married Parents are the BEST!” “Hispanic families suck, their kids turn out terrible.”
    Because that is exactly what he did to the sexual minorities in his study. Saying apples to oranges doesn’t quite get the point across like my example.
    SO you can see why + 200 Scholars and Clinicians are complaining in addition to sexual minorities and their straight supporters.
    Link to objection letter signed by +200 Scholars
    Link to Names downloadable and sortable
    I hope this information has been of help to you.

  7. Can you imagine in the future any inquiry into any aspect of the homosexual lifestyle? As a professor at a major university 30 years ago I thought, “Homosexuality is one topic that cannot be studied without committing professional suicide.” And that turns out to be the case. Make a list of things that cannot be discussed in the academic community–intelligent design, the flaws of Darwinism, the vagaries of gender feminism, the genetic component of IQ, et al. If these things are to be scientifically considered it will have to be outside our university system. Someplace where academic freedom actually exists.

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