educationtechnews.comWhy was this professor's study scrutinized?

Why was this professor’s study scrutinized?

October 4, 2012 by Jake Simms
Posted in: Free Speech, In this week's e-newsletter, Latest News & Views

People disagree with scholarly studies all the time. So what made the University of Texas investigate a professor’s recent study?

One angry, gay blogger, as it turns out.

Previous studies have concluded that children raised in same-sex households do just as well in school and in life as their peers.

University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus tested that conventional wisdom with a study of 3,000 adults raised by straight, gay and bisexual parents.

Result: Adults raised in same-sex households had higher rates of depression and dependence on welfare.

Some gay rights groups denounced Regnerus as a bigot and denounced his study as lies. Gay blogger Scott Rose was one of them.

Why scrutinize this study?

Rose demanded the university investigate the professor’s peer-reviewed study, claiming the conclusions were false and that it was compromised because the conservative Witherspoon Institute funded the study.

The university could’ve refused the blogger’s request. But instead, it confiscated Regnerus’ computers and scoured through thousands of his emails. Eventually the university vouched for the professor’s work.

But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free speech advocacy group, thinks Regnerus was singled out for publishing politically incorrect findings.

Regnerus sounds like he was prepared for the backlash and doesn’t hold grudges: “Since it’s a sensitive subject that offers quite different conclusions from previous studies, it’s not surprising that it has drawn critics.”

Should the University of Texas have investigated its professor’s study? Let us know your opinion below.

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  • Bluechip

    The university clearly overstepped the limits of its authority in its investigation. Although Regnerus is ambivalent about the action, the implications go far beyond his personal perspective. I think every faculty member can go to “rate my professor” and see unfair and unsubstantiated complaints about the teaching, grading, attitude, etc. that disgruntled students have posted up. Should each instructor with such comments be investigated by some administrative “ethcis” committee even if faculty peers have already monitored that instructor’s performance via tenure review and student evaluations in general?

    On my campus the board of directors pores over the student evaluations and as few three negative comments (and even mutliple negative responses from a single student) from a class of 25-30 students go under the microscope. Tenure is now becoming a challenge and probationers are advised to keep course content “milque-toast.” Imagine teaching a course on political science and being apprehensive about making comments to the class on the apects or results of the presidential debate! Certainly it could be academic suicide to draw attention to any candidates from parties other than the two participating in the debate! How subversive would that be!?

    Thus, although Regnerus was cooperative and ultimately exonerated, this does not send a message that instructors are free to explore areas of their interest; instead, it sends a message that the administrators can use even a single complaint as basis for seizing materials for investigation.

  • Robert Aponte

    I agree with everything noted by Bluechip except for one thing [implied only]. I am glad, as I suspect Regnerus is, that his work was scrutinized as “tightly” as it was, but only for one reason: so his exoneration would be so above reproach that the critics would be shamed/silenced [I doubt that they would apologize, though one would certainly be in order]. Having said that, I wish there were a way to file a lawsuit against the university and, possibly, the gay critic [for defamation], and I further hope that I never witness something like this again. It ought to be illegal without a more formidible reason [e.g., there is reason to believe a felony was committed].

    At the same time, I want to emphasize –as emphatically as possible– that my position on this issue has nothing to do with my position on any of the key issues under the banner of “gay rights.” I support same-sex marriage, etc. For me, the real problem here is that the study’s critics [or some significant portion thereof] appear to accept the implied idea that if kids brought up by same-sex parents are more depressed, or turn to welfare more frequently than others, it necessarily reflects badly on the parents. That is hardly the case, in my view. It should be obvious that in our society, gays, whether married, single, parenting or not, continue to have a hard road to tow. At the same time, guilt by association is as alive and well as the virulent racism that is directly daily toward the nation’s President.

    Moreover, we are not here informed about the magnitude of the difference, which could have been statistically significant, but substantively trivial. We are further not shown the type of controls that were utilized to account for such critical intervening variables as those customarily used to account for “class.”

    Consider just one that is often relied upon: parent’s education. What is the likelihood that a non-closeted gay man with X amount of credentials will [on average] earn as much as a outwardly “straight” guy with the exact same credentials? What is the likelihood that some of the “extra” depression that some of these kids experience is a direct function of seeing their parents hounded, hated, and harrassed by many members of their society, not to mention their own harrassment because of “association.”

    I could go on, but I’m sure you all “get my drift.” Those who dare condemn gay couples over a study like this ought to have their heads examined!

  • StraightGrandmother

    Dr. Regnerus “study was roundly disparaged because it was a very poor study and he tried to make it say something the data didn’t prove. Maybe with a few more facts you will come to understand *why* all the major gay rights organizations as well as individual gay rights advocates and bloggers made such a fuss.

    The very day the “study” was available on line for free the very tiny group with a Big Sounding Name the American Collegeof Pediatricians filed an Amicus Brief at the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 Case and the Golinski DOMA case that is right now awaiting Cert before our Supreme Court Justices. Not only that but the House Republicans who are defending the DOMA Court Cases, because Obama won’t, the House Republicans are citing this Regnerus research also in their briefs to the Supreme Court.

    Judge Vaughn Walker issued his ruling in Prop 8 on August 4th 2010. The Witherspoon Institute started this “Gays Make Bad Parents” project in the fall of 2010. The reason it was started was becasue during the Prop 8 Trial the defendents did not have any research to cite that said gays make bad parents. So the President of the Witherspoon Institute who also sits on the Board of Directors of The National Organization For Marriage, NOM, put up $685,000, and unheard of sum in Sociology Research. The problem Regnerus ran into is he could not find any straight up lesbian or gay couples who had raised a child for 28 years. So what could he do? He needed to deliver so he used a very weak criteria of “While growing up did either one of your parents ever have a same sex romance?” The answer to that question does not a Lesbian Mother or Gay Father make. So of course the gays are up in arms. That crappy research is before our Supreme Court.

    Now some things you probably do not know, I’ll tell you. The Dr who lead the Inquiry at Univ of Texas Austin, the Inquiry that ended with, “No further Investigation needed” He has been reassigned. That blogger Scott Rose that you write so Dispaerginly about, he filed Freedom of Information Act requests and the University of Texas Austin wrote a letter to the Attorney General of Texas Stating that Dr. Wilcox participated in the data collection and Data Analysis.

    Wo is Doctor Wilcox? Why Dr. Wilcox, in addition to being a Sociology Prof at Univer of Virginia, was at the time (and he had a long History) Dr. Wilcox was the The Program Director of the Witherspoon Family, Marriage, and Democracy Program. Which Witherspoon Program Funded Dr. Regnerus’ Research? The Family, Marriage and Democracy Program.

    Dr. Regnerus states in his report that oo one from my finding organizations participated in the research at all, I took their money but I worked totally independently. To bad for Dr. Regnerus that Dr. Wilcox made a Public confession late last week. Dr. Wilcox confessed that he did participate in the actual research with Regnerus. Of course that bad gay rights blogger Scott Rose’s Freedom of Information Act letter from the University of Texas didn’t have anything to do with Wilcox’s confession did it?

    What you don’t understand and what gay people and their straight allies do understand is, how twisted and interconnected and crooked the whole anti gay right groups are. We know how low they will go, and we work to expose it. Listen Regnerus LIED, he colluded with his funding organization during the research. His accomplice admitted it. Researcher Scientists simply cannot LIE in their reports, They can’t it is unethical for them to do so. Now you may be surprised with this new knowledge but gay rights advocates are not at all surprised, this is what we expected, and we expected it because this is what the Christian Right does. You know Witherspoon is an Opus Dei organization, right?

    Here are a link t get you started and if you read the comments to the articles you will find even more links
    http://familyscholars.org/2012/10/03/professor-regnerus-study-seems-deceptive-about-his-funding-sources-participation/

  • Robert Aponte

    Dear Straight Grandmother,
    Thanks a mil for “straightening” me out [pun intended]. Needless to say, I am more than just corrected. And, I do feel apologetic toward the blogger I disparaged. There is, however, an important caveat to all of this. Namely, I feel that “Educational Tech” owes us all an apology for publishing the material I responded to without the additional detail that would have markedly changed the appropriate interpretation. Unless they, too, were truly in the dark about the details –and that seems highly unlikely—they really committed a distinctly nefarious deed. In short, as much as I am willing to admit I was wrong and willing to apologize to the blogger, I fully believe that it was the article in the Tech periodical that sent me miles astray from the truth.

  • StraightGrandmother

    Robert A. No problem buddy. Hopefully Jake Simms is reading the comments and will soon be producing an updated and correct article. H need look no further than the NewCivilRightsMovement blog and on the top, click on Scott Rose. He continues to investigate and write articles. Sociologists are contacting him and demanding the Journal Retract the “research.”

    Jake Simms please write an updated article on L’Affaire Regnerus.

  • Scott Rose

    It should be noted that the University of Texas at Austin did *not* investigate Regnerus for misconduct. Rather, it held a supposed “inquiry,” the stated purpose of which was to decide whether an investigation was warranted. The university now has egg all over its face. It claimed there was no misconduct. Yet, Regnerus got most of his funding from The Witherspoon Institute. Witherspoon’s IRS 2010 990 forms describe the study as “an achievement” of Witherspoon’s Program for Marriage, Family and Democracy. The Director of that program in 2010 was W. Bradford Wilcox. Wilcox recruited Regnerus to do the study. Witherspoon then gave Regnerus a $55,000 planning grant. Wilcox collaborated with Regnerus on the study design. Only then did Witherspoon approve Regnerus for full study funding. Therefore, Regnerus (and Witherspoon’s) published statements that the funding sources weren’t involved “at all” in study design are untrue. Moreover, the documentation that Wilcox as Witherspoon Program Director and that he collaborated with Regnerus on study design was shown to Regnerus and to “Social Science Research” journal editor James Wright; nevertheless, in a more recently-published article of “Additional Analyses,” Regnerus wrote that “no funding agency representatives were consulted on study design.” Even were the study methodologically sound (it isn’t, but even if it were) this kind of public lying constitutes misconduct. UT has conflicts of interest in conducting any sort of “inquiry” or making public judgments about the study. Multiple reporters have filed Public Information Act requests for Regnerus study-related communications. UT then asks the Texas Attorney General for “exceptions” to those document requests. In those letters to the Attorney General, UT describes itself as a co-investor in the Regnerus study. Any serious “inquiry” would have found that Regnerus is lying about his relationship with his funders. He still thinks this lie will never catch up with him. Even as he continues to state that he is independent of his funders, he is scheduled to promote the study side-by-side with Witherspoon’s Ana Samuel in New Jersey in November. He refuses to say if Witherspoon is paying for his travel. This is not how a researcher independent of his study’s funders behaves. Overall this is not how a researcher who has personal integrity behaves.

  • Jake Simms

    Why do you want a retraction? Based on your comments, all I can conclude is you don’t like the political bent of the organization that funded the study. That’s not much of an argument, nor does it necessarily discredit the professor’s study.

  • Scott Rose

    The reason for retractions are many. One of them involves lying about whether the study funders participated in study design. Many leading academics are calling for retraction, due to the double whammy of the booby-trapped study design and the deliberate misrepresentations of the relationship between Regnerus and his funders. Dr. Lori Holyfield, Sociologist at the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Arkansas says this: “It is Research Ethics 101 to disclose conflicts of interest. Wilcox had so many roles in this, that it is unbelievable that journal editor James Wright never bothered to disclose any of Wilcox’s conflicts of interest to the public. That I see, we know for sure that Wilcox is on the journal’s editorial board, and that he is a long-time collaborator of Regnerus and of journal editor James Wright, and that he was the Witherspoon Program Director who recruited Regnerus for the study, and that he collaborated with Regnerus on study design, and then also did data collection and data analysis work. How did it happen, that none of this was disclosed? It is extremely important to note, that disclosure of these conflicts of interest would be necessary, whether the study was valid or not.” Dr. Michael Schwartz, Chair of the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University says this: “I believe that the journal should retract its acceptance of the article and will sign a collective appeal to Elsevier. For me, the retraction is needed primarily because the review process was compromised in several critical ways, and that therefore publication as a peer-reviewed publication was and is inappropriate. In addition, I have now read and analyzed the article myself, and also read some of the critical (and supportive) commentaries on it. It seems clear to me that if the article had been properly reviewed, that a whole menu of flaws in the research, in the analysis, and in the interpretation of evidence would make the article unpublishable. Also, I think that actions of the editor, James Wright–including the review process, the publication of the article with invited commentaries from collaborators, the subsequent failure to give space to legitimate criticisms of the article, and other editorial misconduct–should be professionally sanctioned. In addressing Elsevier, I think it would be appropriate to demand that they replace Wright with a new editor who will not violate the norms and values of scholarly publication.”

  • Nancy Poore

    What does this have to do with technology in education?


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