Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cleaning up the Mess

I blogged twice already on the Regnerus Study here and here, which came out last month and which purported to show that lesbians and gays make poorer parents than same-sex couples.*

I tried to make the point that, although I was outraged by just how badly flawed this study was methodologically, and although I was linking to several others articulating that position as well, much of the criticism was coming from the popular press and from gay sources with their own dog in the race, including my own.  And that meant much of the kerfluffle was political.  And even when it was not, it looked political.  I said at the time that it would take time for the Regnerus study to be judged on its academic merits by Regnerus’s peers in sociology and related fields.  I thought this might take months, possibly even years.  I was pretty far off the mark.

Some 200 sociologists and family studies scholars have now signed a letter of protest, outlining the faults of the study and registering dismay at the way it puts their field in a bad light.

The letter is addressed to the editors and advisory editors of Social Science Research, the journal that published this paper.  It registers the writers’ concern that there was something suspicious about the expedited peer review process and calls into question the scholarly merit of the paper, as well.  It lays out a challenge to the journal to invite experts to publish a critique of the paper in their next edition.

Specifically, the writers question “whether [the study] actually uses methods and instruments that answer the research questions posed in the paper.”  They don’t mince words. “The methodologies used in this paper and the interpretation of the findings,” they say, “are inappropriate.”   Recognizing that Social Science Research is “a well-regarded, highly cited social science journal (ranking in the top 15% of Sociology journals by ISI,” they nonetheless call their editorial process “into serious question.”I wanted to see who these academic writers were and looked into a few of their CVs.   A complete list is available here, as well as on the letter itself, but here are six chosen at random.
  • Louise Bordeaux Silverstein, Ph.D., of Yeshiva University in New York, author, with Dr, Karl Auerbach of a book entitled Qualitative data: An introduction to coding and analysis, in 2003.
  •  Joel L. Becker, Ph.D.,  Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychology at UCLA and a Clinical Associate at USC, where he teaches and supervises doctoral candidates in psychology.  He also holds an appointment as an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Bio-Behavioral Sciences at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA where he teaches and supervises psychiatric residents. 
  • Debra C. Minkoff,  Ph.D.,  professor of Sociology at Barnard.  She graduated from Brandeis in 1983 Magna Cum Laude in 1983 and holds an M.A. (1987) and a Ph.D. (1991)  in sociology from Harvard University (1991).
  • Tey Meadow, Ph.D., Cotsen Fellow, Princeton University, winner of the Martin P. Levine Memorial Dissertation Fellowship for best dissertation proposal in Gender and Sexualities from the American Sociological Association.
  • Peter M. Nardi, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College (Claremont Colleges), onetime (2005-6) president of the Pacific Sociological Association and member of the editorial board of several academic journals: Editorial Board: Gender & Society (1998-2002); Men & Masculinities (1998-2000); Sociological Perspectives (1996-1999); California Sociologist  (1978-1990); Journal of Homosexuality (1993--) 
  • Gary Gates, Ph.D., of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.  His Ph.D. is in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University, and his doctoral dissertation included the first significant research study using US Census data to explore characteristics of same-sex couples. 
These six, I thought, ought to demonstrate that whoever got the letter going knew what they were doing.

And then I noticed there were five more – not random, this time ­– who happened to be Regnerus’s colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin, as well:
  • Gloria González-López, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
  • Mark D. Hayward, Professor of Sociology and Director, Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin 
  • Chandra Muller, Professor of Sociology and Faculty Research Associate, Population Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Sharmila Rudrappa, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
  • Debra J Umberson, PhD, Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
It’s a large department, with 26 full professors and 14 associate professors and 4 assistant professors as well as a large number of lecturers and affiliated faculty.  But it’s got to be seriously embarrassing to have six out of 43 of your colleagues (that’s 14%) putting in writing that they think you do shoddy research.

Most of the world couldn’t care less what goes on at some out of the way (sorry, Texas) American state university.   But this is a story worth paying attention to.  Unfortunately, we have an unusually high percentage of the population unabashedly spouting political views without regard to facts on the ground.  These people and their supporters, including the Roman Catholic hierarchy and a number of others committed to one authoritarian ideology or another, have already taken Regnerus’s study and run with it.

Regnerus had professional choices to make, and he might have seen – if he cared to – that misrepresenting gay people this badly at a time like this, when LGBT people are finally getting their rights in this country, was bound to explode in his face.

It is important that there be information made available to counter rightwing misrepresentations.  Special thanks to these 200 academics for acting so quickly.  And to novelist, writer and blogger Scott Rose, who has been like a dog with a bone on “The New Civil Rights Movement” webpage,  making sure the story didn’t get buried.  For a link to his several reports, click here

And he’s not alone. See also here and here for a sample of at least two other people with a keen eye and a commitment to keeping things on the up and up.

Take a deep breath.  The air has gotten a whole lot fresher lately.

*To read the original Regnerus study, click here, then on #3, and you’ll get a pdf copy.   

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