What does the science Journalism say?
When talking about gay parenting studies, there’s very little science journalism. This was brought to my attention by Public Discourse, an online newsmagazine from the Witherspoon Institute, a non-profit based in New Jersey. The post was written by Mark Regnerus.
What does the research article say?
Here’s the abstract (Emphasis is added)
Almost all studies of same-sex parenting have concluded there is “no difference” in a range of outcome measures for children who live in a household with same-sex parents compared to children living with married opposite-sex parents. Recently, some work based on the US census has suggested otherwise, but those studies have considerable drawbacks. Here, a 20 % sample of the 2006 Canada census is used to identify self-reported children living with same-sex parents, and to examine the association of household type with children’s high school graduation rates. This large random sample allows for control of parental marital status, distinguishes between gay and lesbian families, and is large enough to evaluate differences in gender between parents and children. Children living with gay and lesbian families in 2006 were about 65 % as likely to graduate compared to children living in opposite sex marriage families. Daughters of same-sex parents do considerably worse than sons.
Where was the article published?
Who wrote the article?
What are the red flags in this article?
There aren’t any. This is a very standard, non-controversial article using standard economics modeling techniques in a standard, well staffed academic journal. There are, however some major red flags in the coverage of this issue within this specific blog post.
In 2012, Mark Regnerus, a professor of Sociology at the University of Texas published the New Family Structures Study which was heavily criticized by liberal and LGBT interest groups. Allen defended Regnerus in the press as doing effective social science research and explained some of the complexities and political realities of the scholarship. Regnerus, via the Public Discourse blog, presents a prescriptive use of Allen’s paper.
In the social sciences, the kind of research that Regnerus and Allen have done is descriptive. It uses a set of data inputs from various surveys and describes large statistical correlations that exist in that data set.
In this blog post, however, Regnerus is using Allen’s data as if it were prescriptive. It is not. While it describes something that is very real within the constraints of the data used, it does not explain why this correlation exists. It is ironic that Regnerus is using the same tactics he condemned as ‘misuse’ of his own work.
As a librarian, I would recommend both Allen’s paper and Regnerus study as useful for an undergraduate and graduate research work on the topic.
Due to some conversations below I wanted to clarify this. Part of my job as a librarian is to act as a preliminary filter for information, to curate a set of information being talked about by the academy. This means that I reject material for collections based on some basic criteria. However, I don’t make judgements after a certain level and I work very hard to make sure my own ideological assumptions do not interfere with decisions to collect and recommend controversial material. It’s both beyond my experience and against my ethics. While I agree that there are severe methodological problems within these two articles, they are a part of the conversation within the academy and the methodological problems they both exhibit are common in many other social science studies. It is a false assumption to claim that just because I reccomend a paper for research means that I recommend it personally.
I’m going to break that rule here for a moment for a little bit of clarity. I think both Regnerus’ study and Allen’s paper accurately describe the data set used. That is, simplified a basic criteria for including material in a collection. However, the way that both of these studies have been used by politicians and the general public ascribes personal failings to the LGBT parents that create the effects described. This is the kind of false assumption this blog post was designed to call out. Personally, and at a very high level professionally, I would point out that both Regnerus and Allen are not controlling for stability, financial security, job security, trauma and other factors that have a far larger impact rather than the sexual preferences of the parents.
So, with those methodological problems and my own personal preferences why would I recommend papers like this for research use? Because pointing out false assumptions at that level is the responsibility of other social science researchers and they can’t do that if their collections are hampered by ideologically driven curators. If I were to cave to my own personal preferences I would weaken the arguments and stunt the education of the kind of people I want to see well educated.