Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On gay parents, false "studies", and Congress

Recently, Republicans in Congress have been taking on the National Science Foundation, specifically grants by NSF to social scientists.  Because many of the findings of such studies are unpopular on the right, they are trying to insinuate themselves into peer review to block NSF funding of things they (Congress) considers "unimportant". In March, Congress voted to eliminate National Science Foundation funds for political science research, except for grants certified by the NSF director as “promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.”  Here's an excellent article on the problem.

This seems something arcane and uninteresting until you realize that on the flip side of this, conservative organizations basically "buy" research that they like.  And they try to prevent inconvenient facts from getting in the way. 

Such as the discredited "Renerus study" in which a social scientist in TX purported to do a study showing that children of gay parents don't do well. This got published, and then it got audited, and his professional organization and the journal itself agree, it doesn't say that at all.  Regnerus defines children of gay parents as children who grew up in a broken home where one parent MIGHT have had a same sex relationship at one point.

An interview with the auditor of the article was just published by SPLC.

First, he discusses some of the flaws of the study:
Regnerus’ data are from a large number of people recruited through convenience by a marketing firm — they are not a random, representative sample of the American population. Science requires random samples of the population, and that is not how this marketing firm collected their data....

Regnerus admits that just two of his respondents were actually raised by a same-sex couple, though I doubt that he can even know that, given his limited data. Since only two respondents were actually raised in gay or lesbian households, this study has absolutely nothing to say about gay parenting outcomes. Indeed, because it is a non-random sample, this study has nothing to say about anything....
He also explains that it was funded by a far-right, anti-gay group.  As federal funding dries up, these sources of funding are able to buy the scholarship they want.
One thing that’s disturbing to me about the Regnerus study is that Regnerus received a large amount of money from these foundations and this creates a very different scholarly and intellectual atmosphere. It creates a playing field that’s not level. Someone like Regnerus is now able to go out and buy his own data, if we’re to accept data of this quality.

Even if we were to say it’s high-quality data, he is able to get a million dollars’ worth of influence — he was able to generate that kind of funding from these conservative foundations in a way that other intellectuals are not able to do. All of the traditional sources of social scientific funding have dried up over the last 20 years and there’s nowhere to go to get money, but these guys have it. There are talks in Congress about cutting the entire social science budget at the National Science Foundation. That is chilling, because then we’ll be completely reliant on people like Mark Regnerus and Brad Wilcox [of the University of Virginia] and Christian Smith [of Notre Dame University] and people like that for our information about potentially crucial or controversial issues....
The bottom line:
When we talk about Regnerus, I completely dismiss the study. It’s over. He has been disgraced. All of the prominent people in the field know what he did and why he did it. And most of them know that he knew better. Some of them think that he’s also stupid and an ideologue. I know better. I know that he’s a smart guy and that he did this on purpose, and that it was bad, and that it was substandard.
The harm that Regnerus did (his study was cited many times in the Supreme Court arguments) can only be offset by real, impartial scholarship. And that is why you should care deeply about Congressional efforts to reduce social science funding at the National Science Foundation. Because it's not just some random academic who is affected.  This is personal.

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