Welcome to Part 2 of a three part series on American far right anti-gay groups and how they’ve been exporting their homophobia (and misogyny, and other far-right causes) all over the globe.
In Part 1, we explored the origins, goals, and methods of the World Congress of Families, an umbrella organization for just about every American group opposing gay rights, women’s rights, and in fact any liberal or progressive cause that offends the far right social radicals.
Part 2, below, examines the infamous Regnerus anti-gay “New Family Structures Study,” and how the same names behind the World Congress of Families, National Organization for Marriage, and other far right American anti-gay hate groups made it happen. In addition, we’ll dig into just how such an awful, unscientific paper was published at all.
Finally, in Part 3, I’m hoping to tie it all together.
I’ve written about the Regnerus study before, but in this post I’m planning to go into greater detail and make connections I hadn’t made then.
The New Family Structures Study – aka The Regnerus Study
The formal name for what is commonly (in the media anyway) called “the Regnerus study” is actually the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), as published in the journal “Social Science Research.”
It acquired the nickname because that’s the surname of the researcher — Mark Regnerus — who conducted, analyzed, and wrote a paper on his results.
In short, the Regnerus study has become the number one tool of the far right — in America and around the globe — in their declarations that homosexuality must be made illegal because gays are bad for children. No longer content merely to suggest children do better with hetero parents, the radical anti-gay right has been claiming they have scientific proof that gay parents — indeed all gay people — aren’t just ‘less than ideal,’ but actually and literally a danger to kids.
I’ve already covered the Regnerus study in some detail in another post. (In fact, it was my debut AMERICAblog essay, “The Protocols of the Elders of the Castro.“) John also reported on it back in July, in “Internal audit finds anti-gay marriage study to be “bullsh-t.” As I wrote on 19 Aug:
The Regnerus study claims to compare and contrast outcomes for children raised in gay or lesbian-headed families as opposed to heterosexual families (both biological and adoptive). Its conclusion: Children raised by gay and lesbian families are (according to the study) significantly more prone to depression, suicide, drug abuse, getting STDs, doing lousy in school, having behavior problems in general, and being sexually abused. Oh, and growing up to be gay.
In glancing through Regenerus data and charts, it would seem to indicate lesbian mothers are especially awful at raising kids, in addition to being more likely to be on public assistance and welfare. Not to mention, experts at taking children and turning them gay.
The number one methodology problem? Out of a what’s listed as a sample size consisting of 3000 adults, there were only two actually-gay families in the entire study, both lesbian and their families were blended from earlier relationships.
None of the purportedly gay or lesbian families were stable two-parent households raising children from birth or very early age adoptions. People were classified as gay if they’d ever at any time in their lives had a same-sex romantic encounter. (Apparently bisexuals simply don’t exist according to this study. And sorry, if you slept with someone of the same gender just once, even if you later decided being gay wasn’t for you — you’re gay.) As John Corvino at the New Republic remarked:
Question: What do the following all have in common?
- A heterosexually married female prostitute who on rare occasion services women
- A long-term gay couple who adopt special-needs children
- A never-married straight male prison inmate who sometimes seeks sexual release with other male inmates
- A woman who comes out of the closet, divorces her husband, and has a same-sex relationship at age 55, after her children are grown
- Ted Haggard, the disgraced evangelical pastor who was caught having drug fueled-trysts with a male prostitute over a period of several years
- A lesbian who conceives via donor insemination and raises several children with her long-term female partner
Give up? The answer—assuming that they all have biological or adopted adult children between the ages of 18 and 39—is that they would all be counted as “Lesbian Mothers” or “Gay Fathers” in Mark Regnerus’s new study, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study” (NFSS).
The bullet-point in the list that jumped out at me was gay couples adopting special needs kids. As the Regnerus methodology would have it, the gay couple is blamed for all problems and behavioral issues the kid had even before he or she came into their home.
The survey included around 3,000 grown adults. Out of those, 163 said their father had a gay relationship at some point during their childhood (0 to age 18), and 73 said their mother had had a lesbian relationship. Mark Regnerus himself admitted that only two of his 3,000 survey participants spent their entire childhood being raised by two moms, and claimed that “several” spent more than 10 years in a gay or lesbian headed family. That’s still a sample size so small as to be laughable — and it will provide no useful data at all as to what it’s actually like growing up with two committed gay or lesbian parents.
(I)n this study (of those identified as having ‘gay parents’), only 57% said they had lived with their mother and her partner for at least four months before the age of 18, and only 23% reported living with their father and his partner for the same length of time. Only 23% of LM children and 2% of GF children reported living with their parents and their parents’ same-sex partners for three years or more.
Doing the math: That would make it 2 respondents who lived with their father and his partner for three years or more. And 17 who lived with their mother and her partner for at least three years. 19 individuals out of 3,000. And that’s at the low-water mark of three years.
Even if you accept the resulting sample size as large enough to be statistically significant (and every reputable researcher has said no, it’s not), you’re still not comparing the same things. The only survey participants who would qualify as “the same thing” as a child raised in a two parent hetero household for all of his or her 18 years are the two who were raised by lesbian mothers.
Although as I note later in this post, Social Science Research’s Darren Sherkat tried to deflect the blame for the Regnerus paper being published in the first place, he nevertheless referred to the study and its results as “bullsh*t.”
One metaphor I saw frequently used was that the Regnerus study compared oranges with apple slices.
How did this study come to be? NOM, actually. And their good friends.
The Regnerus study itself didn’t come out of nowhere. It was conceived of originally as a National Organization for Marriage (NOM) project, and in fact there are emails discussing the planned study that involved Maggie Gallagher, seeking her input, and Robert George, co-founder of NOM.
Witherspoon even paid for Regnerus and Wilcox to go to Colorado in August 2011 to meet with Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton. (Funny how the same organization names keep appearing over and over…)
The whole point was to concoct a pseudo-scientific basis, to create a seemingly rational — and urgently compelling — argument against gay rights, so that it could be ‘shopped’ around the world. It would lend cover for politicians and leaders who could just say, “See? It’s in the science right here — gays are bad for children. A terrible danger to them, actually.”
Of course, the overwhelming — and legitimately researched — evidence to the contrary is conveniently ignored.
How to publish a BS research paper
Dodgy financing from groups and individuals with obvious agendas. A biased researcher. Intentionally flawed survey methods. Deliberately misleading analyses of the collected data. Compromised peer-reviews.
Some of it is due to the fact that there’s been a huge degree of consolidation in the scientific publication and journals industry worldwide over the last 20 years or so. Only a few very large companies — such as the multi-billion dollar international publishing company Elsevier, for example — own practically everything. According to its Wiki entry, Elsevier publishes close to a quarter million articles a year in 2,000 journals.
It’s possible due to the money involved…and lax standards
Scientific journals and archives are a highly lucrative business. Some journals come with a yearly subscription price as high as $14,000.
Exactly how lucrative? Enough to bring felony “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)” charges against Aaron Swartz for downloading JSTOR academic database articles in bulk, with the intention not to sell them, but to make them publicly available for any to access and use. Amid allegations of vindictive prosecution on the part of the U.S. Assistant Attorney General Carmen Ortiz, who insisted that misdemeanor charges be escalated to multiple felonies, and then piled on until Swartz essentially faced life in prison for one act of civil disobedience, Swartz committed suicide.
That’s how much money is involved. Enough to buy federal involvement at the highest levels. However, with international conglomerates as big as Elsevier (not affiliated with JSTOR, by the way, just need to make that clear), they simply don’t have the means to exercise centralized control over the content within its thousands of journals and hundreds of thousands of articles.
So they’ve adopted part of the Walmart business model: High volume. Monopoly practices. Cheaply made products.
But unlike Walmart, the journal companies have a captive scientific and university audience, and so they also have unbelievable profit margins and the ability to set prices to be as high as they like. And the price they like is “extortionately, obscenely high.” Our own Dr. Mark Thoma has an earlier post on the problems with faulty “research” making its way into legitimate scientific journals.
Compromised peer-reviews for the NFSS
High volume means streamlined or virtually absent peer-review processes. Indeed, while researching this post, I learned that while it absolutely was a breach of ethics to allow Wilcox to peer-review Mark Regnerus’ article, another of the peer reviewers, Paul Amato, did bring up his conflict of interest with Dr. James Wright, senior editor for “Social Science Research.”
The conflict was that Amato had been a paid consultant early on the project. He was asked to review the article anyway, with his stated excuse being:
“In this and every other case in which I have brought information like this to the editor’s attention, the editor has asked me to do the review anyway. Journal editors often have a difficult time getting reviews, and I assume they treat these reviews as one more data point. So the editor of SSR was doing what other editors do, as far as I know.”
Perhaps he has a point. On the other hand, difficulty in getting peer reviewers doesn’t sound like a very good excuse to me. Nor does it sound like good science. (And it’s not.)
One detail that came up in subsequent audits and reviews of Dr. Wright’s decision to go ahead and publish such a flawed and biased paper was his repeated mention that he’s apparently under a great deal of pressure to keep his “impact factor” as high as possible. (Impact factor = lots of paid downloads. Controversial articles are good for the bottom line.)
In an audit by a Social Science Research journal board member, Dr. Darren Sherkat — in an obvious attempt to deflect the blame — remarked:
“The fetishism of the journal impact factors comes from the top down, and all major publishers prod editors about the current state of their impact factor. Elsevier is particularly attentive to this and frequently inquires about what Wright is doing to improve the already admirable impact factor of Social Science Research.”
The scientific journal profit motive and its corrupting influence
The profit motive has pretty much compromised the entire journal publication industry, especially in what are considered “open-access journals.” The idealistic concept sounds great: Access to scientific papers “without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.”
But if regular journals are like a hyper-priced Walmart, open-access is a factory seconds dollar store. With shelves lined with shiny, lead-painted toys.
The 4 October 2013 issue of “Science/AAAS” has an article titled, “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” The author, John Bohannon, crafted a phony research article about an anti-cancer lichen-derived miracle drug. Over the course of ten months, he submitted the paper to 304 journals — and it was accepted by more than half of them.
To be fair, the Social Science Research isn’t open-access (although Elsevier has an entire open-access area). To purchase a PDF download of any given article, you either need an institution subscription or be willing to fork over $36. (A laugh out loud moment: If you want to read the full version of Dr. Sherkat’s in-house audit review of the Regnerus debacle, that also costs $36. In fact, each and every subsequent Social Science Research article about the Regnerus study, whether pro or con, costs $36 each to download.)
The reality, as Bohannon discovered, is it’s all just a matter of where these scientific publishing behemoths think they can get the most money. Sometimes it’s putting papers behind a subscription or pay-per-article wall; other times, it’s depending on publication fees from the researchers themselves, or their backers. But before it’s said I’m not comparing the same things, Bohannon’s interviewee for his article, David Roos, had this to add:
“Some say that the open-access model itself is not to blame for the poor quality control revealed by Science‘s investigation. If I had targeted traditional, subscription-based journals, Roos told me, “I strongly suspect you would get the same result.”"
Simply put: Just getting a paper into a scientific journal isn’t the proof of reasonable veracity it used to be.
Regnerus and Marks: A study in bias and conflicts of interest
Subsequently, we have documented that not a single one of the peer reviewers of the Regnerus or Marks papers is trained or experienced in LGBT sciences. Many of the peer reviewers have very serious conflicts of interest.
The Marks paper to which he refers, by the way, is another piece of anti-gay pseudo-scientific BS. Louisiana State University associate professor Loren Marks (a devout Mormon, by the way…and unapologetic bearer of rather extreme gay-face) challenged the entire American Psychological Association (APA) to try to claim the APA’s findings weren’t true.
He disagrees with their conclusions, “…that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation.”
Why? Apparently just because. Who needs scientific fact and research when you can just depend on good old Truthiness?
Loren Marks was going to submit his findings in the Prop 8 case in California. However, he later admitted to cherry-picking his results from papers he’d not fully read, entirely because he wanted to make the case against same-sex marriage. But that didn’t stop him from seeking publication anyway.
The Marks paper is significant because whenever the Regnerus study is being promoted, Marks’ paper is often included. It’s as if to suggest, “See, it’s not just one controversial paper proving that gays are baby-eating monsters. We have two!”
ThinkProgress also ran an article back in June, laying out some rather compelling circumstantial evidence that Regnerus and Marks were collaborating to some degree on their respective articles:
- Regnerus and Marks published their pieces together, but Marks cited Regnerus’ paper, so he clearly had foreknowledge of its conclusions. This suggests it is likely they intentionally published simultaneously as a “one-two election year punch.”
- Marks was originally called to testify in favor of Proposition 8, but admitted in deposition that he only had read parts of the studies from which he drew conclusions and had considered no research on gay and lesbian parents. His present research, published just two years later, attempts to make the same claims.
- Marks also made his paper available for the House Republican legal team defending the Defense of Marriage Act long before it was published in a peer-reviewed journal.
- There are multiple obvious ties between NOM co-founder Robert George, the Witherspoon Institute (which funded Regnerus’ research), Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (which is defending the research), National Review (where NOM’s Maggie Gallagher frequently writes and where she has promoted the paper), and Mark Regnerus himself, suggesting particularly convenient collusion for spinning the political implications of the paper’s publication.
(These bullet points come verbatim from the ThinkProgress post by Zach Ford.)
Coming up next: Motive, means, and opportunity
In criminal law, those three words summarize what needs to be proven before guilt of a crime can be established.
In Part 1 of this series, we established motive: The desire for far-right social conservative groups here in America to export their anti-gay agenda throughout the world. They can’t help but see the ‘arc of history’ on gay rights bending against them in America as state after state has legalized same sex marriage, DOMA has been partially overturned, and poll after poll shows increasing acceptance of LGBT people — and civil rights for us — among the general population.
We’ve just explored the means: Funding and support provided by these right wing extremist groups so that Regnerus (and Marks) could manufacture deeply flawed results and false conclusions — then whitewash these papers through a badly compromised scientific journal publication system.
In Part 3, we’ll look at opportunity. As a foretaste of that, an appetizer if you will, here’s a little known detail:
Want to know who else is on the editorial board for the Social Science Research, the journal that published the Regnerus study? Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox.
Yes, the same guy who, with his network of radical wingnut “Homophobia, Inc.” friends, arranged for the study to be done in the first place.