The July issue of Social Science Research, a fairly well-respected academic journal, published an academic article by sociologist Mark Regnerus entitled "How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study". It found that children of parents who had same-sex relationships had more difficulties as young adults. As one might expect, after the study came out there was a firestorm of criticism about the study, Dr. Regnerus, and the journal.
First, let me mention that I have met Dr. Regnerus on a handful of occassions and we have a number of mutual friends. He seems like a nice guy, if a bit quiet. He is openly Christian and a social conservative. His views are not secret, and the study results mirror his views.
My wife, who is a sociologist, believes that the study's findings are bogus. I asked her to show me what, in the study itself, she found to be problematic. She couldn't. I looked around further and the only complaint I found about the study itself was about where Regnerus found his respondents. Given my experience in academia, this seems to be a flimsy complaint. Finding respondents for a new study is notoriously difficult, and getting better respondents requires more money. It costs a lot of money to get top-notch respondent pool. The majority of studies are like this one and have a "good enough" pool. There's also the issue of what a "better" respondent is.
Most of the complaints about the study came from people complaining about the funding source of the study. The money came from the Witherspoon Institute, a think tank known for its socially conservative viewpoints. There were complaints that the study didn't come from sources such as the National Institutes of Health or an academic source. Personally, I don't believe the Witherspoon institute is any more biased than the NIH or most academic sources. I've been concerned with a variety of biases at these institutions for years. At the very least, their funding trends indicate biases. There are very few funding sources I can think of for this topic that wouldn't have bias one way or another. While it isn't ideal, it is what it is. If the study itself is good, I'm not as concerned with the funding source.
A second point of complaint is that it looked like the study was rushed through in record time. Whereas most academic journal articles will take at least a year from submission to publication, this article's timeline was two months. While that is fast, it is not unheard of. Speedy publication happens fairly often in public policy research, for example. If there was some collusion to speed the study through, that would be a source of concern. Having it go through in two months doesn't bother me so much.
A third point of complaint is that the commenters on the article in the journal were themselves on the same research project. This one is odd. Commenters are generally selected by the journal and are experts in the particular topic. The two commenters in this case were not "established scholars" having never published on the topic of lgbt parenting. Giving the benefit of the doubt, here's what I think might have happened. When you submit a paper to some journals, you get asked for the names of people who know about your subject to serve as commenters. The two commenters were probably mentioned by Regnerus because they were two of very few people familiar with the study in question. Let me emphasize that this is still not ideal, but I'm not convinced it was as nefarious as some would lead us to believe.
Here is what I suspect may actually be happening. I want you to imagine that a study came out finding that the adult children of lgbt parents turned out better than children of a traditional monogomous two-parent home. Imagine also that all of the irregularities I mentioned in the previous three paragraphs were true of this study. Would there be a national firestorm about it? I sort of doubt it. I doubt anyone except a few socially conservative, academically inclined outlets would even notice the irregularities. And, no matter how much they screamed, I doubt mainstream press or academia would pay any attention.
Now I could be absolutely wrong about all of this. There might be an equally vociferous complaint. I doubt it, though, because I have never seen it happen. Think tanks fund studies that get published in academic journals all the time. Speedy publication happens all the time. Commentators who are somehow connected to the author get published all the time. I think this particular case is getting all the attention because a scholar dared to present a study that violated academic political correctness. Now his career is at risk, despite being tenured.
After all this, I have to plead ignorance on the quality of the study itself. It is well outside my field and I am not familiar with the methodoligies. For all I actually know, the study might be academic garbage. If that is the case, the study should be attacked on the grounds of it being academic garbage. Having seen my share of academic garbage being printed in academic journals going virtually unnoticed, though, I doubt the firestorm has anything to do with the quality of the research itself. I think Dr. Regnerus dared step into politically sensitive territory and came out on the wrong side of the politically correct line.
I could very well be wrong and welcome any input on how I am misreading the situation. In some ways I hope that I am. I may very well be biased myself because I have felt personally discriminated against because of my Christian faith. But I have seen this pattern before--where Christian scholars can't come out of the religious closet until they are tenured, and even then they can't publish on the topics they want in most academic journals because of a refusal by those journals to even look at those topics. Regnerus got into a journal, and look what happened...