I Don’t Care Who Financed Prof. Regnerus
June 15th, 2012
I’m confident we’ve exposed Prof. Mark Regnerus’ study as a mess. We’ve ripped him for so many flaws. His sorting of its respondents; his definitions of “gay,” “lesbian,” and “same-sex parenting”; his sample size; his statistical significance; his unsupported statements to the popular press.
In doing so, we’ve haven’t simply torn holes in his work. We’ve legitimately questioned his integrity as a scientist.
And yet some folks believe we’re on the wrong track. The New Civil Rights Movement points out the study was financed by right-wing groups with ties to the National Organization for Marriage:
Where NOM intended to trap people, and, so far, has largely succeeded in trapping people, is in getting them to blah-blah-blah about the details of Regnerus’s junk findings, instead of talking very pointedly about the genesis of the junk…
…The words in Regnerus’s junk study — and in Marks’s equal heap of anti-gay junk — should not be dignified by repeating them in order to rebut them.
I respectfully disagree. When it comes to who funded the study…I mostly don’t care.
Not that it’s completely irrelevant. It heightens our scrutiny. It provides an answer for the good-hearted and incredulous who object, But why would a scientist do such bad work? (Timothy Kincaid has a good piece on that.)
Ultimately, though, it’s not merely a fallacy to focus so much on the personalities and motivations behind a study. It’s also a trap you set for yourself. I see this scenario all too often in our opponents:
A scientist makes an objective study of gays and lesbians and announces favorable results. Our opponents seize on that as proof that the scientist is a pro-homosexual activist, and therefore fatally tainted with bias.
It’s an odd bit of illogic to dismiss your opponents’ arguments simply because they come from your opponents. And it hurts you. Outside views can never challenge you. You’ve limited your own thinking with a habit of epistemic closure. You’ve even given fair-minded folk a rationale for ignoring gay-positive science done by gay researchers or funded by gay groups.
Worst of all, the undecided middle now has reason to think you don’t have a genuine reply. Some might be impressed by: It was funded by an anti-gay group. But how much more effective to say: My god, his whole $800,000 study only looked at two — yes, two — kids who were raised entirely by same-sex couples, and he won’t even say how those two turned out!
The first reply questions the study’s integrity. The second demolishes it. Why would you merely question if you have the power to demolish?
And here’s a secret. For all their talk of being “silenced” by homosexual activists, our opponents don’t want an open conversation. We saw this, hilariously, in the Prop 8 proceedings. A number of their expert witnesses backed out of testifying, allegedly because they feared for their safety. So how did our own all-star legal team respond? By calling one of these hostile witnesses to the stand, and by showing videotaped pre-trial depositions from two others.
It was a huge win for us: their testimony highlighted the irrationality and ignorance of our opponents. And don’t forget about David Blankenhorn, the opposition witness with enough foolhardy courage to take the stand. He ended up having to admit he’d once written, “We would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before.”
You only find this out through dialog, through analysis, through holding responsible for what they’ve said and done. The other side wants to side-step all that. Too many of them positively thrive on shadowy innuendo about hidden agendas driven by secret motives. Don’t take the conversation to that world.
The average undecided person isn’t going to remember who financed which study. The average undecided person is going to remember their reaction on hearing the stupid crap the researchers tried to pull off. That feeling of disgusted wonderment will stick with them, even if the details do not.