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I Don’t Care Who Financed Prof. Regnerus

Rob Tisinai

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:

Mark Regnerus‘s recently-released, anti-gay, Republican political propaganda was a trap set by the malicious anti-gay bigots at 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.

Comments

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Mark F.
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Yes!

StraightGrandmother
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Side note you should check out Maggies-

Do children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as children raised by married moms and dads?

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California’s Proposition 8 in part on those grounds. The scientific evidence is so strong, he ruled, that only an irrational human being could imagine the ideal for a child was a mom and dad.

This week a big hole was punched in Walker’s storyline by a new study in the peer-review publication Social Science Journal.

http://townhall.com/columnists/maggiegallagher/2012/06/15/the_gay_murphy_brown_effect

Lindoro Almaviva
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Bra-vo.

I particularly like this part: Why would you merely question if you have the power to demolish?

Michael C
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Just a minor correction (and only because of the emphasis)

“…his whole $800,000 study only looked [at] two — yes, two — kids who were raised entirely by same-sex couples”

The link provided cited “less than 2 percent of all respondents who said their mother had a same-sex relationship reported living with their mom and her partner for all 18 years of their childhood” which could mean 3 kids.

Love,
Annoying NitPicker

Rob Tisinai
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Michael, thanks for spotting the typo. I’m basing the “2” on his interview with CBS (linked to above, and pointed out to me by our indomitable Straight Grandmother):

“People might say that’s irresponsible to do this study without all these stable lesbian couples in the study,” he said, adding the random sampling only found two out of the 175 children who said they lived in a home with both same-sex parents throughout all 18 years.

Ben in Oakland
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

The issue of funding is relevant, but not to the integrity of the research. That falls apart all on its own.

What it is relevant to is the political motivations for the research, and the political purposes to which the research is and will be put.

ChiMaxx
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

I don’t agree. I grew up in the era when shoddy research from the Tobacco Institute muddied the public discourse about tobacco and prevented any meaningful progress on reducing usage. Who funds a study, what their agenda is and how far they are able to compel the researcher to bend the results toward their preferred outcome is entirely relevant. That a study with this level of funding could only find a home in a second-string journal is part of the story.

ChiMaxx
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

BTW: wish I knew who wrote this, but your mobile site doesnt include byline! I’ll have to wait til I get home.

IT
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

YES Rob. YES AND YES. This is SO important (and what I said in a thread below)

It’s an odd bit of illogic to dismiss your opponents’ arguments simply because they come from your opponents. And it hurts you. …You’ve even given fair-minded folk a rationale for ignoring gay-positive science done by gay researchers or funded by gay groups….

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.

Indeed. The first responses to this study took it apart by reading it and critiquing it, finding the flaws and highlighting them dispassionately. That’s the argument to make. To do otherwise is to fall into the trap of only agreeing with one’s own views… which is EXACTLY what we accuse the other side of doing.

Mike A
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Why must we pursue only one approach, and not both?

Yes, the data should be discredited. And BTB has done a great job with that.

But wealthy extremists will continue to cook up phony studies, consuming the limited resources of multiple scientific and pro-equality organizations to refute the fraud. The extremists will continue so long as universities allow their faculty, facilities, and reputation to be bought by special interests, and so long as the extremists think they can get away with burying us in phony data to analyze.

College graduates with an interest in psychology will take interest in a robust two-way debate, but most Americans have only a high school education and little interest in the details. Many will hear about phony studies through churches that will never will never air both sides of the debate.

Let’s not overestimate the scholarly devotion of the average Joe Blow, or sell short our allies who seek to protect future academic research from bribery, fraud, and political distortion.

StraightGrandmother
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

ChiMax Rob Tisinai wrote this article. I have often thought it would be a good ideo for them simply to enter their name at the end of the article. I know what you mean when I read it on an iPad I can’t see who wrote it.

TampaZeke
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

So, if NOM funds an anti-gay study that is then used as a political weapon, we shouldn’t care who funded it or use the fact to demonstrate why the study is biased and intended from the outset to be used politically?

Gene in L.A.
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Our opponents “seizing on” a scientist’s data to characterize who she “must be” is a very different matter from knowing who is behind the very genesis of a study. The former is simply the predictable response of anyone who dislikes the results. The latter is–as you say–an opportunity to evaluate the personalities and the motivations behind the study. Scientists are well aware that going into an experiment or study with a goal in mind can cloud not only how it is interpreted at the end but how it is conducted during the process.

Truthspew
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

NOM has always paid for slanted studies. I recall just after the elections here in RI last cycle they said that 80% of RI voters opposed marriage equality.

So I fired up my copy of the RI Central Voter Registration Database and did the math. It turns out that at a maximum maybe 29% of RI voters want to vote on equality, not 80%.

NOM always pulls this bullshit because they know that not many people will do the leg work to prove them wrong.

Rob Tisinai
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

TampaZeke, you can’t demonstrate a study is biased based on who funded it. That’s not possible. You can only demonstrate bias by finding it in the content and methods of the study itself.

Once you’ve done that, you can (as I said above) use the funding information to explain WHY a biased study was created, and (as others have pointed out) to show the lack of character of those who would buy influence through deliberately bad science.

First, though, you have to show that the science is bad,and you can’t do that through ad hominem reasoning.

Alec
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

I agree that the study must be attacked on its (lack of) merits. But we *must* care about the political motivations of the people doing the study.

The comparison that comes to mind is global warming. The anti-gay industry is well funded, to be sure, but their funding pales in comparison to the industries that oppose legislation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And what have we seen? They fund studies that consistently attempt to obfuscate the underlying reality (you know, the way that the world is) in an attempt to create policy paralysis.

The intent here is the same. Conservatives will continue to cite this faulty study in their own journals, and it will drift into briefs filed in marriage and adoption litigation. When, say, Illinois debates marriage, it will be brought into committee meetings by legislators opposed to gay rights. And so on and so forth.

There are two advantages the left has in these debates. The first is truth. Sadly, truth is not enough; the reptition of a lie can work quite well, at least under the right circumstances. Moreover, journalists are not trained to ferret out the truth these days, but to present “sides” as though they are worthy of equal consideration, particularly on contested political issues. So truth is on our side, but it is not as potent as conservative misrepresentation, at least not immediately.

The second advantage is the support of the elite. I think that this has really prevented the climate change “skeptics” from being able to influence the debate as well as they might have given their funding sources. Similarly, we know from polling that highly educated people tend to be pretty liberal on LGBT issues. So we need those people to step in and demolish these studies. We need absolutely scathing attacks on Regnerus’ methods from statisticians, economists trained in econometrics, quantitative oriented policy wonks and social science academics, etcetera. They can not only demolish the study, but they can “ponder,” which is to say they can question why such an appallingly bad conclusion would be trumpeted by someone who should know better.

Those are the people who must act.

Jonathan Justice
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Well folks, I do care who funded this particular mess of pottage, and you should too. This is not the first time we have been to this dance. In the 1990’s, the same Bradley Foundation spent a million dollars on Charles Murray to put together The Bell Curve-a book whose crocodile tears about the damage certain trends and conditions its authors claimed to be demonstrating did very little to prevent their conclusions adoption by racists and enemies of public education everywhere. Some noteworthy intellectuals saw through it pretty quickly, but considerable damage was done, and the folks at vdare still think it great stuff.

As in the present instance, it turned out on close examination that the purported demonstrations were problematical. It is appropriate to suggest that there is a pattern here. The man behind the curtain is a serious problem.

Rob Tisinai
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

As in the present instance, it turned out on close examination that the purported demonstrations were problematical.

Emphasis added.

Marcus
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

One shouldn’t take the title of the post too literally – of course the funding and motivations of a study may be relevant to the story of how the study came to be, why it was publicized, why particular errors like Dr. Regnerus’s were made, etc. But it cannot be used to prove whether a study was scientifically credible or not.

Most scientists would say that people who have an agenda are capable of conducting (or funding) research that is scientifically valid, as following proper scientific method ought to eliminate the influence of their personal biases.

For those who believe otherwise – that having a bias or agenda is such a handicap that it prevents scientists from conducting valid studies – how would you suggest solving this problem? Should scientists not study any subject on which they have an opinion, or not accept funding from any organization with an agenda (and what agenda-free organizations out there have money to throw around)? Should we give up on science, or at least social science, altogether?

Steve
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

I’m not saying that have any kind of bias is problematical. Everyone is biased to some degree. No one is truly neutral. But it’s really a matter of how much. Given Regnerus’s other statements that show hultra-conservative mindset, it’s really obvious that he lets his ideology drive his research and lecturing. Hell, he even *brags* about that in one of his online profiles.

Jay
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

We need to do both: expose the absurdity of the research itself and point out that it was the product of a culture that manufactures junk science. At a time when the Koch brothers and corporations are trying to buy professorships for their cronies and use donations to universities to restrict research on climate change, etc., it is very important to know who is paying for research. In this case, it is clear that the enemies of gay people paid for this research for their ideological purposes. Regnerus is either a naive sap or (more likely) an unethical colluder in the creation of junk science.

While the first goal must be to expose this bad faith pseudo scholarship for the junk science that it is, we must also make certain that it is exposes as the right-wing political gambit that it is as well.

This “study” has about as much credence as the studies financed by big tobacco that assured the public in the 1960s and 1970s that smoking was good for you.

Jay
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Another factor that shows the importance of paying attention to funding is the way this study was “rolled out” to conservative media. The journal and author and funders decided to politicize the study from the very beginning. Even as Regnerus said that the study could not say anything about same-sex marriage, he and his masters made clear that it was intended to say a lot about same-sex marriage. Thanks to Jim Burroway and others who immediately reacted to the flaws of the study, and who ALSO pointed out the sources of the funding and then found other evidence of unethical behavior, the study was immediately discounted. It will serve the purposes of the funders (i.e., be cited in other “junk science” and in legal briefs), but it will not be taken seriously in the academic community or in the wider public beyond Fox News.

Timothy Kincaid
June 16th, 2012 | LINK

Rob

Excellent commentary. Spot on.

Some seem to think that you are not placing sufficient weight on the funding or researcher and imply that this has the ability to discredit the work, regardless of the data. The most cited example is tobacco. I would remind them of who did the work that established the dangers of secondhand smoke: Paul Cameron. Yeah, that Paul Cameron.

Neon Genesis
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

“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”

Really? Which fallacy would that be? It’s not one I remember hearing discussed in my Philosophy class I took in college. On the other hand, I think you’re using a false equivalency argument. When the Religious Right rails about the evils of the gay agenda, they think anything remotely pro-gay is biased against them. But nobody is saying any study funded by Christians is biased and untrustworthy. There are plenty of Christian survey groups that do objective scholarly studies out there like the Barna group and I’m not aware of any gay blogs that complain about Barna. But NOM has a long history of dishonesty and lies which has been chronicled on this very blog including very recently when NOM coincidentally seized on this study that they funded themselves as proof that gay couples are more evil than straight couples. Now if you can show me a similar shoddy and poorly handled study funded by an extremist LGBT group that wants to outlaw Christianity, then you might have a point, but until then this is a false equivalency and I can’t believe you’re dismissing the implications behind the fact that NOM is going around using a study they funded themselves as proof that gays are worse people than straights as being irrelevant to the debate.

Rob Tisinai
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

Neon, it’s called the ad hominem fallacy.

chiMaxx
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy: I didn’t know that, but I’m not sure what difference it makes. The dangers of first-hand smoke–of smoking–were firmly established and confirmed by the surgeon general in the ’60s, and for two more decades The Tobacco Institute funded studies that minimized or refuted the dangers–often through selection bias or gaming the numbers. The result was that the mainstream media discussion was that the safety of tobacco was controversial. Even if social scientists shoot this paper down once the data are released, the funders will have succeeded if they can make the public conversation one in which the quality of gay and lesbians as parents is controversial. We ignore this at our peril.

Neon Genesis
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

“Neon, it’s called the ad hominem fallacy.”

This isn’t ad hominem at all. An ad hominem would be if the study actually contained accurate data and wasn’t shoddy and if other gay blogs dismissed it just because it was done by a Christian which nobody is doing. In this case, we have a study that BTB and other gay blogs agree is shoddy and contains inaccurate data and which is funded by an organization known for its lies and irrational hatred, yet for reasons unknown, BTB seems unwilling to take it to the logical conclusion by following the money trail and call the whole thing a sham. I know journalists love to idolize Walter Kronkite and want to be a perfect superhuman news reporter like him, but taking this “both sides do it too!” and refusing to call a spade a spade is not the way to do it. If I wanted to play the “both sides do it too!” game, I would just get my news from CNN.

bls
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

You’re making a really important point here, I think – and thanks for that. What matters in debate is making an argument – and I think it’s all that matters. I have seen good arguments sway people – in real time! – quite few times, on any number of aspects of the gay issue.

And now’s the time for me to say thanks very much to all the BTB writers for what you do in that regard on this website. You’re making an invaluable contribution here, and you’ve been doing it for years. I’ve been able to point to posts on this site on many occasions, in debunking false claims.

So, many thanks.

Rob Tisinai
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

Neon, I disagree. The ad hominem fallacy does not require that the study in question contain accurate data and non-shoddy conclusions. It simply requires that the rebutter ignore the validity of the argument’s reasoning (regardless of good or how bad) in favor of making personal criticism that argument’s author (regardless of how much or how little they deserve it).

It’s without question ad hominem reasoning to “focus so much on the personalities and motivations behind a study” that you decide the actual words of the study “should not be dignified by repeating them in order to rebut them.”

Neon Genesis
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

Here’s an example of an ad hominem from Wikipedia: “”What would Mary know about fixing cars? She is a woman.”

The fallacy here is that you’re rejecting a woman’s skills at fixing cars even if she might be amazing at it just because she’s a woman but the New Rights Civil Movement blog isn’t rejecting the study just because it’s done by Christians. It’s because it’s being funded by a hate group which has a history of lying and twisting evidence to promote their political agenda. If Discovery Institute came out with an academic paper claiming that they proved the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex, no evolutionary scientist would take the paper seriously because we already know about Discovery Institute’s long history of lying and dishonesty.

It’s the same thing with this NOM-funded study and I think the New Civil Rights Movement blog is raising a valid point. Spending all your time dissecting a study funded by a shady organization that you know has a history of lies and dishonesty is allowing the liars to control the debate and giving this fake controversy too much airtime. Consider how three years ago the liberal media spent all their time treating the Tea Party like they were a legitimate threat and spent all their time debunking the Tea Party’s lies and dissecting their psychology bit by bit and lo and behold the Republicans ended up winning the 2010 elections anyway. I can see a benefit in preparing counter-arguments in case they try to use this study in a court trial or something, but otherwise spending too much time on a study everyone knows is a sham but doesn’t want to admit the elephant in the room is there for some reason is only playing into their hands when we have other real issues to be worried about.

Priya Lynn
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

I disagree Neon Genisis. Lies need to be debunked or they’re repeated often enough that people think they are the truth. The problem in the 2010 elections was that the lies weren’t satisfactorily debunked, there just wasn’t the effort put into debunking them that was put into spreading them.

If we just sit back and say “Trust us, they don’t know what they’re talking about.” they’ll run roughshod over us and they’ll define “reality” as they want it to be.

Neon Genesis
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

And sometimes repeatedly debunking the lie is a way of spreading the lie itself. Consider how many times the birther conspiracy has been repeatedly debunked yet a significant portion of the American population is still convinced President Obama is an evil Muslim born in Kenya and not the real president of the United States. There comes a time when you have to put your foot down and say “You are not a worthy enemy of mine and I am no longer going to treat you or your arguments as worthy of consideration.” People who don’t believe in facts and reality and let their claims be swayed by greed and money should not be considered legitimate parts of the debate.

Timothy Kincaid
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

Neon Genesis

Although Robert George is affiliated with both, the study was not funded by NOM.

Neon Genesis
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

But one of the board members of NOM, Luis Tellez, is the president of Witherspoon Institute, which did fund the study. You have to really be stretching it to claim this is nothing more than sheer coincidence.

Richard Rush
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

I don’t think it needs to be one approach OR the other, but can be one approach AND the other.

A related aspect is that many (if not most), of us are very busy, and don’t have time to wade into the tedious details of a complicated “study.” So we look for shortcuts and then arrive at our conclusions based on who we trust. I trust BTB and StraightGrandmother, so I arrived at a conclusion even though I only skimmed through the articles and comments. Many times in the past I’ve become aware of a “study,” and then arrived at a conclusion based on the knowledge of who funded it, and the fact that I didn’t trust them. It’s certainly not ideal nor foolproof, but I think it’s a shortcut that works for many of us most of the time.

And to make things worse, I imagine that our supposed knowledge of funders many just be the tip of the iceberg. I don’t doubt that the real identities of many funders are kept hidden via some deceptive tactics.

chiMaxx
June 17th, 2012 | LINK

Rob:
I’m definitely of the both/and camp. It is important to show first, as has much of the commentary here by you and others, that the study is deceptive on its face. Only then is it fruitful to point out that those who commissioned the study had an agenda, that the attempt to deceive or at least to muddy the conversation was done with intent.

To do the second without the first is pure ad hominem, and is unconvincing except to those who already agree with you.

StraightGrandmother
June 18th, 2012 | LINK

ChiMaxx,
Yes you nailed it.
~SGM

Priya Lynn
June 18th, 2012 | LINK

Neon Genisis, the birther conspiracy is believed by a lot fewer people than it would be if it had never been debunked. I just don’t believe that debunking a lie spreads it. If you leave the stage and let them have it to themselves then what they say will be widely perceived as fact.

I’m also in the both camp, debunk the lies and point out that anti-gay liars are responsible for the study.

Leopold
June 18th, 2012 | LINK

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/video/children-sex-parents-fare-16526175

Regnerus’s latest distortions. I’m beginning to think this fellow is not as innocent as he appears.

Richard Rush
June 19th, 2012 | LINK

Just wondering: How many “studies” have not been published – and thus we never heard about them – because the funders didn’t get the results they wanted? Do some funders then typically move on to someone else that may provide the desired results? Are some “scientists” sleazy enough to sign an upfront guarantee that they will provide the results the funder is paying for?

Blondmyk
June 19th, 2012 | LINK

Well Said!!!

StraightGrandmother
June 20th, 2012 | LINK

I think I am going to post this on all the Regnerus topics on Box Turtle. Let’s say we all work together and make a terrific website where we collect all this information on the Regnerus’ Study.

We crowd source this and everybody helps. I think what is missing is a lot of comments on the research by other Sociologists. We can all take a State and then call all the Universities in that State and speak to Sociologists there and ask them to provide their feedback on the research.

Other people can work on collecting up all the direct quotes from Regnerus.

Oh and shouldn’t we collect up all the places the data is being misreported? I saw for example a quote something like, “Well this study proves that pedophilia is rampant with gays”

And what about a website? Should we buy a domain name or should we use Blogger or Word press or something? If we hosted this separately how much would that cost us in bandwidth if a lot of people visited? Does anybody have idea on this?

Let’s set this up and organize this so it will be real easy for lawyers from our side to have a good reference point to jump off from.

What else? Do you like this idea? Who will help? I don’t mind if this is a part of Box Turtle and they are getting recognition for this. But I do think to do this right it is to big for the few guys at Box Turtle we need a lot more helping hands than just those guys. Whadda think?

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