Posts Tagged As: Gay Parenting

Another Regnerus-Like “Research” Paper On Gay Parents Making the Rounds

Jim Burroway

July 7th, 2016

Paul Sullins, defending a flawed paper by Mark Regnerus.

Paul Sullins, defending a flawed paper by Mark Regnerus in 2013.

The Federalist website is giving this research significant play:

The study by sociology professor Paul Sullins found that “[a]t age 28, the adults raised by same-sex parents were at over twice the risk of depression as persons raised by man-woman parents.” In addition, there was an “elevated risk associated with imbalanced closeness and parental child abuse in family of origin; depression, suicidality, and anxiety at age 15; and stigma and obesity.”

Given these findings, Sullins concluded that “[m]ore research and policy attention to potentially problematic conditions for children with same-sex parents appears warranted.” This study is significant, Sullins writes, because other studies that have “reported ‘no differences’ in well-being” most often use “psychometric measures of depression or anxiety,” which has led to “a lapse in policy attention to the potential needs of such children.” Sullins’ research challenges the “benign findings” of these other studies.

“Reanalyses have confirmed, not surprisingly, the presence in such samples of strong ascertainment bias, social desirability bias, and/or positive reporting bias” in studies that have concluded there are no differences between children of same-sex couples and those of opposite-sex parents.

Let’s go to that paper, shall we? First of all, the good thing here is that the paper, published in the Egyptian journal Depression Research and Treatment, is available online for free. That’s also the bad thing, which I’ll get to later. Second, this paper has many of the same problems with the widely-panned 2012 paper by Mark Regnerus that purported to show that children of parents in same-sex relationships fared significantly more poorly than children who were raised in homes by their biological opposite-sex parents. In fact, Regnerus’s paper found no such thing, although he did his best to make his turd look nice and shiny.

Like Regnerus’s paper, Sullins says that he based his research on a nationally-represented sample from the US National Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health. He combed through 15,701 respondents, at ages 15, 22, and 28. But like Regnerus, Sullins quickly ran into a problem. Remember, Regnerus could only find two same-sex couples in his sample who had actually raised their children as a couple. Two! So he stacked the deck by re-defining “children,” “raised,” “by,” and “same-sex couples.” Sullins had a similar problem: out of a sample of 15,701 respondents, he could only find 23 adolescents raised by just 20 same-sex couples, “consisting of 17 lesbian partners and 3 gay male partners.”

And what do we know about those families? Not much. We don’t know how much time those children spent with their same-sex parents. We don’t know whether they spent the most formative periods of their lives with opposite-sex parents who then got divorced, or whether they were children of a single parent who had gone through multiple parters over time. We know nothing about the stability, or lack there-of, of either the opposite-sex or same-sex parenting that these children experienced.

But let those numbers sink in: Sullins is basing his entire eight page on those tiny numbers. Twenty same-sex couples.

Out of how many? In 2013, Gary J. Gates at the Williams Institute combed through census data and found that “more than 111,000 same-sex couples are raising an estimated 170,000 biological, step, or adopted children.” Sullins found just twenty out of 111,000 couples. That would be about 0.018% of the total. Which means that if this were a poll, Sullins’s margin of error would be, at best, plus or minus 18.4 percent at a 90% confidence level.


Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

But let’s also look at it a different way. The Standard Error (SE) that Sullins calculated for outcome measures of the children of those twenty same-sex couples is huge when compared to the the data set for opposite-sex couples. What this means is that it only takes one or two individual adverse scores coming from one or two dysfunctional families to throw off those averages. When you see such large swings in the data, you know right away that you need a larger sample to get a clearer picture of what’s going on. Any small sample can sweep up significant anomalies that diminish or disappear once the sample size gets larger. A sample size of 2,000 gay- or lesbian-led families could decrease that standard error by a factor of ten. At least then, you’d start to look at something that can approximate the rest of the 109,000 same-sex couples raising children. Running the numbers again, an opinion poll of 2,000 respondents would have a margin of error of ±1.8%.

How does this scale up to the 111,000 same-sex couples raising children? Well, because it’s supposed to be a peer-reviewed paper — more on that in a moment — Sullins covers himself here somewhat:

Limitations. Despite the signal strengths of Add Health as a large nationally representative longitudinal dataset and notwithstanding the strong significance for contrast effects reported above, the very small size of the sample of children raised by lesbians imposes important limits and prompts great caution regarding the conclusions of this study. As with all observational studies, causal inference is not possible. Moreover, many subtle distinctions and pathways of influence simply cannot be addressed with only 20 cases, and unobserved differences between the parent comparison groups may well confound some or all of the child differences observed. In particular, the lack of useful measures for parent mental distress, depression, family history of violence, alcohol consumption, and substance abuse precluded examination of important familial risk factors which may be associated with child distress. For these reasons, the findings of this study should be considered only provisional and exploratory until and unless they are confirmed by further research.

I wonder if Sullins would be so careful when he’s interviewed about this. Somehow, I doubt it. After all, he’s a research fellow at the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, which is an arm of the Family “Research” Council.

So how did a paper with such sweeping conclusions make it into a professional journal? Well the biggest problem with professional publishing these days is that there are literally thousands of medical and social science journals around the world begging for papers to fill their issues. A few are influential because they can attract the best of the best. And because they can attract the best of the best, they can by very selective about which papers they publish. Many of them reject far more papers than they publish. Other journals however are left fighting over scraps.

Cairo-based Hindawi Publishing Corporation, which publishes Depression Research and Treatment, has been criticized for using spam email to solicit manuscripts (PDF: 111KB/2 pages). What’s more, it’s a pay-to-publish journal, charging its authors about US$1,000 as an “article processing fee.” Truly reputable journals don’t rely on charging authors to submit their manuscripts for their profits, not when they can charge a subscription or they sell the articles on a per-article basis because the quality of their content justifies the price.But Hindawi is among the new class of “Open Access” free journals, which advertises its bug as a feature. It gives away its articles for free, in exchange for charging authors exorbitant “fees” on the front end. Naturally, this creates an incentive  to publish more articles already paid for by authors –especially from those who can’t get their papers published elsewhere — with little regard to whether the article has any merit in the first place.

And Hindawi goes a step further. They increase their profit margins by not employing editors for their journals. Editors fill a critical function. An editor is ordinarily a recognized subject matter expert who can act as a gatekeeper to ensure the quality of the journal’s content. More critically, that editor is also tasked with overseeing the peer-review process, which involves knowing which reviewers are qualified to review a paper. Instead, the editorial role at Hindawi is handled by staff members at the company’s headquarters in Cairo, which leaves the most critical task of peer review in the hands of those who may know little or nothing about the paper’s subject. That is, if Hindawi actually has a peer review process. Many open access journals use the practice of publishing now (and collecting the author’s “processing fee”) and letting people ask questions later.

Those problems at Hindawi are evident not only with Sullins’s paper itself, but with the overall reputation of Depression Research and Treatment. Among the 1,061 psychology journals listed at Scimago Journal and Country Rank, Depression Research and Treatment is ranked at number 380. From a top-to-bottom perspective, they can at least brag that they’re in the top half. Unfortunately, Hindawi’s poor publishing practices have become far more common in the publishing world as newcomers to professional publishing scramble to find manuscripts to publish.

So the real question is this: what do other professionals think of the kinds of papers that Hindawi publishes in Depression Research and Treatment. One key measure is to count how many times other researchers cite papers in a given journal when they’re writing their papers. Articles in the top twenty psychology journals are cited, on average, 8.8 times for each paper. For the top fifty, each paper on average gets 6.1 cites. For Depression Research and Treatment, that average is just 1.7.

So there you have it: Sullins had to pay $1,000 to publish a flawed paper using flawed methodology in a pay-to-publish journal with no editor to oversee a questionable peer-review process, and that is generally ignored by his peers.

Journal Audit Finds Severe Flaws In Regnerus “Gay Parenting” Study

Jim Burroway

July 27th, 2012

The Chronicle of Higher Education has obtained a copy of a highly critical audit showing that Mark Regnerus’s widely discussed paper on gay and lesbian parenting underwent a flawed peer-reviewed process which failed to find significant methodological problems and conflicts of interest. BTB was the first to review many of those methodological problems here on the day the study first appeared in the journal Social Science Research. According to The Chronicle:

Like Regnerus, the editor of Social Science Research, James D. Wright, has been at the receiving end of an outpouring of anger over the paper. At the suggestion of another scholar, Wright, a professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida, assigned a member of the journal’s editorial board—Darren E. Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale—to examine how the paper was handled.

Sherkat was given access to all the reviews and correspondence connected with the paper, and was told the identities of the reviewers. According to Sherkat, Regnerus’s paper should never have been published. His assessment of it, in an interview, was concise: “It’s bullshit,” he said.

The audit criticized the paper’s identification of “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers,” which was at the heart of our criticism of the report when the paper first appeared. Sherkat found the those labels for the categories of families that Regnerus created “extremely misleading.” He added: “Reviewers uniformly downplayed or ignored the fact that the study did not examine children of identifiably gay and lesbian parents, and none of the reviewers noticed that the marketing-research data were inappropriate for a top-tier social-scientific journal.” Sherkat found that that fact alone should have “disqualified it immediately” from publication.

The audit also found conflicts of interests among the reviewers and states that “scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process,” according to The Chronicle. Three of the six reviewers were on record as opposing same-sex marriage and were “not without some connection to Regnerus.” Sherkat did not however find that the paper had been inappropriately expedited as I questioned. But Sherkat did question the paper’s funding — $785,000 from the conservative Whiterspoon Institute and Bradly Foundation — and the study’s timing auspicious timing ahead of the 2012 elections, were serious concerns.

“There should be reflection about a conservative scholar garnering a very large grant from exceptionally conservative foundations,” he writes in the audit, “to make incendiary arguments about the worthiness of LGBT parents—and putting this out in time to politicize it before the 2012 United States presidential election.”

Journals are judged and scored according to what’s known as an “Impact Factor” by Journal Citation Reports. The Impact Factor identifies the number of times articles are cited by other journals over a period of time. Higher Impact Factors are earned when other authors more frequently cite journal articles in their published papers, and the higher the Impact Factor, the greater the journal’s prestige. Social Science Research’s Five-Year Impact Factor is 1.994, which is considered low for social science research journals. Wright admitted to Sherkat that he believed the Regnerus paper would generate a high level of discussion and possibly elevate the journal’s Impact Factor, and admits that “perhaps this prospect caused me to be inattentive to things I should have kept a keener eye on.”

Wright told The Chronicle that he has experienced “sleepless nights” and angry emails, both from colleagues and strangers. Wright told The Chronnicle that he supports civil rights for gays and lesbians, and found accusations that he was fostering an anti-gay climate “hurtful and preposterous.” (You can read one email exchange between Wright and a BTB reader here.)

Editor James Wright provided a copy of the audit to The Chronicle, and it will appear in the November edition of Social Science Research. The September issue of the bi-monthly journal has already been issued and posted online.

Tools of the Trade

Jim Burroway

June 21st, 2012

Many, many years ago, a co-worker decided to take up woodworking as a hobby. He moved his cars out of his suburban garage — there would no longer be any room for them there — and purchased some of the finest sets of tools and machinery available: band saw, jig saw, router, drill press, and a few others I couldn’t tell you the names of because I’m not a woodworker. He went top of the line, too (or so he assured me, and I believe him), making sure he had the best bells and whistles. That was just his machinery. His array of hand tools was equally impressive lined up on his shiny new cabinets where, in each drawer, he laid a piece of foam with cut-outs in the shape of his tools. This way, there would be a place for every tool and a tool in every place. It was, all in all, a weekend warrior’s dream.

And then he built his book cases and media center. They weren’t awful by any means, but they weren’t spectacular either. I had a hard time seeing how they were much better than what I could have made with my far humbler collection of mismatched and somewhat rusty tools laying around the house. Assuming I could find them.

My co-worker’s dazzling workshop and my mess of a garage come to mind as I read some Mark Regnerus’s postings defending — no, not defending, but bragging about — his purported study on gay and lesbian parenting I reviewed last week. I say purported because with most of the adult children studied spending much less than three years with their gay or lesbian parent, it seems to me to be a study that is not about gay parenting but about children of divorce, separation, parental infidelity, and a host of other sources of instability. Gay parents, it turns out, are barely in the picture at all.

Regnerus blithely ignores this criticism. Instead, he distinguishes his study by the shiny $785,000 worth of tools that he assembled to produce it. It’s often the first point he mentions when he talks about it, like in his defense posted on the Baptist-affiliated Baylor University web site:

By contrast, Regnerus relies on a large, random, and representative sample of more than 200 children raised by parents who have had same-sex relationships, comparing them to a random sample of more than 2,000 children raised in heterosexual families, to reach his conclusions. This is why sociology professor Paul Amato, chair of the Family section of the American Sociological Association and president of the National Council on Family Relations, wrote that the Regnerus study was “better situated than virtually all previous studies to detect differences between these [different family] groups in the population.”

National random samples are inordinately expensive. It is why they are so rare in social science research. It’s every social scientist’s wet dream to be able to assemble a garage like Regnerus’s, but for almost every one of them such a tool set is way out of their reach. So having a tool as shiny and impressive as a nationally random sample is a really big deal. I’d say that it would probably very difficult for most people to resist showing it off.

But what I see happening is that Regnerus wants us to be dazzled by his tools — and they are truly dazzling — and not look too closely at the book case he built with them. And if that book case looks a little off kilter, maybe its because he used his tools incorrectly. If you use a drill press when you really needed a router, you’re going get results that fall short of what you promised. If you ask adults between 18 and 39 if either of their parents ever had a same-sex relationship and leave it up to the responder to ponder whether a short tryst counts, then you are going to get a sample that doesn’t resemble anything like the kind of relationship that is comparable to any kind of marriage, gay or straight.

And as his study has little to say about anything close to resembling marriage, it also says almost nothing about parenting. In his study, 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 children of so-called “Lesbian Mothers” and 2% of children of so-called “gay fathers” — both loosely defined — reported living with their parents and their parents’ same-sex partners for three years or more. If this is any kind of a study about gay parenting, it is even more so a study about the fifteen-plus years these kids spent outside of that so-called relationship.

And so after constructed a sample that was guaranteed to look nothing like a stable family environment, and then compared it to a sample that was specifically constructed to be a stable as possible, he found differences. That happens when you compare apples to orangutangs. And what else would you expect? When you build an unlevel shelf, you shouldn’t be surprised to see all of the results sliding off to one end. Sure, he may have started with a nationally representative sample, but that doesn’t give him license to move populations around within his samples with the purpose of achieving his aims, or to make claims about what his sample represents when his sample wasn’t constructed to represent what he claims.

And these issues point to a much bigger problem with Regnerus’s study. He wanted to examine the impact of gay parenting on children, but his tools, as impressive and expensive as they were, turned out to be the wrong tools for the job. As powerful as they otherwise would have been, they lacked the critical features that he needed to do the job correctly. And so lacking those important features, he does what a lot of weekend hobbyists in a hurry end up doing: he kludges it and hopes nobody notices. Except they have, and those kludges have been the crux of the criticisms against his study.

His response so far has boiled down to this: don’t pay any attention to how he used his tools. Just look at how shiny and expensive they are. But as every craftsman will tell you, it’s not the tools that make the better product, but the care of the craftsman who uses them wisely.

Regnerus’ Defenders Miss the Point

Rob Tisinai

June 20th, 2012

A group of professors has issued a statement responding to critics of the recent study by Mark Regnerus. Unfortunately, they miss the point entirely. To recap, the criticism is that:

  • Regnerus claims his study improves on previous research on same-sex parenting.
  • Regnerus has been using his study to make claims in the conservative media about same-sex parenting.
  • However, rather than surveying people who were raised by same-sex parents, Regnerus studied people who say one of their parents had a same-sex relationship, whether they were raised by those same-sex partners or not.
  • Regnerus has collected a sample of kids who spent more than three years being raised by actual same-sex parents, but it is so small that it represents no improvement on previous studies, and by Regnerus’ own statement is too small to offer statistically significant conclusions.

That’s egregious. Regenus’ defenders offer three points in response. Or do they? Their introduction does not bode well:

It is perhaps in part for that reason that the new study on same-sex parenting by University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus, which finds that young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex relationships are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional and social problems…

Immediately we find his defenders confusing “same-sex parenting” with “children of parents who have had same-sex relationships.” That doesn’t help their case.

The first of their three points is that prior research on same-sex parenting is flawed. Perhaps it is. But I don’t need to explore that to see this offers Regnerus no defense against charges of misrepresentation, and wouldn’t do so even if  he didn’t repeat the flaws he calls out in those studies (which he does).

Their second point is that Regnerus had trouble finding adults who had been raised by same-sex parents, and was forced to base his study on less stable family structures:

Thus, Regnerus should not be faulted for drawing a random, representative sample of young-adult children of parents who have had same-sex romantic relationships and also happened to have experienced high levels of family instability growing up.

But we’re not faulting him for that. To be clear: We’re faulting him for presenting his work as a (better!) study on same-sex parenting, and for making claims to the media about same parenting, even as he admits he was not able to study same-sex parenting!

His defenders’ first point was irrelevant. This one is actually damning.

Their third and final point is that a new study in a different journal seems to back up Regnerus’ conclusions. I haven’t looked at it yet, but even this, even if true, is irrelevant to the charge that Regnerus’ study does not examine what it claims to examine, and that his statements to the media are unsupported by his work.

The authors conclude by hoping that

[F]uture journalistic coverage of such studies, and this contentious topic, will be more civil, thorough, and thoughtful than has been the coverage of the new study by Professor Mark Regnerus.

I can only hope that future studies — and their defenders — will be more honest, thorough, and thoughtful than this work by Regnerus and those who claim to answer his critics.

Thanks to Box Turtle Bulletin reader Straight Grandmother for directing us to this statement.

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.

Why We Talk about Anti-Gay Bias

Rob Tisinai

June 12th, 2012

The Washington Times has (indirectly) declared that not being “entirely heterosexual” is a negative outcome. And it did this in a news article, not an editorial.

In a widely-quoted piece on Mark Regnerus’ gay-parenting study, the Washington Times wrote:

He found that, when compared with adults raised in married, mother-father families, adults raised by lesbian mothers had negative outcomes in 24 of 40 categories…

Actually, no. Regnerus didn’t find that at all. Rather he found 24 statistically-significant differences, and of those differences he wrote:

…in the vast majority of cases the optimal outcome—where one can be readily discerned—favors [intact biological families].

Emphasis added. See what the Times did? It put words into Regnerus’s mouth. Regnerus did not say all these outcomes were negative. That was invented by the Times.

Here’s the kicker. One of the those differences is whether someone “identifies as entirely heterosexual.” Regneros didn’t classify this was positive or negative. He gives a few examples of outcomes that are “obviously suboptimal (such as education, depression, employment status, or marijuana use),” but sexual orientation isn’t on that list.

By now, though, this Washington Times falsehood has been widely reported as truth when it’s nothing of the sort.

What makes this so insidious is that it’s unstated. In one place the reader hears that all the differences were negative. In another, that one of those differences was sexual orientation. The association sinks in without ever being explicitly connected.

But it’s still there, a little splash of anti-gay bias that lands in the article almost unnoticed, one more drop of rain added to the river of homophobia.

My take on the “Children of Gay Parents” study

Timothy Kincaid

June 12th, 2012

The key to understanding Mark Regnerus’ study – and to understanding it’s failure – is understanding the motivations of the author and his funders. And, sadly, this is something that I think we fail to grasp with subtlety.

We tend to look at individuals and organizations who oppose our equality as being “anti-gay” and, as that is important to us, we elevate it’s importance to them. We see them as primarily and “anti-gay organization” and attribute motives and malices to them. This may not always be accurate. Anti-gay malice may simply be but a small – incidental even – part of their motivation.

Let me give an illustration: If one is Jewish, then it can be easy to see the Ku Klux Klan’s efforts over the years through the lens of how it impacts you. If one is insufficiently aware of the totality of their endeavors, one might confuse them of being an “anti-Jewish organization”. If one is black, that is not at all how they are perceived.

We need to understand that Regnerus’ study was not necessarily to prove that gay families are inferior. Rather, his goal was to prove that married heterosexual biological parents (intact biological families – “IBFs”) are superior. Not just superior to gays, but superior to everyone else. Gays are just one group, joining divorced parents, single parents, widows, adoptive parents, and all who aren’t IBF.

Children appear most apt to succeed well as adults when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father, and especially when the parents remain married to the present day.

Regnerus did not set out to say anything about orientation, he simply set out to prove that a certain family structure is superior. And that’s where he failed.

When discussing heterosexual parents, he did compare family structures. The distinctions and differences between the groups were determined by marital status, divorce, step-parentage and the like, all of which address the structure of the families. However when it came time to discuss children of parents in which one was same-sex attracted, Regnerus played a sleight of hand. He redefined his terms such that ‘having a gay parent’ became in and of itself a family structure.

Regnerus did the same thing for adopted children. The stability of the family, divorce, age of adoption, prior trauma, nothing at all was important other than the way in which they differed from IBF, and as they violated the “B” (biological) then that is the only measure that was important. Regnerus’ “family structures” became defined not by what they were, but by what they were not. There were the Not-I’s: divorce, step-family, single; and the Not-B’s: adopted by ‘strangers’, gay fathers, lesbian mothers (and especially violates the unstated but underlying requirement that the IBF be heterosexual).

Oddly enough, while claiming that he didn’t “go into orientation of parents in this study”, that is precisely what he did. Should one parent have had a same-sex relationship of any sort, that was the determinant that pulled them out of whatever family structure they might have been included in and placed them, de facto, into a non-IBF family structure.

(Imagine if he had done a study in which some other situation were used to create a new family structure: “Families in which the parents are married fare better than ones in which one parent abuses drugs.” Or perhaps “Families in which the parents are married fare better than ones in which both parents work.” It sounds meaningful until you try find the meaning.)

So what is Regnerus to do with this data? He didn’t get the data he hoped for. He didn’t get meaningful data to address the premise he wished to support. He can’t break up the same-sex attracted parents into statistically meaningful family structure groups; he doesn’t have sufficient sample size.

So he has two choices:

He can eliminate the same-sex attracted parents from the study (or put them in comparable family structure groups) or even report that sample sizes disallowed any meaningful conclusions about the comparisons between IBFs and gay families. But then he’s left with a study that says “married parents do better than divorced parents” and that wouldn’t generate headlines in his mother’s Christmas letter, much less in mainstream press. And his funders would object to three quarters of a million bucks being spent on something that has been shown to be true in many studies before this one.

They know that they are superior (and just a bit more special) than divorced parents or those slutty single mothers (who surely are all on welfare). They have studies to prove it. But so far they didn’t have anything to point to which would prove them to be superior to same-sex families.

So instead he chose to play word games. He decided to claim that “one parent is same-sex attracted” is a family structure in the same way that married or separated is a family structure. And, of course, this could be presented (with lots of “oh, no, really”) as implied evidence that IBF is superior to same-sex married couples. Which is precisely what Regnerus did when he said:

In fact, the most significant story in this study is arguably not about the differences among young–adult children whose parents who have had same-sex relationships and those whose parents are married biological mothers and fathers, but between the latter and nearly everyone else.

But, ultimately, once one says “oh, but being gay is not a family structure” then his study becomes meaningless. As Mark Regnerus is discovering.

How many times are they going to do this?

Rob Tisinai

June 11th, 2012

Two days after leaving the AIDS/LifeCycle bubble of love, I force myself to click on NOM’s blog page, and you know what I find?

Same sh*t, different day.

NOM (and the rest of the anti-gay world) is crowing about a study on the awfulness of gay parenting. You can read more about that here and here and here. Let me focus on one distinct and familiar flaw: The study compares the children of married biological parents with those from broken homes — and the study’s “lesbian mothers” that our opponents are vilifying generally weren’t married to each other; nor were the gay fathers. No, they were often in opposite-sex relationships that broke down.

Our opponents’ reporting hasn’t focused on that. But I can easily imagine how how an unstable, dishonest mom/dad relationship would (a) be harmful to the kids, and (b) have nothing to do with same-sex parenting!

Now, you can combat this sort of thing with careful analysis. But the error is so common, so recurring, that I’ve put together a cartoon I now can just whip out when the need arises. Who knows, maybe this is the best way to make such an obvious and elementary point:

Feel free to post it where needed.

Overview: Three Responses to Mark Regnerus’s Study of Children of Parents In Same-Sex Relationships

Jim Burroway

June 11th, 2012

For those of you returning from the weekend, you may have missed the release of a new study published in the July issue of the journal Social Science Research. That study claims to show “numerous, consistent differences, especially between children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents.” If true, these results would up-end some thirty years of established scientific research which had previously shown that gay and lesbian parents are, on the whole, just as good parents as their straight counterparts. The study received one-sided coverage in the Deseret News and the Washington Times.

If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend you read my analysis of Mark Regnerus’s study, “How Different are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study” (Social Science Review 41, no. 4 (July 2012): 752-770.)

Later yesterday morning, I learned that the July 2012 issue of Social Science Review also includes three commentaries on Regnerus’s paper and a rejoinder by Regnerus. That same issue also published a related paper by Loren Marks reviewing and identifying several weaknesses of the past thirty years of social science research about gay parents. I probably won’t be able to review Marks’s paper until later in the week. The three commentaries also remarked on Marks’s paper, but I will concentrate this overview on their observations about the Regnerus paper.

Commentary #1: Paul R. Amato, of Penn State’s Department of Sociology. Amato, like the other two commenters who we will review shortly, commended the Regnerus paper for its strongest feature: the use of a large, national probability sample. As I said yesterday, this is an extraordinarily rare achievement in social science research, and it is why Regnerus’s paper is so important. Amato reviewed Regnerus’s data and for the most part verified Regnerus’s finding that Regnerus’s sample of children of Lesbian Mothers (with all of the issues surrounding the construction of that sample I noted yesterday), did indeed depart from the Intact Biological Family sample.

Amato used a different statistical method to come to that conclusion, a method known as “effect size.” A very brief description is in order. Effect size is, according to this paper, “a simple way of quantifying the difference between two groups that has many advantages over the use of tests of statistical significance alone.” Traditional statistical tests, like those Rengnerus used, identify the statistical significance of two measures, meaning that they measure whether the similarity or difference between two measures can be explained by random chance — sort of like two numbers that fall within the same margin of error. If they can’t, then they are said to be statistically significant. Effect size, on the other hand, estimates the strength of an apparent relationship between two populations based on the standard deviation of results of the control population. This is important because if the control population has a high degree of variability, then even a large differences in the averages between the two groups might not mean anything since there would still be a large overlap.

I know that’s not enough of an explanation to make you (or me) an expert on statistical significance and effect size. But the important thing to keep in mind is that in social science and medical research, it is increasingly recognized that both calculations should be performed. Traditionally, only statistical significance is calculated (as Regnerus did in his paper) and many authors today still only rely on statistical significance tests to evaluate their data. But some journals are beginning to require effect size calculations alongside statistical significance measures, and statistical software packages are beginning to include effect size in their libraries. But calculating effect size has not yet become a standard standard practice.

So, getting back to Amato’s paper, he ran some effect size calculations and, as I said, he confirmed Regnerus’s finding that children growing up in lesbian households (as aggregated in Regnerus’s sample with all of its problems — and I want to keep reiterating that) differed from children growing up in intact biological families with “a moderately large effect size.” However:

The choice of comparison group makes a difference, however. Comparisons of offspring with lesbian mothers and offspring from heterosexual stepfamilies revealed a mean effect size of only .15. When children with divorced or continuously single mothers served as the comparison group, the mean effect size was only .19. I would describe these effect sizes as weak.

What is the most appropriate comparison group? This is a difficult question, given the heterogeneity of gay and lesbian families with children. Consider lesbian couples who have children through sperm donation, or gay couples who have children through surrogacy. Is it reasonable to compare these children with the children of continuously married heterosexual parents? Or should children in the heterosexual comparison group be limited to those born via sperm donation or surrogacy? What about lesbian mothers or gay fathers with children from former marriages or unions? Should these children be compared with those of heterosexual parents who are married, cohabiting, remarried, divorced, or never married? The fact that same-sex marriage is now allowed in several states adds another level of complexity to the problem. Perhaps in future studies, married same-sex parents should be matched with married heterosexual parents.

Which pretty much echoed my concerns yesterday.

Commentary #2: David J. Eggebeen of Penn State’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Eggebeen echoed many of Amato’s sentiments. First, he praised the sophistication of Regnerus’s raw data set, which represents a significant advance over previous studies. However:

Nevertheless these data are far from ideal. A larger sample does not translate into a sufficiently large sample. Given some of the complexity of the family lives detailed above, a sample of 163 young adults who report a lesbian mother and 73 who report a gay father are frustratingly inadequate for doing anything but broad comparisons across family characteristics.

Eggebeen also cautions against jumping to quick conclusions about what the data means:

Finding a significant number of negative correlates of well-being for children with gay or lesbian parents, even if they are derived from simple models, invites thinking about some possible mechanisms. It is hard to imagine explanations that point to the quality of parenting per se. Parents, regardless of sexual orientation, are equally motivated to provide the best care possible for their children. It is reasonable, however, to posit that gay and lesbian parents and their children face challenges that may make parenting more difficult.

He concludes that Regnerus’s study has the potential to address the shortcomings of previous studies, but with an important caveat:

The analyses in the Regnerus paper are provocative but far from conclusive. These very preliminary findings should not detract from the real importance of this paper, the description of a new data set that offers significant advantages. Whether the New Family Structures Study has the possibility of unsettling previously settled questions depends in equal parts on richness of the information collected, as well as the willingness of scholars to make use these data.

Regnerus’s larger data set and variable list will become publicly available in the fall so that other researchers to perform their own sets of calculations and comparisons.

Commentary #3: Cynthia Osborne, of the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs. Osborne, like the others, also noted the heterogeneity (i.e. the large in-group differences) of the Lesbian Mother and Gay Fathers groups:

To increase the sample size of children who experienced a same-sex parent, Regnerus included respondents in either the LM or GF comparison groups if they reported that their parent ever had a same-sex relationship. Although this decision has a lot of merit, it makes comparisons across groups somewhat of a challenge. Because the LM group is comprised of young adults who experienced multiple family forms and transitions, it is impossible to isolate the effects of living with a lesbian mother from experiencing divorce, remarriage, or living with a single parent.

She also questioned the decision of what to use as an outcome variable verses a control variable. For the straight populations, the control variables included divorce parents, step-parents, adopted parents, single parents, etc. Among the outcome variables were questions about sexual molestation, forced sex, and whether the family received welfare. She wondered what the data might look like of those were used as control variables rather than outcome variables, since each of them can have a strong effect on childhood outcomes. But while there are all sorts of comparisons that might be made, assigning a cause for the outcome cannot be done based on the data at hand:

Importantly, one cannot clearly link having a lesbian mother (or gay father) with any of these outcomes. As stated earlier, the group is comprised of young adults who experienced multiple family structures, not only a same-sex parent household (indeed, some of the respondents never lived with the mother’s same-sex partner). It is quite possible, for example, that many or most of the negative outcomes result from the divorce of the young adult’s biological parents that preceded the mother’s same-sex relationship. …

…The concern for Regnerus is not Type II errors (saying something is NOT significant when it is), but the possible attribution of differences to living in a same-sex household rather than to experiencing multiple family structures in childhood, one of which happened to be a same-sex parenting relationship.

Osborne emphasized that researchers in this particular field — those who focus on children of same-sex parents — bear a particular responsibility for how their research is presented to the public:

The focus on children of same-sex parents seems, then, to be driven more by the sensitive political and social issues surrounding same-sex relationships than by evidence that this family structure is increasing rapidly or, for that matter, harmful to children. Because the topic is so politicized, scholars must pay even more careful attention to the presentation and interpretation of their findings. Although scholars are trained to use great care to disentangle the causal versus selection effects of family structure and child well-being, we understand that true causation can never be determined because we cannot randomly assign children to various family structures. Consumers of research on children of same-sex relationships, by contrast, may not always have the same training or be so careful in their interpretations. The results of scholarly studies are often scrutinized by pundits and legislators to support their pre-existing ideas of differences or ”no differences” across groups.

…Regnerus (2012) finds substantial differences across groups and uses great care to note that his descriptive analysis does not imply causation and that the LM respondents may have lived in many different family structures. Still, the rigor of the study may lead some advocates to claim that growing up with a same-sex parent causes harm and should, therefore, be illegal.

I think we can bank on Osborne’s concern coming true. I’m willing to lay odds that we will see it coming true today.

Mark Regnerus’s Rejoinder. Regnerus’s response was brief. His first comment was to reiterate Amato’s and Osborne’s concerns about the political rammifications of the study:

I recognize, with Paul and Cynthia, that organizations may utilize these findings to press a political program. And I concur with them that that is not what data come prepared to do. Paul offers wise words of caution against it, as did I in the body of the text. Implying causation here—to parental sexual orientation or anything else, for that matter—is a bridge too far.

Regnerus acknowledged that “the sample size of respondents whose parents report a same-sex relationship is substantial but not large enough to explore some of the more fine-grained distinctions that may well be present.” He also said that he is already planning to use the detailed dataset in future studies, and invited other researchers to mine the data when it becomes publicly available in the fall. Finally, he ends with this paragraph defending his emphasis on biologically intact heterosexual families:

As each of the three explicitly or indirectly notes, family instability—whatever the sources—is often a top culprit in predicting dysfunction in the lives of children, and the data analyses in my article likewise point in this direction. In fact, the most significant story in this study is arguably not about the differences among young–adult children whose parents who have had same-sex relationships and those whose parents are married biological mothers and fathers, but between the latter and nearly everyone else. Contexts of instability—whether in gay or straight households—appear suboptimal for children’s healthy long-term development. While much is made in the scholarly literature about ”resilient” youth—those who thrive despite the odds against them and in lieu of an optimal family context—resilience is, on average and perhaps by definition, not normal. Moreover, even resilient children would likely prefer to have engaging parents who are not simply in their lives but in their households. Adults of good will, and most family scholars, typically agree on this. Whether some relationship arrangements are more systematically prone to disorganization than others is an important and empirically-testable question.

Deseret News Covers “Kids of Gay Parents Study,” Finds No Flaws

Jim Burroway

June 10th, 2012

Deseret News in Salt Lake City this morning published a lengthy 2,100-word article on Mark Regnerus’s study of adult children of parents In same-sex relationships, making it their top story this morning. Not only did Deseret News find no flaws in the study (Surprise!), they even made it the subject of an editorial saying that “family structure counts” in the childhood development. “Those findings,” the editorial reads, “if true, are significant because in the legal battles over same-sex marriage it has been largely accepted that there is no discernable (sic) difference between the outcomes for children of heterosexual parents and the children of gay parents.”

But are those findings true? Anyone who has an understanding of the design of experiments would look at the study and see its obvious flaws. Deseret News, unsurprisingly, saw no flaws, nor did any of the experts they contacted to comment on it. The one person in a position to be critical of the study could not comment on it because Deseret News refused to show a copy of it to him, saying they were honoring an embargo of that study. Unfortunately, all the other commenters Deseret News interviewed who applauded the study were privy to what the study said. They weren’t restrained by the embargo.

I think you can see what’s happening. Robert George is a senior fellow at the Whitherspoon Institute, which provided $695,000 for this study. He also sits on the board of the Bradley Foundation, which provided an additional $90,000. George also just happens to be a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board. The man gets around. That’s not to say that Robert George is the man responsible for all of this, but I do think it’s safe to say that there will be a massive media campaign orchestrated around this study.

Update: The Washington Times also has a laudatory article, although it’s considerably shorter. Again, no voices are available to intelligently discuss the study. “Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, declined to comment on the studies, which she had not seen.” [Emphasis added.] Come on! What’s with the secrecy?

First Look at Mark Regnerus’s Study on Children of Parents In Same-Sex Relationships

Jim Burroway

June 10th, 2012

Mark Regnerus. "How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Families Structure Study." Social Science Research 41, no 4 (July 2012): 752-770.

A new study slated for the July issue of the journal Social Science Research claims to show significant differences in adverse outcomes among children raised by gay and lesbian parents when compared to children raised by both biological parents in a heterosexual-headed household. The study is not yet online but I have been provided an advance copy. [Update: it is now available for purchase.] It is by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas’s Department of Sociology and Population Research Center, and is titled, “How Different are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.”

This study finds “numerous, consistent differences, especially between children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents.” The results of this study would up-end some thirty years of established scientific research which showed that gay and lesbian parents are, on the whole, just as good as their straight counterparts. It would, at least, if the study’s methodology were designed to prove that point. But as is the case with all studies, the conclusions drawn by this study are only as good as the methodologies used to inform them.

The Study’s Sample
On that score, there is one significant strength to this study which makes it stand out. Unlike prior studies, the New Family Structures Study (NFSS) is based on a national probability sampled population. This is the gold standard for all social science studies, and it’s extremely rare for a study to achieve that mark. As far as I am aware, all of the studies to date of gay and lesbian parenting use non-representative convenience samples. National probability samples, unlike convenience samples, are important because they alone can be generalized to the broader populations, to the extent that key characteristics in the design of the probability sample (demographics, etc.) match those of the general population. Convenience samples can’t do that. (For more information on convenience samples versus national probability samples, click here.)

So why don’t the other studies use national probability samples? Believe me, every researcher would much rather work with national probability samples instead of convenience samples. But virtually nobody can afford the huge cost of putting such a study together. It is a massive undertaking, and the cost of creating such a data set is just too prohibitive. Regnerus however has overcome this limitation (PDF: 74KB/12 pages) with a generous $695,000 grant from the Witherspoon Institute and a supplemental $90,000 grant from the Bradley Foundation. With more than three quarters of a million dollars, he has the kind of funding that other researchers can only dream of.

Click here to read the rest of this post.

A little goop from Gwyneth

Timothy Kincaid

June 9th, 2011

In her newsletter, Goop, actor-turned-Country Music singer Gwyneth Paltrow shares what I consider to be the very best response, EVER, to concerns about same-sex couple parenting:

When my daughter came home from school one day saying that a classmate had two mommies, my response was, “Two mommies? How lucky is she?!”

Tennessee appeals court slaps down anti-gay activist judge – again

Timothy Kincaid

June 30th, 2010

It’s hard to think of a definition of “activist judge” that would not have Chancellor George Ellis of the 28th Judicial District in West Tennessee as Exhibit A.

In May 2008, Angel Chandler and her ex-husband Joseph Barker went before the judge to modify their parenting plan. But Ellis didn’t like that Angel was living with her female partner of nine years and decided that he was going to do a little legislating from the bench.

Now the 28th judicial district in Tennessee has Local Rule 23, whereby agreements have a “paramour clause,” a decision that denies custody or even visitation rights to parents who allow an unmarried partner to stay overnight. But this can be overridden by a court, something that Ellis decided he wasn’t going to do.

Now this is not the case of a judge siding with the straight parent; her ex-husband (who has remarried) didn’t ask for the clause or object to its removal. And it wasn’t over-reliance on a hostile child services worker; reports showed no harm to the children. This was simply the case of a judge going against the wishes of the parents and the children and the advice of the psychologist, and taking it upon himself to disrupt the life of this family out of his own personal biases and bigotries.

Angel’s and her partner moved into two halves of a duplex so they could live near each other but apart while they appealed the decision, but soon found the double households to be prohibitively expensive. But fortunately they won their appeal, with the court reminding Ellis that the state law requires the primary consideration for custody arrangements be what’s in the best interest of the children.

Well, Ellis didn’t need no stinkin’ law to do what he wanted to do, so he insisted that the paramour clause remain in place until he could have a hearing. Well in March of this year he had his hearing at which time he decided – without any evidence as support – that it was in the best interest of the children that Chandler and her partner be forced to live apart in order for her to have her kids visit. (Citizen Times)

“A paramour overnight, abuse of alcohol and abuse of drugs are clearly common sense understanding that children can be adversely affected by such exposure….”

(There is no mention of there actually having been abuse of alcohol or drugs, Ellis just sort of threw that in there for comparison. Ya know: alcohol, drug, lesbians – all just obviously not in the kids’ best interest to be around these things.)

So back to the court they went. And this time the appeals court was not amused that Chancellor Ellis had decided to impose his agenda over that of the law.

“The record is devoid of any evidence whatsoever to support the finding that a paramour provision is in the best interests of the children. In fact, the record contains evidence demonstrating that a paramour provision is contrary to the best interests of the children,” the court wrote.

So far I’ve been unable to locate any mention of this story by the usual crowd of anti-gay ranters. I guess their definition of “activist judge” is one who disagrees with them.

Court: Wisconsin gay parents don’t have rights

Timothy Kincaid

June 24th, 2010

From the Chicago Tribune:

A Wisconsin appeals court says gay parents do not have full parental rights when it comes to their adopted children.

The court ruled Thursday against a woman who was seeking guardianship of two adopted children for whom she acted as a stay at home mother for years.

Cuz it’s in the interest of the kids, ya know.


Gary and Tony Have a Baby

Jim Burroway

June 24th, 2010

Tonight’s episode of Soledad O’Brien’s In America will feature a special called “Gary and Tony Have a Baby.” The special follows Gary Spino and Tony Brown as they form a family through surrogacy. It will air tonight at 8 pm EDT. Check your local listings for details.

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