U. of Texas backs professor in battle with gay blogger

By September 3, 2012

The University of Texas-Austin is backing a sociology professor who came under withering attack for a study that found children of same-sex parents are more likely to be depressed or on welfare than kids raised by heterosexual couples.

The school launched an inquiry into Professor Mark Regnerus’ peer-reviewed work last month after a New York-based blogger attacked him for a controversial paper which compared the adult lives of people raised by parents in same-sex relationships to those raised by parents in traditional marriages. The study found several differences, including some that were potentially negative. But an inquiry by the school found Regnerus used sufficiently scholarly methods, university officials announced this week.

"Since it’s a sensitive subject that offers quite different conclusions from previous studies, it’s not surprising that it has drawn critics."

- Mark Regnerus, author of controversial study

"The University of Texas at Austin has determined that no formal investigation is warranted into the allegations of scientific misconduct lodged against associate professor Mark Regnerus regarding his July article in the journal Social Science Research," the school said in a statement. "As with much university research, Regnerus’ New Family Structures Study touches on a controversial and highly personal issue that is currently being debated by society at large.

"The university expects the scholarly community will continue to evaluate and report on the findings of the Regnerus article and supports such discussion," the statement concluded.

The study asked thousands of adult children of straight, lesbian and homosexual parents dozens of questions and compared the results. While many questions did not produce statistically-significant differences, the study found major differences in a few categories. Adult children of gay couples were two to four times as likely to be on public assistance, more than twice as likely to be unemployed and more than twice as likely to have contemplated suicide.

After it was published, blogger Scott Rose accused Regnerus of scientific misconduct in two letters to the school, first charging Regnerus with deviating from "ethical standards" for research and later accusing him of "possible falsification" of research. Rose, who is gay, claimed the study was compromised because it was funded by the conservative Witherspoon Institute and that Regnerus was unable to be impartial because he is Catholic.

The inquiry was conducted by a four-member advisory panel composed of senior university faculty members, who seized Regnerus’ computers and 42,000 emails.  Once it was complete, the school had Alan Price, a former associate director of the Office of Research Integrity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, review the inquiry, which he found was "consistent with federal regulatory requirements of inquiries into research misconduct."

Even though the school ultimately backed Regnerus’ methodology, the entire process was troubling, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

"It seems to us that UT Austin should take a closer look at its rules to make sure that the provision for sequestration does not become an open invitation to hassle and discourage researchers working within politically charged topics," the Philadelphia-based group, which takes no position on same-sex parenting, said.

After the school’s announcement, Rose wrote on his blog, The New Civil Rights Movement," that he plans to pursue his claims against Regnerus with the American Sociological Association.

"The legitimate scientific community is united in concerns about the Regnerus study’s lack of intellectual integrity, and the fact that prior to publication, the study did not receive ethical and appropriate professional peer review," Rose wrote.

Regnerus’ New Family Structures Study sampled 3,000 people ages 18-39, of whom 248 said their mothers or fathers had a same-sex relationship while they were growing up. Regnerus, an associate professor of and a faculty associate at the university’s Population Research Center, said his study is unique because prior probes of same-sex parenting have been based on smaller samples and anecdotal cases that seemed designed to conclude there are no differences between children of the two groups.

"My conclusions were quite different than many other studies that have been done in this area, in part because my study was both larger and more random than all but a few studies that came before it," Regnerus told FoxNews.com.

Regnerus said funding from the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, which he acknowledged are known for supporting conservative causes, played no role at all in the study. He also noted in his paper that different outcomes for children of same-sex vs. heterosexual parents could be in part due to a lack of social support for same-sex parents, stigmatizing of gay parents.

And he also stated that same-sex parents can still do a good job of raising their children, writing "it is certainly accurate to affirm that sexual orientation or parental sexual behavior need have nothing to do with the ability to be a good, effective parent."

But he wasn’t altogether surprised the study generated controversy.

"Since it’s a sensitive subject that offers quite different conclusions from previous studies, it’s not surprising that it has drawn critics," he told FoxNews.com.

 

Schools: University of Texas at Austin