Controversial UT study found inaccurate by journal

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UT associate professor of Sociology Mark Regnerus led the New Family Structures Study, which sought to answer how the children of gay parents fare in comparison to children of heterosexual parents. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

The editor that ran a controversial gay parenting study by UT associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus has released an audit critizing the study’s validity and the steps that led to publication.

James Wright, editor of Social Science Research, the sociology journal that published Regnerus’ study, ordered and audit of the study and found the peer-review process used to evaluate it failed to identify “significant, disqualifying problems” with the study and highlighted conflicts of interest between the study’s peer-reviewers, according to audit documents obtained by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Wright said he ordered the inquiry into the study to protect the journal’s credibility due to skepticism from academic professionals about the study’s validity.

“These are professionals in the field, people I know and respect,” Wright said in an interview with The Daily Texan. “It became obvious that to protect the credibility of myself and the journal, rather than me trying to answer these questions, I should simply ask somebody other then me to undertake an audit and issue a report.”

The study, “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?” found that children raised by gay parents are at a significant disadvantage compared to children raised by heterosexual, married couples. The study received widespread media attention and academic criticism following its publication.

Joseph Randazzo, UT Law student and member of OUTlaw, the gay lesbian & bisexual law school alliance organization, said he is pleased the truth about the study’s validity is being acknowledged by its publication.

“I think it’s important that the truth prevails, and that we approach with skepticism any study that could be seen as an attack on any social group,” he said. “I’m confident that someone’s gender preference does not affect his or her abilities as a parent.”

The audit was done by Darren Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Souther Illinois University at Carbondale and member of the journal’s editorial board.

Sherkat said the study’s definitions of “gay father” and “lesbian mother” were flawed, leading to the analysis of child subjects that were not truly raised by gay couples. For example, a woman could be identified as a “lesbian mother” in the study if she had a relationship with another woman at any point after having a child, regardless of the length of the relationship and whether or not the two women raised the child together.

Sherkat said possible conflicts of interest with the peer-reviewers exist because three of the six peer-reviewers are on the record opposing same-sex marriage and some of them have connections to Regnerus.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sherkat said, “In reality, only two respondents lived with a lesbian couple for their entire childhoods, and most did not live with lesbian or gay parents for long periods, if at all.”

Wright said the audit will be published in the November issue of Social Science Research and expects to receive updated information on the study from Regnerus in response to recent criticism.

“He has done some re-analysis based on some of the various criticisms of how he handled the data on the first go around,” Wright said.

UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said UT’s inquiry into complaints of scientific misconduct against Regnerus is currently ongoing and last until late next month. The University has 60 days from the inquiry’s initiation, which began on June 25, to finalize its findings and decide how to proceed, she said.

Provost and executive vice president Steven Leslie said the UT administration is sure those conducting the UT audit will carefully evaluate the study and related reports and declined further comment as to preserve the integrity of the UT audit.

“We are confident the group conducting the current inquiry will look at a wide range of factors, including this audit of the Social Science Research journal,” he said. “It would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time on either the audit or the journal editor’s remarks, lest it undermine the integrity of this inquiry.”

Correction on July 30 at 2:34 p.m.: The original article and headline stated that the publisher of Social Science Research ordered the audit of professor Mark Regnerus's study. The article and headline have been corrected to clarify that the editor of the journal ordered the audit.