Travis Knoll

Every Friday, the Daily Texan editorial board will publish a selection of tweets and online comments, along with direct submissions from readers. Our intention is to continue the tradition of the Firing Line, a column first started in the Texan in 1909, in which readers share their opinions “concerning any matter of general interest they choose.” Just like in 1909, the Texan “will never express its approval or disapproval of opinions given under the [Firing Line] header.” In other words, take your shot.

An environmental agency in name only

I recently read your article “The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should protect the atmosphere, too,” and was angered to realize Texas was the only state to refuse to comply with federal regulation of greenhouse gases and that the commission dedicated to the environment really has no interest in the environment over economic benefits.

The issue of politicians versus scientists seems to be a critical issue in this situation. Many times informed decisions are not made due to the fact that policy makers and scientists do not work together. The members of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality blatantly dispute the serious issue of rising global climate due to anthropogenic factors, especially green house gas emissions. If these members would take the time to work with scientists and understands the dangers and potential ways to improve them, they would seemingly save money they are worried about spending on lawsuits, and could use it to benefit our state and overall the globe.

The fact that atmosphere is a public resource that is so crucial to everyone’s health all around the world makes me believe new leaders should definitely be chosen. Although choosing new leaders will not magically solve our massive climate problem, it would be one step forward by getting someone on the commission who actually supports the effort for environmental change.

—Elise Bentley, Austin resident

Atmospheric protection also needed for its effect on water

I recently read with interest the article “The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should protect the atmosphere, too.” I appreciate that The Daily Texan can see the blatant issue with the commission’s disregard for the need to protect the atmosphere. I would like to expand on the fact that if the commssion’s true goal was to protect state waters, than they would also be worried about protecting the atmosphere. The level of acidity in the ocean is rising rapidly, and a huge part of that is because of the current state of the atmosphere. The ocean is absorbing approximately a quarter of the CO2 that has been released into the atmosphere each year. This absorption is causing the acidity level of the ocean to rise. Not only is creating issues with seawater, but has a huge impact on biodiversity, particularly on shellfish. Not only is not protecting the atmosphere causing problems with protecting state waters but is also contributing to the major issue we are having with decline in marine biodiversity. Society should take it upon themselves to stop, if not try to reverse these problems, and this article is a great effort to make people aware of the problems at hand.

—Katie Crawford, Austin resident

UT students can make a difference for the environment

The article “Austinites Should Fight for Efficient Energy,” written by Travis Knoll, recently caught my attention as I’ve been curious about local efforts in reducing carbon emissions and living a ‘green’ lifestyle. Knoll sums up Austin’s role in addressing climate change through energy efficiency by reminding readers that Austin ranks sixth in the nation due to the green-friendly building codes enforced. Austin already has the plastic bag ban, which is an inspirational start for change.

As a current student in the course “Humans and a Changing Ocean,” I am exposed to many of the major issues facing our planet such as climate change, ocean acidification, and a loss of biodiversity. Human impact on the environment is starting to take its toll as we wait around for something major to happen; it is evident that we’ve already started some huge changes such as temperatures rising due to the rate of the greenhouse gases we are emitting. It is encouraging to see UT’s newspaper posting opinion articles such as this, and I hope to see more attention drawn to the student’s role in climate change in the future. The time is undeniably now to start shifting the way we approach these issues, and Austin is a great place to start. More awareness needs to be brought to the topic of climate change and it’d be great to see the Daily Texan encouraging students to get involved by posting informative articles, in addition to the local and individual changes our generation can make. I enjoyed the different perspectives of the three speakers as it gave a well-rounded view. The closing statement of the article stated that it would take the effort of not only our generation, but the older generation that played a role in emissions as well. I feel that the UT student body and our generation in general is capable of making some major changes if we can get people interested and properly informed on the topic at hand.

—Carly Shiell, UT student

Research stands up to scrutiny

In this space, Travis Knoll [“Potter, other UT professors should peer-review abortion research before they politicize it”] has suggested that my testimony, both on the stand and in the declarations I submitted to the court in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Service v. Abbot, No. 1:13-cv-862-LY, was rushed and not subject to any sort of review, and that its scientific rigor was compromised by haste and political objectives. It does not appear, however, that Mr. Knoll has read the declarations and their accompanying exhibits, or the transcript of my testimony, and he certainly made no independent attempt to evaluate their rigor and credibility.  

While the analysis performed by me and my colleagues on the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), reflected in the initial declaration I submitted on Oct. 1, was prepared in a relatively short amount of time, we had the advantage of being able to draw on research that we have been conducting over the past two years. During this time, we have collected information from both providers and recipients of abortion care throughout the state. We also had a team made up of three Ph.D.’s, one M.D. and five M.A. researchers working on the analysis. Moreover, the analysis we carried out was limited in scope so that it could be carefully completed during the time that we had available.  

The original declaration was, in fact, subject to a form of peer review within the legal system. The defendants submitted a declaration in their response filed on Oct. 15 that was prepared by Dr. Peter Uhlenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. In his declaration, Dr. Uhlenberg commented on and reviewed our declaration. We then had three days in which to prepare and file a rebuttal declaration addressing the concerns raised by Dr. Uhlenberg and other declarations filed as part of the defendants’ response. All of these documents are publically available on the court’s web site. Our declaration, Dr. Uhlenberg’s declaration, and our rebuttal declaration have been posted on the TxPEP web site. The issues of academic peer review and the scientific credibility of the investigators are addressed explicitly in the rebuttal declaration. In this document, we also provided a detailed elaboration of the methods used, and the assumptions made, in arriving at our estimates of the shortfall in provider capacity. I encourage anyone concerned with the objectivity and integrity of our analysis to read the original declaration, the Uhlenberg critique and the rebuttal: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/txpep/research-briefs.php.

 —Joseph Potter, sociology professor at UT-Austin

[Regarding a column by Travis Knoll, which ran Nov. 28 titled “Revisit Regnerus.”] I think it’s nice that you and Regnerus got together and chatted. That’s what civilized people can do. I do have to take issue with some of your “new thinking” on this matter.

Please don’t succumb to the belief that two opposite but equally moral points of view are in play here; they’re not. There is an agenda in this country to maintain a legal and social imbalance between straight and gay people, for no valid public policy reason. Please don’t lend legitimacy to the absurd notion that there is a real discussion going on.

The controversial Social Sciences Research article that got him dumped on by his colleagues and peers makes conclusions that are not based on the data set he collected and which were outrageous. For example, he claims that the children of gay fathers are far more likely to consider suicide than the children of straight fathers. That insidious claim is completely unsupported by his data. He could, however, make the claim that the children of fathers who had an adulterous same-sex affair outside of their marriages to a woman and who ended up getting divorced from that woman are more likely to consider suicide. To wit, we don’t know if it’s the gay father, the affair or (most likely) the breakup of the family that lead to thoughts of suicide. Regnerus bundled together a heap of bad variables, and wants to blame only one of them, “having a gay father,” for all the trouble. Shoddy research conclusion, to be charitable.

Regnerus has been neither ostracized nor censored. He has been roundly criticized for making outrageous, absurd and false observations about a specific minority group, observations unsupported by his data. I suspect he’s been surprised by the backlash he’s gotten. But it’s well deserved. He’s not a victim here; he’s a perpetrator.

— Jeffery M. Davis
Royal Oak, Michigan

UT associate professor of Sociology Mark Regnerus has received national attention for a new study questioning “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships?” Regnerus denies claims of political bias in his research.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

When Austin resident Dawn Bayer looks at her three adult children, she considers her parenting journey a success. Although she began raising her children within a married heterosexual relationship, Bayer has been in lesbian relationships for 14 years. She is one of the people who disagrees with a new UT study finding children raised by gay parents are at a significant disadvantage.

Published in the July issue of Social Science Research, the study was led by UT associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus and encountered a swirl of media scrutiny last week. Regnerus said his study hoped to answer the question, “Is there no difference between growing up with a gay parent as opposed to other forms of family structures?” Critics have said Regnerus’ study is flawed because he did not include enough stable gay couples in his analysis. He has also received backlash from LGBT advocates because he received funding from the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, two organizations known to support conservative ideals.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Regnerus said he stands by everything he wrote.

“I stand by everything I did, said and wrote,” Regnerus said. “I don’t have a political axe to grind. I know the funders are conservative. I don’t know what they make of this. I will always follow where the data leads.”

Bayer said her success in raising her children while maintaining same-sex relationships made the results of the study particularly upsetting.

“I was disappointed,” Bayer said. “That might be an understatement. I have three thriving adult children who have been raised in a lesbian household since the ages of seven, nine and 11.”

Bayer has been with her current partner for three years. After divorcing her children’s father, Bayer was told that revealing her sexuality could cost her the custody of her kids.

“The attorney told me, ‘You cannot tell anyone in the state of Texas that you are gay. It is absolutely possible that you could lose your children because of your sexuality,’” Bayer said. “At the time, it was a different world.”

Regnerus compared adult children raised in family structures such as “intact bio families,” which include married heterosexual couples, with children raised by gay or lesbian parents. Regnerus began the study in the fall of 2010 and used a nationally representative population-based sampling method, the same method used in the U.S. census, which differs from other studies that seek out individual people to survey.

The study compared children using 40 different categories, observing aspects of their adult life: income, voting status, current sexual orientation, depression level and current self-reported level of happiness.

“We found that there are differences between kids who grew up with a mom in a lesbian relationship and kids who grew up with mom and dad who were married and who are still married today,” Regnerus said. “It’s challenging because family structure is not a static thing, so deciding who is going to be analyzed and what the categories are calls for a lot of subjective decisions.”

In one instance, Regnerus reported significant statistical differences in categories such as education, employment status, depression and marijuana use between children raised by heterosexual couples and those raised by women who had lesbian relationships.

Regnerus said the study has been widely criticized for not including stable lesbian households. Only two of the children from the study spent their entire lives raised by a lesbian couple, he said.

“There’s not enough statistical power to tell if there are differences between those small handful of stable lesbian couple families,” he said. “I would assume that they would be doing better. Stability is good. That was one clear message of the study.”

Travis Knoll, a Latin American studies senior, was adopted when he was six years-old by a single gay man after spending much of his childhood in foster care. Knoll said the sacrifices made by his father and those who helped raise him were invaluable parts of his upbringing.

“My father’s orientation did indeed influence how I was raised,” Knoll said. “It influenced my character positively. I felt I was being raised in a community. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.”

Knoll said the results of the study were presented without an articulated point, which made the ultimate intention of the study unclear.

“A public intellectual has a responsibility not to just publish numbers, but to also be very clear about what they mean. I think he has yet to clarify that,” Knoll said. “It almost seems kind of naïve to think that someone who is funding his project with such a [conservative] history doesn’t have an agenda.”

Knoll also said he hopes Regnerus’ “numbers won’t be used to justify issues” against homosexuals.

He said the larger issue revolves around what is best for children who are currently in need of stable homes.

“There are thousands of children waiting for adoption by competent gay couples, and they can’t be adopted through certain agencies because it’s against their principles, or because the state still prefers to keep them in the foster systems, which are very temporary and don’t provide stability for the child,” Knoll said. “So regardless of the study, the real question is how can we assure society that gay couples will raise children in a similar fashion to straight couples?”

Ryan Haecker, recent information studies graduate and founder of UT’s Anscombe Society chapter, which aims to protect the ideals of heterosexual marriage on campus, said he found Regnerus’ criticism of the “no differences” paradigm to be the most significant aspect of the study. According to the study, the “no differences” paradigm suggests children of same-sex couples display “no notable disadvantages” to those raised by heterosexual married couples.

“Often, defenders of alternative sexual lifestyles and familial forms will use such research, either overtly or covertly, to silence and dismiss with, rather than to engage with moral criticisms,” Haecker said, referring to those who use the paradigm to suggest that children raised by same-sex couples are the same as all other children. “The policy of not discussing the moral criticisms of same-sex erotic relationships is presently observed among proponents of same-sex lifestyles.”

Haecker said proponents of a more traditional family structure, particularly in a religious context, are often overlooked as recent research continues to support the “no differences” paradigm.

“We have observed how the scholarly discourse regarding same-sex parenting and ‘marriage’ has shifted dramatically in the past decade,” Haecker said. “If this secularizing trend should continue, we may expect sociological and legal discourse to more and more exclude, dismiss and silence moral criticisms of alternative familial forms.”

Despite the study, Bayer said it’s up to parents to realize the importance of bringing up children in stable and loving families regardless of structure or orientation.

“It’s important to remember that love is love, and when we do things with intention and purpose, kids aren’t left out,” Bayer said. “Gay or straight, it doesn’t matter.”