Saturday, March 2, 2019

#2151: Mark Regnerus

Mark Regnerus is a is a sociology professor at UT Austin. Regnerus is most famous for a 2012 population-based study published in Social Science Research (details here; review here) from which he drew, based on fundamentally flawed conceptual and methodological grounds (some details here and here) that “that the household instability that the NFSS reveals is just too common among same-sex couples to take the social gamble of spending significant political and economic capital to esteem and support this new (but tiny) family form,” a conclusion demonstrably not supported even by his own flawed data if analyzed carefully rather than with a true motivated reasoner’s selective sloppiness – and remember: the study didn’t even remotely study children growing up in same-sex households; essentially, Regnerus compared well-functioning straight households with broken families where at least one of the parents had at one point had a homosexual affair. 

Of course: even serious scientists can published flawed studies and draw unwarranted conclusions (though reviews of the referee process of the journal show that the Regnerus study took it one step further, to put it diplomatically, leading to the expected outcome). What makes Regnerus a loon, however, is how he doubled down on his conclusions once they were conclusively shown to be unwarranted (e.g. this). (Not that he doesn’t have a prior history of religiously motivated anti-gay lunacy). You may, for instance, try to follow him down the rabbit-hole in this interview, where he for instance claims that women are far more vulnerable today than they were 50 years ago because of access to contraception and because they no longer can break with unfaithful husbands (yes, it’s fascinatingly bizarre to watch). And here is Regnerus claiming that sex has become “the opium of the masses,” that “we are lacking transcendence and sex is a transcendent act,” because … science? Oh, no: “Sex doesn’t explain the world, religion does,” said Regnerus, providing us all with a rather nice opportunity for head-scratching.  

The study in question was funded by the conservative Witherspoon Institute. Now, research needs funding, of course, and Regnerus stated, seemingly reasonably enough, that the Witherspoon Institute played no role in the design of the study, and dismissed accusations of improper influence. However, the release of emails between Regnerus and Witherspoon Institute employee Brad Wilcox strongly suggested otherwise. In one of them, Wilcox for instance approved several items relating to the study on behalf of the Witherspoon Institute. Wilcox, who funded and planned Regnerus’s study, was, by the way, also on the editorial board of Social Science Research, where the study was published, which is surely a coincidence.

Regnerus and his study were, in fairness, defended by some sociologists, too, but looking at the list of defenders will give you some eerie reminders of certain Discovery Institute antics.

Regnerus also contributed to an amicus brief in opposition to same-sex marriage and appeared as an expert witness in a 2014 federal court hearing regarding Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. His testimony was however rejected by the judge since Regnerus’s arguments derived from methodologically flawed data that were “not worthy of serious consideration”. Of course, the fact that his research was fundamentally flawed and the results refuted by later studies doesn’t mean that Regnerus’s misinformation attempt goes away; rather, he has become something of a hero, as well as active participant and speaker, in wingnut circles, and his study (or “study”) has gotten to live a rich life also among wingnut anti-gay groups abroad. Here is Regnerus’s strikingly feeble attempt at ciriticizing better studies coming to different conclusions than his own.

During a speech at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2014 titled “What Sexual Behavior Patterns Reveal about the Mating Market and Catholic Thought”, Regnerus claimed that “normalization of gay men’s sexual behavior” in society will also lead heterosexual men astray and demand anal sex from women, thus causing a surge in the “practice of heterosexual anal sex.” He also called gay adoption as “mean” as abortion.

There is a fine Mark Regnerus resource here.

Diagnosis: It is pretty clear, and Regnerus has more or less admitted as much, that Mark Regnerus is not primarily a scientist: he is an ideological activist and fundamentalist with a degree, who will not let data, facts or evidence stand between him and any predetermined conclusion, one for whom the role of evidence is to support whatever he already believes.

1 comment:

  1. Someone needs to tell him that straight couples engaging in anal sex has no correlation to “normalizing” gay sex.