journal-assignment-lib-356-1

Journal

This week your Journal assignment asks you to reflect on the lessons you learned from last week’s Discussion about the Regnerus study of same-sex households. The assignment asks you to “explain the differing assumptions that lead Mark Regnerus and his critics to opposing conclusions about the same data.” Specifically you will want to look at how Regnerus defined “same-sex household” – based on the questions he asked in his survey and the way he coded the data in his statistical analysis. Then look at the criticism Regnerus received about his study and then use your own critical reasoning to analyze what assumptions both sides made about homosexuality that led them to differing ways of defining same-sex household and thus differing conclusions about the data.

Note that the point of this Journal assignment is not just to give your evaluation of the Regnerus study. The point is to reflect on the role of values in academic research. If you need additional help on this, be sure to read the Recommended Resource from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on “Scientific Objectivity”, which explores different conceptions of “objectivity” in science and concludes “In each case, there are at least some reasons to believe that either science cannot deliver full objectivity in this sense, or that it would not be a good thing to try to do so, or both”: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-objectivity/

In order to complete this discussion, read this magazine article Regnerus wrote summarizing his research: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/06/gay_parents_are_they_really_no_different_.html. Then read this critique of Regnerus’s study:http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2012/06/new_family_structures_study_is_gay_parenthood_bad_or_is_gay_marriage_good_.html. Next take a look at Regnerus’s response to criticisms of his study: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2012/06/q-a-with-mark-regnerus-about-the-background-of-his-new-study/ and be sure to read Regnerus’s response to the Cheng and Powell paper, too:http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/05/14978/.

This is what this journal is based on:

In 2012 sociologist Mark Regnerus published a paper that claims to show evidence that children with gay parents are worse off than children with heterosexual parents. Conservative political activists used this study to argue against allowing same-sex couples to marry and/or adopt children, even appealing to it during the Supreme Court case that eventually declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

This is a social science paper, but it should still be helpful for us in the humanities, because it illuminates the way that our theoretical perspectives always influence our understanding of the world. There are no value-neutral concepts, especially when it comes to human reality.

On one hand, this paper is exactly the kind of source we teach students to look for. Regnerus is a tenured professor at the University of Texas, and his study was published in peer-reviewed academic journal called Social Science Research. This seems as credible as any source could be. On the other hand the study was paid for by a conservative think tank called the Witherspon Institute whose political mission is to oppose same-sex marriage. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate Regnerus’s data, but it does caution us to look carefully at his methods.

Liberal political activists argued that Regnerus was biased, because he was an evangelical Christian. Some of his opponents even tried to have him fired from his job at The University of Texas, a taxpayer-funded public university. The university did an inquiry and decided Regnerus was not guilty of “scientific misconduct”, but the editor of Social Science Research audited the peer-review process and declared the article flawed, as did the American Sociological Association. Then in 2015 the same journal published follow-up study where another team of sociologists (led by Simon Cheng and Brian Powell) combed through Regnerus’s data and came to different conclusions.

But despite all of this criticism, Mark Regnerus still stands by his research. He argues in a 2015 blog post that his opponents are distorting the data to get the results they want.

In order to complete this discussion, read this magazine article Regnerus wrote summarizing his research: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/06/gay_parents_are_they_really_no_different_.html. Then read this critique of Regnerus’s study:http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2012/06/new_family_structures_study_is_gay_parenthood_bad_or_is_gay_marriage_good_.html. Next take a look at Regnerus’s response to criticisms of his study: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2012/06/q-a-with-mark-regnerus-about-the-background-of-his-new-study/ and be sure to read Regnerus’s response to the Cheng and Powell paper, too:http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/05/14978/.

Finally, if you want to read the primary sources, here is the original, peer-reviewed journal article as well as a follow-up paper in which Regnerus defended his research against critics. And here is Cheng and Powell’s second look at the Regnerus data.

Questions for discussion: Was Regnerus’s research biased? Is it possible to do unbiased research on a politically controversial topic like same-sex marriage? Should liberals take Regnerus’s study seriously, even if they disagree with his conclusion? Did Regnerus violate any principles of research ethics? What lessons about research can we learn from this controversy? (Note: Do not try to answer all of these questions in one post! Instead discuss them over the whole week.)

Requirements: Attend discussion on at least four separate days, and post a total of 800 words. There is no required word count for individual posts as long as all your posts together total 800 words. Nor is there a minimum number of posts, but you must post on at least four separate days by Day 7.

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