Now that’s chutzpah

William Saletan has done everyone a solid and debunked the awful, shoddy new study about same-sex parents by Mark Regnerus.  If you’re unfamiliar with the study and have no idea what I’m talking about, best just to move on and pretend nothing is happening.  Nothing meaningful is.

But I was sufficiently struck by this little passage in Regnerus’ own précis in Slate to offer a small comment of my own:

So why did this study come up with such different results than previous work in the field? And why should one study alter so much previous sentiment? Basically, better methods. When it comes to assessing how children of gay parents are faring, the careful methods and random sampling approach found in demography has not often been employed by scholars studying this issue, due in part—to be sure—to the challenges in locating and surveying small minorities randomly. In its place, the scholarly community has often been treated to small, nonrandom “convenience” studies of mostly white, well-educated lesbian parents, including plenty of data-collection efforts in which participants knew that they were contributing to important studies with potentially substantial political consequences, elevating the probability of something akin to the “Hawthorne Effect.” This is hardly an optimal environment for collecting unbiased data (and to their credit, many of the researchers admitted these challenges). I’m not claiming that all the previous research on this subject is bunk. But small or nonrandom studies shouldn’t be the gold standard for research, all the more so when we’re dealing with a topic so weighted with public interest and significance. [emphasis added]

Wow.  Just wow.  That is some serious chutzpah right there.  Because to my reading (and I am admittedly a little bit biased on the subject, what with being the proud father of a small child, along with my husband) Regnerus’ study is a wonderful example of shitty, shitty methods.  If I were a less charitable person than I am, I would be inclined to speculate that the study employed such loose methods in order to best fit the biases of the socially conservative entities that funded it.  But I’m sure that couldn’t possibly be the case.

Whatever his motivations, it is pretty audacious to aver that your findings, which contradict previous studies, are better because of your superior methodology when said methodology is grossly imprecise, all while pronouncing loftily about whether that which precedes you is bunk.  Again, I don’t need to duplicate Saletan’s excellent work.  Instead, I’ll just conclude with this quote from the indispensable Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I don’t want to speculate but when you are in a predominantly liberal environment, it is easy to fall victim to the kinds of behaviors you’re usually critiquing. I’m speaking from personal experience in this instance. But if you’re going to swim against the current, your methods have to be tight–tighter than those of people who are running with the current, and certainly not looser. The burden is on the contrarian, and the contrarian who truly revels in the contrarian’s role will accept that burden as an obligation to do more, not a license to do less.

Just so.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. In general, I’m a fan of Saletan. He’s one of the best journalists on the bioethics beat.

  2. That’s so weird! My very scientific study of straight parents that have been caught infidelities compared against all gay and lesbian parents showed just the opposit!

  3. The amount of fun I had reading the various things you quoted and linked to (and your own stuff of course) no doubt correlates strongly to my nerdiness percentage.

    What a terrible study! What a wonderful takedown! What an awesome Ta-Nehisi quote!

  4. I suppose it’s a sign of progress when I looked at the original Slate article with the lesbian couple with the kid and my first thought was disapproval… of the tattoo.

  5. I decided to study this independently. One problem was the need for an objective way to identify homosexual parents, and that’s not easy to find. Homosexual orientation is impossible to quantify, and homosexual behavior is often masked, particularly when it’s extra-marital. What I eventually hit upon was using the legal system as an objective source. That is, to examine marriages in which one or both members had been convicted of sodomy.

    I have to say, the results weren’t pretty. The children of these marriages did worse than those whose parents had not been convicted of any felonies in every available measure: success in school, average income, incarceration rates, etc. Tellingly, the figures are even worse when both parents had been convicted. The extrapolation from these couples to couples who would have both been convicted of sodomy were these laws still in force is clear and is left an an exercise for the reader.

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