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.