AUSTIN, Texas — Allegations of scientific misconduct have prompted the University of Texas to investigate a professor’s study that found adults with gay parents reported significantly different life experiences than the children of married, heterosexual biological parents.
The study, authored by Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology, made a splash when it was published last month in the journal Social Science Research. It has since drawn criticism from scholars at UT and elsewhere.
Bucking the consensus of the past decade of scholarship — that the sexual orientation of parents does not negatively affect children in consequential ways — Regnerus found that adults with gay parents tended to report lower levels of success in economic and romantic pursuits and struggled more with mental health issues. The university began the inquiry after New York City freelance writer Scott Rosensweig, who uses the byline Scott Rose and writes about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues for a blog called The New Civil Rights Movement, sent a public letter of complaint to UT President Bill Powers on June 21.
In his letter, Rosensweig alleged that Regnerus had committed scientific misconduct because he had created “a study designed so as to be guaranteed to make gay people look bad, through means plainly fraudulent and defamatory.” Rosensweig also pointed out that the study was funded by the conservative Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, writing that Regnerus had taken “money from an anti-gay political organization for his study.” Regnerus declined to comment on the inquiry but said that his study followed the standard protocol of scholarly research.
“A team consisting of leading family researchers was involved in developing the research protocol,” Regnerus wrote in an email. “This academic team merged scholars across disciplines and ideological lines in a spirit of civility and reasoned inquiry, and the protocol developed by this team was subsequently approved by the University of Texas’ Institutional Review Board.” “Normal procedures were followed for obtaining outside support, as many researchers do,” he wrote.
The University of Texas defines scientific misconduct as “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism” and “practices that seriously deviate from ethical standards.” A panel of UT professors is conducting the inquiry, and the process will be completed within 60 days of the complaint, according to Gary Susswein, director of UT’s media relations. Ultimately, if a university investigation finds that Regnerus’ work constitutes scientific misconduct, UT Provost Steven Leslie would decide how the administration will discipline Regnerus, according to Susswein. He would not specify what kind of disciplinary action Regnerus might face.
Among the study’s critics is UT sociology professor Debra Umberson.
“Regnerus’ study is bad science. Among other errors, he made egregious yet strategic decisions in selecting particular groups for comparison,” Umberson wrote along with three colleagues in an editorial published by the Huffington Post on June 26.
Five UT faculty members also signed a letter, along with 200 scholars at multiple universities, to the editor of Social Science Research, James Wright, pointing out what they said were flaws in Regnerus’ methodology and stating that the review process took only five weeks, when most reviews take between two and three months.
Wright said the review of Regnerus’ article did take five weeks, but attributed that to prompt reviewers and Regnerus’ quick turnaround of revisions. He added that the journal is in the process of auditing this review for malpractices.