Professor's controversial study prompts UT inquiry

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A public allegation of scientific misconduct has prompted UT officials to make an inquiry into a recent sociology study authored by a UT professor which claims children raised by homosexual couples are worse off than those raised by heterosexual parents.

Sociology associate professor Mark Regnerus fell into the limelight in June for publishing The New Family Structure Study, in which he attempted to discern whether there was a difference between children raised by gay parents as opposed to those raised in traditional family structures. Scott Rose, a New York City-based investigative journalist and blogger for the pro-gay rights website The New Civil Rights Movement, prompted a UT inquiry in an open letter to the University published online June 24. In his letter, Rose said Regnerus’ study violates UT’s academic dishonesty policy, because he accepted money from politically active groups and purposefully used flawed data collection methods in his study.

Rose also stated Regnerus acted “in bad faith” as a member of the scientific community and questioned whether or not Regnerus engaged in “improper relationships” with the groups funding the study.

David Ochsner, director of public affairs in the College of Liberal Arts, said the study is still in the inquiry phase and a formal investigation will not begin unless compelling evidence of scientific misconduct is discovered.

“Anytime somebody makes an allegation like that, it automatically triggers what we call an inquiry, which is just a preliminary fact-finding exercise,” Ochsner said. “In an inquiry, we’re just acknowledging that there has been an allegation made.”

Regnerus’ study appeared in the online journal Social Science Research and received funding from the Witherspoon Institute and The Bradley Foundation, two organizations known to support conservative beliefs.

In a July 1 blog post for The New Civil Rights Movement, Rose said a main reason Regnerus’ study is flawed is because Knowledge Networks, the survey company Regnerus used to collect data, uses a method of data collection that combines both address-based sampling and random-digit-dialing, the latter of which is only applicable to households with landlines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2010, a significant percentage of people within the age range Regnerus sampled live in households that do not have landlines, excluding them from being surveyed via random-digit-dialing.

Knowledge Networks does provide more inclusive methods that would only use address-based sampling, according to the New Family Structures Study website, but survey collection using only address-based sampling costs more and takes more time. Rose said if Regnerus had spent more money to use only address-based sampling or had instead compared stable heterosexual couples to equally stable same-sex couples using a method of “snowball” sampling, which includes a smaller sample of surveys chosen directly by the researcher, a more valid analysis would’ve been reached.

“Regnerus is saying that his sampling method is superior,” Rose said. “What he doesn’t tell you is that although a ‘snowball’ sampling has limits, the analysis of it can have benefits. But if the analysis is not valid sociology, it doesn’t matter that you use that superior sampling.”

Regnerus, lead author of the study, said beyond his disappointment in the allegation, he had no further comments about the inquiry process.

“It happened, and I’m going along with it and what is required of me,” Regnerus said. “I’m sad that it has occurred, I think. But, I probably shouldn’t say much about it.”

Despite Regnerus’ statement that he does not have any ties to the ideals of the conservative funders, Rose said Regnerus should have been conscious of the way the study would be used by anti-gay advocates.

“Regnerus had to have known the kind of thing they were going to do with this study,” Rose said. “When he says he can’t control what they do, it’s not about him controlling them. It’s about his conscience in knowing what they were going to do.”

Rose said he believes the UT inquiry will not be sufficient in rectifying any damage done to the gay or scientific communities by the study. He said he intends to take further action against the University and will attempt to get the study noticed in mainstream media and television.

“Frankly, what I see happening is that I’m going to involve the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and find people who are responsible for funding grants to the University, and I’m going to get those people to act,” Rose said.

Ochsner said it will be some time before the inquiry phase is complete and a decision is made about the possibility of a formal investigation.

“It will be sometime next month in August before there will be any determination of whether or not to take the next step,” Ochsner said. “The thing that we need to get people to understand is that although this doesn’t happen every day, there are definitely times where an allegation like this is made, and we do look into it.”