Heritage Foundation baffled by criticism of flawed “same-sex parenting” study

The homophobic right-wing seems genuinely taken aback at how poorly received their precious Regnerus study has been. Clearly, being widely and loudly called out on shoddy science with a hateful agenda isn’t something they’re used to. And in another decade, these results might have been accepted at face value despite the study’s many flaws, simply because it aligned with the conventional wisdom of the time that gay people must be bad for children, society, and everything. This is no longer the case – these traditional assumptions aren’t assumed anymore, and the anti-gay movement have found themselves out of their element.

In their shock that someone would dare question their latest instrument of propaganda, the Heritage Foundation asks, “Why the Liberal Intolerance for New Family Structures Study?” To them, criticism of methodology is actually just a matter of partisan politics. This isn’t just deception, but self-deception: by characterizing any disagreement with this study as rooted purely in personal political opinion, it becomes completely acceptable for them to endorse its results without acknowledging or understanding its numerous errors. It’s no longer a question of reality and sound science – it’s “us vs. them”:

The author of a new study showing some negative outcomes for young adults whose parents had same-sex relationships is under attack because his findings conflict with what, in some corners, has become conventional wisdom.

Wrong! This study is not being criticized because some people found its results to be disagreeable. It is being criticized because its definitions, analysis, and conclusions are misleading and unsupported by the data. It’s been criticized because it used even a single occurrence of any same-sex relationship involving a parent to define that parent as a “lesbian mother” or a “gay father”. It’s been criticized because Regnerus treated these parents as representative of “same-sex parents” when a vast majority of their children spent fewer than four years living in a household with same-sex parents. It’s been criticized because its sample of “same-sex parents”, even by Regnerus’ distorted and practically useless definition, is too small to draw valid conclusions from.

Apparently, the idea that there is “no difference” between children of same-sex parents and their peers raised in traditional married mother-and-father households has become so entrenched among some advocates that new research presenting a contrasting picture is unwelcome—to put it mildly.

No! This study is not unwelcome because it contradicts an “entrenched” idea. It is unwelcome because it uses bad science to portray same-sex parents as being incompetent. It is unwelcome because Regnerus openly admits to boosting the sample sizes of his “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” groups (which, again, were defined in a ridiculous manner that defies all sense) by packing them with the children of divorced families, step-families and single parents, and because he then compared these groups to children whose biological parents were married throughout their entire childhood. It is unwelcome because he did not compare children who were raised by their married biological parents until the age of 18 to children who were raised by married same-sex couples until the age of 18. It is unwelcome because he ruthlessly stacked the deck against these badly defined “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” groups in a way that no one could avoid noticing, and then used these erroneous conclusions to attack actual same-sex parents who were underrepresented in his study, to the extent that they were represented at all.

And these are the folks who urge us to be tolerant of differences and respect scientific research.

Incorrect! We do not accept methodological flaws as simply a matter of personal “differences”. We do not respect “scientific research” that is poorly interpreted and used – indeed, seemingly designed – to perpetuate untruths. We do not respect just any damn thing that someone manages to publish in a journal, without examining its contents and verifying the soundness of the research. And we do not consider blind acceptance of faulty science, with results that will be deceptively used as a weapon of ignorance against same-sex parents and our children for the rest of our natural lives, to be a requirement of tolerance. The Heritage Foundation ought to tolerate Regnerus’ own admission that his study was completely unable to produce useful data about children from stable households with same-sex parents, and respect the fact that the study’s design does not support their assertion that its results are representative of the children of same-sex parents.

It’s telling that intolerance for lying and wronging innocent people is apparently limited to “liberals”.

Heritage Foundation baffled by criticism of flawed “same-sex parenting” study

18 thoughts on “Heritage Foundation baffled by criticism of flawed “same-sex parenting” study

  1. 1

    The Heritage Foundation doesn’t like science, they like scientism. That’s like the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit.*

    *A phrase shamelessly stolen from Lyndon Johnson.

      1. Scientism is stuff that has superficially scientific trappings – surveys, statistics, sampling, and so on – without any actual attempt to follow proper scientific method (by checking your survey for bias, doing relevant statistical analysis, ensuring your samples are both large enough and actually comparable, looking for confounding factors, and the million other things real scientists do). The biggest and most obvious difference, as a rule, is that someone doing science looks for any evidence that contradicts their hypothesis, while scientism generally revolves around looking for one piece of evidence that doesn’t contradict their hypothesis and then saying “we proved it, so ner!”.

        Scientism aims to claim the positive associations of science for results which don’t have real scientific support.

        1. I think that’s pseudoscience rather than scientism.

          Scientism is a rather slippery and loaded word, that different people use to mean different things. One broad definition is “treating science as the only source of [reliable] knowledge.” That’s already slippery, because it depends on what’s meant by “knowledge.” Religious apologists like to use the word to claim that “scientistic” atheists think literature and emotion are worthless.

          1. I’d like to use “scientism” to mean uncritical acceptance of “studies” that get published. Then we can use it as a criticism of the sort of skeptics who cite terrible evo psych, or Lawrence/Bailey/Blanchard/Zucker stuff, without realizing that those things are criticized within science, not just from without.

  2. 2

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists did the same sort of study when comparing the safety of hospital versus home births.

    In the study, home births were defined as “every birth occurring outside of a hospital” and included untoward events like late miscarriages, unplanned or precipitous (i.e. taxicab) births, etc. Of course that skewed the numbers. When you add in the fetal mortality rates of 20-week gestation infants who were miscarried at home and put it in the “home birth” column, then home births look pretty darn scary.

    Unsurprisingly, the ACOG determined that home births were dangerous. Which was the whole point of their study.

    1. 2.1

      I think that all journal articles from studies done with any tax dollars what-so-ever should be required to be public – in their entirety – searchable on the internet by anyone.

      Journalists interpret this stuff on face-value all the time. The details are what helps you decide how to interpret the results of the study, not the headline.

  3. 4

    Fortuitously, this study came at a time when I’m doing surveys in my Statistics class. Thank you, Heritage Foundation, for giving me such a bountiful harvest of methodological flaws to pick apart.

  4. 5

    […] Zinnia Jones examines — and dismantles — the Heritage Foundation’s lie about the anti-gay Regnerus “study”: The homophobic right-wing seems genuinely taken aback at how poorly received theirprecious Regnerus study has been. Clearly, being widely and loudly called out on shoddy science with a hateful agenda isn’t something they’re used to. And in another decade, these results might have been accepted at face value despite the study’s many flaws, simply because it aligned with the conventional wisdom of the time that gay people must be bad for children, society, and everything. This is no longer the case – these traditional assumptions aren’t assumed anymore, and the anti-gay movement have found themselves out of their element. […]

  5. 6

    Other things the Heritage Foundation is baffled by:

    The little light in the refrigerator.

    Card tricks.


    Why there are still monkeys.

  6. Ash

    Regnerus’s study is more so descriptive than explanatory. It’s not seeking to determine the capacity of same-sex couples to rear children. That was the original intent, but the number of adults who have been raised by a same-sex couple is so small that it cannot be empirically analyzed.

    Such small numbers may lead us to say that we can’t draw conclusions on how children raised by same-sex couples fare. But proponents of same-sex parenting have not let the lack of data prevent them from drawing wild generalizations in the past. Maybe Regnerus’s study will slow them down.

    The 59 imperfect studies also focus on broken families—usually lesbian divorcees were compared to heterosexual divorcees or single mothers.

    Pretty much all of the studies focusing on partnered lesbians involved children who had experienced household transition and family change. And since they were not longitudinal, they were mere snapshots in time, and are also insufficient to tell us how children *raised* by same-sex couples fare. For instance: if you measure an eight year old living with a same-sex couple, but then the mother leaves that relationship and marries a man, has that child been raised by a same-sex couple?

    Basically, there is really *no* study that measures same-sex parents in the way that critics of Regnerus’s study say that he should have.

    But here’s the real kicker. Even studies of partnered lesbians—like the longitudinal study published in Pediatrics in 2010—showed high relationship dissolution rates for lesbian couples, and actually reported that the positive findings for lesbian couples extended to lesbian families that had separated. Translation: it didn’t matter if one’s parents separated; if the child had a lesbian mother, their outcomes were better than all other children!

    This results of this study—though questionable—would, in effect, reject your claim about the need for stability for same-sex families. Even the article you shared on a previous thread from the Australian Psychological Association made the outrageous claim that family structure is not important to child well-being, just parental quality.

    It seems there is a philosophical disconnect between the people fighting for ssm on the ground level and those in the “high places.”

    Of course one would get flattering results like those published in Pediatrics, when one employs such a methodology: 1) data based on self-reporting from the women and children on a small number of outcomes (Regnerus measured about 40 outcomes); 2) disproportionately wealthy and educated lesbian women; 3) who were self-selected from Boston, Washington, DC, and San Francisco (non-representative); 4) and a comparison group that is a random sample of all American.

    In every respect, Regnerus’s study is better than past research. Any criticism that can be mounted against his study can be thrown at the much celebrated research of yesteryear.

    If Regnerus accomplished nothing else, he put the past body of same-sex parenting research in its proper place. I think that’s what he wanted to do.

    He basically said: “OK. Look, all of this talk about lesbian parents being superior sounds a little fishy to me. So, I’m going to do a random sample of American adults; screen them in such a way as to maximize the number of children who have ever been in a same-sex household; and compare them to the intact family after controlling for a number of confounding variables. WHOOPS! There are only two children out of a random sample of 15,000 who have ever lived with a same-sex couple for the entirety of their childhood. Well, the previous same-sex parenting studies also focused on broken lesbian families by comparing them to other broken families. People are using this research to reject the idea that children do best with a married mom and dad. So, let’s compare these children to the intact family just to erase any doubt.”

    (I’m reading his mind. This is not a quote from Regnerus.)

    Of course, they didn’t measure up. They even had slightly worse outcomes than other broken families, but those were not statistically significant.

    Regnerus’s study is better than all the rest. People may misinterpret it. But it merely shows that the claims that have been made heretofore about children of same-sex couples are without evidentiary backing. The married mom and dad continue to reign supreme.

    1. 7.1

      If I’ve understood you correctly, you’re saying that this study gives us little useful information about the outcomes from same-sex parenting, but neither do any other studies? Even if that is the case, it still wouldn’t negate the flaws of the study, or justify how it’s been represented as something it’s clearly not.

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