NOM BLOG

Top Sociologist Christian Smith Defends Regnerus Study

 

Christian Smith, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Whoever said inquisitions and witch hunts were things of the past? A big one is going on now. The sociologist Mark Regnerus, at the University of Texas at Austin, is being smeared in the media and subjected to an inquiry by his university over allegations of scientific misconduct.

Regnerus's offense? His article in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research reported that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages. That's it. Regnerus published ideologically unpopular research results on the contentious matter of same-sex families. And now he is being made to pay.

... The very integrity of the social-science research process is threatened by the public smearing and vigilante media attacks we have seen in this case. Sociology's progressive orthodoxy and the semicovert activism it prompts threaten the intellectual vitality of the discipline, the quality of undergraduate education, and public trust in academe. Reasonable people cannot allow social-science scholarship to be policed and selectively punished by the forces of activist ideology and politics, from any political quarter. University leaders must resist the manipulation of research review committees by nonacademic culture warriors who happen not to like certain findings.

Science already has its own ways to deal with controversial research results. Studies should be replicated. Data sets should be made public and reanalyzed. And new and better studies should be conducted. Eventually the truth comes out. By those means, Regnerus might be shown to have been wrong or perhaps be vindicated. That is how science is supposed to work.

By contrast, political attacks like those on Regnerus are contemptible and hurt everyone in the long run, including progressives. Everybody—especially officials at the University of Texas at Austin—needs to be vigilant in protecting scholars and their research against those inside and outside of academe who seek to silence scholars whose research runs counter to the current orthodoxy.