Science or Ideology? Will academic sociologists allow a genuine study of same-sex parenting?
The prominent sociologist Christian Smith has written a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education that is an absolute must-read for anyone who remotely cares about the contemporary debate over same-sex marriage. I could summarize every single paragraph here (because they’re all important) or I could just tell you that you need to read the whole thing. I’ll do the latter. Read the whole thing.
But for those of you who refuse to click on another link, here are the main points.
Smith’s article calls out his colleagues in his own field, pointing out just how much solid academic research in this area is being avoided and even smothered by the overwhelmingly liberal guild of sociologists. Smith writes,
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 relationships. And now he is being made to pay.
Regnerus’s study, Smith explains, is solid methodologically, and Regnerus’s own credentials are impeccable.
But never mind that. None of it matters. Advocacy groups and academics who support gay marriage view Regnerus’s findings as threatening…
Regnerus has been attacked by sociologists all around the country, including some from his own department. He has been vilified by journalists who obviously (based on what they write) understand little about social-science research. And the journal in which Regnerus published his article has been the target of a pressure campaign.
So what is going on here?
The Regnerus case needs to be understood in a larger context. Sociologists tend to be political and cultural liberals, leftists, and progressives… Many sociologists view higher education as the perfect gig, a way to be paid to engage in “consciousness raising” through teaching, research, and publishing—at the expense of taxpayers, donors, and tuition-paying parents, many of whom thoughtfully believe that what those sociologists are pushing is wrong….
The temptation to use academe to advance a political agenda is too often indulged in sociology, especially by activist faculty in certain fields, like marriage, family, sex, and gender. The crucial line between broadening education and indoctrinating propaganda can grow very thin, sometimes nonexistent. Research programs that advance narrow agendas compatible with particular ideologies are privileged. Survey textbooks in some fields routinely frame their arguments in a way that validates any form of intimate relationship as a family, when the larger social discussion of what a family is and should be is still continuing and worth having. Reviewers for peer-reviewed journals identify “problems” with papers whose findings do not comport with their own beliefs. Job candidates and faculty up for tenure whose political and social views are not “correct” are sometimes weeded out through a subtle (or obvious), ideologically governed process of evaluation, which is publicly justified on more-legitimate grounds—”scholarly weaknesses” or “not fitting in well” with the department.
What Regnerus is experiencing, in other words, is simply the tip of the iceberg.
[T]he influence of progressive orthodoxy in sociology is evident in decisions made by graduate students, junior faculty, and even senior faculty about what, why, and how to research, publish, and teach. One cannot be too friendly to religion, for example, such as researching the positive social contributions of missionary work overseas or failing to criticize evangelicals and fundamentalists. The result is predictable: Play it politically safe, avoid controversial questions, publish the right conclusions.
The whole field, in other words, is skewed. The quiet pressure on graduate students that never comes to the point of conflict or controversy is just as effective as is the browbeating and the decisions about publishing and tenure.
It’s not just traditional marriage that’s at stake. The whole academic enterprise, the very integrity of the university, and the best interest of the public is in severe jeopardy.
Smith is no minor sociologist, and from my own private conversations I know that he is not the only prominent sociologist who holds the views he here articulates. The academy needs to decide whether its mission is fundamentally one of science or whether it is one of ideology. We will see what happens.