On the Integrity of Social Science

Ashley Thorne

In the journal Society, Dr. Richard Redding, Professor of Psychology and Vice Chancellor for Graduate Education at Chapman University, has published an article examining one of the year’s major academic controversies. Dr. Redding looks at the reactions to the publication of a study on children of gay and lesbian parents published last year by the University of Texas’s Mark Regnerus.

Dr. Redding compares Regnerus’s study with other studies of lesbian and gay parenting, in terms of sample selection, representativeness, comparison groups, and methodological issues. He shows that in each area, Regnerus’s methods were scientifically on par with, or superior to, those of previous studies in the field.

Writing on behalf of the “integrity of science,” Dr. Redding reminds readers that “studies must stand or fall on the weight of their methodological reliability and validity,” not on the ideologies their findings support. He uses the case of the reaction to Regnerus as an illustration of the wider politicization of science, particularly social science.

NAS president Peter Wood has also followed this controversy in articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education (“The Regnerus Affair at UT Austin”) and Academic Questions (“The Campaign to Discredit Regnerus and the Assault on Peer Review”).

Dr. Redding’s Society article, “Politicized Science,” appears in the September/October 2013 issue of Society journal (subscription required). The abstract is below.

Abstract  Publication of the study, How Different are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study (Regnerus, 2012), caused a firestorm in the scientific community. Unlike previous studies, it found differences between the children raised by parents who had experienced a same-sex relationship as compared to those raised by heterosexual parents. Most would acknowledge that policy-relevant social science is seldom value free and frequently gets politicized, but the Regnerus controversy illustrates that it is value dependent, with scientist deeply embedded in its politicization. The kind if science that gets conducted, how findings are interpreted and received, and the degree of critical scrutiny such studies receive is dependent upon scientists’ sociopolitical views. Making every effort to apply the same standards when scrutinizing studies that provide politically palatable results as those that do not, and promoting rather than discouraging ideological diversity among researchers and their funders, are the best way to ensure value-pluralism and the integrity of science in the oft-politicized field of social science.

CITATION:  Redding, R.E.  (2013). Politicized science.  Society, 50, 439-446.

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