Regnerus study and objectivity

To note, the most important criticism of the Regnerus study is not the finding, per se, but the seemingly shoddy science behind the finding.* The important accusations are on the level of method, not politics. Which is why Smith’s remarkably poor defense of the Regnerus study (here) will gain very little traction. Smith pretends the backlash against the study is about the domineering politics of a “progressive orthodoxy.” Smith’s finding that “all” Regnerus did was publish “ideologically unpopular research results on the contentious matter of same-sex relationships” skirts over the methodological issues that make the results, as Sherkat says, come off as “bullshit” (link). The key accusation is Regnerus did demonstrably bad science. And therefore, and only therefore, is he “wrong.”

Let me just say this.

The idea that a researcher can be wrong even when he thinks he is right is not only possible, the idea is by our best accounting inevitably true: the researcher cannot capture reality as reality. We capture data, images of reality. Uncertainty therefore must be central to the researcher’s understanding of his own research. Even when a researcher is right, the scientist must search for how he or she is not right.

This is because, upon any rational accounting, there can be only one possible final objective authority on knowledge. But we humans, including the scientists, are not privy to it, so we cannot include it in our analytical accounting. We can talk instead about contingencies of objectivity: the context surrounding the objects of inquiry. We can be “right” by being willing to discuss how we are “wrong.”

So, when I fail to see Regnerus textually engage with the criticisms he faces, I wonder why. Being wrong is par for the course, for any scientist. If Regnerus’s work is science, as he claims it to be, and not advocacy, as his critics claim, then he ought merely to do what science calls for: re-evaluation. Re-evaluation of the data, the methods, the theory, the possible causes of bias, etc. He ought to take the criticism to heart: science thrives on contention and distrust of findings.

I think where the Regnerus study goes from here (whether it gains a level of credibility as ‘objective science’) will be explained less by the current study itself — the study is whatever it is — and more by the way Regnerus acts in relation to the study: whether he interrogates his own findings and methods going forward, as any good scientist is called to do.

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One Response to Regnerus study and objectivity

  1. Pingback: In defense of Sherkat? | price of data

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