Sherkat and the Regnerus study

Sherkat plays three main parts in the sociology of the Regnerus study. Taken together these three parts are complex and multidimensional. First, he famously called the study “bullshit.” Second, he performed an “audit” of the study, confirming and establishing as “official” certain flaws of the paper. And third, he argues with muscularity (in comments to blog posts) that while the flaws of the paper have been pointed out, and people should take from the research very little, the case should be dropped as a political problem.

The flaw with the third part is demonstrable and obvious. The problem with asking sociologists to ignore this event is that sociologists study interactions, and, clearly, knowledge and power have interacted. That Sherkat pretends to miss this interaction makes his argument empirically weak.

That is, sociologists should not drop the Regnerus study as a political problem because the study continues to be used as a political document by those who favor the paper’s findings. It is not sociologists who need to be told there’s nothing political here. The main political actors in this case are particular organizations and individuals who want marriage defined as between men and women. Most notably, Justice Scalia recently said that:

“[T]here’s considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not.”

Was Scalia referencing the Regnerus study? Sociologist Philip Cohen says we won’t know until we see the Justices’ written opinions.

The American Sociological Association, for its part, says Scalia incorrectly characterizes “sociologists.”

But regardless, Scalia is evidence of the weakness of Sherkat’s position: a political response to this political “research” is predictable and empirical, rather than the outrage Sherkat makes it out to be. And clearly, outrage is his currency. Here’s a Sherkat comment from Orgtheory’s post “Investigating Regnerus”:

I’m intrigued by Perrin’s contention that there is ample evidence to retract Regnerus’ bullshit paper. By what measure? Can you give me a list of shitty bullshit papers in sociology that have been retracted by peer-reviewed journals? Let me just answer that one for you, no, you can’t. Because none have. We don’t retract in sociology because nobody listens to us in the first place, and nobody dies from sociological malpractice. Oh, sure, Regnerus is having is moment in the limelight opposing gay marriage base on his bullshit study, but no serious investigation of the evidence supports his contentions, and he’s been roundly denounced by every legitimate scholar in the field. Scalia may ignore that, but nobody else can or will—and this had no effect on what ideologues like Scalia would do. Retraction? Jesus Fuck. Can I get Journal of Aging and Health to retract the bullshit paper by a bunch of Transcendental Meditation wackos that appeared in JHSB immediately before our paper on racial disparities in medicare costs? I could go on and on….but retraction is pointless, and this “controversy” just needs to die. I hope that people will simply take from this the knowledge that many of our colleagues are right wing ideologues, and that their massive grants should be counted AGAINST them for promotion and tenure.

Being against, say, a retraction of the Regnerus study, is one thing; if I were the editor I wouldn’t even consider a retraction in this case. I would have published the study for a reason, and I bet that reason would still exist. But much different is what Sherkat does: he pretends — asociologically, I might reiterate — that a political response to an important piece of sociological knowledge is beyond the pale of understanding.

The outrage is a performance. Sherkat is a good enough sociologist to know a political reaction is not, in this case, outrageous. Politics is relevant in cases in which there is a struggle over knowledge. A political reaction is reasonable, given the sociological context, based simply on what we already know. Sherkat would stand on more solid ground if he admitted a political diagnosis of the situation is called for, rather than where he stands now, in which he thinks the matter should immediately be dropped by everyone whose interests align against the study. Here’s another of his comments:

Oh, yes, Jesus fuck a bunny in the ass. Sherkat should be dismissed because he likes to say “fuck” and shit like that. How many editorial boards have you served on? I’ve been on ASR, AJS, Social Forces, SSR, SPQ…. Poor little Andrew has a bug up his ass, despite the fact that he has limited editorial experience and is something of an anti-positivist—which is pretty weird when you’re claiming to have absolute knowledge and the gods-like command to strike publications from the public record. Publications which have been retracted in other related fields have been retracted because their data were fabricated. Regnerus’ data simply sucked. They were not fabricated. Opening the field up to politicized critique of the review process would be a very bad move, and it would be a huge boon for the religious and political right. Regnerus would be their martyr, as he already is. All of this should be ignored. If you don’t get that, you’re a moron.

I admit that perhaps I am giving Sherkat too little credit here. He blankets his position in insults, so perhaps I miss the insight while focusing on the rhetoric. I don’t know. From my vantage point, the sociologist appears to be going on the record in favor of less data on the subject of how power and knowledge interact. To me, he is operating as an organization man, not a sociologist.

This entry was posted in Media and knowledge, political sociology, politics, sociology, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sherkat and the Regnerus study

  1. From the Sherkat Audit:
    “Indeed, last year the top two downloaded papers in Social Science Research were on homosexuality and written from a pro-civil rights perspective; and I was a coauthor of one of them (Sherkat, Powell-Williams, Maddox, & de Vries, 2011). Our paper was accepted by Wright over the objections of two conservative reviewers–out of three reviews, two were certainly voting “reject.” The accusation that Wright was somehow part of a conservative conspiracy to undermine civil rights for LGBT persons is ludicrous, and I know this from his prior actions.”

  2. Scott Rose says:

    Social Science Research editor Dr. James Wright recently confessed that he had permitted Regnerus funding agency representative, and SSR board member W. Bradford Wilcox to peer review the Regnerus paper.

    Meanwhile, Sherkat had publicly been describing the peer reviewers’ conflicts of interest with Regnerus and/or his funders as “minimal.”

    As a Witherspoon Program Director, in 2010 Wilcox recruited Regnerus for the NFSS, and then collaborated with him on its design, data collection and analysis. FOIA documents show that it was Wilcox who encouraged Regnerus to use an inappropriate comparison group in his analysis, one that just happened to work in the slanted direction that the anti-gay-rights funders desired.

    Moreover, in August, 2011, before data collection occurred, Regnerus and Wilcox took Witherspoon money to travel to Colorado, where for a full day they discussed NFSS promotions in anti-gay-rights contexts with Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton (who says that homosexuality is “a particularly evil lie of Satan:).

    And, Wilcox’s U.Va. programs receive Witherpoon financial support.

    Yet, Sherkat says that Wilcox assured Wright that he could provide an unbiased review, and that Wilcox’s conflicts of interest are “minimal.”

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