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Those of us who know Ryan Anderson have certain adjectives that come naturally to mind when we think of the country's most visible and effective under-40 defender of the truth about marriage. (And if I thought about it, I might drop the “under-40” qualifier.) Fearless, composed, tenacious, rational, persuasive . . .

To the party that is intent on redefining marriage, however, Ryan is “The Anti-LGBT ‘Scholar' Peddling Junk Science to National Media.” That's the headline on a hit piece at Media Matters for America, which specializes in something that you'd think would take four arms to accomplish—pounding the table with both hands while sticking fingers in both ears.

Of course, Ryan is a scholar, without the scare quotes, who's earned a Ph.D. in political science at Notre Dame, co-authored What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, and proven so effective on national media in making the case for conjugal marriage that liberal talk show hosts have to banish him to the audience seats or cut off his microphone in order to declare a spurious victory over him.

As for MMFA's laughable hit piece, Ryan can look after himself, and can indeed take satisfaction in his enemies' shrill fury. But I'd like to call attention to a plain falsehood when MMFA's Rachel Percelay turns her not-so-withering gaze on the research of Mark Regnerus, which was supported by the Witherspoon Institute (where I work). She writes:

Regenerus' [sic] paper is one of the most widely-discredited pieces of research in the field of LGBT studies because it relied on problematic methodology to achieve its findings. An internal audit conducted by the same journal that published Regnerus' paper bluntly called it “bullshit” because it did not look at children raised in intact households of married same-sex couples. Darren Sherkat, who led the internal review, stated (emphasis added):

When we talk about Regnerus, I completely dismiss the study. It's over. He has been disgraced. All of the prominent people in the field know what he did and why he did it. And most of them know that he knew better. 

In these internecine wars in the academy, the details matter. Darren Sherkat was indeed the scholar engaged by the editor of Social Science Research, James Wright, to conduct an internal audit of the review process that led to the publication of Regnerus's findings in the New Family Structures Study. But neither the comment “bullshit” nor the more extended quote from Sherkat actually comes from the internal audit he did for the journal, though you might think so if you don't follow Percelay's links (and it's impossible to tell where the longer quotation comes from even then). At the time, I told the story of the audit at Public Discourse:

Opting for transparency at some risk to his own reputation, Wright asked a member of SSR’s editorial board to “audit” the process that led to the publication of Regnerus’s article.

The risk was that he chose Darren E. Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University whom Regnerus would later describe (without fear of contradiction) as someone “who has long harbored negative sentiment about me.” Sherkat, speaking out of school, confidently told a writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education in July [2012] that Regnerus’s study was “bull****” when his audit was still in draft form and neither Regnerus nor Wright had written a response to it.

Sherkat’s audit and several other items of interest have now been published in the November 2012 issue of SSR, in a special 40-page section introduced by Wright. To his credit, when he sticks to the charge he was given, Sherkat finds that the journal’s editor did nothing wrong in publishing either Regnerus’s article or Marks’s.

Wright referred both papers to knowledgeable scholars of the subjects involved, who held varying views on the politics of same-sex unions, and who unanimously recommended their publication. No violations of normal procedure occurred; Sherkat says he “may well have made the same decisions” Wright did, given the reviews; and he dismisses as “ludicrous” any suggestion that the editor was up to anything political.

To his discredit, Sherkat, a sociologist of religion who does not appear to have done any research on family and sexuality issues (but for a single article studying how religion and political affiliation affect views of same-sex marriage), nonetheless appoints himself a final referee of the merits of Regnerus’s research—not a function he was asked to perform—and opines that it should not have been published.

James Wright, correctly, takes Sherkat’s conclusions as an auditor as vindication of his editorial performance, and rightly discounts his colleague’s attempt to set himself up as a post hoc referee with a veto over publishing Regnerus’s scholarship. If he sent the work to knowledgeable reviewers who unanimously said to publish it (and Wright notes that such unanimity is unusual), that seems to be the end of the affair.

Darren Sherkat may think Mark Regnerus was “disgraced,” and worse yet, “knew better” than to publish what he published. He may claim to have friends who believe such fables too. But let's remember some key facts. Regnerus was exonerated by the administration of his university, which found no merit to proceed on bogus “scientific misconduct” charges. Social Science Research did not withdraw his article, and published his response to his critics instead. Oh yes, and other social scientists have arrived at conclusions compatible with those of Regnerus. “Discredited” looks less and less like a description, and more like a dying hope, every day.

What Ryan Anderson is “peddling” is an argument, supported by evidence, that makes people on the other side squirm. It's really rather fun to watch.

Matthew J. Franck is Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute.

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