Austin Institute was formed circa 2012. The IRS tax-exempt ruling is dated June, 2013. Mark Regnerus was one of the founders (page five, starting at line 18 [under oath]). Interestingly, one of the organization’s board members and co-founder of Austin Institute is Luis Tellez. Tellez, an Opus Dei numerary, was one of the founders, along with Robert P. George, of National Organization for Marriage, Witherspoon Institute and the American Principles Project.
Regnerus, you will recall, is the author of the thoroughly discredited New Family Structures study which was largely funded by Witherspoon Institute. The real purpose of that work was to undermine marriage equality at the Supreme Court as it deliberated United States v. Windsor. Regnerus became an expert witness on behalf of marriage discrimination at several district court proceedings following the ruling in Windsor.
In September, Austin Institute published Sexuality and Gender: A Companion to The New Atlantis special report. According to the preface the guide is intended for clergy which explains much. That “special report” is the editorial and literature review compiled by Paul McHugh and Lawrence Mayer. The New Atlantis is nothing more than a pretentious blog at the conservative Christian organization, Ethics and Public Policy Center. It does not submit submissions to peer review. A literature review that has not been refereed is almost certain to be a work of selective observation with investigators determined to “prove” a predetermined assumption by counting the hits and ignoring the misses.
In this case, in very short strokes, the authors claimed that sexual orientation is a choice and that gender dysphoria should not be addressed through gender affirmation. LGBT people are mentally very ill, you see. Those are conclusions that depart drastically from a mountain of research that is peer reviewed and published to mainstream scholarly journals. One of the ways to achieve a certain result is through date selection in a literature review. An over-reliance on older findings is likely to coincide with more conservative thinking.
Austin Institute has published a companion guide to a study that is not peer-reviewed and at considerable odds with the scientific consensus. In doing so they have abandoned not only professional due-diligence but due care for any credibility that remained attached to the group. Regnerus is a zealous Catholic convert. Then there is the presence of Tellez on the board. My hypothesis is that they are creating research to conform to the teachings of the Church. I will note again that my evidence is anecdotal.
I received an interesting email for the organization today. It is a money-beg (nothing wrong with that). It reads, in part:
One highly effective way to ensure that a particular master narrative is never challenged is to refuse funding to scholars whose work could expose the tenuous foundations upon which that narrative is based. Another way is to intimidate scholars or media outlets into suppressing any controversial findings (See, for example, the major media outlets’ overwhelming failure to report that a leading study on structural stigma had been debunked). A third way is to pillory scholars who manage to publish research that questions the prevailing norm.
The Austin Institute is committed to supporting good, honest research wherever we find it.
Sometimes that means funding or conducting original research that might not otherwise get done. Sometimes it means publicizing research that cultural “guardians” would like to suppress. Sometimes it means supporting scholars who are unjustly criticized for challenging commonly-held views. In all cases, good research requires a fearlessness about going wherever the truth leads.
Well boo-hoo. The New Family Structures study, for example, was pilloried because it made claims that were not supported by the evidence. It received a great deal of attention because it challenged the prevailing norms. With greater attention comes greater scrutiny including the fact that one very religious guy, funded by very religious sources, was making claims that were vastly outnumbered by other investigators.
Those claims just happened to coincide with the author’s religious beliefs and just happened to be released at the optimum time to influence the deliberations of the Supreme Court in a case in which those same very religious sources were clearly on one side of the case. If that did not engender skepticism, nothing will.
If Austin Institute wants to be taken seriously; if they want to be respected for “good, honest research” then it will stop doing things like publishing companion guides to articles lacking in scholarship and peer review. Articles that, in this case, just happen to be the product of people whose conservative religious beliefs are the same as Regnerus’ beliefs.
Until such time as the organization acts responsibly it will be presumed to be an outlet on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and one that will sacrifice intellectual honesty for religious belief. A belief system is based on faith. Science is supposed to be based on evidence. We (the consumers of research) would like to believe that scientists are equally satisfied with research that disproves the original hypothesis.