Modern-day America is civilized in that, while we conduct plenty of witch hunts, we do at least stop right before the burning-at-the-stake part. That’s progress! But it’s not much consolation for Mark Regnerus, whose scholarly research questioning same-sex parenting has drawn a seemingly unprecedented level of ire from left-wing activists and their academic allies.
The Washington Times reported last week that Regnerus’s foes are still at it, having acquired the university e-mails of his editor in order to conduct a fishing expedition.
This all started with what should have been considered normal academic discourse: A scholar sees problems with the past literature on a particular issue – in this case, small and unrepresentative samples of gay parents. He conducts a new study with a large randomized sample to address those problems. In the process, he acknowledges the interpretive limitations of his own work. He publishes his findings in a peer-reviewed journal, makes his data publicly available, and calls for further research.
That’s about as standard as it gets – unless the issue is politicized. Jennifer Marshall and I detail here the furious reaction that Regnerus sparked, but suffice to say that it involved hysterical condemnations in the press, a frivolous “scientific misconduct” investigation conducted at the behest of a blogger (!), emotion-laden joint statements, evidence-free accusations of corruption on the part of the journal, and more.
Now the journal’s editor will have his e-mails scrutinized for the slightest inappropriate thought. The point of all of this, of course, is to scare away scholars from conducting research that the Left doesn’t like. This isn’t a free-speech issue in the strict sense that the government is threatening to throw Regnerus in jail (or burn him at the stake), but the effect is the same: the silencing of unpopular ideas.
How many scholars of the family are going to investigate data that question same-sex parenting, knowing they could be dragged through the mud if they do? How many journal editors will publish such data, knowing they could be harassed even to the point of having their e-mails turned over to a judge? I doubt the Regnerus paper will ever be retracted, no matter how intense the protests become. But it doesn’t really matter – with its you-could-be-next harassment, the Left may have already won.