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Prominent journal retracts 2014 study hailed as proof gays suffer poor health due to social stigma

Doug Mainwaring Doug Mainwaring Follow Doug

February 25, 2019, (LifeSiteNews) — In a stunning move, a professional journal has retracted a 2014 study that purported to prove LGBT persons experience negative health consequences due to the suffering a heteronormative world inflicts on them by stigmatizing them.

Structural Stigma and All-cause Mortality in Sexual Minority Populations,” published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, can still be found online but with “RETRACTED” in bright, red bold capital letters stamped across every page.    

When it was first published, the study — conducted by a team of researchers led by Columbia University professor Mark Hatzenbuehler — was widely praised by LGBT activists and a supportive mainstream media who were happy to indict Christian morals as hazardous to the health of gays.

The authors declared that sexual minorities living in “high-prejudice communities” have a 12-year shorter life expectancy. They also pointed to a striking 18-year difference in the average age of suicide for sexual minorities living in “high-prejudice (age 37.5)” versus “low-prejudice (age 55.7) communities.”

The bottom line of the report was that attitudes and behaviors perceived to be negative toward members of the LGBT world need to be rooted out. In essence, the moral objections of Christians and others were to blame not only for victimizing gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders, but for cutting years — even decades — off their lives.

Vindication for professor who first called the study into question

The retraction vindicates researcher sociology professor Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin who was roundly condemned by the liberal press for debunking the Hatzenbuehler study after he discovered that its findings could not be replicated.  “Replication” is an important way that researchers confirm the validity of study results. If similar results cannot be produced by others, then some component of the original study was flawed. 

In 2017, Regnerus published his own study in the same journal, reporting widely varying results:

Efforts to replicate Hatzenbuehler et al.’s (2014) key finding on structural stigma's notable influence on the premature mortality of sexual minorities, including a more refined imputation strategy than described in the original study, failed. No data imputation approach yielded parameters that supported the original study's conclusions. Alternative hypotheses, which originally motivated the present study, revealed little new information.

Regnerus concluded:

Ten different approaches to multiple imputation of missing data yielded none in which the effect of structural stigma on the mortality of sexual minorities was statistically significant. Minimally, the original study's structural stigma variable (and hence its key result) is so sensitive to subjective measurement decisions as to be rendered unreliable.

Regnerus’ findings were summarily dismissed by liberal media outlets.  

The headline of a piece by ThinkProgress’ Zach Ford blared, “Anti-gay researcher now tries to claim stigma doesn’t harm LGBT people; conservatives are eager to reject research sympathetic to the LGBT community.”  

LifeSiteNews reached out to ThinkProgress (TP), and while TP has not retracted its article, in response to LifeSiteNews’ inquiry they have now added an editor’s note acknowledging an error in the Hatzenbuehler study rendering its findings “no longer statistically significant.”  

TP has also altered the wording of the article, deleting some now clearly unfounded claims while softening the wording of others. Most notably, ThinkProgress:

  • Dropped its claim that the Regnerus’ report was “a new attempt to justify bigotry with science.”

  • Eliminated its description of Regnerus as “a researcher with a reputation of distorting data to fit his anti-gay bias.”

  • Erased its statement that Regnerus’ “argument falls flat.”

  • Deleted its original concluding paragraph: “If Regnerus doubts just how influential stigma is on health outcomes, as his article suggests, his attempts to undermine those claims could ultimately prove the opposite. Researchers like Hatzenbuehler will shore up their results and others will be motivated to conduct new studies exploring the question.”

Regnerus first raised the ire of the LGBT movement in 2012 when he published his “New Family Structures Study,” offering results that conflicted with the reports of less scientifically rigorous studies claiming children raised in gay and lesbian households fared as well or better than those raised in two-parent homes by the child’s mother and father.   

Progressive activists who rejected Regnerus’ conclusions attacked his professionalism and sought not only to have the study retracted but to shipwreck his career. In the end, Regnerus’ research was fully vindicated and he was later made a full professor of at the University of Texas.

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