Who’s to judge an expert on marriage? (Blankenhorn’s CV padding)

In an Op-Ed in the Raleigh News-Observer, David Blankenhorn and Elizabeth Marquardt come out in opposition to North Carolina’s Amendment One, against marriage rights, which will be on the ballot next month. They think it goes too far.

I couldn’t help noticing a line at the beginning of the piece, in which the authors attempted to establish their anti-marriage credentials, including this claim about Blankenhorn: “One of us (David) … served as an expert court witness in California’s widely followed ‘Proposition 8’ marriage case.”

That’s curious. Maybe “served” is technically correct, but readers might have been better informed if they knew that in that case, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker wrote an eloquent and thorough explanation (see page 38-49) for why he

…determine[d] that Blankenhorn’s testimony constitutes inadmissible opinion testimony that should be given essentially no weight.

The judge wrote:

Blankenhorn’s interest and study on the subjects of marriage, fatherhood and family structure are evident from the record, but nothing in the record other than the “bald assurance” of Blankenhorn suggests that Blankenhorn’s investigation into marriage has been conducted to the “same level of intellectual rigor” characterizing the practice of anthropologists, sociologists or psychologists. …

The court concludes that Blankenhorn’s proposed definition of marriage is “connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit” [bare assertion] of Blankenhorn and accordingly rejects it….

Blankenhorn’s … conclusion that children raised by their married, biological parents do better on average than children raised in other environments … is unsupported by evidence, and the court therefore rejects his conclusion that a biological link between parents and children influences children’s outcomes. …

Blankenhorn’s third opinion … that recognizing same-sex marriage will lead to the deinstitutionalization of marriage … [was supported by] no credible evidence. … Blankenhorn gave absolutely no explanation why manifestations of the deinstitutionalization of marriage would be exacerbated (and not, for example, ameliorated) by the presence of marriage for same-sex couples. His opinion lacks reliability, as there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion Blankenhorn proffered. …

Blankenhorn’s opinions are not supported by reliable evidence or methodology and Blankenhorn failed to consider evidence contrary to his view in presenting his testimony. The court therefore finds the opinions of Blankenhorn to be unreliable and entitled to essentially no weight.

After being allowed to testify, in other words, the judge reviewed the evidence of his qualifications — a series of politically-designated think-tank jobs and publications, not subject to scientific peer review — and considered carefully the content of his testimony, and then disqualified him as an expert. So, legally in the case, Blankenhorn was as much an expert as anyone else who declares himself or herself an expert.

This kind of CV padding — permitted by a too-credulous media — is bad news for the public understanding of social science research. Like the National Marriage Project using University letterhead to provide academic gravitas to its unscientific political interventions, this is deceptive and should be called out by social scientists.

And that’s my personal opinion — not a scientific finding.

10 thoughts on “Who’s to judge an expert on marriage? (Blankenhorn’s CV padding)

  1. I agree with you, but I also think the very requirements of most academic social science positions make it difficult to provide a better public understanding of what real social scientists do. We have to teach, to serve on committees, to publish often, and in high places. This leaves little time (and no formal reward) for applied work or public dissemination. As a result, it’s the unscientific think-tank experts who catch the public’s eye.

    You’ve done a great job with your blog, but as you’ve even written before, the incentive to do what you do for an academic sociologist is very small, perhaps negative. Until universities re-evaluate requirements for tenure and/or good standing to include reaching out to non-academic audiences, this will continue to be the case.


  2. glad you called Blankenhorn out. See the article on him at glbtq.com, “Confessions of a Blog Addict.” The second half of this anonymously authored article is devoted to Blankenhorn and to his and Marquardt’s familyscholars.org blog. The author assembles a lot of quotes from them to reveal how self-promoting and narcissistic and often self-pitying they are. The url is http://www.glbtq.com/sfeatures/confessionsofablogaddict.html


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