Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Why does the Family Research Council use bad & cherry-picked science to 'defend marriage?'

Tony Perkins, FRC has no problem using bad info to 'defend marriage'

Editor's note - I wrote this piece a while back on a badly done study, Ten Arguments from Social Science Against Same Sex Marriage on the Family Research Council's webpage. Seeing that the study remains on the group's webpage and is presently "trending," I thought it would be apropo to repost something on it. The purpose is to point out the sleight of hand in which the organization continues to get away with:

Ten Arguments From Social Science Against Same Sex Marriage  supposedly speaks against gay marriage. However, like so many other studies and pieces put out by FRC, there is a number of misdirections.

In the piece, Family Research Council is basing the argument against marriage equality on the claim that "children need both a mother and a father."

FRC makes the claim that lesbians household "raising children without a father" is wrong because according to them:

Among other things, we know that fathers excel in reducing antisocial behavior and delinquency in boys and sexual activity in girls.

And gay households "raising children without a mother" is wrong because:

fathers exercise a unique social and biological influence on their children. For instance, a recent study of father absence on girls found that girls who grew up apart from their biological father were much more likely to experience early puberty and a teen pregnancy than girls who spent their entire childhood in an intact family.

However, very little (if any at all) of the literature/studies FRC cites to make these conclusions have anything to do with same-sex households.
When the organization does address the studies involving same-sex households, it throws out an insulting addendum:

A number of leading professional associations have asserted that there are "no differences" between children raised by homosexuals and those raised by heterosexuals. But the research in this area is quite preliminary; most of the studies are done by advocates and most suffer from serious methodological problems. Sociologist Steven Nock of the University of Virginia, who is agnostic on the issue of same-sex civil marriage, offered this review of the literature on gay parenting as an expert witness for a Canadian court considering legalization of same-sex civil marriage:

Through this analysis I draw my conclusions that 1) all of the articles I reviewed contained at least one fatal flaw of design or execution; and 2) not a single one of those studies was conducted according to general accepted standards of scientific research.

This is not exactly the kind of social scientific evidence you would want to launch a major family experiment.

There is a huge problem with FRC citing Nock's testimony. He gave it in 2001. Since that time, there have been numerous other studies , as well as personal stories from children in same-sex households which back up the conclusion that same-sex households are a perfectly fine place to raise children.

Also, Nock's testimony was rejected by other researchers. (*see below)

But keep in mind the phrase by FRC when criticizing studies involving same-sex households -  most of the studies are done by advocates and most suffer from serious methodological problems.

If these studies is biased and have no credibility, then why do FRC have no problem citing them when attacking same-sex households:

Judith Stacey-- a sociologist and an advocate for same-sex civil marriage--reviewed the literature on child outcomes and found the following: "lesbian parenting may free daughters and sons from a broad but uneven range of traditional gender prescriptions." Her conclusion here is based on studies that show that sons of lesbians are less masculine and that daughters of lesbians are more masculine.

She also found that a "significantly greater proportion of young adult children raised by lesbian mothers than those raised by heterosexual mothers ... reported having a homoerotic relationship." Stacey also observes that children of lesbians are more likely to report homoerotic attractions.

Her review must be viewed judiciously, given the methodological flaws detailed by Professor Nock in the literature as a whole. Nevertheless, theses studies give some credence to conservative concerns about the effects of homosexual parenting.

FRC's audacity is incredible here. The organization is saying "Stacey is biased for same-sex marriage, so we cannot totally believe what she says. However, we will believe the part which puts gay marriage in a negative light."

The gymnastics behind this logic is astounding, especially when one takes into account that this is a distortion of Stacey's study. She has gone on record on more than one occasion complaining about how organizations like FRC cherry-pick her work.  

And on that same note, FRC also cited the work of Yale Child Study Center psychiatrist Kyle Pruett to make the case against gay marriage in the piece, even though Pruett has also complained  about how his work was being "cherry picked"  by religious right groups and spokespeople.

FRC is equally dishonest when it makes the claim that gay men will not be faithful in marriages.

One recent study of civil unions and marriages in Vermont suggests this is a very real concern. More than 79 percent of heterosexual married men and women, along with lesbians in civil unions, reported that they strongly valued sexual fidelity. Only about 50 percent of gay men in civil unions valued sexual fidelity.

According to its footnotes, FRC received this information from two sources. One was:

Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solomon, Civil Unions in the State of Vermont: A Report on the First Year. University of Vermont Department of Psychology, 2003.

Of course this leads one to ask if this study looked at civil unions in Vermont during the first year, then are the more recent updates.

The second source is more intriguing:

David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison, The Male Couple (Prentice Hall, 1984) 252.

Gay marriage wasn't legal in 1984,  therefore citing the couples in this book as an example of  married  gay couple would be inaccurate. In addition, McWhirter and Mattison cautioned against using their book to generalize about gay couples:

“We always have been very careful to explain that the very nature of our research sample, its size (156 couples), its narrow geographic location, and the natural selectiveness of the participants prevents the findings from being applicable and generalizable to the entire gay male community.”

Yet, this FRC claims that this is a "trending study" on its webpage and even if the organization didn't add this unusual hype, the idea that it has the audacity to heavily push a shoddy piece of work as credible demonstrates two things:

1. The Family Research Council has got major chutzpah

2. The lgbt community, the mainstream media, or whoever is totally missing the boat in terms of calling this organization out.

It should bother us all that in spite of such bad information, FRC not only has the reputation of a "Christian" organization but also is taken seriously in any of its claims, particularly the newest one it pushes about the so-called threats to religious liberty.

If the Family Research Council is using deceptive information against marriage equality, how can anyone trust the information the organization is using to claim that the 'religious liberty' of Christians is under attack?

*There is a huge irony in the fact that FRC used both Steven Nock's 2001 testimony and Judith Stacey's work to demonize same-sex families because Stacey published a scathing affadavit  which criticized Nock's testimony. In part it reads:

Professor Nock is a survey researcher and demographer, which represents a specific methodology and a sub-field of inquiry within sociological research. When Professor Nock provides his lengthy description of research methodology, he adopts the extreme, untenable position that the genre of large-scale survey research that he generally conducts is the only acceptable research method in all of the social science disciplines and subfields.

Professor Nock inappropriately applies this model of research, which is only one model within his own particular sub-field of sociology – demography – to an entirely different discipline, child development, which is a branch of developmental psychology. This is a research specialty and sub-discipline in which Professor Nock has no expertise. The body of research with which he takes issue in his affidavit was conducted primarily, if not exclusively, by psychologists with expertise in the field of child development. None of the studies that Professor Nock is evaluating were conducted by sociologists or by demographers.

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