Sunday, April 16, 2006

Analyzing Kids on Amazon

For years, the Southern Poverty Law Center has been valiantly tracking bigots of all stripes, including the Family Research institute. Under the ill-fitting mask of "science," the Institute has led the charge against the "homosexualization of America" (to repeat the spitfire phrase that "some bloated bag of hate named Janet Parshall" used on CNN's Larry King Live).

As the SPLC reported last year:
Exhibit number one in demonizing homosexuals is the Christian Right's Paul Cameron, a leading "scientist" on the evils of homosexuality who heads the hate group, Family Research Institute. Cameron's work, which has been cited both by the Christian Right and prominent Republicans, falsely claims that gay people are disproportionately responsible for child molestation, for the majority of serial killings, and for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
This Paul Cameron, as Alvin McEwen says, was "dismissed from the American Psychological Association in 1984 after it was discovered that he was misrepresenting the work of his colleagues." Ever since his disgrace, he has been trying to regain street cred among real researchers, submitting his venom-filled tracts to peer-reviewed journals with an eye to renewed publication and prestige. His futile attempts have been greeted by neglect and scorn.

Until now.

Pam's House Blend reports that Cameron has finally succeeded in placing one of his articles in an academic journal (at least, in one not published by the Family Research Institute), and it's not pretty. Here's how the article, which was published in the May issue of the Journal of Biosocial Science opens:
"Common sense" holds that homosexuality is "contagious" (Levitt & Klassen, 1974). Thus Rees & Ushill (1956) state "it is vain to blind oneself to the fact that the problem of male homosexuality is in essence the problem of the corruption of youth by itself and by its elders. It is the problem of the creation by means of such corruption of new addicts ready to corrupt a still further generation of young men and boys in the future" (p.29).
Let's not talk about what else was considered "common sense" in 1974 (besides that pesky "problem" of male homosexuality), much less in 1956 when the conventional wisdom opposed interracial marriages for its allegedly debilitative effect on children.

Most of America's social beliefs have matured since then, but not Cameron's. The findings of the article "suggest that parents' sexual inclinations influence their children's." (The abstract of the article is available here.) Let me be clear: this might be an interesting line of research, but a scientific study on whether children grow up to be straight or gay should not treat their upbringing in terms of disease ("contagious") or morality ("corruption"). Cameron's purpose in publishing the article is to support his crusade against the adoption of children by gays and lesbians. And behind Cameron's nefarious mission are methodological standards that are, to say the least, bogus.

Fortunately Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin is on the case; after reading his dissection, the reviewers and editor for this journal will need to hire a team of spatula-wielders to scrape the egg off their faces. (The editor, by the way, is C. G. N. Mascie-Taylor of Cambridge University's Department of Biological Anthropology.)

But here's the kicker: exactly how did Cameron conduct his survey of the children of gays and lesbians? Did he interview them himself? Or did he survey the clinical literature? Nah! Why, like any God-fearing scientist (and I am not making this up), he searched Amazon for recent popular books on the topic, as Cameron himself admits in the article: "all books about adult children who had homosexual or transsexual parents that could be purchased on in April 2004 were examined." Somehow, Cameron could find only three books to serve his purpose, and one of them provided the majority--50, to be exact--of his sample of 77 subjects.

That book is Abigail Garner's Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is.

So what methodology did Garner use to select her 50 "subjects"? On her blog, she spells it out in a post appropriately titled "How is Paul Cameron Able to Sleep at Night?":
In fact, I had made a point of having a roughly even number of straight kids and second generation kids so that both views would be evenly represented in the book. In other words, because of the goals of my book, I deliberately aimed to have 50% of the kids interviewed to be queer. Not because it is statistically reflective of the population, but to give it balance of perspective. [...]

Particularly hilarious is reference to my "subsample" of 11 adult children (p. 169), which is nothing more than an anecdote about a casual get-together.
In sum, Cameron's "ramdom" sample isn't random at all. Even more "particularly hilarious" is that Garner received early warning about Cameron's deception because he had deliberately misportrayed her and her book ("he refers to me as an 'investigator' as if I were a social scientist, and he calls my mainstream book a 'report'"). As a result, a far more prominent journal, Pediatrics, which had earlier received Cameron's manuscript and which had been led by its prose to believe that Garner was a member of the field, sent the manuscript to her for review. The editors of Pediatrics wisely refused to publish Cameron's study.

I hope that the employees of Cambridge University Press (publisher of the Journal of Biosocial Science) are enjoying their Easter weekend, because they will need fortitude for the firestorm I fear might be gathering for them. (Already John Aravosis has a post at Americablog asking for information about the journal from its readers, and when John, bless his soul, grabs onto something like this... well, you'd have better luck getting a piece of steak out of the jaws of a pit bull).

Having worked for an association that published academic journals, however, I can vouch for the complete separation between the editors of the journals and the sponsoring publisher. No, the true culprits are the journal's editor and its reviewers, who should have returned Cameron's paper as soon as they got to the mention of the Amazon Research Clinic. At the very least, they might have Google'd the three books masquerading as "studies" (all of which are literary trade publications, not social science tracts) if they weren't aware of them or of the "methodology" used to select the "subjects."

Instead, because of their negligence, these academics and (unwittingly) Cambridge University Press have allowed a charlatan like Paul Cameron to use the children of gays and lesbians as statistics for his bizarre obsession. The only good that can come out of this mistake is the publicity it might lend to Abigail Garner's worthy book.