Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, July 31, 2005


C. Corax a few days back alerted me to the work of "Dr." Paul Cameron of the Family "Research" Institute, as published in the "peer reviewed journal" Psychological Reports. It was all very interesting and I thought I might say a few words about it once I'd had a chance to study up on it a bit more, but my hand has been forced by Michael Kranish, who has written a long feature on the subject in the Boston Globe. (Like all Boston Globe stories, this one will be free on-line for only one day, so if you're too late, too bad.)

To make a story that is far longer than it ought to be short enough to gag on, Jesus has called upon Cameron to turn society away from its satanically inspired embrace of the sodomites. His research institute exists to prove that homosexuals are unfit parents, grotestquely self-indulgent, and positively dangerous to the rest of us. His "research" proves that homosexual parents are something like 20 times as likely to sexually molest their children as heterosexuals, that homosexuals drive drunk at a rate several times that of the general public, etc. etc.

The American Academcy of Pediatrics has found that children raised by same sex couples do just fine, thank you. That was enough for a few Christian pediatricians to demostrate their Christian love by bolting AAP and founding a group called the American College of Pediatricians, which sounds very august. The ACP thinks homosexuals are weird and make bad parents, and gets itself quoted by reporters and politicians all the time to prove that pediatricians think exactly that. Obviously, the ACP thinks Dr. Cameron is the greatest genius since Einstein.

Kranish's article is Fair and Balanced. He interviews pediatrician Ellen Perrin, principal author of the American Academy of Pediatrics report, who says that Cameron's research is not scientifically credible. Kranish makes it clear that it's a lot easier to get published in Psychological Reports than in actual, real, peer reviewed journals. And he makes it clear that Cameron's beliefs are distinctly in the minority.

What he does not do is make the least effort, lift the pinky even a millimeter off the table, to tell us what, exactly is wrong with Cameron's "research." We get a version of Krugman's classic headline, "Shape of the Earth: Views Differ." Indeed, the headline of Kranish's story is "Beliefs drive research agenda of new think tanks." But the issue is, obviously, not that belefs drive their agendas: it's that beliefs drive their conclusions. This is a crucial distinction. All scientists have beliefs, and they may well be motivated to study an issue by one or another form of moral passion. But scientific inquiry refuses to respect beliefs. If the results of their research oveturn the expectations of real scientists, then they report their findings and change their minds.

It isn't worth it here to go into an extensive debunking of Cameron's work. You can go here if you're really interested. The point I want to make is that reporter Kranish, while he has sought out opposing viewpoints, has failed to do his job. This is not about a difference of opinion. It is about truth and falsehood, fact and fiction. The test of scientific inquiry is not the prestige or academic appointments of its protagonists, and scientific truth is not established by a majority vote of scientists. It is possible to examine the methods used by Dr. Cameron to reach his conclusions and to show that they are ridiculous. But Kranish did not take the trouble to do that.

The earth is round. And, at least in the modern U.S.A., kids raised by gay parents are not at any identifiable disadvantage. Now, if they were, we could have arguments about why, and until we had clear evidence, our opinions about that would no doubt be colored by our preconceptions. Some people would say, society's prejudices hurt the kids, and if we just got rid of prejudice, we'd solve the problem. Others would have other theories. But in this case, we can't even have that argument, because its premise is false.

Journalistic balance doesn't mean treating truth and falsehood with equal respect.

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