Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Distorting science on Easter? For shame, Family Research Council

In a post this morning, I talked about a debate between the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and Bernard Whitman of Faith in America. The two were debating on Fox News during Easter Sunday about an Arizona law which gives preferences in cases of adoption to married heterosexual couples.

My point was that Whitman bested Perkins in the debate by being aggressive and countering his talking point of "decades of studies favor homes with a mother and a father" with some facts of his own.

Now comes something new about this debate which may interest you. I alluded to the fact that Perkins addressed children in same-sex households by citing an Australian study (starting at 3:11) which supposedly said children do worse in same-sex households.

Perkins gave no background on the study. However, a facebook friend of mine, Christopher Mongeau, tracked down the study and discovered that it has been discredited by the American Psychological Association:

A study from Australia (Sarantakos, 1996) has been cited as demonstrating deficits among children raised by gay and lesbian parents in Australia compared to children raised by heterosexual couples. The anomalous results reported by this study--which contradict the accumulated body of research findings in this field--are attributable to idiosyncrasies in its sample and methodologies and are therefore not reliable. An expert reading of the Sarantakos article reveals that certain characteristics of its methodology and sample are highly likely to have skewed the results and rendered them an invalid indicator of the well-being of children raised by gay and lesbian parents in at least three respects:

1. The children raised by gay and lesbian parents experienced unusually high levels of extreme social ostracism and overt hostility from other children and parents, which probably accounted for the former's lower levels of interaction and social integration with peers (see pp. 25-26);

2. Nearly all indicators of the children's functioning were based on subjective reports by teachers, who, as noted repeatedly by the author, may have been biased (see pp. 24, 26, & 30); and

3. Most or all of the children being raised by gay and lesbian parents, but not the children being raised by heterosexual married parents, had experienced parental divorce, which is known to correlate with poor adjustment and academic performance.

Indeed, although the differences Sarantakos observed among the children are anomalous in the context of research on parents' sexual orientation, they are highly consistent with findings from studies of the effects of parental divorce on children (see, e.g., Amato, 2001, and Amato & Keith, 1991). Children Australia is a regional journal that is not widely known outside Australia. As such, it cannot be considered a source upon which one should rely for understanding the state of scientific knowledge in this field, particularly when the results contradict those that have been repeatedly replicated in studies published in better known scientific journals. In summary, the Sarantakos study does not undermine the consistent pattern of results reported in other empirical studies addressing this topic.

Now in all honesty, let me throw some caveats out. Maybe Perkins was talking about another study. Or perhaps Perkins was not aware of the problems with this study he cited.

But with the caveats, there is another thing which should be mentioned.

This isn't the first time Perkins has misrepresented legitimate science during debate. Last year on Hardball when he was debating the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok (on the charge that FRC is a hate group because it deliberately spreads distortions about the lgbt community), he misrepresented a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior to make the false connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.

He also cited work from a religious right sham group, The American College of Pediatricians, to further back up this claim.

Hardball's host, Chris Matthews, later had to make a clarification regarding the American College of Pediatricians after emails and phone call complaints.

My grand point  - other than mock surprise that Perkins would have the temerity to lie on Easter Sunday - is to demonstrate yet again that Whitman won this debate. I know folks don't like to think about winners and losers when it comes to things like this, but to try and pretend that this isn't the case is a flight of fancy.

The battle over lgbt equality is a war between us and those who get paid handsomely to exploit the beliefs  and fears of Christians and other Americans regarding our community.

But then others have said Perkins won the debate because he was able to interrupt Whitman on some points. Unfortunately to some members of the lgbt community, a win over a religious right figure in a debate isn't a win unless that person is left in a quivering pool of sweat in the midst of a huge epiphany of how they have been wrong to demonize lgbts.

Folks, that ain't gonna happen. Perkins, Maggie Gallagher, Peter Sprigg, and the rest are media slick. They have been trained to be so. You are not going to shake them from their talking point so easily. But you can make what they say work for our side.

Whitman was able to do this not only because he was consistent and aggressive but, as you have read, he led Perkins to tell a sloppy lie which could work for us - that is if we as a community take the time and energy to publicly show it as yet another example of religious right distortion of legitimate science (God knows there have been so many).

To paraphrase the words of actor Peter O'Toole in The Lion in Winter, "to these aged eyes, that's what winning looks like."

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Liberty University denies complicity in Miller kidnapping and other Tuesday midday news briefs

FRC's Tony Perkins gets stymied in attempt to criticize gay adoption

An item in a Family Research Council email, via President Tony Perkins, caught my eye because of how it was phrased:

Yesterday morning, I appeared on Fox News for a discussion (that turned into a debate) of the Arizona law with a homosexual adoptive father. His first comments were that law was driven by "religion" and by "animus" against homosexuals. It was downhill from there. Remember, this law is silent about homosexuals and treats them no differently than any other person wanting to adopt who isn't married. No qualified person is precluded from adopting, although a number of states have made rational arguments as to why homosexuals should be. It's stunning how adept homosexual activists have become at playing the "victim" -- even if it means using kids as pawns. Adoption is about children -- not childish activists.

Perkins was talking about a debate on Fox News which took place on Easter Sunday between him and Bernard Whitman of Faith in America about Arizona's new adoption law. This law gives preference to married heterosexual couples.

There is a reason why Perkins had such a negative view of the debate. To put it mildly, he stunk. Whitman stuck to his point that "religious-based bigotry" is behind the push to make it more difficult for same-sex couples to adopt children.

Meanwhile, Perkins was left stammering with the same inaccurate talking point about "decades of social science" claiming that children do best in a two-parent heterosexual household. Whitman countered that inaccuracy by mentioning the studies which say that same-sex households are good environments for children. Of course Whitman could have said that none of the studies Perkins referred to even looked at same-sex households, but it was better that he didn't.

By not doing this, Whitman made Perkins address the argument on his terms, i.e. making Perkins address the existence of same-sex households.

And Perkins did this by pathetically citing a vague Australian study claiming that same-sex households are a danger to children. I call it pathetic because Perkins didn't give an pertinent details as to when this study was published or who published it.

Perkins was finally reduced to trying to talk over Whitman.

Basically when faced against someone who knew what he was talking about and didn't back down in the face of his lies, Perkins came across as weak . . . very weak. But judge for yourself:

Hat tip to LezGetReal.

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