Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eugenics Redux: Sloppy Research Again Masquerading As Significant

I just read the following headline which made me go, "WTF!" followed by additional expletives: Study: Gay Parents More Likely to Have Gay Kids. Walter Schumm, a family studies professor at Kansas State University, has released a study proclaiming that gay parents are more likely to raise gay children than straight parents. His study appears to support the theory of right wing zealots that people can be taught to be gay.

I've done a great deal of research in my professional career, and I can tell you this, the questions that you ask have a direct correlation to the answers that you find. According to Schumm, he was looking for a connection between parenting and sexual orientation, "His study on sexual orientation, out next month, says that gay and lesbian parents are far more likely to have children who become gay. 'I'm trying to prove that it's not 100 percent genetic,' Schumm tells AOL News."

Schumm's research methodolgy consisted of reviewing other people's studies on gay parenting. In his meta-analysis of 10 such studies, Schumm extrapolated data that adult children of gay men and/or lesbians are statistically more likely to identify themselves as gay.

Whoop-di-do! This anecdotal evidence proves nothing except that children who grow up in a straight household may be far more reticent to self-identify as gay. In other words, a child who grows up in a home with two loving parents who are gay may feel more comfortable in acknowledging their own orientation. This so-called lighting bolt of insight is nothing more than the logical result of growing up in homes where sexual orientation is not a basis for disowning or ostracizing one's children.

Think about the number of people who are gay and stay in the closet for years, afraid of the reaction from their parents and other family members. That the adult children of gay parents are more likely to identify themselves as gay is not an indicator that sexual identity is determined by parenting;  growing up in an accepting environment just means that you don't spend part of your life denying your authentic self. 

I might actually read Schumm's study when it's released. I'd like to know if he addresses the conundrum that there have always been gay people. Who taught them how to be gay? What about gay children with straight parents? Did the straight indoctrination just not take?

This isn't research. This is a man who read a lot of books on gay parenting and then drew conclusions based on the answers collected by a variety of other studies. There is no control group, no methodology for isolating relevant data, or to account for variables because Schumm didn't interview any of the people on whose responses he bases his conclusions. Were the respondents in each of the ten different studies asked the identical questions, phrased in the same exact language, and under the same conditions? I doubt it; each of these studies produced its own independent report. Schumm just read them all.

Studies like this grab headlines. I find such studies to be the height of irresponsibility, feeding into the prejudice and hysteria of homophobia. Ultimately they are shown to be meaningless but the harm has already been done.

In the late 1960s and well into the 1970s, well credentialed researchers such as Arthur Jensen and William Shockley produced studies that proclaimed that intelligence was predetermined by genetics and that Black people were intellectually inferior to Whites. However, Jensen also concluded that Asians were intellectually superior to Whites. Although these studies were later largely discredited they still influenced policy makers in making decisions regarding public education.

Jensen and Shockley were not a one time anomaly. In 1994, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray published a book in 1994 clearly directed at policy, just as Jensen and others had in the 1960s and 1970s,The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Herrnstein and Murray posited among many theories about IQ that Blacks were genetically inclined to have lower IQs than Whites. They also advised that the government "stop encouraging" poor women to have babies and contaminating the gene pool. In 2007, James D. Watson, 79, co-discoverer of the DNA helix and winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize in medicine, told the Sunday Times of London that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really."

Research can be used to support any position and its validity is only as good as the methodology of the researcher. The harm done by pseudo sociological research is like a tsunami; it hits the shore destroying everything in its path and then recedes but the damage it leaves behind is catastrophic. WTF were you thinking Mr. Schumm?


Ms. Moon said...

"This anecdotal evidence proves nothing except that children who grow up in a straight household may be far more reticent to self-identify as gay."
This is exactly what I thought! The only way not to raise gay kids is NOT TO HAVE KIDS!
Also- I completely love the version of Wild Horses by Susan Boyle. Thank-you for this post.

Gerry said...

I agree that publicizing a study that comes to conclusions that should be obvious and as you say do not prove anything. I thought when I read it that so many children of heterosexuals go for years fearing to be honest about their sexual feelings if they are not heterosexual. Whereas children of parents who are out would not have similar fears. If the pressure of the heterosexual parents is not taken into consideration it should be obvious the study lacks a comprehensive look at everything that may be involved. I am sorry when people try to 'prove' their conclusions with inadequate data.

General Factotum said...

There is just so much wrong with this "study", and the article that decribed it, it's insane. Despite the AOL article's assertion that this question occurred to Schumm relatively recently, resulting in the aforementioned study, Schumm has been making this link for a number of years. His stated goal in his academic research is "to prove the truth of Scripture through statistical analysis." Not exactly an objective place to start, is it?

Schumm has also long been associated with the notorious Paul Cameron(sp?), and sits on the board of his journal. I wonder if perhaps that's where it will be published - if it is ever published (the lack of any identified venue raises a lot of red flags). Schumm also testified for the State of Florida in its recent anti-gay adoption case. His statistical analysis was called into question there, and his testimony actually ended up harming the state's case. Ha!

What I wanted to say, though, when I saw this study, is "So what?" Why is it a bad thing that gay parents might have more gay kids, except that it gives fuel to the whole "Gay is a choice" movement? What is so wrong with being gay?

Nance said...

I have a psychologist friend who is writing a book on dubious-to-ludicrous research, conclusions, and headlines. He writes a blog on it and I always enjoy him (email me if you'd like a link).

And this reminds me of the absolutely necessary and gloriously rewarding rant I launched when the researcher did a meta-analysis from studies on the efficacy of antidepressants and made the cover of Newsweek with his conclusions. Statistical analysis of published studies are only as strong as the studies--and there are many more flawed ones and weak ones than the public generally imagines.

What gets my goat so badly is that people swallow the conclusions whole, never imagining that scientists or science reporters would over-extrapolate their data or just push an agenda. Isn't it strange that some of the people with the most blind faith in science reporting are the folks who also claim to have the least faith in the findings of science? (Ah...did I or did I not just extrapolate from anecdotal evidence?)

Great job, Sheria! And I loved the "Whoop-di-do!"

Sheria said...

What I wanted to say, though, when I saw this study, is "So what?" Why is it a bad thing that gay parents might have more gay kids, except that it gives fuel to the whole "Gay is a choice" movement? What is so wrong with being gay?

Excellent point and one that I considered exploring in my post but I feared, just as you state, fueling the "gay is a choice" ideology. However, I do think that it is important to repeat loudly and often that being gay is just like being straight, you just are! There's nothing wrong with being gay any more than there is anything wrong with being straight or any where on the continuum in between. I hope that my post doesn't play into the notion that being gay is deviant behavior. I absolutely reject and refute that belief. My purpose was to point out that just because a conclusion was reached via "research" doesn't mean that it has any validity.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

If it is not a scientific study, then it really does not mean anything. Just more out of context data.

Mark said...

Of course gay parents have more gay children. After all, one would expect a higher proportion of left-handedness among children of the left-handed, wouldn't you? (Gay siblings are extremely common--we've always known it's genetic.)
Among adopted children only, I would say there is no increased percentage, only the lack of a suppressed element that comes from gay offspring of straight parents who lie to researchers. You want the true percentage of gays in the general population in fact, measure the percentage of gayness among those adopted by gays.
Of course the idea that parenting affects sexual orientation is ludicrous on its face and always has been for the simple reason gay people are overwhelmingly produced by straight parents. We giggle at any notion that suddenly gay-phobic parents are going to find some sort of foolproof "formula" to prevent such an outcome. Like our parents didn't try!
I think we should react to this study by urgently asking how we can possibly duplicate the results of this "fine" work, as this overpopulated world desperately needs to produce more homosexuals, who tend to have fewer kids. We should then thank him effusively for his efforts to preserve the planet, and print out t-shirts that read: "Save the World. Raise Gay Children" -- with a list of instructions printed on the backs.

Octopus said...

General Factotum, thank you for the background info on Schumm. i suspected as much myself but did not have time to surf the Internet. Of course, the Florida case is well known where I live ... in Florida, of course.

The AG who hired these so-called expert witnesses is Bill McCollum, with whom I have had my own regrettable encounter. When i demanded that MCollum reimburse from his own pocket the consulting fees paid to charlatans such as Rekers and Schumm, McCollum dispatched henchmen to my door with a message to STFU.

No kidding! McCollum actually tried to bully and intimidate me into silence because of my public criticism of him during an election cycle. McCollum was running in the GOP primaries as a candidate for governor.

In case you haven't noticed, some of these new Republicans are FIT for office ... meaning "fascists in training."

Anonymous said...

The majority of bonobos are bisexual & they are damn close to us evolution-wise. They are also the most loving & accepting of all the great apes(and the only female run great ape group...hmmm, a connection there?)

Something I find that is not often openly discussed is how many people have slept with both sexes at different times in their lives & indeed have been in love with both men and women. And women(some)will sing: I kissed a girl...but I have yet to hear any I kissed a guy songs from men~but they have told me privately. Doesn't mean it happens with so little frequency, just that the taboo is stronger at present.

I believe sexuality is way more fluid than we tend to admit openly.
And that most certainly does not come from having 2 mommies or 2 daddies. ~Mary