Free Speech or Propaganda of Hate?

I stumbled across this piece of nonsense quite by accident when I googled '"appeal to authority" "acceptable authority"':

“The life span of gays is 20- plus years shorter than the life span of heterosexuals,” states Dr. Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute, a Colorado-based think tank. “On average, in Norway and Denmark — where same-sex marriage is legal – married lesbians lived to age 56 and married gay men to age 52."[s]

(Internet searches do generate some unexpected hits!)

The statistics seemed highly improbable, so I read the article and researched the sources. I worry when I read "think tank" because those words typically signify something that only passes for thinking in the mind of the founder of the "junk tank" or "hate tank" in question (here, the FRI). Those who set up special-focus websites for the promulgation of prejudiced disinformation probably assume that labelling their organization as a "think tank" will lend an air of legitimacy. They probably do not care that they convince only those who are already equally biased.

Beware of any 'scientist' who has set up an 'organization' that specifically aims to promote his particular prejudice and claims that his pet organization is intended for research. Legitimate scientific research is typically conducted in association with an established academic facility and is published in an appropriate, recognized peer-reviewed scientific journal. Clinical research might be conducted outside a university setting, but it is only legitimized by publication in a peer-reviewed clinical journal.

The Family Research Institute (which solicits donations on its website), "was founded in 1982 with one overriding mission: to generate empirical research on issues that threaten the traditional family, particularly homosexuality, AIDS, sexual social policy, and drug abuse. FRI believes that published scientific material has a profound impact, both in the United States and around the world."

This reader of that "Mission Statement" very seriously doubts that the FRI has any interest in published scientific material–beyond deliberate misinterpretation and misrepresentation, that is. I feel that such doubt is reasonable in view of the the FRI's stated goals, and its printed questions such as "Can Anything Be Done to Stop Gay Rights?". The website's main page contained (as of April 23, '07) only comments on homosexuality. (By contrast, the main page ignores drug abuse, which legitimate sociological research implicates in considerably more harm.)

On to the numbers: Are such figures accurate when the average lifespan in developed nations is increasing? If such purportedly shortened lifespan were attributable to AIDS, this could apply only to gay males because lesbians have the lowest HIV infection rate when compared to gay males, heterosexual males, or heterosexual females. Remember that HIV infection is not confined to gay males despite its having been labelled "the gay disease".

On the topic of AIDS, which made it onto the FRI's attack list: AIDS killed an estimated 206,037 in America between 1995 and 2002. By contrast cancer claimed 557,271 in the US in 2002 alone. Amongst cancer deaths, 31% of cancers in men and 27% in women were attributable to cancer of the lung and bronchus, which are almost invariably secondary to cigarette smoking. Also in 2002, diabetes caused 73,249 deaths, and accidents took 106, 742. If Dr. Cameron is truly concerned about AIDs per se, he ought to be much more concerned about smoking, diabetes, or accident-prone behaviours.

As to the "lifespan" numbers, Dr. Cameron appears to be attempting to monopolize on a combination of small national populations and the sample's very much smaller population of self-reported homosexuals (chosing legal marriage rather than cohabitation). Why else would an American be so interested in life expectancy in Scandinavia?

Is this man claiming that making gay marriage legal leads to early mortality in Scandinavia? Is he concerned that those Scandinavian homosexuals who died quite young would have lived longer had they not legally married a same sex partner, but had chosen instead to stay single or to cohabit? Is he claiming that those same people, whatever their sexual preferences, would have lived an extra twenty years had they chosen heterosexual marriage? Is this man worried for the health of homosexuals? Is he merely concerned about the well-being of adopted children in Scandinavia? You'd be correct to guess that this is not his reason for stating those highly dubious statistics.

To evaluate what is really at play behind Cameron's claims, let's look at the man. (This is legitimate ad hominem and not a fallacious ad hominem.) In 1982, Dr. Paul Cameron co-founded the "Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality" in Lincoln, which pretentiously title organization later became–you guessed it–The Family Research Institute.

By 1983, Dr. Paul Cameron of Nebraska (clue!) had been dropped from membership in the American Psychological Association for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists.

What kind of violation? Probably something related to American Sociological Association's 1985 resolution asserting that "Dr. Paul Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism." The ASA noted that "Dr. Paul Cameron has repeatedly campaigned for the abrogation of the civil rights of lesbians and gay men, substantiating his call on the basis of his distorted interpretation of this research."7

Cameron's work has also been repudiated for alleged misrepresentation of data by the Canadian Psychological Association.

It is theoretically possible that the violation of "Ethical Principles" committed by Dr. Cameron that elicited 'dis-memberment' by the American Psychological Association were different issues than those cited by the ASA, but if this is the case, then Dr. Cameron has been a very naughty fellow indeed.

Whatever his reasons for anti-gay bigotry, it certainly appears that Dr. Cameron has made hate propaganda his life's mission.

If Dr. Cameron were truly concerned that expected lifespan is a valid criterion on which to base decisions concerning prospective adoptive parents, then his time would have been better spent in campaigning against adoption by parents who smoke. After all, it is well established that smokers are statistically likely to die about 7 years younger than nonsmokers. Further, the adoptive children of smokers would be exposed to the known health risks of second hand smoke.

However, since Dr. Cameron mentioned no other areas of concern regarding the health or longevity of adoptive parents, and since his mission statement proudly avows an anti-homosexual stance, and since the quoted statistics were for a completely separate nation, and since three professional agencies have criticised Dr. Cameron for biased misrepresentation of data, I believe that I was quite correct to view those improbable statistics with scepticism.

The question of whether or not adoption should be equally accessible to gay couples as to heterosexual couples would prove an interesting subject for reasoned and informed debate. I think that the most important factors to be considered are those relating to the child's psychological well-being.

My personal opinion is that there is no particular reason to believe that a gay couple would be necessarily be a worse choice than a heterosexual couple in terms of their potential to be good, loving, adoptive parents. However, potential adoptive parents currently seem to outnumber available babies. So, given that society remains prejudiced against homosexuals, to place babies in a household headed by a homosexual couple might place those infants at some avoidable risk of psychological discomfort concerning societal prejudices (once they are old enough to be concerned about societal attitudes). On the other hand, since older children are far less likely to be placed in any adoptive home, those children would probably be far better off being adopted by loving, gay parents than remaining in fostering or an orphanage.

Regardless, biased misrepresentation of inaccurate and irrelevant figures should play no role in such a debate when all information on Dr. Cameron and his "hate tank" quite clearly indicate that he is highly prejudiced. Had Dr. Cameron provided reliable statistics that were relevant to the question, then his hateful agenda per se should not mitigate against his argument.

My knee-jerk reaction to obvious hate propaganda is to adopt a view that is diametrically opposed to that of the bigot. This reaction does not persist long, and I prefer to return to assessing the argument on its merits as dispassionately as possible. However, hate propaganda does pique my interest to look for more fallacies of logic and misrepresentations in the diatribes spewed by bigots. This is how I came to be interested in the otherwise pointless ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’, and I just might eventually get around to some research on gay bashing.

The article that I stumbled across was Gays Die Sooner: Implications for Adoption, which was quoted on March 27, 2007 from Christian Newswire on the Blog, which stated that "Comments and Pings are both off."

No comments: