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Stuff.co.nz gives up on journalism to peddle pro-gay propaganda

A recent article on Stuff, linked by a friend with more enthusiasm than brains, crows: Children with gay parents ‘happier’ – research.

O RLY?

Reading the article, we discover the following (emphasis mine):

The preliminary findings from the Australian study contradict stereotypes that a family without an obvious dad or mum would harm the children, said lead researcher Dr Simon Crouch … Crouch, who is himself a gay man with four-year-old twin boys, ran the world’s largest study on homosexual families at the University of Melbourne.

So a gay parent of two young boys runs a study in response to a “lot” of “stereotypes” that if a mother/father is missing “there must be a problem”…and then “finds” that children of gay parents are happier. In other news, the pope commissions a study into the psychological well-being of the priesthood and finds that most priests never wanted to have sex anyway, and definitely have never harbored thoughts about altar boys.

In Stuff’s meager effort to make this seem like original journalism rather than a rip-off of a Sydney Morning Herald article written over a month ago, they got a lesbian mother, Kiwi comedian Urzila Carlson, to make some comments. Because as we know, comedians are renowned for their thoughtful interaction with weighty topics. Urzila comes out with the following snafu:

If you look back in the 80s people were saying if those parents got divorced those kids are not going to be ok. As long as both parents love you, it doesn’t matter, you will turn out alright.

Which is an interesting analogy to pick given the reams of research accumulated over the past 30–40 years which show that children who suffer through divorce are very often not okay. (You can look it up if you don’t believe me, but I assume anyone with common sense and/or friends knows this; http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs/pdfs/fcs482.pdf is one example I happened to find on the first page of Google.)

So this lesbian mother is explicitly comparing having gay parents to being the victim of a broken home. That seems about right, given the strong, unapologetic argument made by Robert Oscar Lopez in his Public Discourse article, Same-Sex Parenting: Child Abuse? Lopez, who was raised by a lesbian mother, observes (emphasis original):

Like divorce and single parenting, same-sex parenting isn’t merely controversial or untested; we know that children have poorer life outcomes when they are raised outside a married biological-parent household. The data we have … make it all the more clear that it’s abusive to force children to live without a mother or father simply to satisfy adult desires….

It is abusive to tell a child, “We are your moms” or “we are your dads,” and then expect the child never to feel the loss of such important icons, in addition to the injury of having been severed from at least one, and possibly both, biological parents—not because it was necessary, but because the two adults insisted on the arrangement.

He goes on to add, “None of these problems would arise if we lived in a world where gay people saw children not as a commodity for purchase but rather as an obligation requiring sacrifices (i.e., you give up your gay partner instead of making your kid give up a parent of the opposite sex, because you’re the adult.)”

But what of the research being cited by Stuff?

What indeed. I checked into this further, and the study itself is the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS). Right now, all the information we have about the results of this study comes from a single-page “interim report”—in which the only summary is a two-line paragraph:

On measures of general health and family cohesion children aged 5 to 17 years with same-sex attracted parents showed a significantly better score when compared to Australian children from all backgrounds and family contexts. For all other health measures there were no statistically significant differences.

Since the study itself will not be available until around September 2013, this is just an assertion in lieu of any argument. It is entirely premature to quote anything from this research as if it were fact since the actual study is not available.

That said, what is available is detailed information about how it was conducted. This information shows that ACHESS is incapable by design of producing any scientifically relevant findings about same-sex parenting. It is simply not a scientifically credible study, for three main reasons:

1. Too broad

ACHESS’s sample group is much broader than its carefully-worded summary—and the media—is suggesting. It covers “children…with at least one parent who self identifies as being same-sex attracted.” So this is not a study of same-sex families, as Stuff implies, but a study of any and all parenting situations where homosexuality is any kind of factor.

2. Non-random, non-population-based sample group

The sample group itself was recruited in a way which automatically invalidates it for a properly scientific study (emphasis mine):

Initial recruitment will involve convenience sampling and snowball recruitment techniques … This will include advertisements and media releases in gay and lesbian press, flyers at gay and lesbian social and support groups, and investigator attendance at gay and lesbian community events … Primarily recruitment will be through emails posted on gay and lesbian community email lists aimed at same-sex parenting. This will include, but not be limited to, Gay Dads Australia and the Rainbow Families Council of Victoria.

This kind of sample group is not random and population-based (which would be a requirement if this were real science), but rather self-selected and thus skewed in the worst possible way. It will obviously attract only those parents likely to be ideologically motivated to put the best face on homosexuality, and with the ability to do so. In other words, the study only samples people who are likely to have signed up for the express purpose of manufacturing pro-gay results—so the data is inherently unbalanced and scientifically irredeemable.

Furthermore, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the sample group is 80% women. Gay fathers are under-represented—yet another methodological flaw.

3. High likelihood of falsified reporting, with no external accuracy checks

Although the study is ostensibly about the effects of same-sex parenting on children, the results were reported by their parents. Furthermore, recruits self-reported their data—with no objective measures in place to ensure this reporting was honest. Given that they were aware they were partipating in a major, politically-charged study, it is more than plausible to think many of them exaggerated, omitted, or otherwise distorted facts. And it is undeniable that parents are unqualified to report on the psychological state of their children as accuracy as the children themselves. So the skewed sampling is massively exacerbated by the high probability of an unknown amount of skewed reporting.

What real science says about homosexual parenting

There is already a study similar to ACHESS, except performed scientifically. It is called the New Family Structures Study (NFSS). Contrary to Stuff’s brazen claim that ACHESS is the largest study like this in the world, NFSS uses a randomly-selected sample nearly ten times larger: 3,000 American adults aged between 18 and 39. Unlike ACHESS, the NFSS did not advertise its primary research question “on the packet”—so the data is not suspect up front due to the participants’ ideological motivations. And because all the respondents were adults, they are able to speak for themselves about their childhoods—as opposed to ACHESS which sampled 5–17 year olds, but had their parents fill out the response form.

Unsurprisingly, the results from NFSS are completely different to those alleged by ACHESS. For example (emphasis mine),

Of the 239 possible between-group differences here … the young-adult children of lesbian mothers display 57 (or 24% of total possible) that are significant at the p < 0.05 level ... and 44 (or 18% of total) that are significant after controls ... The majority of these differences are in suboptimal directions, meaning that LMs display worse outcomes.

It also notes that children of lesbian mothers (and to a lesser extent gay fathers) are vastly more likely to have been sexually victimized, to be in some form of counseling or therapy, and to have difficulty identifying as fully heterosexual. (In other words, yes, being the child of a gay couple is more likely to make you gay.)

TL;DR

Junk science: “Having gay parents makes you happy and well-adjusted.”
Real science: “Having gay parents makes you unhappy and maladjusted.”

Richard Dawkins for Prime Minister

I hear the best politicians these days are the ones who can unashamedly equivocate on the meaning of “is”, or tell the filthiest lies with a straight face and a slick smile.

On the assumption that there’s a shortage of such people in the world, I think it’s imperative we begin the Dawkins for Prime Minister Campaign immediately.

I was tipped off by an editorial in The Guardian yesterday, where Dawkins gives the final word on why he refuses to debate William Lane Craig. It’s a masterful piece of political spin-doctoring. “Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of William Lane Craig,” he begins. “He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a “theologian”.”

Now, just last night I was watching Stephen Fry’s Planet Word, where he talks about the masterful way Goebbels used language to make the industrial-scale elimination of the Jews seem a perfectly reasonable thing. In fairness, Dawkins is no Goebbels, but he would have made a good propagandist.

Notice how he deftly frames his entire piece with aspersions on Craig’s credentials. From the alleged ignorance among his philosopher friends of Craig’s name, to the scare quotes around “theologian”.

Of course, if Dawkins’s audience were savvy enough to check for themselves, as hopefully at least some of them are, a simple Google search would show what utter garbage this is. Here’s how Wikipedia, hardly a sympathetic source, introduces Craig:

…an American analytic philosopher, philosophical theologian, and Christian apologist. He is known for his work on the philosophy of time and the philosophy of religion, specifically the existence of God and the defense of Christian theism. He has made major contributions to the philosophy of religion and his defense of the Kalam cosmological argument is the most widely discussed argument for the existence of God in contemporary Western philosophy. He has authored or edited over 30 books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979), Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology… [etc]

What should we conclude from the fact that Dawkins’s professors of philosophy haven’t even heard of Craig?

Either that these fellows are quacks, or—more likely—that even in an underpopulated field like philosophy the chances of knowing a fraction of the professionals in your discipline is pretty small. For example, I have a three-pronged profession: copywriting, marketing, and web design. Those combine into a fourth profession called conversion-rate optimization. Do you think I’ve heard of even one tenth of the most successful copywriters, marketers, web designers, and CRO experts? I seriously doubt it.

For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine”.

What Dawkins means to say is that ever since Craig destroyed the sophomoric arguments in the The God Delusion he has wanted to advance the discussion with Dawkins, and hopefully reveal to all his slavering fanboys how little substance there is to his position. Craig doesn’t want people believing lies—more than can be said for Dawkins, given the rank disingenuousness of his editorial.

Dawkins of course has consistently balked at debating Craig, presumably because he doesn’t want it to be publicly revealed that his arguments haven’t the slightest ability to stand up to rigorous analysis. It wouldn’t look good on his CV.

Craig’s latest stalking foray has taken the form of a string of increasingly hectoring challenges to confront him in Oxford this October. I took pleasure in refusing again, which threw him and his followers into a frenzy of blogging, tweeting and YouTubed accusations of cowardice.

One of the greatest “refutations” you can employ is simply to state the facts with a sarcastic slant that implies only an imbecile would accept them. But the accusations of cowardice are perfectly accurate. Dawkins is a coward in the same way he is a bully. He enjoys notoriety and taking shots at Christianity in a medium where he’s got all the control. He can feel like a big man publishing best-selling books aimed at people with even less schooling in critical thinking than he has. But like any bully, if you confront him and threaten him with a bloody nose, he’s quick to disappear.

Dawkins reminds me of Draco Malfoy after Hermione socked him in the kisser in The Prisoner of Azkaban. “Not a word to anyone, understood? I’m gonna get that jumped-up mudblood, mark my words!” he rants to his friends as they beat a sniveling retreat. Yeah right Malfoy.

I turn down hundreds of more worthy invitations every year, I have publicly engaged an archbishop of York, two archbishops of Canterbury, many bishops and the chief rabbi, and I’m looking forward to my imminent, doubtless civilised encounter with the present archbishop of Canterbury.

Strange—aren’t these people “theologians” with scare quotes? So why are they more worthy than Craig? Could it be because they’ve got less credentials than him? Because they haven’t already published work that obliterates Dawkins’s arguments against God? I guess it’s probably something like that.

After some more accusations of self-promotion, which ring about as hollow as a pot beating on a black kettle, Dawkins turns to Craig’s “dark side”.

You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. But listen to Craig. He begins by arguing that the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered.

He then quotes Craig’s defense of God’s actions toward the Canaanite children, concluding: “Do not plead that I have taken these revolting words out of context. What context could possibly justify them?”

Well, not to state the obvious, but an evolutionary context justifies them pretty well. Surely Dawkins can’t have forgotten writing about how “a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make[s] nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not.” Surely he can’t have forgotten that “any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment.”

If a truly scientific view of the world makes nonsense of blame and responsibility, then certainly there’s no sense in which genocide, or the defense of genocide, is unjustified. There’s no moral dimension to it whatsoever. So why is Dawkins borrowing moral norms he inherited from Christianity to judge Craig, instead of taking the rational approach and admitting there’s no reason whatsoever to condemn genocide, given what he believes?

Well, I suppose it’s because that wouldn’t make for a very good smear campaign.

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn’t, and I won’t.

This seems oddly forced coming from the man who looks forward to the day when religion is only tolerated behind bars at zoos. But then, it’s all a giant smokescreen anyway; a diversionary tactic. Dawkins needs to use sleight of hand to direct his audience’s attention toward Craig’s character assassination, so they won’t notice how Craig has already assassinated Dawkins’s arguments—and would do so again given half a chance.

Dawkins is clearly cut out to be a master politician. Let’s get him out of the intellectual sphere and put him where he belongs. Dawkins for Prime Minister!

Update: James Anderson and Oxford historian Tim Stanley have also weighed in with their comments. Anderson is typically incisive, concluding that “In the end, all Dawkins has really told us is that he won’t debate Craig because he finds Craig’s views personally offensive. It’s not that Craig’s views are unethical… It’s just that Dawkins…is disgusted — and that’s all there is to it. Even if that were the real reason for his refusal to debate Craig, it would hardly be a compelling one.”