Friday, December 22, 2006

Distorting Research

I often hear from those arguing against same-sex marriage statements like "countless studies show that children do better when raised by a married mother and father." Usually these statements are made without citing even one of the "countless" studies, but in a December 12 Time magazine Column, James Dobson of Focus on the Family actually did quote two studies, one by Dr. Kyle Pruett, and the other by Carol Gilligan. So yay, finally actual real studies cited.

The only problem? He misinterpreted the research.

According to both Gilligan and Pruett, Dobson took phrases from their research out of context and quoted them to support his views even though the research in question does not address the issue of gender and parenting at all.

It's like proof-texting from the Bible. Anyone can take a single verse or even several verses and quote them out of context to support any conclusion they like. Same with science. Pull a single phrase out of any given research, and you can probably support any argument you care to make. But Dobson specifically argues:

With all due respect to Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe, the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father.


He then goes on to cite two specific works that don't address the issue at all. If that isn't bearing false witness, I don't know what is.

(On a side note, I found the comments following the Inside Higher Ed article really interesting. I'm not an academic, so reading about academics debating the issue was interesting to me.)

13 Comments:

At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great work calling out Dobson on the bending of research to support his point of view. For more on this subject, see http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/

 
At 12:47 AM, Blogger the-unintentional-blogger said...

I'm sorry, but I see this as much ado about nothing. Gillian and Pruett are free and perfectly justified in saying that they don't support Dobson's conclusions, but to say that he's not allowed to cite their research is assinine. I have never heard of a researcher "banning" somebody from citing their research. Is that ever done? Regardless, I agree with most of the commenters that you referenced in that the quotes he gave were represented accurately. Dobson is free, right or wrong, to interpret those statements as support for his postition. And while Dobson certainly has an agenda, so does the "Truth Wins Out" people who contacted the researchers and encouraged them to raise their voices in objection (the group did facilitate Gilligan's youtube rebuttal, didn't they?).

 
At 1:44 AM, Blogger catholic_girl said...

I was really hopin you'd comment on this. Researchers should be alerted when their work is twisted so it appears to support insupportable conclusions, whether the subject is sexuality or heart disease, so they can have a chance to publicly (and loudly) refute the false information.

 
At 7:16 AM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

Dobson is free, right or wrong, to interpret those statements as support for his postition.

So he's free to lift sentences completely out of context to support a position that the research itself does not even address? Well, yeah, I suppose so, but that still makes him a liar.

 
At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking as an academic, technically "the unintentional blogger" may be correct: people are free to misuse research to support their unwarranted conclusions. But it seems to me that defending the right of dishonest people to lie by pretending that there are confirmatory studies, is at best, a distraction from the legitimate point of your post.

I WISH Dobson wasn't free to lie by misquoting scientists. But while he may not be banned from doing so, at the very least,such people are 100% irrevocably discredited and ridiculed in the academic world.

 
At 7:15 PM, Blogger Dr. Don said...

Nigel Brush, in his book, The Limitations of Scientific Truth makes the point that even in the hard sciences, the facts never speak for themselves. All research is subject to interpretation by human beings, all of whom always have agendas.

In the soft sciences, this is even more pronounced. Every one of us is going to interpret these findings and every other study according to our presuppositions. This, of course, is after the researchers do the research with their own biases and expectations.

We all wish it wasn't true. But admit it. No matter where you stand on homosexuality and gay rights, if you see a study that supports your position you tout it, and if you see one that disagrees, you either discount the researchers, or the methodology, or the conclusions. I do it, and so do you.

The only unsupportable conclusions are those we disagree with, and the only asinine behaviors are those of the other side.

 
At 6:43 PM, Blogger Indigo said...

Unfortunately modern day "Red State" Christianity has simple forgotten the main purpose of the Church: spreading Christ's universal and unconditional love. The "Red State" Christians generally seen to believe that Jesus was a rich, white Republican and that there is an 11th Commandment that reads "Thou Shalt Hate Homosexuals."

They are dangerous people because they have the power to make low-income, low-education people have great hate.

 
At 12:58 AM, Blogger the-unintentional-blogger said...

I'm sorry, I still don't see the problem. Did Dobson quote Dr. Pruett accurately; that fathers are unique and bring to the table something that mothers do not? Did Carol Gilligan assert in her research that fathers accent justice, fairness and duty and that they provide a sense of right and wrong? If those statements are accurately quoted, then Dobson has done nothing wrong. It is reasonable to take the position, based of those statements, that it might be more beneficial for a child to have both a mother and a father. How do you NOT draw those conclusions based on those comments? (That's not meant to be snarky, but I really don't see how that research could NOT favor child having a father and a mother).

 
At 9:01 PM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

If those statements are accurately quoted, then Dobson has done nothing wrong. It is reasonable to take the position, based of those statements, that it might be more beneficial for a child to have both a mother and a father. How do you NOT draw those conclusions based on those comments?

Because the logic is flawed. In order to get from "Mothers and fathers are different" to "Children are better off with both a mother and a father" you have to prove a connection between "different" and "better off." African-Americans and Caucasions bring something different to the table in parenting. People of different nationalities bring something different to the table. People of different religions bring something different to the table. Does that mean that children of mixed-race, mixed-cultural background, and mixed faith are necessarily better off than children whose parents are both from the same race, nationality, or religion? Variety is a wonderful and important thing, but it's an awful huge leap to say that children will suffer if their parents are homogenous in any way. There's nothing to support such a conclusion.

Also, Dobson doesn't argue as you do that it "might be more beneficial for a child to have both a mother and a father." He argues that "the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father." This is his thesis statement. Therefore, it's reasonable for the reader to assume that the studies he quotes are part of this body of research. But the studies he quotes do not measure children's well-being at all. Gilligan shows that fathers and mothers are different, but does not address how that affects their children's well-being. There are way too many other variables to make the huge jump from "mothers and fathers are different" to "children will not do as well if not raised by both." I could just as easily write a thesis that "numerous studies show that children are better off in homes where there are no adult males" and quote studies that show that the majority of child abuse is perpetrated by adult males living in the home (fathers, step-fathers, live-in boyfriends.) The studies and quotes would be just as true and still my conclusions would be just as unsupported. I expect that if I did make such an argument I would be lambasted for it, and rightly so.

Dobson can express the opinion that based on Gilligan's work he believes that children would be better off. But to claim that her work (or any of the other studies he cites) conclusively shows that children do better "by every measure of well being" is a lie. How can these studies show something they never measured?

 
At 5:10 AM, Blogger Dave said...

Yes, Dobson does have an agenda, and does go overboard sometimes (or maybe a lot). He does some good, but like most of US is fixated on homosexuality issue.
I feel like too many people are saying that homosexuality is bad, straight marriage is good. I'd rather see much, much more concentration on "sexual relations outside of marriage is bad, divorce is bad, marriage is for life".
Divorce is a much more important issue.

 
At 6:19 AM, Blogger Neil said...

Don't worry, the research will come to prove the obvious that traditional parenting is best.

Come at this a different way and do your own research and ask people if they would have rather had a traditional set of parents or a set of gay or lesbian parents.

This reminds me of the incoherent arguments of pro-gay adoption groups. First they argue that the only way the gays can be fulfilled is to marry someone of the same sex. Sex is absolutely crucial to the equation.

Then they argue that the sex of one's parents is completely irrelevant.

Whatever happened to critical thinking skills?

 
At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've got seriously sad detractors here, BM. Like the specimen above me, whose intellectual rigor is clearly dwarfed by that of the common kitchen sponge. You've got my sympathy.

WTF, Neil? Are you for real? "The research doesn't support our arguments now, but it will eventually, on account of the fact that we are right." If it's so obvious, then where's the evidence?

And, I can't believe I have to take the time to explain this, but asking random people whether they would like to have gay parents is not research into anything but what random people's attitudes towards "gay parenting" are.

I cannot believe that this is the level of intellectual rigor found on the anti-gay side. It boggles the mind.

 
At 7:39 AM, Blogger Neil said...

Hey anonymous - did it ever occur to you that there aren't that many long term gay parenting situations so the data might be hard to come by? Sheesh. Think first, then type.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home