Monday, January 31, 2005

Bush Misunderestimates Gay Parenting

This morning's New York Times has an article that asks some questions about a remark President Bush made the other day.
Are children worse off being raised by gay or lesbian couples than by heterosexual parents?

Responding on Thursday to a question about gay adoption, President Bush suggested that they were.

"Studies have shown," Mr. Bush said in an interview with The New York Times, "that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman." Experts Dispute Bush on Gay-Adoption Issue

Now, this is funny. You hear people say this all the time, "studies have shown" this or that. It seems to me it has become more of an off-handed way of supporting common sense than an actual citation of any scientific research. Studies show that a low fat diet is good for your heart, or studies show that kids who play outside are healthier, or studies show that people who don't express their emotions are more likely to have problems later in life... you know, you don't ever ask "Hey -- what studies?"

But after Bush said this, some people did ask what studies. And the answer was that there really aren't any studies that show that "the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman."

But of course that's not the whole story.

The Times continues:
But experts say there is no scientific evidence that children raised by gay couples do any worse - socially, academically or emotionally - than their peers raised in more traditional households.

The experts, who cross the political spectrum, say studies have shown that on average, children raised by two married heterosexual parents fare better on a number of measures, including school performance, than those raised by single parents or by parents who are living together but are unmarried.

But, said Dr. Judith Stacey, a professor of sociology at New York University, "there is not a single legitimate scholar out there who argues that growing up with gay parents is somehow bad for children."

Dr. Stacey, who published a critical review of studies on the subject in 2001 and has argued in favor of allowing adoption by gays, added, "The debate among scientists is all about how good the studies we have really are."

Indeed, that is the debate. You find some gay people with kids, you interview them, administer a survey, whatever, you add up the results. So what?

The definitive critique of this research, not mentioned in this particular article, was put out by a Rockville couple, both PhD's, who do social-science research, often for conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation. Robert Lerner, now acting Commissioner of Education Statistics, and his wife, Althea Nagai, reviewed the methodology of a number of studies of gay parents, and found all of them lacking in terms of methodology -- research designs, sampling, measurement, statistical testing, etc. Their paper (which can be found online HERE) is a seminar in how to find the problems in social-science research.

I would be almost sure that Bush, who appointed Lerner to the Commissioner's position, was thinking of Lerner and Nagai's report when he made his comment.

But, as they say in the article, the argument is over whether the research is sound and valid, not whether gay parenting is inferior. And even Lerner and Nagai don't go so far as to comment on that, only on methods.


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