Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Seeing the pattern in fundamentalist punditry

It has become increasingly clear to me that religious fundamentalists have no place in the public discourse. I sense that this fact is becoming increasingly clear to the fundamentalists themselves, as they rely more and more upon weak non-arguments and appeals to emotion, rather than accepting the results of legitimate research.

Case in point: an article in the July 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics, published by Dr Nanette Gartrell, MD, and Dr Henny Bos, PhD, concludes that "Adolescents who have been reared in lesbian-mother families since birth demonstrate healthy psychological adjustment." Wendy Wright, "President of Concerned Women for America (CWA), the nation's largest public policy women's organization" (according to her bio on the CWA website), has her doubts as to the veracity of the study. I've read her comments on several websites, but here's CNN's version, which is about the same as every other news outlet's version:

"[The fact that the study was funded by lesbian-friendly organizations] proves the prejudice and bias of the study...This study was clearly designed to come out with one outcome -- to attempt to sway people that children are not detrimentally affected in a homosexual household....You have to be a little suspicious of any study that says children being raised by same-sex couples do better or have superior outcomes to children raised with a mother and father."

Notice that Ms Wright makes no factual claims about the study itself, and the worst aspersions she can cast on the study are that it was funded by lesbian-friendly organizations such as the Gill Foundation and the Gay Lesbian Medical Association, therefore biased toward a lesbian-friendly result. She has no data whatsoever about the study (or she would have provided some). She doesn't know anything about the methods used in the study (or she would have said something about it). She simply has an opinion about possible bias.

Ms Wright doesn't seem to understand how science works in the modern world. If the study were not legitimate, if the methods were unsound, if the data were falsified or manipulated, if the conclusions were insupportable, then guess what? At least a few, and probably many, of the 60,000 members of the American Academy of Pediatrics, highly qualified, trained, and educated individuals, some of them perhaps even rivals of Dr Gartrell who would love to see her proved wrong occasionally, will find and loudly announce the failings of the study.

Ms Wright also seems to miss other, well known facts that should have encouraged her not to pretend any authority on the issue. Here are some facts about the author of the study, Nanette Gartrell:
  • She's an out lesbian (meaning she's not ashamed, like, say, Ted Haggard, prominent religious fundamentalist and hypocritical gay-basher)
  • She served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School from 1976 - 1987
  • She has been at University of California San Francisco since 1988
  • Currently (as of June 2010) she is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Center of  Excellence in Women’s Health at UCSF
  • She has taught ethics and feminist theory
  • She is the author of more than 50 original research reports on topics related to lesbian mental health and medical ethics
  • She has served on the editorial boards of Women and Therapy and The Journal of Lesbian Studies
  • She has been a reviewer for the following publications:
    • American Journal of Psychiatry
    • Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease
    • The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
    • Journal of Hospital and Community Psychiatry
    • Feminism & Psychology
Here are some facts about the study itself:
  • It's called the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, and it is the largest, longest-running study of lesbian families in the United States
  • It has been going on for 21 years
  • The current research team working with Dr Gartrell consists of:
    • Henny Bos, Phd, Assistant Professor of Childhood Education and Family Support at the Department of Education of the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of Amsterdam
    • Heidi Peyser, MA, Executive Director, who holds a degree in LGBTQQ psychology, and has been a reviewer for the Journal of Lesbian Studies
    • Amalia Deck, RN, MSN, Labor and Delivery Nurse, SF General Hospital
    • Carla Rodas, M.P.H., Youth Intervention Specialist at COMPASS Inc, the Gay and Lesbian Center of the Palm Beaches
    • Sue Thiemann, M.S., statistical analyst and consultant, formerly of the Stanford Medical School faculty
    • Amy Banks, M.D., collaborating investigator, clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
  • Since 1996 it has resulted in 12 publications in various well known, peer-reviewed journals:
    • American Journal of Psychiatry
    • American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
    • Feminism & Psychology
    • Journal of Lesbian Studies
    • Journal of GLBT Family Studies
    • Pediatrics
    • Lesbian and gay adoption: A new American reality      
Here are some facts about Wendy Wright, again according to her CWA bio page:
  • She's president of CWA, as mentioned previously
  • She's a "policy expert and activist"
  • She's a "United Nations lobbyist"
  • She's an "author", although no books are mentioned, only "editorials, articles, and letters"
  • She's a "radio host"
  • She's a "spokesperson" who "speaks on behalf of women and conservatives on a variety of topics"
Nothing on her bio page, which one would hope would present her best credentials, about her education, training, research published, or any sign whatsoever that she would be qualified to make a single pronouncement concerning anything Dr Gartrell has ever done. Dr Gartrell and Company are trained professionals engaged with a vibrant scientific community. It should take a lot more than a couple of barely informed comments by Wendy Wright to dismiss this study. If Ms Wright has some facts about the study, then she needs to speak up.

At last, I'll come to my point: people who use facts, who work with other qualified professionals in the relevant community, who actively research and publish--these are the people to listen to. People who use opinion and emotion and aspersion should just shut up and let those who actually know something get on with making life better for everyone.

Finally, one last point for Ms Wright: she comments on the study that, "It just defies common sense and reality." Wendy, are you sure you know what reality is? Richard Dawkins (admittedly not your favorite person) likes to say, "Science does violence to common sense." We've known this for centuries. That's why we have peer review. If you have some facts, then let's hear them. Otherwise, I request, as a "spokesperson" on behalf of everyone who thinks that the end of the world is a bad thing, that you do the moral thing (because you're really fussed about morality, right?) and graciously bow out of the conversation.

Dr Gartrell and Company, I salute you.

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