22 Oct Manipulating Science & You
October 22, 2015
From the Desk of Laura Bunker:
We at United Families International are regularly astonished by the oft-heard statement: “There is no difference in children raised by two married biological parents and two same-sex parents.” When that way of thinking found its way into the court rooms as part of the debate on legalization of same-sex marriage, we were saddened and dismayed.
Why? Because common sense and 40 years of solid research, literally hundreds upon hundreds of studies on marriage and child-outcomes, point to the fact that children do best when they are born into and reared in their married biological parents’ home. We often referred to it as the “gold standard” for children and for positive outcomes for society as a whole.
So how have so many intelligent people – including five U.S. Supreme Court justices – come to believe otherwise? Beckie Mann, one of our excellent researchers and writers, shares some of the reasons why the myth of “the children will be alright” and “any two parents will do” continues to circulate.
Faithfully for families,
United Families International, President
Manipulating Both You and Science
by Beckie Mann
The “information age” is aptly named. Not only has knowledge exploded in the last hundred years, but now we carry all that information in our pockets. Tap a few keys and the world’s repository of knowledge is available. With so much information available is important to be able to sort through the facts, the fictions, and the yet to be fully revealed truths.
Recently a paper was published in Social Science Research1 detailing a consensus among social scientists that same sex parenting produces outcomes for children that are no different than mother-father parenting. This paper presents the issues as currently settled beyond dispute. It is true that many in the industry agree there is a consensus on the subject, but the conclusion of “no difference” is most assuredly disputed.
A consensus means that a group of scientists have reviewed the research and decided that the current research points to a single conclusion. A consensus does not mean that all the scientists agree. It does not even mean that some established threshold of agreement, such as 85%, has been reached. It does not mean that all the research agrees with the conclusion, nor does it mean that the science is “settled.” Science is about a continual search for new information and understanding. How many past consensuses have been proven wrong? The earth is flat. The sun orbits the earth.…
The paper under discussion is simply a statistical manipulation to chart the development of a consensus. It’s all very complicated, but basically it looks for patterns in how scientists quote each other. It is assumed that most of the time scientists quote other scientists with whom they agree. While the authors claim to be looking to see if a consensus does exist, they started with an article by American Psychology Association (2005) which declared there was no evidence of different outcomes for children based on the sexual orientation of parents. They begin with a consensus statement, then work backward to see how it developed. It is little surprise that they found a consensus.
The quest to confirm our bias
A researcher will naturally look for studies that support his own ideas. A phenomenon called confirmation bias describes the tendency of humans to see evidence for our beliefs and ignore contrary evidence. It is easy to excuse the limitations of a study, if it otherwise confirms the desired outcome. If a scientist does cite opposing opinions, it is usually only be to point out its errors. In this paper, the authors mention a paper by Mark Regnerus that is frequently cited by others so they can criticize its methods and refute its conclusion that same sex parenting does produce different outcomes.
It should also be noted, that the statistical method used in this paper had previously only been applied to research about subjects that are easy to define and easy to measure. For example, the methodology was used to study consensus about UV radiation and cancer. Both UV radiation and cancer are clearly defined and easily measured. How is parenting measured? What defines a good outcome for a child? What standard is used to measure the outcome?
Social science research has many limitations because it deals with people. It would be unethical and impossible to conduct most family research in a truly scientific way. It would, for example, be unethical to deliberately abuse children to observe the results. It would be impossible is to entirely isolate the effects of parenting from personality, peers, environment, and everything else that affects a child’s well-being. One of the ways we attempt to compensate is by having very large, diverse samples so we can get an “average” response.
The study of same sex parenting is hampered by relative rarity of the phenomenon. Large, diverse samples are not possible. Many studies involve fewer than a hundred same sex parent families. Small numbers make it difficult to detect and prove any statistical difference between groups. Think how flipping a penny only a few times usually fails to reveal the correct pattern of 50/50 for heads and tails.
A simple truth
Most important, it is certainly not accurate to say there are no studies that demonstrate a difference. One recent study, (Sullins, 2015), concluded that there were differences and they seemed most attributable to the lack of one biological parent. This certainly agrees with earlier research into family structures in the no fault divorce world. Dr. Amato2 concluded that regardless of the reason why a child lives with only one biological parent he is more likely to experience a variety of poorer outcomes compared to a child who lives continuously with both biological parents. There is nothing the same sex parents or society can do to fix the problem of missing one biological parent in same sex parenting.
Given the severe limitations in studying same sex parenting, it would seem to be difficult to draw any informative conclusions. Since we lack the ability to manipulate a clear scientific study, perhaps we should rely on natural observation to inform our conclusions. Scientists frequently study the patterns of nature. Whether you believe in Divine design or evolutionary design, nature designed the reproduction of human beings to require a male and a female. The human infant is born helpless and requires many years of parental care to reach maturity. The natural pattern for human beings is a man, a woman, and their children together.
1- Adam, j. & Light, R. (2015)Scientific consensus, the law, and same sex parenting outcomes. Social Science Research, 53, 300-310
2- Amato, P.R. (2005) The impact of family formation changes on cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of the next generation. The Future of Children: Marriage and Child Wellbeing,15(2), 75-96.
Beckie Mann and her husband will soon celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. They are the parents of six children and have one grandson. Beckie will graduate in December with a degree in marriage and family studies from BYU-Idaho.
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