The movement grows

I’ve been turning over in my head what to write about… from the allegations by Rudd that Julia did a deal with the devilishly fundamental ACL to Big Brother’s Farmer Dave being appointed to the QLD HIV council.

Honestly, I think the biggest and best news over the last few days is the formation of Queenslanders for Equality (http://www.queenslandersforequality.com/) and their choice of Stephen Page as Convenor.   Stephen has spent years following and working towards GLBTI rights and specialises in Family law.  He’s been running the Australian Gay and Lesbian Law Blog since before I came to QLD, he even advised my then-partner and I what we would need to do to emulate the rights that Tasmania’s Relationship Register conferred on us when we moved.

This new group serves a clear need in a community feeling more and more under attack by our government, and is deserving of our support however we can provide it!

Regular articles will resume shortly!

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An in-depth look at the Regnerus study

I’ve promised you this post for a while now.  Because this seems to be a misuse of science, it’s a frustrating article to write, and the Regnereus study is a hard read… But enough with excuses!

Mark Regnerus did a study with University of Texas called the New Family Structures Study.  He recently published a paper in Social Science Research (SSR) entitled “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.

This has been controversial for a number of reasons.

  1. It was rushed through the review process.
  2. It contradicts what every other well-designed comparative study has found
  3. It appears that the way the data was classified for sampling was manipulated in such a way as to produce bad outcomes.
  4. The funding for the study was from conservative foundations with anti-gay leanings.

Ultimately this has resulted in a letter from 205 academics, including 5 Uni of Texas faculty members, writing an open letter to Social Science Research which essentially suggests that they may now consider it a second-grade journal.

UT is also conducting an investigation into scientific misconduct by Regnerus.  This is an independent panel of UT professors who are looking into the claims that Regnerus essentially faked poor outcomes for same-sex-parented kids.

So I’m going to take these points in order… (any page references are to the page number in SSR)

1. It was rushed through the review process

The timeline is

Received on Feb 1
Revised Feb 29
Accepted March 12

The peer review policy of SSR states that their process is as follows

  1. Editor evaluates it to make sure it meets minimum criteria
  2. 2 experts are secured for peer review.  The review process typically takes 2-3 months.  “But substantially longer review times are not uncommon”.
  3. Revised manuscripts are usually returned to the initial referees upon receipt.
  4. The editor then has the final decision to include the paper.

So in this instance, it went through not one, but two iterations of the review process in about half the time it “typically” takes for a paper to be reviewed once.

This on its own is not necessarily a problem.  There may have been two appropriate reviewers available to read and review it straight away…  It’s rare, but it happens.

2. It contradicts what every other well-designed study has found

This is not specifically a problem either.  Science finds out that it was wrong in all sorts of fascinating and interesting ways, with surprising frequency…

In the introduction to Regnerus’s paper, he notes that “Since [Stacey and Biblarz’s Study in 2001] the conventional wisdom emerging from comparative studies of same-sex parenting is that there are very few differences of note in the child outcomes of gay and lesbian parents. … Moreover, a variety of possible advantages of having a lesbian couple as parents have emerged in recent studies.” (p753)

There is nothing wrong with a scientist contradicting the status quo, whatever your local quack might suggest.  The thing is, when you are overturning established theories, you need damn good evidence to suggest that you are right!  And you’d better be prepared for your studies to be picked apart – wrong presumptions in some circumstances mean that whole fields need to restart using the new theories.

Curiously, given the apparent manipulation of the data in this study, he later talks about sampling concerns in previous studies – I’d classify that as bold…

3. Misclassified data, other sample problems

The real scientific problems with this paper all stem from the sampling.

The study surveyed young adults, 18-39 (p755). For the purposes of Regnerus’s study, they were divided into a number of groups:

IBF – Intact biological family – lived with parents form 0-18 and parents are still married.

LM – Lesbian Mother – Respondent’s mother had a same sex relationship with a woman

GF – Gay Father – Respondent’s father had a same-sex relationship with a man

Adopted: Adopted by two or more strangers between birth and age 2

Divorced later: lived with parents to age 18, parents are not married at present

Stepfamily: Biological parents where Respondent’s primary custodial parent was married to a step-parent before Respondent turned 18

Single Parent: Biological parents were either never married or else divorced, and the primary custodial parent did not marry/remarry before Respondent turned 18

Others: Any other family situation, including deceased parent.

There are some definition problems here that I will address shortly, but the issue noted by the UTexas letter relates to classifications…

“Respondents might fit more than one group.  I have, however, forced their mutual exclusivity here for analytic purposes.  For example a respondent whose mother had a same-sex relationship might also qualify in [Divorced] or [Single Parent], but in this case my analytical interest is in maximising [LMs] and [GFs] so the respondent would be placed in [LMs].”  GF is the trump card here, “since [GFs] is the smallest and most difficult to locate randomly in the population”.

There were 12 respondents in the study to have both an LM and a GF – they were all represented as GF for the study.

Lets think about what this classification decision means…

The only groups not eligible for consideration as LM or GF were IBF or Adopted (since the parents in same-sex relationships were biological for LM or GF).

What this means is that the study, when looking at LMs and GFs include Divorced, Stepfamily, Single parents and Other family configurations.  We do not know if any respondents were raised exclusively by one pair of gay parents using surrogacy or a sperm donor .

Given that IBF is the control group here, what we’re doing (I would suggest almost exclusively) is comparing married people with situations where children were raised in multi-homed or single-parent situations.

This study does not compare similar relationships

And then there’s the definition problem: “had a same-sex relationship” – as far as we know there’s no requirement that this happened while the child was growing up.  it just has to have happened.  If my mother were to call up tomorrow or even 10 years from now and announce she was in a relationship with a woman, I would then be classified as a LM although my entire upbringing was in an IBF.  Or my parents might have divorced and my father taken a male lover for a fortnight – if I as a child perceive that as a relationship, he’s a GF for sure.

In short, the study’s sampling methods promote a misinterpretation of the data by comparing non-comparable relationships and drawing conclusions on the quality of gay parenting based on those comparisons. It also does not seem to draw any requirement of meaning or permanence in a same-sex relationship before qualifying participants as Gay Father or Lesbian Mother.

4. Funding sources

The Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation “are commonly known for their support of conservative causes” (p755)  Places fund studies all the time – the wages have to come from somewhere… grad students don’t just grow on trees y’know!  The funding only becomes a problem when the sample or other methodologies seem to be constructed to be biased in one direction or another – like the data in the NFSS…

Conclusions

The study is flawed.  This is pretty clear, and plenty of people actually qualified to pick this study apart agree with me (I’m a computer scientist, not a social scientist).  This along with the other  problems like the amazingly short review period, the funding sources, and the fact that it goes against what every other researcher has found suggest some rather odd dealings.  It seems strange that SSR reviewers who were not already sympathetic to the article would miss the errors that I and many others noticed.

Ultimately, I think Regnerus has done his reputation and that of SSR some serious damage.  In the process, they’ve produced a study the religious right will use to advocate against same-sex parenting, but which has essentially no relevance, validity, or accepted authority on the matter.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!   I look forward to hearing from you!

How you can help with GLBTI equality

Today has seen landmark traffic arriving at my blog, thanks to the inclusion of the address in the first article run in the Observer: Living Out and Proud is Accepted. (There’s a video interview there too).  I was amazed to find out I was on page three with a headline on the front page!  

So I want to give people coming here from the newspaper some options to help move Marriage Equality forward: 

1. There are heaps of Facebook groups around centred around Marriage Equality, seek and ye shall find…  I’m a member of:

2. If you’re interested in Marriage Equality news I’d suggest you sign up to the Australian Marriage Equality Newsletter

3. If you’re for Marriage Equality, please find out where your MP stands, and take the time to email them and your senators – easy to do from the above link.

4. If you’re a Queenslander, I would encourage you to sign this petition not to alter the Surrogacy Act 2010 with changes that would recriminalise surrogacy access by same-sex couples, singles, and de facto couples of less than two years.

5. I would also encourage you to write to your State MPs to express any displeasure you may feel over the watering down of the Civil Unions Act…

6. Be vocal about your support.  It helps people struggling with sexuality or gender issues to know they’re not alone, even if they don’t know anything else about you.

7. If you’re not straight, and it’s reasonable, be out.   I know it’s not always easy or even practical, but the only way things become easier for the next person is to have and be visible role models.

Join me in making Australia a better, fairer country!

Regnerus – AKA Shoddy Social Science

I’ve been slack this week; I was going to write about the Regnerus study “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships?  Findings from the New Family Structures Study”  But frankly, I haven’t had time to read it properly. (18 A4 sheets of text, single-spaced, in about 10-point font…)  Just like I haven’t had time to properly read this letter from 200 PhDs and MDs, questioning both its validity and the severe lack of peer review the study underwent prior to publishing.

I’m going to blame my slackness on two days of interviewing with The Observer. I  will be posting links to their articles when they go live, which should be tomorrow and Saturday!  So really, I’ll have produced four articles this week!  Also my poor dog, Alva, was sick, so it was a trip to the vet’s when I had intended to be reading… Anyhow, back to the story at hand!

I first came across the Regnerus study in my recent indulgence with the ACL. They used it to substantiate their claims that same-sex parenting was not in the best interests of the child.  I challenged its validity then based purely on the limited information I had about the sample at the time… but that’s another post.

I’m not a Social Scientist.  I can’t critique this study like I would a Computer Science paper.  But I am a science guy.  I can read the study and make sense of it.  And to some degree, I can poke holes.

Rather than talk about the whole paper today, I’m going to pick on one section of the Conclusion…

While it is certainly accurate to affirm that sexual orientation or parental sexual behaviour have nothing to do with the ability to be a good, effective parent, the data evaluated herein using population-based estimates drawn from a large, nationally-representative sample of young Americans suggest that it may affect the reality of family experiences among a significant number.

Loosely translated I think this says: “We’re not saying you’re bad at parenting.  Just that you’re bad parents.”  Which, when you boil it down, is awfully similar to “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”

Well, it just so happens that the first issue with the paper itself that the critique letter touched on was that the data was crap.  It was manipulated in such a way that the study could easily mistake bad outcomes from broken homes for bad outcomes from  same-sex relationships.

I love science; I’m very much a geek.  It pains me to see the scientific method twisted like this to produce results that fit the agenda of a particular interest group…  The study was designed to find fault with gay parenting, and that’s exactly what it did.  Soon, I’ll go into more detail on how this happened and how it was published in this previously well-respected journal…

Why having a family some day is important to me

The ACL, FVA, and other “Family Values” groups are all for the rollback of QLD’s Surrogacy laws, claiming it as a victory for the rights of the child.  I would argue that these groups are actually taking a very anti-family stance in their fight against GLBTI equality.  I shouldn’t need to choose between my home and the chance to raise a family – how is destabilising parents’ living situations possibly in the best interests of a child?  Shouldn’t children have the right to two loving parents who unequivocally want them?

I don’t know why other people want children.  All I know are my reasons:

The joy of new life

Bringing a child into the world is, I am told, an amazing experience.  It is a miracle unfolding into every aspect of your life, transforming you forever from mere adult to father.  From someone responsible for himself, a partner, and maybe a dog, to having an entire little human being dependent on you. It can do nothing but change you.

The shaping of the future

I believe that families are one of the basic building blocks of society.  They are where children feel safe, loved, and nurtured.  They are where values are instilled, and where the next generation of Australia is shaped. They are the place that the next generation learns what it is to be Australian.  Like all of us, I want to pass what I believe to be right and true on to the next generation.  I want to give a child a better life than I have had.  Isn’t that what most parents want for their children?

Because I have always wanted to

I shouldn’t need to explain my reasons. Straight people don’t need to.  Straight people don’t need to *have* a reason in order to have a child.  It can “just happen”. We are raised to want to raise our own families.  I love children, and one day want to raise my own with the man I one day hope to be able to marry.  I mean, isn’t that the fairy-tale ending?  Marry the handsome prince and have wonderful children together? Why am I barred from living this very simple dream?

What’s stopping me from doing this?

Nothing, from a purely technical standpoint.  I could quite reasonably go to the pub, pick up, get a girl pregnant, and 9 months later “voila! Child!”  Some states would even let my husband adopt the child.  Apart from the fact I’m not sure I could function with a woman, apart from the concern over STIs, this is clearly having sex with someone who is not my dearly beloved.  I believe in monogamous relationships.  I shouldn’t have to cheat in this day and age to raise a family.  Clearly this kind of arrangement is how the ACL, FVA, and the rest of those groups would prefer GLBTI couples to be “acquiring babies”, rather than ensuring the safety of the participants, due diligence, transparency, and supporting the commitment of monogamous same-sex couples trying to build a family.

How is what I described different to a straight guy going to the pub and knocking some girl up by accident?  Technically… it’s not.  Same basic biological processes and all.  The difference is intent.  As a gay guy with zero interest in the female body, the only way I can ever have a family is to adopt, find a surrogate, or cheat with a woman.  

My children will never be able to say they were not wanted.  They will never hear that they were an accident.  Their very existence would prove otherwise.  How is that not in the best interests of the child?

Proposed surrogacy laws a clear attack on LGBTI rights

According to this article (Sydney Morning Herald) It is believed that the proposed changes to the Surrogacy Act 2010 (A bill I am yet to read and cannot so far find) will not only de-regulate altruistic surrogacy, meaning that there are no legal protections for parents, but that it will criminalise it, when it is for singles, same sex couples, and de-facto couples of less than two years.  This comment does come from Cameron Dick, who was QLD Attorney-General for the Bligh Government, so it may be an overstatement.  I doubt it.

Labor’s Surrogacy Act 2010 decriminalised altruistic surrogacy – A situation where a woman does not receive “a payment, reward or other material benefit or advantage (other than the reimbursement of the birth mother’s surrogacy costs)” (Quote from Surrogacy Act 2010 Section 10 – Meaning of a commercial surrogacy agreement)  Commercial surrogacy agreements are still illegal.

So the Labor Act provides all people an avenue to have children and raise a family, regardless of gender or marital status, provided they can find someone who is willing to do it out of the goodness of their heart.

The LNP’s changes (again, according to Cameron Dick) will penalise same sex couples or singles seeking to be parents through altruistic surrogacy with a jail sentence of up to 3 years.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Wendy Francis comments and spouts the usual drivel on Friday 22 June: “This is the right thing and is in the best interest of the child, something the state is bound to uphold under the UN Convention on the rights of the child” – At least they have the decency to comment only on the issue at hand.

Not so much FamilyVoice Queensland or the Australian Family Association, according to this Sky News Article

FamilyVoice Queensland and the Australian Family Association earlier this month said surrogacy rights for gay couples was the next battlefront, after winning changes on same-sex unions.

Isn’t enough enough?  Haven’t you queerbashed the community sufficiently, Religious Right? It’s clear that ACL and the Fundamentalist Christian Right want to return to the days when gays were not recognised, that it was illegal.  I wonder if it’s possible for a federally recognised de facto relationship to be grounds for imprisonment under a State Criminal code…

As for Newman’s pre-election promise that surrogacy laws would not be touched?

The Star Observer quotes Newman as saying:

Over the whole 12-month period of the campaign I never at any stage had had any advice on the matter because it had been dealt with back in 2010

Frankly, the mistake was not understanding what my MPs had been discussing.

You can’t tell me this doesn’t ring alarm bells.

This statement of Newman’s (Yesterday) leaves us with two interpretations:

  1. He’s telling the truth: Our premier is supposed to be able to run a state, but he can’t even make sure he’s across his own party’s policies before an election.  He obviously heard his MPs discussing this – otherwise he wouldn’t be telling us he wasn’t “understanding what [his] MPs had been discussing.”  He would have said he didn’t know it was being discussed. Or,
  2. He’s not telling the truth.  He’s been caught in a situation that is at loggerheads with statements he made mere days before the election.  The only way he can make these two situations line up is if he pleads ignorance.  He would probably have been better off using Howard’s “Non-core-promise” line.

Either way, we still couldn’t trust him, but we’d never be able to draw the conclusion that he’s either admitting that he is inept or lying to us.  (additional interpretations are welcome)