from Books & Reviews

Book Review

No Basis:
What the Studies Don't Tell Us
About Same-Sex Parenting

by Robert Lerner, Ph.D. and Althea Nagai, Ph.D.

(2001, Published by Marriage Law Project, Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1015 Fifteenth Street NW, Suite 900, Washington, D.C. 20005)

This important new book poses a long-overdue challenge to flood of studies--often conducted by researchers who are themselves gay or lesbian, and funded by gay-friendly foundations--which are, despite their questionable experimental design, now having a dramatic impact on law and public policy.

Lerner and Nagai tackle the painstaking (and indeed, professionally risky) job of taking apart those studies. They look at them one by one to expose the flaws in sampling, design and conclusions which have led U.S. and other courts to change marriage, child custody and adoption laws.

The American Psychological Association has stated that there is no evidence of difference in social and psychological adjustment between children raised in gay households and those raised with heterosexual parents. Other professional groups have followed suit, urging that gay marriage and adoption be legalized. The American Academy of Pediatrics is the most recent association to weigh in favoring gay adoption.

But is the conclusion of "no difference" between homosexual and heterosexual households indeed warranted?

Robert Lerner, Ph.D., and Althea Nagai, Ph.D., professionals in the field of quantitative analysis, evaluated 49 empirical studies on samesex parenting. They found at least one "fatal" research flaw in all fortynine studies. Some major problems uncovered in those studies include the following:

  • Unclear hypotheses and research designs
  • Missing or inadequate comparison groups
  • Self-constructed, unreliable and invalid measurements
  • Non-random samples, including use of "friendship circles" (participants who recruit other participants)
  • Samples too small to yield meaningful results
  • Missing or inadequate statistical analysis

As a result, the authors concluded that no generalizations can reliably be made based on any of these studies.

Yet it is now routinely asserted in our courts, legal and social science journals, and the media that it makes "no difference" whether a child has a mother and a father, two fathers, or two mothers. Reference is often made to social-scientific studies that are claimed to have "demonstrated" this.

In a foreword to No Basis, David Orgon Coolidge Director, of the Marriage Law Project in Washington, D.C., explains that the book project was undertaken by the authors "at the risk of damaging their professional and academic reputations." They have not only analyzed the flaws in the current studies, but they have proposed a better way to accurately evaluate homosexual parenting.

"You will learn more than you ever wanted to know about how studies should be designed, implemented and evaluated," Coolidge explains.

Dr. Coolidge describes how he first became interested in analyzing this body of research:

"I first saw the need for such an evaluation back in 1996, in Honolulu, Hawaii. I sat through two weeks of testimony in the samesex "marriage" case, Baehr v. Miike. Almost all of the testimony was by social scientists. It raised questions I could not shake.

"Many of those questions are larger ones, such as how science and morality relate. But other questions were more straightforward: Are these studies welldone by normal standards? Should journals publish them? Should policymakers rely on them?"

Coolidge discovered that the studies are deeply flawed, yet "the fact of the matter is that many people, including policymakers, are relying upon these studies in litigation, legislation, scholarly writing, and in the larger public debate."

Social Scientists as Gay Advocates

Lerner and Nagai uncovered a very troubling fact about this body of research: the social scientists conducting these studies are rarely ever neutral about the results they hope to find:

"With one exception, the authors of these studies wish to influence public policy to support samesex marriage and the adoption of children by homosexual couples. While the authors of these studies have every right to advocate this point of view, as do those who disagree with them, their wish means that the stakes in obtaining valid answers to these research questions are very high."

The studies' findings are indeed interesting and provocative, they say, but they are not strong enough to justify dramatic alterations in longestablished public policies. To justify changes in public policy, they say, studies should be strong enough that "policy makers have faith in the study's reliability, and confidence that more research is unlikely to overturn its findings." Relying on the wrong studies, they point out, can have devastating social consequences.

So do these 49 studies offer conclusive proof that there is 'no difference' between heterosexual and homosexual households? Lerner and Nagai conclude,

"We believe that these studies offer no basis for that conclusion--because they are so deeply flawed pieces of research."


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Updated: 20 April 2006


 

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